CHEN Qianxun | 2018 | Seedlings_


Shortlisted for The 2021 Coover AwardElectronic Literature Organization
Generative Unfolding, The MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology, MA, USA, 2021
Consciousness Reframed 2019, Porto, Portugal, 2019
Electronic Literature Organization 2019, Cork, Irland
Published in ZeTMaG Issue 4.2

Seedlings_ is a digital media installation that plants words as seeds and lets them grow using the Datamuse API, a data-driven word-finding engine. It is at once an ambient piece in which words and concepts are dislocated and recontextualized constantly, and a playground for the creation of linguistic immigrants and textual nomads. In Seedlings_, a word can be transplanted into a new context, following pre-coded generative rules that are bundled under the names of plants (ginkgo, dandelion, pine, bamboo, ivy…). These generative rules consist of a series of word-finding queries to the API and are grouped in modules to represent the visual structure of the corresponding plant. Other than words in monospace font, lines of dashes are the only other visual elements in the piece, expressing the minimalist aesthetics in these potentially infinite two-dimensional linguistic beings.

In distributional semantics, words that are used and occur in the same contexts tend to have similar meanings. Based on this hypothesis, words are processed by n-grams, represented and manipulated as vectors in contemporary machine learning. With the help of algorithms, we can now identify kinships between words (through similarity or frequent consecutive use) in milliseconds. Seedlings_ reconfigures existing technologies and services in Natural Language Processing as the virtual soil to generate alternative linguistic plants: it seeks new poetic combination of words by encouraging unusual flow of words and concepts.