Archive for November 2008


Petroglyphs, Concrete Poetry and Graffiti

November 18th, 2008 — 03:45 pm

The term graffiti referred to the inscriptions, figure drawings, etc., found on the walls of ancient sepulchers or ruins, as in the Catacombs of Rome or at Pompeii. Usage of the word has evolved to include any graphics applied to surfaces in a manner that constitutes vandalism.
The only known source of the Safaitic language, a form of proto-Arabic, is from graffiti: inscriptions scratched on to the surface of rocks and boulders in the predominantly basalt desert of southern Syria…

Historical art pedigrees are as convoluted as evolutionary genetic change. The links between petroglyphs, concrete poetry and graffiti and digital poetry may be tenuous, but just because the web of associations is delicate does not mean it should not be explored. From its roots in the organic knot of human preoccupations, the visual blending of text and image with graphical trace has taken diverse roads to satisfaction. Cave walls and corporate billboards share a similar appeal, their absence provokes anarchist aesthetic sensibilities to scorch the emptiness with contorted logos.

Concrete poetry has many tentacles, arising simultaneously in multiple countries, one of its more forcible threads emerged in Brazil. In 1951, Augusto de Campos launched a literary review “Noigandres” which incited a concrete poetry revival in Brazil. Forty-six years later in 1997, de Campos began creating animated gifs and Flash-based versions of his poems.


His poetry traveled from painstaking manual playing with typography to animated digital works. Scratching on page to scratching on screen. From sharpened stick, to crushed pigments, to printer ink, the concern remains consistent: migrating the preoccupations of mind across the membrane from its interior onto an exterior skin. Leaving a trace that evokes a language shape.

Contemporary aerosol graffiti has its origins in the late 1960s as bombing and tags proliferated across North America. Tangents and floods of typographic mutations and hiphop converged to provoke a radical shift in the possibilities of text as image. In many respects, graffiti outpaced the innovations of concrete poetry: unconstrained by pages, impassioned by their position outside the laws, graffiti artists radically redefined the terrain of typography.

Contemporary assimilation of graffiti and concrete poetry into motion graphics –ironically immersed in consumerist advertisements–, was the next burp of typography. Computers enabled a generation to convert the sensuous curves of cave-urban petrographics into motion graphics. Graffiti was animated in the service of selling new shoes to kids ingesting hiphop mythologies of style. (see http://psyop.tv ) The revolutionary protest of taggers riding the high of street chemicals was replaced by creative committees plundering the creativity seen on trains.

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Golan Levin

November 11th, 2008 — 03:09 pm

Since the physical language workshop at MIT, Golan Levin has been at the forefront of programmatic explorations of typographic space. Interspersed with his purely visual explorations he sporadically returns to typographic explorations that usually involve text generated and manipulated in realtime.

In Ursonography (2005: Jaap Blonk and Golan Levin) Levin built “a new audiovisual interpretation of Kurt Schwitters’ Ursonate, ….  [with] an elegant new form of expressive, real-time, “intelligent subtitles.” With the help of computer-based speech recognition and score-following technologies, projected subtitles are tightly locked to the timing and timbre of Blonk’s voice, and brought forth with a variety of dynamic typographic transformations that reveal new dimensions of the poem’s structure.”

Schwitters screaming at the top of his lungs probably imagined his gutteral morphemes spattered against clouds, strewn across buildings, diving through screens. Levin’s Ursonate reaches toward those hallucinations.

In The Dumpster (2006: Golan Levin, Kamal Nigam and Jonathan Feinberg) blog posts are dynamically searched and the ones that refer to romantic breakups are injected into a visualization. Unwittingly broken-hearted bloggers become collective authors at a party hosted by the programmer. Texts that were once announcements of isolation enter into a massive herd of blobs that have gravity.

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