Burning Down the House
If artist Aram Bartholl is afraid of the dark, he
couldn’t have avoided it any more elegantly. His
most recent project, Random Screen, is a simple
light display that uses old technology (candles and
whirligigs) to mimic new technology, toying with our
assumptions about the workings of the digital age.
Photograph by Aram Bartholl
The piece involves a grid of 16 paper boxes, each
of which holds a tea light partially obscured by a
beer-can pinwheel. The heat rising from the flame
spins the pinwheel, and each pixel brightens and
dims at a different rate, depending on the intensity
of the flame and the speed of the pinwheel. The
flickering lights are essentially a random number
generator, although in spirit, they’re closer to a
mechanical and (very) pixilated night sky.
Random Screen was the next generation of a
project Bartholl realized in 2004, which was in turn
inspired by a 2001 installation in Berlin by the Chaos
Computer Club: Blinkenlights turned the windows
of an office building in Alexanderplatz into a huge,
interactive, pixilated screen. Bartholl made his own
analog version, Papierpixel, using Christmas lights
and a 10-foot-long looped punch card to create a
simple programmable moving image.
As in Random Screen, analog and digital flirt in full
view, offering up a creation that approaches history
from the back end, the past re-envisioned through
the eyes of the future. Both pieces have been shown
at a number of galleries around the world, and will
be on view at the Ars Electronica festival (themed
“Simplicity”) this fall.
“From a historical perspective,” says Bartholl,
“one could speak of the invention of the screen
that never existed.”
Stay tuned for the DIY instructions appearing in CRAFT,
Volume 01, on sale in October 2006.