Solid State Poetry is an enquiry into perception, intelligibility, and meaning-making in an age of machine communication. This series, which originated in the autumn of 2014, is premised on the algorithmic generation and encoding of poetry into rhythmic visual patterns. These patterns articulate the verbal structures of the poems themselves, the processes through which they were generated, and, at the highest level, the means through which information is conveyed within digital systems.
It is this latter aspect that concerns this series especially, regarding how written language is prehended by the machinery of contemporary expression. Poetry, as one of the most sophisticated modes available to human actors, radiant with potential readings, stands in sharp contrast with systems designed to compress and encode electrical signals for transmission across noisy channels. These are two very different imperatives, with one seeking to reduce the potential for novelty, for ostensive ‘error’, whereas the other is seeking to generate new modalities of thought and expression — although a convergence does exist in their seeking the most concise means of communication.
The encoding process itself involves generating the source poem using simple, algorithmic cut-up techniques, before analysing its verbal structures (such as meter, line and word count), and then parsing these into a series of modulations upon a matrix of Truchet tiles. The resulting multiplicity of visual forms, as generated by the repeated inversion and transform of standard primitives, belies the essential regularity of the patterns that emerge — echoing the regularity of the rulesets used to generate the source.
An evident result of the encoding process is that each poem is rendered entirely inaccessible to an external observer. This aspect captures the equivalating nature of computer mediated communication, in which messages are defined primarily through their string length, statistical sequencing, and, at the level of storage and transmission, various schemas of error correction. Moreover, it evokes how, across the communicative spaces defined by digital infrastructure, the vast majority of signals are designed to be received and interpreted by machines only.
It is therefore with reference to both these points that the ostensive ‘silence’ of this series is working to denature the relations between message and observer, as defined by traditional, humanistic conceptions of aesthetic engagement, and seeking instead to hint at this nonhuman mode of reading and encountering the spaces and durations of the contemporary electronic environment.
The poems themselves are never revealed to an onlooking audience, who are left to consider the potentiality of the visual rhythms they discern with the verbal forms they might embed.
An edited collection of images from this project is being compiled into a dedicated artist’s book. A sample selection of ‘poem-patterns’ are shown in the header image above.