by Andres Ayerbe, Camille Leproust

EnglandUniversity of the Arts London, London College of Communication
Published online
June 3, 2014

This assignment was a university competition brief from the Lisbon Architecture Triennale. It asked students to propose an intervention – programmatically or physically – in the Triennale’s headquarters, the 18th century Sinel de Cordes Palace, based on the political, technological, emotional, institutional, and critical forms of global spatial practice. Tutors: Joel Karamath & Tobias Revell.

Scripts is a user-generated monument to dissent. It focuses on the growing political authority of online discourse. The massive amount of freely shared information feeds a powerful platform for discussion, dissent and active political action.

Camille and Andres have embodied this phenomenon in a column. From the Parthenon and the Alhambra to the Brandenburg Gate and the Lincoln Memorial, the column has evolved from simply being a structural element in buildings to, increasingly, a symbol of institutionalised power.

They write: “Our column is reimagined as 24 ceiling-mounted receipt printers (a direct reference to the 24 flutes found in Ionic columns): each is tracking the discussions of online platforms such as twitter, each on a specific subject. Our software deconstructs and fragments the authority of the column: the more interest certain situations gain, the more the relevant section of the column will grow, and in no way will we be able to predict its final outcome.”

Scripts considers both the strengths and the flaws of online discourse which by its own nature is typically anarchic, unregulated and fickle. The project’s deconstruction of the centuries-old aesthetics and semantics of the column aims to raise questions regarding the endurance and efficacy of online discourse, and to serve as a monument to user-generated content, “a Trajan column for the digital age”.

“The events of the Occupy movement and the Arab Spring, as well as the constant stream of user generated information coming from Afghanistan, Syria, Myanmar, Somalia, India, and more, prove the point that not only is the internet a legitimate vehicle for dissent and free speech, but, sometimes, the only possible.

“Foucault in 1998 wrote of power as something that is everywhere, and ‘comes from everywhere’: the internet, and, by extension, our column, is the perfect manifestation of the unidentifiable origin and nature of power. A movable, unpredictable structure controlled by exchange of information and data.

“The installation aims to raise questions about dissent and social unrest in the age of the internet: can we quantify and visualise online movements? Is the internet the ultimate place for manifesting dissent and challenge the status quo? And, more widely, are we also questioning the relationship between social and political struggle and the space it inhabits throughout history: whether its shift from the permanent materiality of stone to the intangible volatile nature of bytes signifies a shift in the materiality of dissent itself?”

  1. Guest comment
    by Nick Bell

    It is easy to see from the visuals, that if realised, Scripts will make for a very beautiful and engaging installation. The way the receipts curl out of the twenty-four receipt printers to form the volute (that top part of the column that looks like cream being squeezed out of a chocolate éclair) is very clever. I can imagine the satisfying tap-tap tapping of the receipt printers springing into life suddenly and erratically. I can see them feeding the narrow tapes of white paper down towards the floor with every tapped-out line of chatter. And then in contrast to the visual order above, it is ‘neat’ how these ribbons of information then collide with the floor, crumple haphazardly and pile up. A white cube gallery space, just like the one visualised by Camille and Andres would frame this piece perfectly. It’s a great idea.

    However, it doesn’t make sense to me that online protest should be embodied by a classical column. It is true that the classical column has been used to represent the power of the establishment for a long time (it’s a cliché but that’s ok, as clichés can make for a good club to hit a target with). But why depict online protest as a sturdy pillar? Pillars are good at holding things up. Ok, pillars made from paper aren’t. But why should protest take on a form that is commonly associated with trying to keep the status quo standing when the desire is to take it down? The formal beauty of this piece works against itself in ensuring that it is more a construction of a column than a ‘deconstruction’ of it. The apparatus of the installation appears to be attempting to make a column (in real time) but is failing because it is using completely inappropriate material.

    Formal deconstruction is too polite a mode for real protest. Radical protest traditionally takes the mode of all-out attack, of risking everything in order to plant a blow at the heart of the target. But the powers that be have learnt how to deflect these blows that have over the years become quite predictable. A more twenty-first century mode of protest is celebration: celebration of alternative values and lifestyles that threaten to grip the imagination of the mainstream and in so doing might pull away the foundations supporting the establishment. Although to be honest we seem a long way away from succeeding in that at present.

    From another perspective, is it not now arguable following events over the past year, that everyone’s use of the internet, be it for information, entertainment or protest, will only succeed in consolidating the existing monopolies, elites, and government power structures due to the digital traces we leave? So perhaps the column, as a suitable structure that online discourse makes, is not so inappropriate after all.

    In 2011 Metahaven created an installation strikingly similar to Scripts (created in 2013) for the exhibition Graphic Design Worlds at the Triennale di Milano. The Metahaven piece explored the ‘multi-jurisdictional identity’ of Wikileaks. It features vertical narrow, till-receipt like strips of white, lightweight printed paper that form the flutes of at least three columns descending from the gallery ceiling down to the floor. The strips of paper are printed with paragraphs of black text. Although unclear from looking at the photographs of the installation that exist online, it is possible that each column is made up of twenty-four strips of paper. From what can be seen in these images, the strips of paper do not seem to have been printed in real time like is the intention with Scripts but prepared in advance. Both Camille and Andres were unaware of the existence of the Metahaven installation until I brought it to their attention.

  1. Comment
    by Andres Ayerbe
    June 13, 2014

    First of all we would like to thank Nick for spending the time and effort to review Scripts and give us his insights and his feedback, and Typolitic for featuring our work.

    For Camille and I this is a project that we still feel attached to, probably because we never actually built it. It somehow stayed in its own limbo, even though in terms of recognition it is one of our most successful projects. It has not really evolved materially past the digital renderings that we did more than a year ago and so it is hard to speak about it realistically as we never really got our hands dirty with it, so to speak, and could never really see it working, which with interactive art, is half of the process.

    We were also blissfully unaware of Metahaven's older project; had we known at the time, Scripts would look very different indeed. While I still believe there are important conceptual differences between the two projects, the actual aesthetic representations are two similar for us 'to get away with it'. So if we were to actually realise Scripts, or, better, if we were finally to build an installation that responded to the same conceptual framework, we will steer clear from the falling paper receipts.

    Regarding Nick's very insightful commentary, there are some things I would like to respond to. While I personally see how the column can be seen as a bit of a cliché, I think that it still works as a metaphor for what Camille and I wanted to talk about. It is indeed a pillar, strong and powerful like the masses that voice their opinions online and kindle dissent and rebellion; but the material itself, as Nick too comments, is frail and completely inappropriate for a pillar. It is in the relationship and the dialogue between the formal and the material qualities of the piece that our questions and reservations about online political discourse come to light.

    Perhaps formal deconstruction, as Nick suggests, is indeed too polite for real protest. Fair enough, we are not protesters and there is not any institution or any situation we are attacking or protesting with Scripts. We do not really identify a single voice of protest and political ideology with the project, simply because the project itself is the result of thousands of different voices that are in no way curated or directed by us. Our agency on the political and protest implications of the project is limited simply to the topics we could choose and the visual representation we wanted to give to these voices. If they contradict themselves, if they say things we do not agree with or if they just use their tweets to insult each other, that's fine, that's exactly what online discourse is. If a viewer sees in our column the mighty power of online dissent, or in the paper the stupidity and ephemeral nature of it, that is going to depend a lot on that particular viewer's own opinions about the matter in the first place.

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