Human Computers, someone you can count on


As far back as 1600, the word computer meant someone who does calculations. Someone, not something … that something in fact, had yet to be invented. Today, we all know that calculations are the basis of any trivial operation made by a computer; however, we don’t know what this can actually mean in practice. The performance Human Computers by artist Jeff Thompson demonstrates this very clearly: sixteen people are invited into a sort of classroom, an essential work environment similar to a 1950s office, and with paper, pencils, calculators and about eight hours of work, they are asked to measure themselves in a long series of zero and one calculations. Sheet after sheet, they decode and recompose the pixels of a single PNG image which is slowly reconstructed and converted into CMYK and physically affixed to the walls of the room. This becomes an installation of about 2,400 pixels in paper, each of which required 67 decoding steps. This is what inversely happens invisibly inside our computer every time we reduce an image to PNG. The project, commissioned by Locust Projects and the University of Nevada, not only pays homage to the history of information technology, but also traces the birth of the office as a cooperation environment and highlights the enormous computational evolution of the technological systems of our present. Finally, the symbolism of the operation also engaged the selected image, which is nothing more than a screenshot taken from Google Streetview of the external road. Benedetta Sabatini


Jeff Thompson: Human Computers