information is physical – my workshop this Saturday at the Affordable Art Fair

Posted on: June 11th, 2015 by libby

Capsule Installation - II

These days while reading about  art, I often see information describes as immaterial or ephemeral.  However, being a physicist by background, I always think of information as something physical and tangible - text in books made from paper and ink or digital information comprised of different voltages inside the mini integrated circuitry of our computers.  Incidentally, these electronic states are known as bits, 0 or 1's, and are the basic building block of modern computer science.  The physics of the system that holds the information guides the type of processing that can take place and unexpected things happen on the microscopic level where quantum physics dominates interactions.  The conventional notion of a bit is replaced by a quantum bit or qubit, which can be in both 0 and 1 states simultaneously.  This parallelism allows information to be processed much faster and in new ways compared to traditional computers.

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 11.47.36 AM

While these concepts can be tricky to intuitively understand as we never directly view the microscopic world or even the circuitry of our computer, the fact that information is physical has been known for hundreds of years and my workshop at the Affordable Art Fair is inspired by these ideas.  The Klikitat and Yakama people of the Columbia plateau used the knots of the "counting-the-days ball", or ititamat, to register significant life events and were created and kept by women.  "Simple knots recorded individual days, while meaningful occasions, such as marriages, births, or deaths were highlighted with special markers, including glass beads, shells, human hair, and cloth fragments. As a woman grew older, her time ball contained the history of her family and the extended community, including days of bounty, hardship, or even conflict. Maintaining her time ball was so essential to a woman’s identity that she was buried with it." More recently, there have been a bunch of interesting articles about the similarities of knitting and coding.

CLOUD closeup

My degree show piece CLOUD (above) consisted of a handcrafted mechanical screen made entirely from natural materials.  The octahedron pixels were suspended in the net made from linen, which is coded with a thousand of my thoughts from around January and February this year.  Essentially the net is made using a technique called macrame, which involves making knots on either side of a group of threads.  I decided to convert the famous dots and dashes of morse code to the knots used in macrame that would allow me to embed the net with personal information as the Klikitat and Yakama people had with their counting balls.  The mapping scheme between the dots and dashes and the knots are shown in the image below.

morse code as knots

The messages in CLOUD's net are (hopefully!) quite tricky to decode, but in my workshop on Saturday at the Affordable Art Fair I will be asking the participants to write messages about their thoughts towards information and quantum superposition using the macrame morse code above. - what would they do if they could be in two places at the same time? I've got a bunch of colourful yarns and I'm super looking forward to hearing a variety of ideas all coded into balls of string.

Tickets to the fair and more details about Made in Arts London are available from here.  Furthermore, while you're there, spend some time playing with and rebuilding my piece 'is there love in a telematic embrace?' (pictured at the top and written about previously in my blog).