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“The Legible City” [1988-1991]

Jeffrey SHAW

“The Legible City”


Created in the early days of media art, this is one historical work that represents the use of interactivity as a characteristic element of media art in the 1990s.

Images of a city made by 3D computer graphics are projected onto a screen. Each building in the city is a letter of the alphabet. These letters are arranged in rows along the streets to form words and sentences. A bicycle (exercise bike) installed in the exhibition space functions as an interface, which visitors can ride and pedal through the streets to decipher the text. This city made up of words is in fact a simulation of actually existing cities, as it was created based on maps of the cities of Manhattan, Amsterdam and Karlsruhe. The text in Manhattan consists of eight fictional stories in which such characters as taxi drivers and the mayor of New York City (at the time) appear, while the other two texts were taken from documents of historical events.

Shown in “Open Space 2014” is a reproduction of the work that was made as part of the “digital art conservation project” initiated at the ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe (Germany). Regarding the conservation of media art, up to this point ZKM (and many other museums) have been focusing mainly on the conservation of hardware. At present, methods for conserving works of art are being discussed, including repairing, reproducing, and rewriting programs in cases where the computers that were used to create the original work are no longer available.

(ZKM Collection)



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