The Letter in ART

art, poetry, technology

I am reading a book on vispo coincidentally with the annual ELO conference – Electronic Literature Organization. I really dont know what vispo is/was but I did a deep dive into concrete poetry recently (visual poetry) and vispo appears to be a continuation or derivation of that.  It also seems to coincide nicely with my current explorations into creative coding via letter generation. 

As a young child I was captured by the magic of letters, symbols and alphabets far before I could read. And for me they did, and continue to have, a meaning beyond information (reading). A letter, for me, is imbued with meaning beyond being a letter of the alphabet. I have no idea why this is the case – but I know I am not alone in this since so many people have associated letters with numbers and symbols, archetypes and so forth. 

On the first page of the Vispo book I am reading, Nico Vassilakis writes “letters lose their chemical word attraction, their ability to bond to one another; to cohere into words.”  This is where I am right now in my creative code exploration of letters. What are letters as atoms – apart from words. Back at my apartment I have a book that looks at letters as if they were letters or chemical compounds.

This is an example of Systems Poetry – overlapping the grapheme with the chemical.  

There is a question about reality. What is real about the letter? We can get into all sorts of thorny issues here, and category mistakes and what not. This is a metaphysical question.  But when I play with letters in creative code, this is the core. What is real about the letter?

This reminds me of the imaginal realm. Is the imaginal realm real. Can it be shared with another consciousness or is it purely subjective.   There are interactions between letters, addressed by kerning or spacing with artists like Aram Saroyan. And Crag Hill’s second essay in this Vispo collection touches on this. Then we move from the word to words – to the relationship between words, to the empty space, or the page.  Mallarme used white space as silence – another quote from page 69 of the vispo collection in Mittenthal’s essay. 

There is also the breath, and the constraints provided by a typewriter – as explored by Charles Olsen. We can imagine the new constraints of css, or of pixels, of curves and points of  OpenGL, of computer protocols, APIs, and forms. This is the breath of the computer, or of the cyborg (the human+computer). 

In looking at lettering I am inspired by

Jesse Ferguson and letters of different sizes and rotations, of The Lions and letters integrated with illustrations, of Anatol Knotek which reminds me of my experiments from last week, of Petra Backogja which reminds me of concrete poetry, of the absolutely beautiful and magical Oded Ezer’s the message a movement of hebrew letters from 2D space to 3D space and into movement and animation (4D), of Bill DiMichele and Cecil Touchon and Jim Leftwich and experiments with tiles and matrices that I also am experimenting with,  of Troy Lloyd who appears to reference Braille, Fernando Aguiar who brings text off the page and into life with translucent prints and natural environments, of James Yeary who makes me think of Sigils and James Joyce, and Derek Beaulieu  – because I see how I can make something in this structure, of Gareth Jenkins and the creation of new letters and accents.

These are my inspirations this morning. 

Ontological Remodelling


I am stealing this word from Dr Jason Fox.  I am watching The Meaning Crisis with him and a few others at the coterie and this morning we discussed episode 7.Episode 7 focuses on Aristotle, but also on the distinction between being and knowing. I always came to being and knowing via Heidegger, and thought about being and existence and knowledge as knowing. In this episode of the meaning crises being is more like becoming, something that perhaps acts out of its own vital forces.

This could also be construed as process vs product. But lets stick with being and knowing. John Vervaeke talks about the modal confusion. That in our world, and advertising in particular, confuses knowing mode – all cars are similar, replaceable, etc with being mode, happiness or maturity or love. Like if you buy this car then you will have maturity. But maturity is not a having it is a being. 

Satisfying a desire (having) does not give rise to meaning (being).  Maybe this could be the psychological fallacy or the psychoanalytic fallacy.  Going back to the idea of akrasia – the notion is that if only we knew what was best we would do that! And that when we dont it is because we have a weakness of will – satisfying desire over reason.  

I am interested in psychotechnologies – how can we address divide? Some thoughts are how do we reconcile desire with reason perhaps, desire with meaning. It is not just resisting our desires but cultivating desire for those those things that will help our being. Every being is different so desire is different there is no rule that all people should desire one sort of thing. 

One of the points JV discusses is the agent and the arena – that this is one of the ideas that Aristotle introduces. That once we have axial age psychotechnologies of reason we can then do the following operation: We have a world, an arena, that we can understand how that world works via reason. We can construct a narrative about it, with rules and laws etc. Then we can identify ourselves as an agent (perhaps this can be thought of as adopting particular personas), to act within the arena – the world.

This analysis made me think of games – a pre-axial age technology. Games, children’s game or adult games embody this arena/agent relationship – and it is a psychotechnology. Aristotle innovation perhaps is the meta turn that indentified this structure within games and looked at areas of human existence, nature, physics, politics in this framework that creating the beginning of sustained investigation into these areas.

Today there is a resurgence in gaming it appears. At least video games and VR games provide a new medium through which to write games. Is this psycho-technology perhaps different from something like chess or ring around the rosy. I would say yes, because they allow the proliferation of NPC (non-player characters) with their own becomings that interact in the game. It is a move from the agent-arena to the agent(s)-arena and considering some things that were previously construed as objects (as having/subject to knowing) as beings. 

Back to ontological modelling… the meta question is how do you shape your being. The modal confusion exists to “meaning.”  Meaning is not a thing you have but a process or perhaps a quality of a process.  What is ontological modelling.  Dr Fox put it out there in response to how to approach radical changes in life (divorce, illness, death etc), but perhaps engaging with meaning is a constant ontological modelling. We are shaping our becoming, and the meaning question is a question of ontological modelling – what sort of meaning do we want to have?



