Tag Archives: conceptual art

Recipe for Interactive Art

One US Dollar Banknote

  1. The machine should be a parallelepiped with the following dimensions (within a 5 cm allowance):
    • Height = 1.4 m
    • Width = 1 m
    • Depth = 1 m
  2.  The bottom part of the machine should be a short (about 10 cm high) socket finished with brushed steel;
  3. The middle part of the machine should be an empty transparent tank of 1 m³ internal capacity. This capacity should be as exact as manufacturing technology allows (see notes);
  4. The upper part of the machine should be a brushed steel covered parallelepiped, following those specifications:
    1. One of the sides of the machine should bear a large digital display, containing a decimal currency value;
    2. That same side should bear a banknote slot;
    3. The other sides of the machine should be kept as simple as possible, eventually containing (if absolutely necessary) ventilation slots, holes for the cables, service accesses etc., but in no hypothesis decorative elements;
    4. The cabling should be as discreet as possible;
    5. Internally, the machine should contain a recto-verso image scanner, a computer, a secondary-memory storage device and a paper shredder;
  5. The machine should operate as follows:
    1. A banknote is inserted in the slot;
    2. The banknote is scanned on both faces;
    3. The machine identifies which currency and value corresponds to the banknote;
    4. If the banknote cannot be identified, it is returned;
    5. If the banknote can be identified, the following events should occur:
      1. The banknote will be shredded into tiny bits (no larger than 5 ×5 mm), which will be thrown on the tank below;
      2. The value of the banknote will be converted to the reference currency;
      3. This converted value will be added to the value on the digital display in front of the machine;
      4. The image of both faces of the banknote will be stored in the memory device with these metadata: a sequential id, a timestamp, the identified currency, the identified value, the value in the reference currency;
  6. While on display, the machine should be left operating, with the public allowed to insert banknotes on it. If the machine needs to be stopped for more than a short while (e.g., to be serviced), it should be removed from display (either physically, either by being covered with an opaque crate);
  7. When the tank becomes full, its contents should be compacted and left at the bottom, and the machine should resume operation;
  8. When the tank becomes unredeemably full, the machine should be retired, with the following provisions:
    1. The tank should be removed and sealed with a transparent cover;
    2. The tank should be put over a cylindrical socket (H = 20 cm, Ø = 110 cm, white matt finishing);
    3. The storage device should be removed from the machine;
    4. The storage device should be put over a cylindrical white socket (H = 120 cm, Ø = 25 cm, white matt finishing);
    5. The tank and the storage device should be displayed together, near each other, but as independent pieces, with the labels “9999 $ in 1 m³” and “9999 $ in XX GiB”, substituting 9999 by the appropriate value, $ by the appropriate currency and XX by the size of the data stored in the storage device;
    6. The remaining parts of the machine should be destroyed and discarded.


  1. The tank dimensions may vary considerably as temperature changes. The tank should therefore be dimensioned accordingly to the expected exhibition conditions. Consider also that, once full, the integrity of the tank might be jeopardized if it shrinks as temperature drops. A tough material which changes little with temperature might be the best choice for the tank, on the other hand ordinary Plexiglas might be particularly ill-adapted;
  2. The memory storage technology should be chosen to be very compact, error-tolerant and to keep the bits reliably for a long time. Currently, the best compromise would be either a small form-factor hard-disk drive, either a solid-state drive ;
  3. The reference currency should be the currency of the place where the machine is located. If the machine is expected to travel across places with multiple currencies, U.S. Dollars should be used instead;
  4. For reference, if the machine is fed only usual USD banknotes, about 883 thousand notes will be necessary to fill the tank, the total weight of which will be 883 kg;
  5. For reference, if all those notes are 100 USD bills (highly unlikely), the display will need 12 decimal digits (8 units before the decimal point and 4 after);
  6. For reference, if no data compression is used and those notes are digitized at 600 dpi (236 dpcm), each will need approximately 11 MiB for a recto-verso scan, resulting in 9.3 TiB of data; for 100 dpi (40 dpcm) resolution, this is reduced to about 260 GiB of data — a compromise between resolution, compression and available technology for the storage device may be sought;
  7. The memory device should be designed so to be extremely unlikely that it will fill before the tank. And if this ever happens, the machine should be temporarily removed from display, the data should be transferred to a new, roomier device, and the original device should be destroyed;
  8. Intently destroying currency is illegal in most jurisdictions. It is possible (but by no means guaranteed) than an exemptions could be obtained if the curator agrees to refund the Treasury the cost of replacing the destroyed banknotes.

