"Writing and Machine as Sites "

**The Writing Machine Collective 2nd edition / Jan-Jul 2007**

The following is not a dream…

You find yourself in a bright room of rectangular shape and clean, white walls. You see ordinary furniture like what you would have in your living room and studies. You walk by a desk, or your hand runs over a desk surface by accident…and the desk starts to type itself. You walk by an ordinary stand-up lamp and a voice, half-human and half-machine, chants something almost comprehensible but not quite. While you’re still struggling to nail it down word by word, someone not far from you is earnestly planting his/her body in all possible postures. Here someone flaps his arms as if he is about to take off like a bird, or yet another quiet person tries her steps back and forth, finding the best angle for her hips to turn. Here, by the desk in front of a monitor, someone is absorbed reading and typing, lost in a certain detective world. Two persons are playing computer games, but on the screen are moving lines and shapes splitting and combining. In the far end of the room, someone is strolling and meditating. All of them are “writing.”

Scenarios of writing…

The 2nd edition of The Writing Machine Collective (January to June, 2007) explores the variety of writing: writing as an artistic performance; as methods of textual generation; writing process that is body-interactive, automated and self-generative; writing via the appropriation of found text, sonification, visualization, and spatialization… All of this adopts programmed algorithms.

Loss Pequeño Glazier, in his book Digital Poetics, discusses the implication of the growing technologization of our tools of communication, “The electronic medium not only provides a means of publishing and distribution but also, as a technology, enters the materials of writing. What writing is becomes altered by how it is physically written through its production technology, its files, codes, and URLs.” (p. 4) Glazier’s contribution in my view is his attention to the materiality of writing, whereas I find his separating writing from the medium problematic.

In WMC_e2, we want to open up the idea of “writing” and its “materiality,” to look at writing as an complex activity, multi-functional, and always making connections with other levels of activities, social, cultural, technological, and artistic. From the offset, writing is no longer a vehicle for ideas and content of a message, but intersects with many experiences not originally assigned to functional writing. This calls attention to the components of a language system and the norms of our use of language, thus also the potentiality (i.e. what is less or not yet known) of language activities.

Writing, the performance of language, can also be singled out for examination in contrast with reading, which is the reception and consumptions aspects of language. The act of writing raises questions on subjectivity, rules (including making and usage), operative processes, and the invention and extension of a language. Writing as a performance always seeks to make outward connections – with on-going technological, social, cultural, political and economic discourses. In this sense, writing is not only the performance of language, but is also a performance in itself – sometimes a cultural performance, other times a political activity, or the play with technology, or simply an act of consumption.

Every instance of writing is unique, and cannot be reduced to just one nature. In this regard, it may be most productive to take a spatial approach – that is, to begin our examination of writing as individual events, each occupying and defining its own site. As a self-conscious agenda, we conceived the overall WMC_e2 to be a playground, on which we explore the many possible faces and capabilities of writing, especially its game potentials. In turn, each work, due to its own unique designs and purposes on writing, turns itself into a very different kind of space, often with plural “place” identities.

WMC_e2: a collective laboratory on new media art

WMC_e2 was a collective laboratory. It presented to the public accessible, carefully meditated works with a strong research impulse. Each artist (or team) wrote up her/his/its own project proposal based on how language intercalated personal experiences, or where a particular form of language use caught one’s attention. The proposal also describes a reasoned creative agenda that focuses on the deployment of digital media and software languages. Like all new media arts projects, WMC_e2 illustrates ways of tapping the machine capabilities of computer programming. In addition, we sought to ensure that all the works shed light on our banal everyday life and engaged in elements of our popular culture.

All the exhibited works were interaction-based, built upon the ground of machine automatism. Some highlighted real-time performance of the visitors. Compared with works in WMC_e1 (2004), we also placed a much stronger emphasis on interface design to facilitate first contacts with these works.

