Back for the 2022 Edinburgh Fringe! NEWSPEAK & {poem}.py at the Scottish Storytelling Centre – what are #wordsworth ?

The original iteration of Newspeak visualised the words of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four as if they were commodities on a stock exchange. Using live data scraped from Google Ads, the text of the book scrolls across the screen as ticker-tape. The fluctuating prices of the words are determined by what they are worth to Google in the context of an advert. The project is a political critique of the power held by technology companies as mediators of information in an age of linguistic capitalism. Evoking Orwell’s vision of Newspeak as a language that “could only be used for one purpose”, the project suggests that in a digital age, language is controlled and restricted by economic incentives, with similarly dystopian political consequences.

First shown in the windows of the Inspace Gallery in Potterow as part of the Data Lates fringe events in 2019, Newspeak began as a series of projections. Now consisting of 4 meter-wide LED panels, the Newspeak ticker tape was displayed at the inaugural Push the Boat Out poetry festival at Summerhall, Edinburgh last year, and this year formed part of the digital art content at the Electromagnetic Field Festival in Herefordshire.

For this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, I’ve been lucky enough to team up with the Scottish Storytelling Centre who have kindly let me show the Newspeak LED panels in their windows facing onto the Royal Mile. Although Orwell’s 1984 will always be at the conceptual core of the project, we are also running several other texts through the panels. These texts either directly or indirectly relate to the Fringe program at the Storytelling Centre and include works by Shakespeare, Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson and Hans Christian Anderson. If you notice a distinct lack of diversity in the line-up you are not wrong. It is something we tried to address but – quite tellingly – were constricted by copyright laws. In short, relevant, available, out-of-copyright texts (i.e the ones we could use) are almost exclusively the product of white western male authors, which speaks volumes to the historic injustices and imbalances in literary opportunity.

Inside the Scottish Storytelling Centre another iteration of my work will be on display throughout the fringe. Called {poem}.py, this piece consists of a receipt printer which spews out poems which have been monetised through Google Ads. {poem}.py makes visible the tension between the aesthetic value and the economic value of words in the digital economy, and shows how the context of our searches is controlled not by our intentions but by the linguistic market. In William Wordsworth’s poem I wandered lonely as a cloud, for example, the words ‘cloud’, ‘crowd’ and ‘host’ are relatively expensive. These values relate not to Wordsworth’s vision of a Cumbrian landscape, but to cloud computing, crowd funding and web hosting. We begin to see what happens to words when, taken out of their communication or descriptive context, they are allowed no other meaning but the most economically lucrative.

Speaking of Wordsworth, we will be using #wordsworth to reveal the texts being processed through the Newspeak panels. Please use this hashtag to get in touch if there is a special poem you would like a receipt for!

And please do help yourself to a poem-receipt as a momento!



Coding and development by Ray Interactive

Hardware by Bespoke Lighting & Video


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