5/6/10 6:51 PM
Our world is rich in systems of communication, from birdsong to English, from binary code to representational drawing. If we recognize that word-based languages are not the only form of data transmission, we realize just how fluent many of us actually are. Heather Gordon’s recent work presents various comparisons that get at this multilingual state of things, graphing the titles of classic literature like "Don Quijote" and Darwin’s "On the Origin of the Species" in binary strings, and doing likewise in a second series with the calls of various animals and insects. To these last she adds simple, elegant drawings of the creatures in question, for an additional layer of speech. A third series does this with outmoded vehicles of what Gordon refers to smartly as “conveyance,” ranging from a gramophone to an old buggy. For all this multilingualism, however, issues of translation and miscommunication constantly arise, and it is instructive to examine what exactly can be said through one system and not through another, and to whom—or what. What can we learn of a record player through word versus image versus code? Which of these systems is legible to me or to you—and which to a computer? As our world proliferates digitally and virtually, this last question becomes increasingly important. Perhaps the ultimate revelation of Gordon’s work, which she crafts with an extremely human kind of wit and brevity, as well as a deft and elegantly hand-worked graphic sensibility, has less to do with inter-person communication than person-machine and machine-machine transmission—and how much we need to ensure that it stays humanized.