Monday, May 17, 2010

Window Poetry

In an era of constantly increasing volumes and volumes of data, data visualizations are a useful way to observe data. Window Poetry is a visualization of poetry: when writing poetry, words combine to form metaphors and new meanings. Window Poetry parallels that process with images.
Made with substantial contributions from Benjamin Chun, Window Poetry is an interactive installation of projected images, reclaimed windows and a typewriter. Words entered by typing call up corresponding images which are displayed in the windows. The participant types into a mechanical typewriter on an antique desk. Hidden inside these analog and tactile objects is a computer running a program that scrapes Flickr for the images entered. Projections mapped to the windows display the images in the frames.
I'm currently fascinated by metaphor, symbol, narrative and the inception of meaning. My interest is inspired largely by philosophy and linguistics. In Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein closely explores the point at which meaning is created through thought experiments about limited language games. His conclusion (among many others) is that a word's meaning is its use in a language. Window Poetry in a way parallels this property of language: Flickr delivers its "Most Interesting" photos as determined by a combination of relevance of tags and number of "favorites" and comments. Lakoff claims that the way that we understand is with metaphor, so it is interesting to observe the instantiation of metaphors simultaneously in words and images.
In Window Poetry, visual meaning is attempted in the sequential symbol-to-word format of language. Since there is a random element, sometimes a sequence works. But more often than not the image composition doesn't really work with the words, that is, the linguistic metaphor doesn't translate into separate images.
What happens with words when we combine two of them together is different than what happens when we combine two images. This is an affront to a general notion of language where word = thing. We would expect word a + word b to equal thing a + thing b but it does not. And in poetry words and images operate differently.

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