Death on Wikipedia! Eulogies to the deleted, written by you and Difference Engine, at Gallery 1201
Samuel Brown reviews “Knowledge Lost” at Gallery 1201, by the artist collective “Difference Engine,” (John Bezark and Chris Baldys.) Brown says this interactive installation, which prompts you to write a eulogy out of deleted Wikipedia entires on an old computer, is especially impactful when experienced in solitude. The show closes Friday, Mar. 22, so catch it quick before it's gone.

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Difference Engine, “Knowledge Lost”. From “Knowledge Lost” at Gallery 1201. Photo courtesy of Difference Engine.
Difference Engine, “Knowledge Lost”. From “Knowledge Lost” at Gallery 1201. Photo courtesy of Difference Engine.

I took the elevator up to the twelfth floor of UArts’s Terra Hall recently to check out a show at Gallery 1201. Most of the students were off for spring break, so the massive building felt vacant. I would soon realize that this is the perfect context under which to view Knowledge Lost—a multimedia installation put together by a Philadelphia-based art collective Difference Engine (comprised of artists John Bezark and Chris Baldys). The only thing I knew about the show going into it was that it involved information being deleted from Wikipedia in real-time. Since Wikipedia is an open-source encyclopedia that can be edited by anyone, there are phrases or sections being deleted nearly every second of every day. Some of the deletions are single words while others are whole paragraphs. I have always been fascinated by the way information is surplussed in our digital age, and the premise for the show immediately sparked my interest.

Difference Engine, “Knowledge Lost”. From “Knowledge Lost” at Gallery 1201. Photo courtesy of Difference Engine.
Difference Engine, “Knowledge Lost”. From “Knowledge Lost” at Gallery 1201. Photo courtesy of Difference Engine.

Walking into the space feels like walking through the inside of a computer. A glitchy, ambient hum resonates through the dark room, and it doesn’t take long to notice a Siri-like voice sputtering out seemingly random words or sequences of numbers that in turn appear projected on the walls. It is all very jarring at first, but at the opposite end of the room there is a guiding light in the form of an old Panasonic computer monitor whose screen encourages me to “move the mouse to begin.” I am immediately flooded with memories of the ancient computer I grew up with, it’s bulbous screen and outdated design. It feels like I am operating an artifact as I begin following the instructions that appear on the screen. It instructs me: “What you see around you is everything being deleted off of Wikipedia at this very instant. Any thought, idea, revision, edit or erasure is flitting past you on it’s way out of existence.” It then provides me with the definition of the word Eulogy: “A poetic speech or piece of writing which commemorates someone or something that is no more,” before instructing me to create a eulogy of my own composed out of the series of words and symbols that are being deleted from Wikipedia. The nonsensical fragments begin to fade on and off of the screen. Like with a computer game, the user is tasked with clicking on and collecting preferred words before they disappear. I begin to zone into the monitor, fishing for words that catch my fancy. I chuckle when the word ‘Shrek’ pops up on screen and shudder when a passage about someone’s suicide follows just moments later. It all feels so chaotically random, yet somehow solemn at the same time. After finding a group of words that I like, I press a little arrow and am able to format the words together in any arrangement I want to. My eulogy reads: “digital daddy lies undefined.” The poem is then printed out on a small piece of receipt paper that I can pin on a wall next to other elegies that viewers have made. Some are sad and others are silly. I am moved to see so many people reclaiming some semblance of humanity out of this digital graveyard.

“Knowledge Lost” is on view from 1/31/19 – 3/22/19 at Gallery 1201. Gallery 1201 is the official Game Arts gallery at University of the Arts. The gallery is located on the 12th floor of Terra Hall at 211 South Broad Street, Philadelphia.

Tags

Chris Baldys, Difference Engine, eulogies, Gallery 1201, Glitchy, installation, interactive, John Bezark, Knowledge Lost, wikipedia

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