How To Dust The Surface

Speakers, computer, dust sheet, tape, museum records

            ‘How To Dust The Surface’, a site specific sculptural sound piece commissioned by Warrington Contemporary Arts Festival and shown in a duo show with Juan Covelli.

A strange dadaist almost poetry emerges as the machine tries to make input tailored for machines into something understandable for humans.

Beginning with a tentative exploration of Warrington Art Museum’s catalogue as a source of data, a number of items whose location had been marked as ‘unknown’ found within the first couple of years of the museum’s donor book, 1848 and 1849, the predecessor of the museum’s accession register, caught my attention. These are items where the description is too vague to identify the specific specimen, or when there are multiple specimens and it’s not possible to identify which is which or it’s suspected that the object is no longer extant.

Referring to the classification system of Getty Art & Architecture Thesaurus (AAT), the ID number relating to the concept of each item was noted and this, when combined with the Warrington Museum Index Key, create the data with which to work.

A piece of bespoke software was then used to generate phonemic text from this data source, and when read through by a speech synthesiser, a strange almost language emerges from the jumble of numbers.

Passing this through voice recognition software yields unexpected results as the artificial intelligence behind these pieces of software attempts to make sense of what is being spoken. By repeating the process using two different transcription applications, often vastly different outcomes are achieved. These two outcomes are played simultaneously by the installation.

Sections of a field recording made in the gallery space during the production of the piece play alongside the speech.

Passing information between the almost universal languages of AAT, Java and English the two voices are the twins of similarity and difference – both come from the same conception but each is different. Both speak of the rectangle – the shape of man, an unnatural shape of imposed order – the shape of the frame, the gallery and that of the institution. The rectangles of the speakers call out from and to the institution to locate what is unknown, what is outside the system.

Made possible only with the knowledge and expertise of Craig Sherwood.