mariano sardón

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Jorge Luis Borges describes in his well-known short story titled “The book of Sand”, an infinite book with no beginning and no end. A countless array of pages numbered at random each time it is opened, never the same. The writing is impossible to follow and only reveals fragments of itself as the pages slip uncontrollably through the reader’s eager fingers.
Borges wrote in “The Book of Sand”:

I opened the book at random. The script was strange to me. The pages, which were worn and typographically poor, were laid out in double columns, as in a Bible. The text was closely printed, and it was ordered in versicles. In the upper corners of the pages were Arabic numbers. I noticed that one left-hand page bore the number (let us say) 40,514 and the facing right-hand page 999.

I turned the leaf; it was numbered with eight digits. It also bore a small illustration, like the kind used in dictionaries--an anchor drawn with pen and ink, as if by a schoolboy's clumsy hand.
It was at this point that the stranger said,Look at the illustration closely. You'll never see it again.
I noted my place and closed the book. At once, I reopened it. Page by page, in vain, I looked for the illustration of the anchor.";It seems to be a version of Scriptures in some Indian language, is it not?"; I said to hide my dismay.

It was useless. Every time I tried, a number of pages came between the cover and my thumb. It was as if they kept growing from the book.
";Now find the last page."
Again I failed. In a voice that was not mine, I barely managed to stammer,";This can't be."
Still speaking in a low voice, the stranger said, ";It can't be, but it is. The number of pages in this book is no more or less than infinite. None is the first page, none the last. I don't know why they're numbered in this arbitrary way. Perhaps to suggest that the terms of an infinite series admit any number."

I worked on Books of Sand in Buenos Aires during 2003 and 2004 following my residency at UCLA.
The choice of developing an interactive new media installation meant taking a stand and a challenge. I chose to focus on the possibilities of the resources at hand, on being creative with the technological resolution of the installations, on the development of the right software. I focused on articulating a coherent, interesting concept to which people in Buenos Aires could relate. The writings of Jorge Luis Borges are not only well appreciated but also deeply understood.

What is known as the Web began by the end of the eighties at CERN (Conseil European pour the Recherce Nucleaire) as a means for the physicists to share the results of their researches in different places. The fundamental idea of the Web is to transfer hypertext documents (HTML, hypertext Markup Language) between the computers by using the HTTP protocol (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) through the Internet. Whenever somebody downloads a Web page, he or she activates a Browser, which are programs that contact a Server to require Web documents. The Web servers look for, find and send documents required by browsers. The HTTP protocol is used for the Web communications, generating an immense and dynamical network of textual communication worldwide that is materialized in the multimedia interfaces of computers.

Books of Sand is an interactive installation that models a relationship between the movement of the visitor’s hands and hypertexts taken from the Web.
The specific codes retrieved from the web in these installations, are those that make up the websites containing writings by Jorge Luis Borges.

The cubes in Books of Sand are interfaces involved in a tactile game; the sand is the background substance for the unfolding of the hypertexts of which the Web’s vast dynamical memory is constituted. The Web is an immense, dynamic network, connecting people worldwide. It is considered a text, scattered in time and space, inapprehensible as a whole, in perpetual change, the most complex and unpredictable text ever written. The cubes enclose in a confined space a fragment of the infinite information flowing through the web. It is immeasurable and never ending, like the particles that make up the sand and the codes that form the text. In Books of Sand the viewer has the possibility of handling what is immaterial, can grasp an instant of it in the fist of a hand.

In addition, the success of the installation had much to do with the use of light and space, color and texture. The darkened room with nothing but soft light over the cubes created an unnatural atmosphere. The establishment of paradox between an environment to play in isolated from the surrounding world and the use of globalized communications to do so added to the sense of amazement the visitors had when entering the exhibition space.

In Books of Sand hardware and software compose a structure built on a mathematical abstraction, the very same elemental that constitutes the foundation of digital data. A sequence of codes is triggered at random as each viewer touches the sand. This inevitably leads to a loss of control on the part of both the artist and the viewer. Therefore the relationship established with the interface drifts away from the familiar grounds of personal computers in which the user is in full command.

A camera captures images of the hands in the sand, which are analysed by a real time image processing software developed by Laurence Bender.The sequence of images captured by the camera is conceived as a set or array of numbers on which mathematical operations are made on the pixels in real time for extracting what moves or appears in the image field. Once the significant data of the movement of hands in each image is retrieved, the information is mapped on texts kept in a database.

The texts stored are HTML codes retrieved from the Web by another program previously. Such a searching and analysis programs, commonly known as parsers, can identify information or find objects within the site’s codes, analyse such objects and extract the information to place it in a database. The programs sail through codes in the Web according to automatically determined searching criteria, such as following certain group of words, images, etc.

Finally, the processed information from the camera is mapped to the HTML code texts emerging a moving text image that is projected on the sand, interacting with the movement of the hands.

A number of interfaces usually come together in an interactive artwork. Digital technologies, analog mechanisms, and organic materials merge to compose a system.

The viewer as considered in traditional art is closer to the role of a user in an interactive environment. The artist specifies parameters and models relationships through the codes that will rule interaction and allow shapes to auto generate in both time and space. From the initial configuration of rules in an artistic process of this kind, dynamic shapes will emerge.

In this sort of hybrid practices, somewhere in between art and technology, an interaction can be established amongst practically everything as part of work of art. Interactive art like science, allows perception to build circumstantial conceptions of the world; as reason and spirit reconfigure ideas of it through words.