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Paul Prudence: Thinking Like An Algorithm

Hand-Plotting And Typewritings


6 Dec 2023

You Might Not Know an Algorithm Until You've Typed it

Artist Paul Prudence discusses using a typewriter to think like an algorithm.

Anika Meier: Paul, you have a background in textile design. How did you get into art?

Paul Prudence: My first degree was in textile design, but subsequently I shifted my path towards art, first by doing a post-grad diploma in textile art and then an MA in fine art. So, although I initially set out on an educational path in textiles, specifically printed design, I was always working on art projects, or at least thinking about art and researching its various historical movements since my early teens.

AM: You’re known for repurposing an ordinary typewriter to behave like an electronic plotter. Why a typewriter?

PP: I had been aware of and inspired by the concrete poetry movement, and as a writer, I was thinking about ways in which I could combine writing and visual art for a while. It was only by chance that one day I found an old Silver Reed typewriter in a charity shop. I bought the machine, took it home, and it sat in the corner of my studio space for some months before I tried to use it. When I did, the keys were a bit clogged and the ink was dry, so there was no typing to be had from it. Through a bit of frustration and some luck, I began to experiment with holding a pen in place while I typed and moved the platen roller up and down. I immediately recognised that I had a rudimentary mechanical plotting system sitting right in front of me.

The idea of having a hand-operated mechanical plotter in the age of expensive and sophisticated electronic plotters amused me. From then on, I set out to explore ways in which to develop techniques for mimicking processes and algorithms.

Even after nearly three years of using this technique, I am still finding new patterns and systems.

For more:

Algorithm, Design

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