art projects

Difference Engine, James Coupe
08.05.06 Difference Engine, extracting the metaphysics from the net.
Difference Engine is an installation made by James Coupe for the Stills Gallery Edinburgh in 2005. It takes its name from the famous project made by the mathematician Charles Babbage at the beginning of the nineteenth century that wanted to construct a calc machine (the forerunner of the modern computers). The Coupe’s ‘Difference Engine’ is made out of four nodes. Each of them controls an email address through an algorithm that is able to evaluate each incoming messages’ text. So the same common text filters (usually used to censor obnoxious spam) has been adapted by the author to identify words and phrases contained in the messages that, compared to the one previously received, can be classified as unique. When the node classifies a messages’ text as unique and unexpected, it submits the related text string to a Google search. In this way it gets back new meanings that can be associated to the mail content. For every new interaction the node evolves, acquiring its own specific character. Every node controls also a speech recognition system, declaiming words sequences (taken from the mails that has triggered successful searches). This speech is made varying significantly the intonation depending on the relevance that the node has assigned to that word. The deep significance of the Coupe’s installation is of triggering the thinking on the more and more evident impossibility of dealing with that dreadful data structure that is the Internet. Facing the limited human possibilities, the use of machines seem unavoidable. Nevertheless ‘Different Engine’ highlights how any system, how ever intelligent it can be, can’t do anything else that moving inside the self-representing human semantic domains (and Internet is one of them). If this interpretation is correct, the Coupe’s installation can be useful also to investigate latent or forgotten aspects of our consciuos cognitive processes. So it is a machine to reads that reality shades that, lost in the net mare magnum, we are not anymore able to perceive.

Vito Campanelli

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