Category Archives: Palimpsest

Palimpsest Series #2

For the second Palimpsest series I scanned a new typewriter roller that contained highly legible text. By legible I mean the letter forms are easier to see (although the text content seems to be totally random). This sits in contrast to Series #1, where the nearly invisible letter forms contain recognizable words and phrases.


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.

Palimpsest @ TEI 2014, Munich, Germany

I exhibited Palimpsest on the “arts track” at the 8th International Conference on Tangible, Embedded and Embodied Interaction in Munich, Germany. The show took place in the law building at LMU. I got to see some great projects, like 3D printed motion tracking of traditional Japanese swordplay and open-source emotion-modeling soft robotics. Also sausage.

Palimpsest camera feed

Here’s a recorded feed that shows what the Palimpsest camera sees.  I found an unlikely source for inexpensive digital microscopes – this one is meant to be used to clean out your ears!

Palimpsest technology

The core product of the Palimpsest project is a series of digital prints.  I didn’t know of any simple/existing way to make the images I wanted, so I built a robot to do the job.  The code side features an Arduino/Processing controller.  The hardware is built around a Makerslide rail, a digital microscope, and a found typewriter roller.  All the guts are housed in a custom built, powder coated steel case.

I’m still unsure if I consider the device a sculptural object (and therefor part of the artwork) or a tool like any other in my shop.  The presence of kinetic devices can often distract from quieter objects like prints, so I may exhibit the images on their own in the future.