Points and Lines


I have never had a good relationship with creative code. It is the one place where the blank page intimidates me. However, recently I listened to a lecture on coding and meditation and found a way in.

The first prompt was imagine a point and two lines and then all the different ways you can connect between the two lines, straight, curved, squiggly, zig zag. Squiggly and zigzag in programming means you are also adding other points, but lets not go there yet.

I found this very generative. How many signs and symbols are drawn like this: constellations, the alphabet and numbers, stars, hearts, even … sigils.

I decided I wanted to have a user type in and transform the letters into essentially sigils. I had an idea of how I would do this with Bezier Curves, and possibly with python, but when I got into the weeds things changed. 

I decided to use p5js, a javascript library for processing. I have never really used p5js but all the kids are doing it and so I will do that instead of do something else like use TikTok. 

The next thing I did was throw out bezier curves. Maybe I will return to bezier curves but for now I am using CurveVertex

What I am doing? Well when I started out I wanted to get an intuition for how the lines curved. So I drew two random points and then connected them with a curve. It was a line. Then I drew three lines, and so forth. Then I wanted to add dynamic points so I added points a list. I wanted to add constraints (like events and constraints), so when the lists got too long I’d remove the first point – this makes the lines appear to move continuously. Then I wanted then lines to appear to have richness, so I added additional curve vertices. In one version I added key press events so you can toggle between random or 0-9 vertices, speed up and slow down the framerate, and add additional vertices. 

How does CurveVertex work?

Well it uses a spline method called Catmull-Rom. I have zero idea what this means. I am super tired right now. But I am interested to try this method out with bezier and other curving algorithms.  Tomorrow – when I am not completely exhausted maybe I can talk about how to use CurveVertex




Cardinality of Art and Walter Benjamin and other stuff

art, capitalism, consciousness

I am listening to a the fabulously generative podcast Game Studies Study Buddies – in particular the episode on Surrealism.  

It is making we think about art, individuality, the unconscious and perhaps Walter Benjamin. I am into the first three, not so much Walter. 

Follow this thread. 

Is art that prioritizes self expression still art?

Photography is the beginning of art as self-expression which is a rupture from traditional art as a mode of communal participation and perhaps self transformation (feeling and integrating new feelings).  At this moment art becomes about the decisions or mind of the photographer (ie the artist), what photo do I take, rather than my technique in creating art.  Art becomes about personal expression, rather than universal participation. It also becomes about selection, ie decision making ie taste, and is the beginning of the curation as art / the mixtape/ sampling (perhaps brilliantly temporally locally realized by Hans Ulrich Obrist).

The work of art in the of mechanical reproduction, Benjamin’s work, only makes sense in the context of capitalist culture.  The “value” of the work of art only makes sense in this context. How value changes between cardinality and multiplicity (or mass production) only makes sense in a society with use value and exchange value and commodity fetishism.  But lets play along, what is art in the age of mechanical reproduction, well everything becomes aestheticized (such as politics), because it becomes personal and perspectival rather than embodied in a medium. We could also say this is the beginning of conceptual art because art is about decisions or instructions.  Even in the case of abstract expressionism or mediums that look more traditional, the value is always in … look at this new way I the artist am expressing myself/reinterpreting this thing etc.  There is now value in doing this first.

Now I am jumping the gun. Walter attempts to ground some real value in the original vs the mass produced object in the notion of aura. This seems metaphysical – I’ll talk about this later. But in an attempt to stay grounded with Kant in the Island or reason, or land or reason, I forget in the geography of Kant if speculation is an island or the water, but I digress. Back on reason, the original work of art has original spacial and temporality that make it Art, rather than the spacial and temporal coordinates of the reproductions. Expanding this to modern art, we now have one dimension, temporal. All that matters is that you are THE FIRST. 

I do think by going radically into the personal we can get at something universal. I love rich artist works by people with a fully developed personal mythology – I think of Jacolby Satterwhite, for example. And there is something universal in the complete realization of a personal mythology. As if, the entirety of a personal mythology achieves something universal.  If we look at ART of the past there is a participatory aspect, there is an embodied aspect, there is a communal aspect (thinking of lascaux and the sistine chapel, or even bardic oral traditions like Homeric epics or Icelandic sagas), I have also experience Satterwhite’s work like this at Pioneer works and The Rubin Museum. Benjamin’s concept of aura maybe is trying to capture this idea of participatory and embodied art, I really I am not into this cartesian/kantian Time/Space analysis. I want to lean into the metaphysics of what aura can actually be.  

So back to listening to this podcast, and surrealist tools to get at the unconscious, is this just radically personal?  Is the unconscious or obsession with the unconscious radical narcissism? I would say the unconscious or connection with the unconscious is the most universal part of a human.  I would say perhaps neurosis is personal and what happens when neurosis is removed is something universal. Like all happy families are the same and all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way – to paraphrase Tolstoy.  Surrealist games and a deep communication/connection with one’s unconscious would perhaps connect not only with the particulars or uniqueness of each individual, but also with the universals of all humans. Surrealist games are participatory and communal. What is revealed in a surrealist game is not the product of one artist -but of the group playing the game.  The creator of the game gets credit, perhaps because someone needs to get paid, in money or cultural capital.

So what is Art in the age in mechanical reproduction, if art is not some fetish created by capitalism, but a participatory experience that provides something like connective tissue for the world (humanity, nature etc)? I have no idea, it cannot be just the individual ability to make a unique or idiosyncratic decision but for universal decisions and visions revealed. Perhaps it is something coordinated and emergent. But yeah photography is the beginning of our individualistic culture – realized in instagram – and perhaps TikTok – which I don’t understand AT ALL.