THE NAMING MACHINE

Lauan mahogany and white paint, with cards and audio playback.
48” x 96”

Visitors present themselves to the machine. The machine dispenses cards, one per person. Each card consists of a name, age and epithet. The cards are dispensed in random order.

Produced for CHRONICLES OF L.A. VOL 2: THE SELF

The machine dispenses 1000 different selves. Each card consists of a name and an age – because I think being re-aged as well as re-named more throughly disrupts your sense of self. Each name is accompanied by an epithet. I call these brief texts ‘decals’, like a transfer of something onto your new identity. A trace, or perhaps a marker, of where your new self is at right now, which can be interpreted any way you like. As you approach it, the machine will produce your card.

Using unpredictability by randomizing the cards was important to me, because chance can create moments of serendipity or tension that design cannot. Removing authorial control in this way gives rise to the impression that an intelligence other than human is at work – perhaps an artificial intelligence. There is an audio element also: the Machine may announce your new name, or glitch, and begin to recite the epithets but not the names, or only the names. Or it might say nothing at all. In this way the Machine resembles a malfunctioning carnival automaton.

We are forced all the time to confirm our identity and therefore render ourselves trackable, traceable and accountable to the surveillance state. For a moment, inside the Machine, this process is disturbed. So, from one standpoint, there’s a sense of resistance to The Naming Machine.

From another perspective The Naming Machine suggests a computer or an automated system, even though behind the curtain it is manually operated, like the Wizard of Oz. The first ‘computers’ were people, who calculated and recorded the data of the tides and stars in almanacs. And we remember the women leashed to old-timey telephone exchanges, connecting calls and making circuits light up. But then we choose to forget that behind the curtain is a worker: underneath the shiny facade of tech is human labour.

We’re scared to remember that we are computers too, and that technology is really ourselves. But despite all the ways that the self is broken open and data-mined and co-opted, there are still ways to slip the net. Roll up, roll up…

Special thanks to Jay Basu, Kendall Feath, James Mountford, Leena Similu and Luke Skrebowski.