在本作品中，我讓電腦程式不斷地抄寫波蘭詩人辛波絲卡(Wisława Szymborska)的一首詩，時代的孩子(Children of The Age)，的節選。香港著名獨立樂隊My Little Airport在他們2021年的音樂會上朗讀了這首詩的部分，作為對經歷2019年的社會運動和2020年的世紀疫情後的香港新常態的回應。在無數次的重複後，機器也變得怠倦，書寫的內容漸漸地出現錯字和錯句。而最後它竟像失去了理智，開始胡亂地書寫。在這一個過程中，「政治的」三個字在文字堆中浮現，展示出文本的統計學特性，而後漸漸被埋葬在無序的字句中。
This work is inspired by Yip Yuk Yiu’s work False Words. Yip Yuk Yiu was my professor at the School of Creative Media. In that work, he created a computer program to continuously reconstruct Liu Xiaobo’s famous quote, “I have no enemies(我沒有敵人)”. The program repeatedly prints the result on a screen, layer by layer. Slowly, the other characters became fully colored blocks, and only the character 人(human) stood out to be recognizable. But in the end, it is still gradually buried by the words that are constantly printed on top of it.
The act of writing over and over on top of the text produces huge tension. It symbolizes an extreme obsession but still gives the audience plenty of room to imagine where the obsession comes from—whether it’s because someone doesn’t want to forget, or because of some strong emotions. That’s why I love this way of presentation.
In this work, I made the computer program to continuously transcribe part of the poem by Polish poet Wisława Szymborska, Children of the Age. The famous Hong Kong indie band My Little Airport read part of this poem at their 2021 concert as a response to the new normal in Hong Kong after the social movement in 2019 and the epidemic in 2020. After countless repetitions, the machine became tired, and typos and mistakes gradually appeared in the written content. In the end, it seemed to lose its mind totally and began to write nonsense. In the process, the word “political” emerges from the repeated letters, showing the quantitative characteristic of the text, then gradually gets buried under the random tokens.
I named the work 流水落花Floating Petals. 流水落花(floating petals on flowing water) is a Chinese saying, first written by Li Yu, in his verse “流水落花歸去也，天上人間(Petals floating on streams, returning to their end. The past and now is like the haven and the earth)”. If you are familiar with Hong Kong pop culture, you may also think of Wyman Wong’s lyrics and Sing-Fung Ka’s movies. 流水落花 resembles the opposite of obsession, which forms a strong contrast with the behavior of the computer program in the work. To be obsessed and then insane, or to let go and then forget, is the biggest problem in this post-XX era.
2010年，Ulf Schleth上線了一個網站給大家來“埋葬”一些文件，這個網站叫 /death/null。這也是本項目直接的靈感來源。在/death/null上Ulf Schleth寫了這樣一段話：“it’s for digital romanticists, it’s about living and dead ideas and everything in between. （這個網站是為在數碼世界中找尋浪漫的人而建， 這個網站是關於生與死與所有生死之間的事物的。）”網塋背後的想法類似而略有不同，網塋嘗試探詢記憶與紀念的意義。在皮克斯的電影Coco中，當一個人不再被世人記起時，他/她就真正死去了。也許對於網站來說也是這樣。
Follow the grave digging bot on Twitter (It has stopped being active on Twitter due to the new policy Elon Musk brought to Twitter, but it is still making graves. It might move to Mastodon in the future.)
The Internet, as one of the essential systems or things in human society today, is incredibly young. The first website that everyone can saw was created in 1991, which’s creation also marked the birth of the Internet we are so used to nowadays.
So, this year, this dear friend of ours turns 30. In Chinese culture, entering one’s 30s is called 而立, which means one has entered the golden age of their life and has obtained knowledge and skills for him/her/them to create his/her/their own values.
The Internet grew much faster than us human, as of now (17 May 2021, 6:31 pm UTC +8). There has been 491,720,368 registered domain, and this number keep going up every millisecond.
Internet Graveyard is a project to try to define and keep “memory” of the Internet. Only 251,223,483 domains out of the 491,720,368 ones are active, which means about 50% of the domains, and the websites on them, are gone.
In 2010, Ulf Schleth create a website for people to bury their files call /death/null. This is the direct inspiration for me to create this project. Schleth wrote on the about page of /death/null: “it’s for digital romanticists, it’s about living and dead ideas and everything in between.” The idea behind Internet Graveyard is similar, but not the same: Internet Graveyard is about memory and memento. In the Pixar film Coco, one becomes truly dead when no one in the world remembers him/she/they. Maybe it’s the same for a website.
A little bot, creating graves to memorize those websites that no longer exist and announce their death on Twitter. It works days and nights, but making a grave takes 12 hours, so it can only make two graves a day. At the same time, there are 250 million sites that are already dead, and this number goes up every minute. The job is never gonna be finished, but the poor little bot still digging, making a grave for every dead site, no matter how small it was, where it was registered in and what language it used. —— I think this scenario is sadly romantic and poetic, and that’s exactly what I want to do in this project.
