Book of Books

Book of Books begins with four themes.

Firstly that it might be possible to write the works of Shakespeare using random methods if enough time and processing power were applied. The commonest form of this idea is that a room full of monkeys given enough time could achieve this.

The second theme comes from Jorge Luis Borges's story "The Library of Babel" where he imagines a library that contains every book, even hypothetical books, including those made up of utter nonsense, and of course the book that contains all books. The mathematician Kurt Goeddel, in his refutation of Whitehead and Russell's thesis that it should be possible to mathematically contain everything, demonstrated that as no formal system can contain itself it is logically infinite and thus cannot contain everything. Borges uses this as the premise for his library which also, by definition, would have to be infinite.

The third premise relates to another Babel story, that of the Old Testament, where the once unified human language has been destroyed and divided into innumerable other languages and dialects.

The final theme is an attempt to create a form of writing where the text is always written from inside the body of the text. New words are added to a text at any point in the text, thus creating a text that expands from the inside out and is able to do so at any point in its sequence.

In "Book of Books" all four themes are brought into play with one another at the same time. Rather than monkeys typing we have a computer program tirelessly generating random words and inserting them into the resulting ever expanding text, thus creating a text that is written from the inside out from any point in its structure. Borges's book that contains all books is also evoked as we can imagine that this system might, given an infinite period of time and processing power, generate such a book. Finally, as we watch the texts generated become smaller and smaller, the typographic structures seeking to remain fully visible on the screen, we see the unique characteristics that allow us to recognise different typographies, even different languages and scripting systems, come to resemble one another. Eventually, after a reasonable period of time (on a 1 gigaherz Mac about an hour or so), the text is reduced to a one pixel font size at which point it resembles our new universal language, binary code. All languages are thus seen to be one and the same in a demonstration of what the term convergence media might really imply, as the erasure of difference leads to the text becoming unreadable.

This is not a Hypertext

This version of the Book of Books idea reverses the technique of inserting words into the text at the text-rollover location of the mouse and instead appends words simultaneously at the beginning and end of the body of text. As it does so it ensures that the text remains grammatically correct in both directions, applying generative grammar algorithms developed in the artists earlier works, including "Great Wall of China" and "Halo", that work in both the usual forward mode and introduces the facility to write in reverse.

Designed for both the web and as a performative piece, the work only writes when the reader remains still. In the performance version of the piece a video camera is connected to a computer which monitors the audience standing or seated before the work. Any movement by the audience is recognised and a message is sent to another computer which is writing and displaying the text on a large video projection before the audience. If an audience movement is sensed the writing process is temporarily frozen until the audience once again reverts to a still state. If the audience remains still for long enough the text extends itself both forwards and backwards to the point where to fit all the words on the screen it has reached an unreadable 1 point font size. This requires the audience to remain stationary for approximately 20 minutes all together.

Simon Biggs