Recipe for Performance Art

Punch CardThe Setting

  1. The performance should be held on a large unadorned room, if possible longer than it is wide;
  2. The scene where the performance takes place should occupy approximately half the room in one longitudinal strip;
  3. The public should be kept either on one side of the room, either on both sides (with the scene on the middle strip);
  4. The public should subtly be made to understand that the scene is not to be penetrated (use narrow strip marks on the floor, or different flooring on the scene, or etc.), however physical barriers or different floor levels are absolutely proscribed;
  5. The scene is to be divided into approximately three equal parts, without explicit demarcation:
    1. On one extreme, a minimalist artist’s studio; with a large drawing board, a matching chair and a small support table to hold the artists’ materials;
    2. On the middle, a large table with a stack of finished pieces, an equipment which is a combination of a  large-format scanner + document shredder, and a card punch;
    3. On the other extreme, a dumpster trash receptacle and a warehouse-type steel bookshelf;
  6. If possible, the room illumination should be as follows:
    1. The “studio area” should be bathed in warm, comfortable lighting, with auxiliary lighting for the drawing area;
    2. The “scanning area” should be bathed in strong cold lighting;
    3. The “storage area” should be bathed in very warm lighting (almost red) much fainter than the other two areas;
    4. The rest of the room should be left in the dark, with just enough lighting to ensure the safety of the public.

The performance

The performance comprises three moments: The Creation, The Digitization, The Punching and The Storage / Disposal. The three latter form a sequence, but there may be long hiatuses (because the scanning and the punching are potentially slow processes) during which the operators may, in the interest of avoiding unnecessary visual clutter, leave the scene. The Creation, however is quite independent from all other steps, and may be performed either in sequence or in parallel with them.

The Creation
  1. A large blank sheet of paper or canvas is attached to a drawing board;
  2. One of several invited artists creates an original artwork, using any flat, conventional technique as s/he wishes (charcoal, pastel, acrylic, watercolour, pencil drawing, etc);
  3. Once finished, the artwork is detached from the drawing board and stacked on a pile on the table at the middle.
The Digitization
  1. Two operators choose a random piece from the pile;
  2. They carefully feed it into a large-format scanner / shredder, which gradually reduces it to small bits just as soon as it digitizes it;
  3. The resulting shreds are collected in a box lined with a black trash bag.
The Punching
  1. Once the piece is completely digitized, it is processed to fit into a 175 KiB JFIF file;
  2. Operator 1 takes the black trash bag from the shredder and puts it in the chad box of the card punch;
  3. Simultaneously, operator 2 feeds new cards to the punch and instructs it to punch the JFIF file.
The Storage / Disposal
  1. Operator 1 takes care of disposing of the thrash bag with the chad and the shreds of the original artwork. S/he takes the bag from the card punch, ties it and throws it into the dumpster;
  2. Simultaneously, operator 2 takes care of putting the punched cards into an archive box and handwriting a label with the name of the artist, the name of the artwork, the date of creation and the date of scanning. S/he attaches the label to the box and carefully puts it away on the bookshelf.


  • Artwork: techniques that may prevent the scanning / shredding process should be avoided, which may include collages and thick empâtements. If ink is to be used, it should be fast drying (oil paint, for example, is to be avoided);
  • Operators: no provision is made about specific gestures or costumes, except to stay away from stereotyping and overacting. In particular, the dreadful white lab coat cliché is to be avoided at all costs;
  • Invited artists: they should not be constrained in terms of action or dress. They must, however, agree to refrain for interfering even in the slightest with the action outside “The Creation”;
  • To provide a reference, if  80 column × 12 bit cards are used, each artwork will demand approximately 1500 cards;
  • To keep the performance interesting, it might be advisable to be able to slow down the timing of scanning and punching, in the case technology allows it to proceed too fast. Ideally, each process should take a dozen minutes, so an entire cycle, from “The Digitization” to “The Storage” could take about half an hour;
  • Provisions must be made in the (not unlikely) event of technical troubles, so that the operators can stay in character, and the performance may “fail graciously”.

This latter issue is so important, that I may want to address it in more specific terms in future versions of this recipe.

Recipe for Conceptual Art

  1. Choose a few writers using the following criteria:
    1. They must be professional writers (journalists, essayists, fiction writers, scientists, etc.);
    2. They must use a word processor in their ordinary creative writing;
  2. Ask each writer to write a piece on their usual word processor, following those instructions:
    1. They should use a large-size computer screen (up to 32”). They can choose whether to orient the screen in portrait or landscape mode;
    2. They should write a short piece, of any genre (essay, short story, chronicle, review), provided that it fits on a single computer screen when using an easily readable type;
    3. The entire writing from blank page to finished piece must take place in less than 12 hours;
    4. After they finish, the piece will be unredeemably finished. Errors and omissions (including grammar ones) will be considered features;
  3. Capture the entire process in video, following those instructions:
    1. Capture the entire contents of the screen, in at least 30 fps and full resolution (equal to the screen);
    2. Capture the of the ambient noise synchronously (with special attention to keystrokes and writer utterances);
  4. Display the resulting videos, following those instructions:
    • Use a screen of the exact same proportions as the screen used in the writing. The size can be scaled up. The screen “feel” should be the same as the one used in the writing (in particular, both should be either emissive or reflexive). Keep frames neutral and unadorned. Be especially wary of strong LEDS and large buttons;
    • Have the soundtrack played synchronously. Avoid disruptive interference between the pieces (use headphones, “bubbles” of sound, etc.). Make the sound devices the less noticeable as technology allows;
    • Keep room decoration to a minimum and be careful with illumination to avoid parasite reflexes.

