New foundations for Río Arzobispo

A Utopia of Permutations

by Carlos Bradford

Everything starts with a river. A river born in the eastern hills of Bogotá, flowing through the city -just a few blocks from my house- and dipping underground in front of the Universidad Nacional. A small river that is now a ditch, a thread of water, polluted, invisible. A pale image of its past (as one of the main sources of potable water in the region from the XVI to mid XX centuries) and of those rivers that were vital for conquistadors and city foundations. Rivers are no longer poetic or important, but not so long ago, they were one of the biggest sources of inspiration for songs and poems, for ideas of eternal change, flow and circulation, from Heraclitus to Deleuze, from The Blue Danube to the World Wide Web and its ice bucket challenges. With computers we still use the same nautical images: we have execution errors by data overflow, we talk to each other via streams of videos, we are hacked by phishing spoofs —we do all this things while surfing the web—. Like a strange transmutation of matter, water keeps flowing in the myriad of cables and wires of our computers and in the echoes of the wi-fi signals of our modern delta of communication networks.

In this work we want to make visible the usual opacity of algorithms and the algorithmic culture we live in. The same one that dictates what to buy, what to watch, and what friends we should have. We also want to make useless, grotesque, machines. In this case an autonomous software-machine that takes as input the objects and images around the course of the Arzobispo river and its sound. Photographs of both of its shores are now cut, remixed, filtered, composed and liquified in instant collages that are informed by the sound of the same river. The parameters of each composition (images, cuts, positions, colours) are constantly modified by the frequency values of the sound creating a constantly changing flow of images. Each one of these will never be produced again in the same way -statistically we would die before coming across another combination with the exact same characteristics-, such is the sheer amount of possible combinations.

The authorship here is then fuzzy, diverse, all encompassing: the river as substrate and trigger, the machine as blind automata and executor of instructions, the artist feeding the system with empty rules and parameters, the editors and designers of this magazine fine-tuning palettes and layouts and being the final ‘fishers’ of these fixed images —and you, the reader, as the final composer of meaning and sense. We are all the author, witnesses of some form of arbitrary grammar that uses the sound of a river as a chaotic seed with an outcome that is impossible to predict beforehand by any of us. All the images from both shores are intermingled by the same river in a cycle that wants to create a cyborg artwork of sorts: a hybrid between nature, culture and machine in a never ending autonomous flow.

This work navigates old waters: from the random/process poetry by the dadaists and the Oulipo group to the cut-up experiments of William Burroughs, from the medieval computing discs of Ramon Lulle to the Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges, from the early random paintings by Ellsworth Kelly2 to the new traditions of generative computer art. In this case, the sound and the software creates a landscape that is now a fragmented and mixed map. Thomas More described a perfect city in a circular territory, the axis and the grid being also basic principles of many utopian projects of order for reason and space. We, as many others, believe that any search for purity is a form of fascism —a dead-end— and we prefer to go for illustrations of a chaotic skyline. In this foundation made by/with a forgotten river we want to illustrate a simple, almost childish, immaterial utopia of sorts. A place where logic and coherence are short-circuited and where the natural, the artificial and the human can co-create a space for new and unforeseeable possibilities.

    1. “He called it Utopia, a Greek word meaning ‘there is no such place'”
      – Quevedo via Borges

      “There is no work of art that does not call on a people who does not yet exist.”
      – El Deleuze