Follow Harriet on Twitter
Visual Poetics 07
“09 January 2008”
from Code X
by Mario Cutajar
Mario Cutajar in Code X has created an algorithm that can convert the text of a webpage into a set of abstract pictures. Every day at 12:01 AM, his program fetches text from the newsfeed at Google and extracts a pattern based upon such formal traits as the length of each written word, the length of each interim space, and the frequency of specific lexicons. Much like Flatland (by Derek Beaulieu), which uses the textblock as the template for a conceptual procedure that might in turn generate unique images, Code X reduces the textblock to an artful series of subtle shifts in the visual appeal of language itself.
Cutajar describes his algorithm as a kind of “media cooling unit that congeals the hot news of the moment into what look like pages from the annals of a dead civilization.” Day after day, these pages differ from each other in only the most marginally detectable ways—but nevertheless, these abstract pictures do indeed seem to percolate in response to the news, each page capturing a “snapshot” of textual history, almost as if to suggest the degree to which our modern events might have already started to disappear into all the background radiations of our noisy media at the very moment of both reportage and broadcast.
Cutajar thus hoards these moments automatically, recording them like a series of “stills” from an imaginary, cinematic experience—one in which each word finds itself converted into a plasma-screen of colourful, televised static. Cutajar asks us to imagine “a day when the Google news-page has become the Rosetta Stone of our civilization”— and in doing so, he highlights the contingent, historical qualities of our electronic textuality, showing us what a newsworthy experience might eventually look like, long after the words have vanished into each pixel, leaving only the merest traces of their original presence….