The concept is illustrated on thie video clip below. I had to make several compromises to make the video possible on the available media, so it is accelerated (twice the speed), has a lower resolution than the original (making legibility poor), does not capture the entire screen and (worse of all) was somewhat horizontally squeezed. But it gives a taste of what the artwork intends to convey — how contemporary text is wrought by using contemporary text processing tools. It also wants to capture the very particular way which an individual writer employs to arrive to the final result.

By the way, the text shown in the video is ipsis litteris the text on the first part of this post (which has, as I now discover, several typos, mistakes and stylistic blunders — which I am lefting untouched to honour the proposed contract).

Recipe for Installation Art

Portrait of Edward James, by René Magritte

  1. Choose 12 works of art using the following criteria:
    1. The artwork must be bi-dimensional, on a conventional support: a painting, an engraving, a drawing, a photo, etc.;
    2. The artist must be dead;
    3. The artwork must be still under copyright;
    4. The best the public can recognize the name both of the artist and the piece, the best the choice.
  2. For each artwork:
    1. Take a digital image of the artwork;
    2. Resize it, until it occupies exactly 35 445 pixels. If necessary, crop it a little bit so it fits. If absolutely necessary, a few pixels in the last line may be left out to make the pixel count exact. The result should be a very small thumbnail;
    3. Code the image into RGB pixels of 8 bits per channel. Take the raw pixels (without any other metadata) in binary. There should be exactly 850 680 bits.
  3. Print the bits, following these instructions:
    1. Use an ISO 216 A0 white sheet (the whiter, the better) in portrait orientation;
    2. Print 765 bits on each line, with 1112 lines on total;
    3. Each bit should be a perfect square of 1 mm of side;
    4. The bit block should be centred on the page — that will leave about 38 mm of white margin around the border (more or less, because there is a 3 mm tolerance on A0 paper dimensions);
    5. 1 bits should be black (matt black, no shine), 0 bits should be white (no ink, let through the background paper);
    6. The surface finishing should be matt, or, at most semi-gloss with an “egg-shell” shine.
  4. Attach the sheet to a stiff support and hang it from behind, letting it float a little bit away from the wall. Use no frames or other decoration. No glass or barrier in front.
  5. Create a label with the following information, in English (British spelling), and using metric units:

    Name of the Artwork, Year
    (Technique, Original Dimensions)
    Name of the Artist (Born – Dead)
    © Name of the Copyright Holder

    For example:

    Drowning Girl, 1963
    (Oil and synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 171.6 × 169.5 cm)
    Roy Lichtenstein (1923 – 1997)
    © The Estate of Roy Lichtenstein

  6. Code the label on Unicode, using the UTF-8 convention. Use a sequence CR-LF for the line breaks.
  7. Print the label following these instructions:
    1. Use an ISO 216 A6 white heavy cardstock (try to match the colour of the paper used for the piece), landscape orientation;
    2. Try to match the same matt black ink used for the piece;
    3. Printing two groups of lines, the first should be the label converted to binary, with digits grouped in fours, in a upright sans-serif type (Helvetica Neue should be perfect). In a separate paragraph, in a slanted version of the same type, a long stream of the same information in hexadecimal. The effect should be the same of a bilingual museum label;

      For example:

      1010 1011 0111 0011 1010 1010 1001 1011 0110 1010 1101 0110 1011 0010 1010 1010 1110 1000 0100 1000 0010 1101 1001 0010 0111 0010 0010 0001 1100 1111 0010 0110


  8. Apply the label directly to the wall, lower right relative to its “painting”.
  9. The pieces should be all hung together, on a spacious unadorned, rectangular room. The room walls should be white.
  10. Ideally, the room should be not too square, so the two smaller walls could have two pieces each, and the two largest walls should have four pieces each. This is not essential, though.
  11. Ideally, the entire room should be bathed in a strong, but not overwhelming, cold light. I cannot be sure about the numbers, because I have little practical experience with lighting, but I am thinking about 750 lux of about 6.500 K.
  12. If this is not achievable, the room should be dim but not dark, with very strong lighting directed to the pieces and labels. Perhaps 1000 lux on each piece and no other source of lighting, or just enough to warrant at least 80 lux on the rest of the room.
  13. The visitors should receive small handouts with the information on the original labels. If this is not practical, larger, hard-mounted (but still portable) handouts should be readily available in the room, in enough amounts for the expected average number of visitors at a given time.
  14. The handouts should give no clue whatsoever about which piece corresponds to which original artwork. This is absolutely essential.