In this edition, we particularly focused on the exploration of Generative Art, a species of art that has been named and extensively explored in 20th-century fine arts and experimental literature, and more recently in media arts that involve code-based programming. Many works in WMC_e2 examined the lower-level components of a language system, such as the parts of speech in grammar, a character in a Chinese idiom, the sound and tone of a word, an alphabet, a word as a graphic unit, a phrase, and so on, and treated them as modules that were generative of more complex systems via conjugation, multiplication, combination or serialization.

Umberto Eco has provided us with a handy account on the openness intrinsic to language activities. Reflecting on The Future of the Book by Geoffrey Numberg, he wrote in the book’s “Afterword,” “We must make a careful distinction… between systems and texts. A system (for instance, a linguistic system) is the whole of the possibilities displayed by a given language. In this framework it holds the principle of unlimited semiosis…The system is perhaps finite but unlimited. …In this sense certainly all the conceivable books are comprised by and within a good dictionary. .. If conceived in such a way, hypertext can transform every reader into an author.” Without making it explicit, Eco presents a picture of language activities that fits the description of the thesis of langue and parole in Structural Semiotics. We can take this idea as pertaining to the internal generative capabilities of a language system, relying on reiteration, (re-)combination, and self-organization based on a finite database (structure). The key lies in the user, who turns on the generative potentials of a language system (langue) the very moment she puts language to use. Most works in WMC_e2 bore this characteristic. Only one to two works documented an outward generative flow of a sequence that moved further and further away from the initial unit as it kept growing, as in the case of Janice Leung’s Within a System (of Translation).

The WMC_e2 takes up the challenge to re-define the identity of a work of art as well as the notion of an author – in line with the main concern of new media, which is also an issue of significance starting with the Modernist. With the exhibited works, the artist is no longer the sole, ultimate author, becomes the initiator of a series of infinite creative possibilities to be joined by many co-/post-authors from among the visitors. A work of art is thus something to be captured as here-and-now moments along an open process of limitless emergence.

From the perspective of research impulses, WMC_e2 took for its main task the clarification of theoretical issues and creative impulses involved in the play with technology. WMC_e2 embraces long-term multi-disciplinary enquiries, which uphold not merge or convergence of disciplines, but the sustenance of the autonomy of different disciplines in dialogue, while pricing computer programming as a prime skill. As such, the involvement of programming necessarily enhances the language character, and hence writing aspects, in artistic creation. The interests and individual strength of the 12 artists (or teams) pertain to very different possibilities of the future development of the “Writing Machine,” and only a full assemblage of them helps to illustrate to the public the richness and diversity of this rather less attended species of new media arts in Hong Kong.

A broad range of activities accompanied our double-venue physical exhibition at 1a and Videotage to invoke discussion and queries, which included lectures, conversation with artists, workshops, and an on-line virtual parallel exhibition, all within a six-month period.  (July, 2007)




你發現自己身處於一個明亮的長方形的房間,牆壁潔白。你看見一些傢俱,跟平日在客廳、在書房裡所認識的一模一樣。你路過一張書桌,意外地輕輕踫到桌面一下,然後,桌子開始自顧自的打起字來。你路過一盞普通不過的座地燈,然後,一把半人性半機械的聲音開始誦唱起來。誦詞聽起來好像可以被理解,卻又不可以。當你仍然在掙紮著,誓要把誦詞的一文一字確認下來的時候,你看見有些人在不遠處認真地嘗試擺著各種姿勢:這裡,他在拍動雙臂,像鳥將要起飛,她則靜靜的在踏步,向前,向後,找著一個最好的角度彎身。這裡,靠著書桌的電腦螢幕跟前,有人在專心閱讀、寫字,迷失於一個偵探故事的世界裡。再往靜處看,兩個人低著頭專心致志的對著兩本大書幹著剪貼遊戲。兩個人在玩電腦遊戲,螢幕上卻是很多的線,和不同的塊狀,在走動、分開、結合。在房間的盡頭,有人在蹓躂… 房子裏的人,全都在寫字。


文字機器創作集》(第2輯)(2007年1月至6月)探索了寫作的多樣性:寫作作為表演和文本產生的方法;寫作過程與身體互動或機械性的自我衍生;挪用現存文本、聲音化、形象化、空間化的寫作 ─ 統統以程式化的演算法進行。

