Tag Archives: digital rot

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 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.