In 2001 I graduated college with a degree in Computer Science, but I realized I didn’t want to be a full-time programmer. I’m more interested in code as a material for making visual and interactive things.
So, I decided to extend my education a bit more, and joined a brand new MFA graduate program called Narrative Media, at the School of Art+Design.
For the next few years I explored questions of truth, language, and data in the early Internet era. I wrote computer programs to highlight ambiguities in social systems that we usually trust at face value.
I learned how to present and critique work, and dipped into the world of conceptual fine art. Ultimately, I couldn’t figure out a long-term career as an artist (this pre-dated NFTs by about 15 years), but these experiences completely changed my way of thinking.
Here’s a selection of my favorite work from that era.
A project about the negative and aggressive tendencies of news media. A program compares live world news feeds from yahoo.com and bbc.co.uk against a database of synonyms of the word “aggression,” then outputs the matches as angry, fighting capsules. More matches return more, and angrier, capsules.
Terror alert clock
The program counts the frequency of the word “terror” and its derivatives from a live news feed. This count is then directly applied to The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s color-based terror alert system to display a more legitimate — and frequently updated — representation of the threat level. Displays the past minute, hour, day, and week.
Four letter words
An analysis of the taboo four-letter word in the English language, the work displays all possible combinations of four characters in the Roman alphabet. The results demonstrate the size and potential of language as a system (and the comparatively small set of “real” words) and illustrate the relative absurdity of the cultural valuation/devaluation of certain words.
Written in Perl, the algorithm returned more than 450,000 words. It takes over 54 square feet to show the project in 6-point Courier type.
The distance between us
A computer infinitely reads the words between the entries “me” and “you” in Webster’s dictionary as fast as is computationally possible. Displays the current word and a progress bar.
When displayed, the work is shown floating horizontally in space.
This ephemeral year
In 2010 I painstakingly tracked memorable bits of my life for an entire year, recording daily details that would otherwise be lost in time. At the end of the year I created a report and visualization of the results.