山海經 (ShanHanJing, The Book Of Mountains and Seas) and 博物誌 (BoWuZhi, The Encyclopaedia of Strange Things) are ancient Chinese books that describe myths and mountain, people, strange things in myths. They are also two of the first books that I read as a little boy that deeply impress me with all the stories that appear to be super cool and novel to a little kid. At that time I would be scared because I thought 刑天 (a character in 山海經, he kept fighting after his head is cut off and used his nipples as eyes and his navel as mouth (to yell)) is real.
For a long time in China, and I would say even now, the books like those two are described as books that are useless, because they write about monsters and non-realistic things, but not “serious” theories or “useful” techniques, which is contrary to Confucius’ words (“子不語怪力亂神”). But in my childhood and even now, they give me joyful experience.
They wonder outside the mainstream, finding value in the outside to tease at the pedantic mainstream. They ,also, in a way, represent the unlimited imagination, which I think is lack in today.
As a reader of these two books, I am surprised to see the outcome of the algorithm, it’s something familiar, yet new. It’s happy to see 鮫人 (they are half fish half human, their tear will become pearl) from 博物誌 and 相柳 ( he has 9 heads and a dark-green snake body) in 山海經 appear in a same story. I also want to give a interesting experience for those who have not read the books yet. I hope the generated stories can inspire their imagination, lead them into a strange but colourful world.
Below is a embedded version of the work, might need a few seconds to load.
This is a work related to the social movement in Hong Kong in 2019. It is also about the subtle effects brought by the fact that there is different spoken languages and writing script of Chinese, especially in the context of Hong Kong and Mainland China.
The source text is written by Leung Man Tao (梁文道). A writer and critic who is active in Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. He was attacked by some people online from both Hong Kong and Mainland China for his neutral stand in the social movement in 2019. He’s the only public figure I know that received attacks from both regions, and after reading posts from the attackers, I noticed that, although the people who attacked him from Hong Kong and Mainland have very different ‘political stands’, behind the stands, they have very similar logics and ways of thinking. This work, to some degree, tries to show, explore, and raise questions about these similarities.
I collected Leung’s essays published in 2019 (the ones in traditional Chinese are published in Hong Kong, and the ones in simplified Chinese are published in Mainland China), tokenized the essays into sequences of words with a customized Chinese tokenizer (which is based on CC-CEDICT dictionary) and put them into a simple Markov model to generate new paragraphs.
Most of Leung’s articles in 2019 are about serious topics like politics, culture, and art, but after going through the Markov model, the generated text appears to be, somehow, meaningless, absurd, confusing, and ridiculous. I like this contrast because it somehow reminds me of the fact that the Internet (which is also the space where the attacks happened) is deconstructing discussions. That is not necessarily a good thing or necessarily a bad thing. It all depends on how we react. With the deconstruction, can we jump out of the existing perceptions and stereotypes? And after deconstructing, can we find a way back to the original question and settle down on an answer?
Reflect on one essay in the input of Leung about Cantonese, and the fact that in recent years Cantonese has been given a kind of political meaning. I wrote an algorithm to randomly choose two words in the text, replace one of them with a word that sounds similar to it in Mandarin (in simplified Chinese), and do the same to the other but with Cantonese (and traditional Chinese), then repeat the process every few seconds. Due to historical reasons Mandarin, simplified Chinese, and Mainland China are closely bound together, and so are Cantonese, traditional Chinese, and Hong Kong, although there is a population in Mainland China that speak Cantonese and write in simplified script and vice versa in Hong Kong. This impression, or stereotype, of spoken languages and writing scripts, creates boundaries for people to discuss and understand.
The algorithm makes the text change slightly over time. After a while, because of the replacements, the text becomes more and more senseless in terms of the literal meaning of the characters, but since the replaced words share the same or a similar pronunciation with the original ones, the visitors can still guess what words were in the places before and then get a fuzzy idea of the unreplaced text.
What happened to the text is a metaphor for what happened to Leung (and others) in real life: people quote, then ‘interpret’ and twist, what he (and they) wrote/said to support their opinions on him (and them), then A’s twisted quotation is quoted by B, and B’s by C… The meaning of the words in their quotation goes further and further away from the original one. Thus, it is harder and harder for people to get to the original idea of the text.
It is also a metaphor for the more and more divided society. With algorithms on social media and the instigation from some individuals and groups, the space for neutral opinions is lost. You are either part of us or the enemy. There is no place in between, and there is nothing in common between “us” and the enemy. Thus, the possibility of discussion and negotiation is gone. Only hate and attack are left.
Pronunciation data collected from open Cantonese dictionary, CC-Canto database and CC-CEDICT database, pre-processed by me.
ScreenShots (Click on the picture to view the original resolution version)
I really recommend you to play the game and experience the story. Here is just a screenshot of (one of) the beginning paragraph(s) to give you an idea of how it looks like (in case that the embedded content above is not working).