This past weekend, La Gaîté Lyrique welcomed into its Open Laboratory in Paris Pixel Ache and Mal au Pixel, who hosted an « Earth Coding » workshop with the artist Martin Howse. Makery was there.
What if the Earth were nothing but a giant computer program? British artist Martin Howse follows this intuition by researching how to transform earthy activity into code. With the patience of a botanist explorer, the poet-performer-coder strides across cities and forests to decrypt electro-magnetic signals, capture telluric friction and listen to the tiniest traces of underground life, which he converts into lines of code that reveal the interaction between humans and the Earth. « The connections between contemporary technologies and the Earth can lead to a new form of land art, » he explains during Pixel_Lab #3, « Earth Coding » workshop hosted by Mal au Pixel and Pixelache at parisian art center La Gaité Lyrique on July 19-20.
In front of a dozen participants, Howse unpacks his magician’s box filled with packets of sulfur, sand and aluminum powder—« in order to make my own silicon »—sensors, Mapa sensing gloves to dig in the soil, electronic trowels and DIY amplifiers. Then he leads his troupe of artists, students, scientists and makers to Saint-Cloud Park to collaboratively collect data, while taking advantage of the approaching storm to record atmospheric crackles amplified by the soil, which acts as a natural air antenna. With a big smile, the artist-researcher explains: « This is the first time I’m doing this type of workshop. It’s a collective experiment, so I’m not here to teach methods but rather to lead the discussion around the complex relationships that exist between technology and the Earth. »
From wormcoding to the poetry of code
In order to ensure a successful data extraction process, the group takes both mechanical and chemical samples. Reactions come from bacteria, mushrooms, moss, insects… and above all from worms, which inspired Howse’s « wormcoding ». Converted into raw code, the recordings reveal textual series that are examined in the studio the next day. « Actually I go from wormcoding to wormpoetry, based on these word probabilities. My research is mostly influenced by writing rather than visual art. I like to observe the environment and understand how things come alive. » Between Edgar Allen Poe quotes, the participants discover the lines of the day (« thetsper tind the th’s the ther the be.t thinlack stspeth bylou a leans »), before moving on to a DIY water coding experiment using plastic cups and straws.
« I’m not so much interested in the effects or the results as in the process itself, because things don’t just move in one direction according to human action. It also depends on the Earth, its reactions, its own effects, » says Howse, for whom observing the relationship between geophysical psyche and phenomenon provides a critical distance in regards to the uses of technology. He also gives a demonstration of Earthboot, a project he developed a few years ago. By connecting his computer directly to the earth, his PC starts up from random lines of instructions rather than the words of an operating system… « even if it makes my laptop crash more than once ! »
Howse leaves Paris for his Berlin studio to pursue his experiments, including a project to sonify the formation of crystals, which he will present in France next autumn. Meanwhile, he will also get back to writing, this time uncoded. « But probably in winter, because I reserve the summer for my fieldwork, which yields more samples. »