“Black Swans” is a software program I wrote that uses Twitter searches to generate video art, sculpture, and text. It uses a Twitter search of a keyword (“beautiful”, “cold”, “love”, “drunk”, “electric”, “numbers”, etc) as its source and creating shapes based on the characteristics of a Tweet– length of the text, number of friends associated with the tweet, how many times it’s been re-tweeted, etc. However, at a certain point the program performs a new search by finding the most commonly used word from the previous tweets. The result is a kind of free-association poem generated by Twitter– the shape in the following video used the starting search “drunk” and generated the poem “drunk Drunk sex>>>>Thought that drunk”.
The concept was inspired by Nicolas Taleb’s book “The Black Swan– The Impact of the Highly Improbable“, where he discusses the statistical behavior of the stock market in terms of event cascades that are random, unpredictable, and inevitable. I thought the idea that unlikely events tend to have effects that are proportionate to their rarity was really interesting. Since these characteristics of unpredictability are most often found in really large sets of data, I decided to use Twitter feeds to generate my content. The resulting groups of shapes tend to be fairly uniform, with an occasional extremely un-uniform shape thrown in. These shapes are called “Black Swans”, referring to the disproportionate and destabilizing effects of high-impact, hard-to-predict, and rare events. I thought this was a fun parallel to human behavior and social convention– society tends to flatten behavior at the extreme ends of the spectrum, but is also disproportionately changed by and tends to disproportionately reward or censure extreme behavior. This project is my return towards using physical objects in art projects, which I haven’t done in several years. Although it uses a fairly complicated algorithm to generate its form, the end goal has always been to create an actual physical sculpture. I recently installed it at the KunstlerHaus in Saarbrucken, Germany.