Construction/Deconstruction of Language

Darina Alster & Michael Markert

01.04. – 25.04.10

Words are everywhere. Even this sheet of paper is filled with them. Words are the bytes of the information era. The Word is profaned by billions of pieces of information of poor value. Information is everywhere, surrounding us any time. The installation “Construction / Deconstruction of Language” is asking questions about words, characters, phonemes; the assembly and disassembly of units to construct a meaning, founding a language. And the urge of interpretation (that is our determined necessity to decipher input and construct meaning).

The installation “Construction / Deconstruction of Language” consists of two projections and two synthesized computer-voices enunciating alternating statements. Both voices use the same text as origin: an especially developed voice generation engine is feeding the original input text into a Markov-Chain Random Sentence Generator that analyzes the input text on statistical word- and char-distributions. It constantly generates new random output, based on the most probable occurrence of the next char (or word). Thus, the produced sentences only use words from the input and maintain certain grammar and stylistic characteristics. Moreover, the system is independently working with any language (though the artists have decided to use English, as it is their language of understanding).

The whispering voice (using a char-based Markov algorithm) is trying to produce words and line them up – it corresponds to the second, firm voice (using a word-based Markov algorithm). The sense however, is taking a surrealistic turn, as the randomly generated phrases offer several options of interpretation. As so often, it’s not always easy to decide if we’re confronted with senseless gibberish or ingenious insights.

Main parts of the original text used as the input source for the cybernetic machine, are from the postmodern philosopher Roland Barthes, dealing with structural analysis of narratives and his appeal “to make the reader no longer a consumer but a producer of the text”
(Barthes: Image/Music/Text, 1977)

The installation represents two cybernetic systems:
The two voices, responding to each other in an endless conversation and thus form an endless feedback-based interaction loop: a first-order cybernetic system.
While observing, the visitor is trying to gather information by looking and listening. Because the received information has been generated without any knowledge of sense, the observer is confronted by an unexpected compilation of more or less pregnant meanings. This is what Cyberneticists call Perturbation: the observer is being irritated and forced to think about these meanings, therefore the system affects the observer (who is a non-trivial cybernetic system itself), thus creating a second-order cybernetic system.