What I Would Like to Say

Users Manual



The utopian lure of digital technology is the promise of hygiene: reproduction without the mess. Mechanical reproduction had its own seductive appeal, of course, which Walter Benjamin quickly and famously deflated. Where we were supposed to achieve the perfect replica, instead we found ourselves saddled with all sorts of miserable dichotomies: the original and the copy; the authentic and the inauthentic; the pristine artist's proof and the soiled museum poster. Nevertheless, digital reproduction stands at a whole different level of human achievement, and fully intends to refute Benjamin. At last the copy will emerge bit-perfect, atom by atom. Each clone will be indistinguishable from the original, no matter how many generations down the line. And best of all: no placenta.


To test this scenario, I have taken utopian texts - The First Amendment, the rhetoric of the heroic modernists - and fed them into the most promising digital systems. Le Corbusier's poetic words, for instance, were sent to automatic translation services on the Web, where they were translated into all three Swiss languages, and at last into English. The First Amendment was read into voice recognition software; the output on the screen was then read into the system again, etc., until the text was removed by multiple generations from the founders' intent.

The resulting passages, highly affecting, were painted on expensive paper and large sheets of mylar, where they served to annotate utopian iconography: biomorphic hearing aids (beautiful, promising, imprecise) and Le Corbusier's Modulor (the body with the cruel promise of mathematical perfection).

These hearing aids in particular are exquisite. The Rubenesque Rexton RX34, the handsome, nut-shaped Phonak Inca, the pendulous Bernafon Opus 2. It is not entirely coincidental that the company in Belgium that produces both voice recognition and automatic translation software occupies an industrial park in the shape of an ear.

Utopia is around the corner, and Ledoux is standing there with a welcoming bouquet.


The promise of digital technology is nothing less than The Truth itself. That was the lure of the Internet: "Information wants to be free." What kind of information? Why, true information. The problem, of course (as someone has no doubt pointed out before me), is that misinformation also wants to be free.

This has become axiomatic: every technology designed to extricate us from the mess, however well-intentioned, gives rise to an even greater and more intractable mess. Utopia recedes, confusion flows to fill the vacuum, and Ledoux scurries off in biomorphic disarray.

Which leads me to my final note of explanation. (In the twenty-first century, art comes with a users manual.)


Why paint?

Surely I could have found a more appropriate medium in which to address profound millennial concerns.


I like paint.

I find it persuasive. I especially like the painted diagram, because gesture refutes the very notion of diagram, just as misinformation and generational decay refute the promise of digital reproduction. I like it when old things make new things look childish. Isn't that how it's supposed to be?


Nothing thrills me more than to be told by a computer artist that painting is dead. Except perhaps to be told by a dramaturge that playwriting is dead. Entire communities of modern philistines have announced the death of narrative. I love these people!

Have you ever noticed that the genres so recently pronounced dead are the ones that have been with us almost since the origin of the species? I refuse to work in anything but dead media. Living things die, you see, but dead things endure. The best hope for digital work, if it hopes to endure, is to find its way into paint.