The Library of Nonhuman Books
Karen ann Donnachie
The Library of Nonhuman Books, 2019. This autonomous reading system is intended to function as a “bridge” between human and nonhuman readers of books produced between the mid-15th and late-20th century. At the heart of this system is a custom-made reading-machine which can interpret any page of text from a (physical) book placed in its ‘cradle.’ The machine algorithmically searches for combinations of words on the page in an attempt to create new derivations of the original text. These combinatorial results are revealed through the erasure of all other words on the page. Based on the resulting text, the system then searches online for an accompanying image that it uses to ‘illuminate’ that page. The resulting spread is projected in real time into the exhibition space, allowing the reader to contemporaneously view both the original book (which lies within the machine) and its altered pages (projected onto the wall or screen). Automation of this system also permits the creation of new editions which are occasionally printed, bound, and added to the Library of Nonhuman Books. In addition to the reading-machine, a small version of this Library is exhibited. An Artificially Illuminated script. This project creates a digital palimpsest, or scraping away, of texts which are offered in the place of, or alongside, the original material book. Working within the genre of erasure poetry with the added disruption of ‘illumination,’ our reading-machine leverages artificial intelligence and machine learning to make and unmake meaning with every turn of the page. Significantly, the system attempts to perform its combinatorial functions while preserving the materiality of the book-object, including the physical texture of the book’s support, and other para-textual elements such as page numbers and marginalia. When a book is placed under the reading-machine, the system automatically and continuously generates new combinations of the printed text, and adds semantically related images taken from the internet. Through this process of ‘artificial illumination’ new meanings are proposed that, until that moment, have remained latent in the original work, not consciously perceived by the reader. The newly illuminated texts are offered as alternative futures of the book. The project speculates on the book to come, where a post-literate society defers its reading to nonhuman counterparts.