July 30 - August 3, Main Street, Durham
by Tony Massett
Michelle Gay, 'spampoet' 2009, gallery projection/artware. Courtesy Birch Libralato, Toronto
The empty Stedmans Store, ignominiously slumbering on main street, a symbol of small-town solidity which elicits a rural equanimity and predictability will play host to a window projection of shifting computer generated poetry by which ephemeral word constructions become an evocation to the elusive ghost of time transit.
Spam is the junk mail that sneaks through your email filters by impersonating intimate messages as opposed to the artificial language of advertising. This is done by utilizing words and sentence constructions that are normally associated with correspondence of a personal nature. As the words are arbitrarily chosen the consequence is that the sentences make absolutely no sense. Regardless this tricks the email filters into accepting it as correspondence.
Spampoet is a computer system that Michelle Gay constructed, whereby the nonsense sentence messages that arrive in her email box become the subject matter for her own manipulation. The system designed to remove random words from the sentences applies appropriate synonyms in their place. The installation projection displays the original word construction and in real time, (and we know its real time because the digital clock in the top right corner tells us so) the words slowly go through the transformative process as the computer program seeks the appropriate synonym. This alters the reading, a reading already obscure in its poetic intent. And why poetic? The sentence has no logical sense. But the title of the work “Spampoet” leads us to try and create meaning in poetic form.
I stood by myself in front of the work with no comprehension as to the system’s construction nor the artists intent but viewing in real time (and this was a significant aspect) an obscure sentence construction that was slowly metamorphosing before my eyes as it journeyed through logic and time to arrive at an undisclosed destination where upon it disappeared and a new construction began. As I stood alone the only observer to a literary event that would never be repeated it felt akin to the observation of a single leaf falling from a tree that only I had seen. Though many leaves would fall before my eyes, only I had witnessed that singular leaf in that singular moment. A romanticized notion of digital text manufactured by the digital hand but real inasmuch that I was the singular witness.
An obscure triumvirate of technology, spam and poetic intent colliding through the contemporaneous world of internetted space and time. Manufacturer and remanufacture incidents of perplexing fascination.
There are parallels between the random word construction of the computer generated text and the scissor snipped snippets of nonsensical poetry of the DADA art movement in the nineteen thirties. Both adhering to a random association, but forever linger at the threshold of coherence.
When Michelle Gay completed art school and realized the difficulty of financial survival in the art world, she enrolled in a computer media program with the aim of working within the interactive media industry to sustain a livelihood. She then took the skills she had acquired during this time and transferred them into her own art making practice. The vocabulary of this technology involving the likes of Fortran and other esoteric systems became her foundation of construction upon which she could build her own particular architecture. Structures of metaphor that could lend themselves to a vast array of possibilities.
Looploop, a video installation in the Durham Art Gallery continues
with text as a tool of orchestration. Here the viewer has the upper hand
in the manipulation of the form, twisting and waving the banner like
a text, with the gentle flick of a mouse. The text of poetry appears
as a long undulating ribbon that swirls in a viscous void. Its intent
ambiguous, its nature compelling.