Computer Writes Message on Toilet Wall
A group of computer scientists and artists have built a robot that writes graffiti on toilet walls. The research team spent three years taking photographs of text written on the inside of toilet cubicles in bars, restaurants, park toilets, sports stadiums and universities. They then transcribed the text and fed it to an algorithm programmed with machine learning capabilities that could determine tropes and phrases commonly used in toilet scribble. The algorithm was then installed into a small robot that can crawl undetected through public spaces towards the toilets. Once inside the toilet cubicle, the algorithm generates a new message (based on all the graffiti in its memory) in a unique hand-written font. The robot, installed with a mini printer, prints the graffiti as a sticker and sticks it to the wall, and makes its escape.
The head of the research team, Dr Hannah Brown, says that the project was inspired because of the intimate and highly personalised nature of the language people use when writing toilet graffiti. Trained as both a computer scientist and poet, Brown explains she feels compelled to explore what it is that makes human language distinctively human, and that toilets were a good place to start.
"I started taking pictures of toilet graffiti around 5 years ago for a poetry project," Brown recounts. "I wanted to make a collage poem out of the text, but in the process I discovered that each piece of graffiti on its own was unique and sincere, and illuminated the life of the person who wrote it, their entire personality, their hopes for the future, their insecurities, everything. I thought they were, on their own, the most perfect poems I’d ever seen, destined to be removed and disappear under turpentine and an old rag. I wondered: if toilet graffiti is such a personal and sincere act, could a computer write toilet graffiti?”
Despite a few technical mishaps, Brown feels that the experiment has so far been a great success. “Our algorithm is generating graffiti that is sometimes heartbreakingly sincere. The other day it wrote: “I am in love with red head with freckles!” I’ve started to feel this strange tenderness for our little robot. I often have to remind myself that it’s just a mashup of the confessions and fantasies of thousands of real human toilet writers.”
The project has been criticised on social media for being a waste of time and money. “Why would we want to teach a computer how to vandalise,” one tweeter asked? Brown defends the project on its artistic merit. “This project isn’t only about the algorithm and the robot. It aims to bring up a more foundational questions about our humanity. I’ve always wondered: why do people write things on toilets? It is completely anonymous, an art form that is practiced for no specific audience, but for an imagined audience. It is the individual communicating to the collective. In a way it is like a prototype Internet.”
By studying the messages that the algorithm is generating, Brown hopes to learn more about the nature of sincerity. “We’re often told that in the digital realm privacy is the greatest commodity. I disagree: I think sincerity is much more valuable.”
pub toilet graffiti as pre-digital, anonymized social media is a great call, autonomous robots operating as secret algorithmic sigil-makers in public space is just… I just… I… I’m gonna have to lie down for a bit and think about that.
"I’ve got this theory that when you travel long distances, your soul doesn’t travel as fast as your body—it gets caught somewhere. I can’t wait to be reunited with mine so I feel whole again," Lucy McRae muses down the line of our slightly delayed Skype connection. We’ve barely even exchanged pleasantries, and already I get the sense that Lucy is as otherworldly as her work suggests.
A self-described body architect, Lucy’s practice oscillates somewhere between the morbid and the mind-bending, with the constant thread of a fascination with the future connecting her work. Bringing to life futuristic concepts with a lurking undercurrent of science fiction, Lucy traverses the potential intersection between the body and technology, predominately using the medium of film to realize her experiments. Thus far, those have included projects involving an invented fragrance Swallowable Parfum, an imagined Aesop laboratory, and exploration of the world of genetic manipulation through edible clones.
Eliza Bennett - A woman’s work is never done, 2011
Using my own hand as a base material, I considered it a canvas upon which I stitched into the top layer of skin using thread to create the appearance of an incredibly work worn hand. By using the technique of embroidery, traditionally employed to represent femininity and applying it to the expression of it’s opposite, I hope to challenge the pre-conceived notion that ‘women’s work’ is light and easy. Aiming to represent the effects of hard work arising from employment in low paid ancillary jobs such as cleaning, caring, and catering, all traditionally considered to be ‘women’s work’.
As part of her MA work at the Design Academy Eindhoven, artist and graphic designer Echo Yang created a series titled Autonomous Machines where common analog devices like tin windup toys, a Walkman, an alarm clock and other machines were connected to writing and painting instruments. As each machine was set loose on a canvas its specialized motions were translated into brush strokes, paint blobs, and pencil marks resulting in self-generated artworks somewhat reminiscent of spirographs. While conceptual artists have long been recording the actions of machines, plants, wind and other moving objects to generate artwork, Yang’s painting wind-up chicken toy stands out as a superbly executed idea. It would be great to see a whole series of those. You can see many more painting vacuum cleaners, hand mixers and electric razors on her website.
h/t to M
Game art project by Alex Myers reduces the FPS to it’s basic principle, shoot and kill, by placing armed players in a small intimate space - video embedded below:
Build a small room. Arm two players. Let them kill each other. Over and over and over and over and over. Call it “Winning.”
It examines the dynamic of popular First-Person Shooter videogames. By limiting the game space to a small room with two players, I’ve removed any overt reason to play the game in order to highlight the basic dynamic of violence. Both models, the terrorist and the counter-terrorist are wearing my smiling face, inverting the traditional place of a game avatar. It is not about fighting myself, but about about seeing myself and ourselves reflected in this perpetual cycle of violence and asking, “is this winning?”. If there are no human players, then the cycle is broken.
More about the project can be found here