mariano sardón

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I recently developed an installation at the Museum of Latin American Art of Buenos Aires (MALBA). It was an unusual work that required months of preparation collecting data concerning the use of the computers by the museum’s staff. The result was an interactive installation that creates a virtual space that embodies the activity inside the museum through light and sound.
As a result of simple actions taking place in keyboards and mice inside the museum texts and sounds are generated. The possibility of chaos and the emergence of patterns result from everyday doings we are unaware of. The installation offers a new way of thinking the spaces we inhabit and the life that unfolds inside them.

Each time someone punched a key I became increasingly aware of the staff’s activity. Soon patterns started to emerge according to the time of day, and patterns for each of the museum’s departments. I tried to listen to the sounds of the keyboards and guess which computer was transmitting. There was a particularly hasty typist I could always tell apart. People working at the front desk were also easy to recognize: mostly mouse cliks as they issued tickets. I felt really lucky right away, being able to observe this everyday behaviour which was somehow invisible to everybody else. Better yet, it was being able to see something as a whole, observing the behaviour of people who work together every day but remain unaware of each other.

Part of the texts typed by those working in the museum are projected on a series of petri plates containing sugar placed on pedestals in a darkened exhibition room. Simultaneously the sound of the keyboard activity is processed in real time and amplified in the installation space.
A central computer receives the data from the museum’s computers through the Internet, more specifically information about the use of mice and keyboards at the Museum’s computers.
A series of algorithms decode and process the information, feeding the installation an enormous amount of random characters.
Thus, the installation constitutes an open system which is permanently trying to rearrange itself according to criteria specified by algorithms.

The sounds and texts are processed in real time. The sound is composed by overlapping layers of sound; each responds to a different Museum keyboard.
Sounds were previously recorded and processed digitally, and are the modified in real time by the algorithms. They’re comprised of basic sound structures that repeat themselves and articulate rhythms drawing topography of activity in space and time.
The result constitutes a mesh displayed audibly yet invisible of inapprehensible electronic sound that cannot be uttered by a human voice.

The artwork is spread through the museum; it originates in the parts of it that remain off boundaries to the general public.
The artwork expresses the movement and activity of the museum’s staff, in some sense it illustrates the way people inhabit the building.

An algorithm, based on statistical criteria, attempts to form words and phrases by random permutations of characters. On the other hand the random component has a more human side to it, the uncertainty of the work depends on people’s behaviours.
It is site specific, time specific and people specific. It cannot be reproduced, or held on to. It exists as time. It lives only virtually, once all the cables are unplugged nothing remains of it.
The installation is able to capture something ordinary, trivial, unoriginal, and turn it into art.

The issues that were questioned by the museum’s organization when I first come forth with the project led me to ask questions of my own.
What is information? What can the flow of typing tell us that should remain private? What is confidential? Is it doomed to remain vaulted or can it become something else? But most importantly, there is the question of knowledge.
The museum space offers itself white and unhabited, but actually behind those walls there are people working as one passes by.
Knowledge has to do with being aware of what goes on but one cannot see. Unavoidably one cannot be typing thus feeding the installation and at the same time observe the results. Just as well, there is nothing to see when no one is there typing.

The artwork is conceived as an organism. If the system is allowed enough time, it will become an organic system that might develop some kind of organization in terms of words and some kind of sounds structured.
One of the most interesting aspects of the work is that it highlights local and scattered actions that would otherwise be impossible to observe as a global event.
The term stochastic is applied to situations in which because of the large number of elements involved individual behaviours cannot be observed, but only considered as a whole.

Developing this kind of work has more in common with scientific procedures that model the world, than with a traditional object-oriented artistic practice.
It is comparable to the work of a scientist who models a system of particles that adopt emerging dynamics through mutual interaction. Hence, the system’s evolution depends on the one hand, on the interaction between its parts and on the other, on the relationship it establishes with its environment. If the rules of interaction are modified, then the emerging shapes will change.
In this sense, this kind of art and certain scientific practices share the same model of organization. The way in which scientists model nature and artists model interactive artworks can be easily associated.