Loss Pequeño Glazier在Digital Poetics一書中,就傳播工具的日益科技化的涵義提出了如下的看法∶「電子媒介不僅提供了一個出版與發行的渠道,它作為一項科技亦構成了寫作本身的物質性,進入寫作活動的本身。透過實質寫作過程中所牽涉的生產科技、檔案、編碼和網頁,寫作是什麼也因此而給重新厘定。」(見第4頁)Glazier的貢獻在於提醒我們要重視文字的物質性,可是把寫作和媒體看為可割離的兩件事,我不能苟同。

開拓「書寫」和書寫的「物質性」確是《文字機器創作集》(第2輯)的重要目標。「書寫」是個繁複的活動,多功能、多面向、多層意義。每一個書寫的活動都有本身可結連的不同層次 – 或許是社會文化的,也許是政治的、科技的、或藝術的。這就是說書寫不單是轉載意念或盛載資訊的器皿,而是交結著功能性的寫作觀未及假設的各種經驗。退後一步,我們可開始問問是什麼構成了我們所用的語言系統,是什麼成規管轄著我們對語言的運用。向前一步推,我們該好奇一點的問∶語言活動(除了用來傳意之外),還有那些潛在的性格和運作法有待發堀和發揮?


如果上述的講法成立的話,每一個書寫的行動都是獨立而各具性格的,不能給壓縮、歸類為單一的性質。強調書寫行動的「事件」性的進一步是「空間論」的擁抱 – 不同的書寫事件以不同的方法去界定表演行動所涉及的空間領域,予以不同的空間名分。從大體看,我們有意的把《文字機器創作集》(第2輯)的展場化為一個「玩樂場」,其中,我們設置了不同相貌的「遊戲」,觸及語言和書寫的各種可知或未知性。從個別作品看,它們各自有其環繞書寫而出的設計和目的,在數碼技術、文化思考、藝術議題的探索上切入的層次不同,亦因而就地的把所佔據的一小片空間化為不同的「地方」,有別,卻並置、共存。





Umberto Eco在Geoffrey Numberg的著作the Future of the Book之中就簡潔的闡明語言活動本身潛在的開放性。在該作品的「書後語」中,他寫道∶「我們需要小心地去界分『系統』(systems) 和『文本』(texts)。系統 (例如一個語言學系統) 是一個語言所彰顯的一整套可能性。這個架構掌握著無限個可以生產意義的符碼活動…系統實際上可能是有限的,卻裝載著無限個可能。……在這種意義上,所有可被想像的書本均潛在或構成於一部字典之內。由此可推,強調接連的超文本 (hypertext)在操作上把每位讀者都轉化成作者。」Eco的講法,懂得結構主義符號學的都會認出是「語言-言語」(langue and parole)的概念的引申。這概念指向的是語言系統的「內向性的衍生能力」,特別強調反復重申、組合與再組合、建基於有限制的資料庫(架構)而進行的自我組織等運作法。關鍵在於語言的活動者∶每當她動用「語言」(langue)去組成「言語」(parole)的發揮時,她也同時啟動了該語言系統的衍生性的潛能。《文字機器創作集》第2輯裏,幾乎所有的作品都彰顯著這「內向性的」衍生性格,只有一兩件作品,如梁燕蕾的《活於系統之內 (的翻譯本)》(2003年),特意展現「外向式的衍生法」,示範了一個起步的元素經過有規則的連綿衍化之後,在一串模序中越走越遠,就越變得與原初的面貌相去甚遠。

《文字機器創作集》第2輯與新媒體所關注的一樣,涉及藝術作品和作者身份的重新定位。由參展作品可見,藝術家已不再是傳統意味的那個至高無上、終極的作者,而是創作過程的發起人:他 / 她必須跟後來的其他作者共同創作出一連串無限個的創意可能。訪者讀者是聯創者;一件藝術作品是一個在開放過程中不斷出現的此時此地的瞬間。