Palimpsest

Palimpsest, 2013
Digital prints
Dimensions variable

Our generation is characterized by a growing, worldwide paranoia about the security of our personal data. Indeed, governments and corporations are already using technology to examine and predict our behavior. We can debate the legality such intrusions, but the fact that we each leave a trail of information in our wake cannot be argued or avoided. Though digital technology makes such tracking faster and more accurate, older technologies have been revealing our data to prying eyes for thousands of years.

The original term “palimpsest” refers to ancient documents that contain multiple texts. Due to the scarcity of Medieval writing surfaces, a parchment might be washed and reused many times. In some cases, the erased text is still legible and of greater interest than the more recent writing.

Palimpsest is a robotic device that scans old typewriter rollers for accidental text. It works like a printer in reverse; when connected to a computer via USB, Palimpsest inputs, rather than outputs, formerly hidden words and phrases. The first roller in the Palimpsest series was found in a dumpster, and contains phrases like “EACH DEPARTMENT”, “OFFICE SKILLS” and “PLASTIC BACK BONES”. No individual is revealed through the investigation of the roller. Instead, Palimpsest collects and displays information about the former relationship between a group of people and a piece of now obsolete technology.

This project is partially supported by an Individual Artists Program Grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events and Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.

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