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November 16, 2008

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This Post Typed By A Robot

An industrial robot is scripting the bible, stroke by stroke:

The installation ‘bios [bible]’ consists of an industrial robot, which writes down the bible on rolls of paper. The machine draws the calligraphic lines with high precision. Like a monk in the scriptorium it creates step by step the text.

Starting with the old testament and the books of Moses ‘bios [bible]’ produces within seven month continuously the whole book. All 66 books of the bible are written on rolls and then retained and presented in the library of the installation.

‘bios [bible]’ is focussing on the questions of faith and technical progress. The installation correlates two cultural systems which are fundamental for societies today – religion and scientific rationalism. In this contexts scripture has all times an elementary function, as holy scripture or as formal writing of knowledge.

In computer technology ‘basic input output system’ (bios) designates the module which basicaly coordinates the interchange between hard- and software. Therefore it contains the indispensable code, the essential program writing, on which every further program can be established.

You’ve really got to see the videos to see quite how it works. When I first saw a lo-res picture, I thought that it might be in Hebrew, but it’s beautiful blackletter German.

Part of the reason I thought it might be Hebrew is the use of a long paper scroll (one for each book of the bible), which is consistent with the Jewish tradition. So instead of a manuscript Hebrew Bible on scrolls, a Catholic bible scripted in Latin in a parchment codex, a Luther-era German Bible printed in blackletter on paper, or a modern industrial bible printed by machine, the bible written by the bios machine isn’t quite any of the above.

Via Sullivan.

Posted November 16, 2008 at 2:29 | Comments (4) | Permasnark
File under: Books, Writing & Such


This is, indeed, pretty cool. I know the finished rolls are "retained and presented in the library of the installation," but are they sold? Distributed? Examined at all? Are errors introduced into the script at anytime? (All of these are "points of coolness," not criticisms.)

There are pointers in this, both toward the "mechanical" nature of a great deal of human labor throughout human history--scriveners and laborers in the scriptoriums--but toward the possible return of the book as ink-on-paper to a status of art object. I'd love to see artists take up these rolls and illuminate them. I'd love to see the rolls sent to libraries around the world. I'd love to see rolls bound and sold.

This is part of the future of the small, specialty, or art press. Maybe not all mechanical arms, but handmade and letterpress books as well as print-on-demand and e-books.

Also of interest may be the Saint John's Bible, "the first handwritten, illuminated Bible in the modern era."

Yeah, for art installation primarily about process, the description is actually a little short on process. My best guess is that they have an algorithm to write each of the characters, and the text tells the computer what to write. So the individual characters are identical, short of any imperfections in the paper or the ink, chirographic reproductions of a blackletter typeface. On a cursory glance, I don't see any ligatures, but they might have a few special characters.

Any errors would be errors in the digital source text, not in the "copying." It's hard say that what the machine is doing is actually copying. If it could read -- say, take a photograph and OCR a text -- interpret, and write, then, it would be copying.

Man, I am out of it. Hofler and Frere-Jones posted about RobotLab's bios project over a year ago. They even identify the lettering: "a primitive but serviceable version of the schwabacher script."

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