El acto de la codificación/decodificación como performance

The exhibition will collect the results of an international action, with clear references to mail art and the limitation in the number of characters imposed by the first eras of SMS and Twitter, mediating this action through the recovery of a historical media of income and storage of data such as punched cards.
The proposal aims to transform the act of coding / decoding and manual punching of the cards, in a performative act.
80 recipients in different cities of the world, will be invited through postal mail, to create a message encoded in this format, which once received will be punched in a card, by means of a manual puncher of the 70’s and exhibited with the corresponding postal envelope.
At both ends of the process there is a suggestive ritual act of explicit coding and decoding. The manual perforation of the cards happens to be in these times, a powerful performative act as opposed to the current digital interface systems.
The name «80 Columns» refers to the length of columns of the IBM 5081 card format, each column allows the coding through perforations of a character or typographic sign. Therefore, the message contained in each one is limited to 80 characters.
There is an intentionality expressed in the rescue of the punched card as a container for information, which symbolizes, on the one hand, a time in the development of information technology and that at a popular level was integrated into our homes in the form of receipt of public services. Added to this is the use of traditional mail, as a way to transport messages, evoking a pre-internet era.
The proposal partially alters some of the precepts of mail art, since it is the artist who proposes to the sender to create the work in the form of a coded message, giving him the tools and instructions to elaborate it. So the traditional circuit is altered, it is the receiver who sends the work by postal mail, and the artist transforms himself, as an engraving printer who prints the etching commissioned by the artist, who makes the mechanical action of the perforation.

Inspirations, background and references.

Artists have frequently used media and coding for artistic purposes from different approaches, mail art, telephone art, net art. Sometimes questioning the medium itself, working on communication noise in others or as a telepresence vehicle.
In any of these expressions, the coding / decoding is an element that is an inseparable part of the performance or artistic act, either giving visibility or as a mere mechanism of energy transmutation.
An example is the performances of telephone art that started from a principle of coding the voice in electrical impulses to be decoded from the other side, by means of a loudspeaker.
In this way, the coding is made invisible by the electronic systems that allow it, in the act of coding through perforations, it acquires a material character that constitutes in itself a graphic work, tangible and supposedly explicit.

Telegraphy and teletype as an artistic expression

Telegraph and telex were forms of communication that involved, in telegraphy, the manual action of coding using their own code and in the telex the typewriter as mediator of that coding.
«Telegraphy progressively found its way into contemporary practice, with an increasing interest from the late sixties to the mid-eighties. In 1962 as a contribution to a sample of portraits of the Parisian art dealer Iris Clert, Robert Rauschenberg sent a telegram that said, «this is a portrait of iris true if I say it». In 1970 the Japanese artist On Kawara started his series of telegrams «I’m still alive». From 1970 to 1977 he routinely sent telegrams to personalities of the art world with the statement «I am still alive». In Brazil Paulo Bruscky started sending telex as works of art in 1973.
Bruscky in collaboration with Daniel Santiago, sent a telex with three expository proposals. in this case the telex and its transmission as Kac mentions must be seen and considered as a work of art.
One of the last references to the use of telex as an artistic medium, since the advent of digital media gave way to other expressive forms, dates back to 1983, in which the artist Guy Bleus organized in Hasselt, Belgium a telegraphy exhibition.

Poetry and Mainframes

The fact that the programming of the first computerized poems was the data introduced by punched cards is still a significant fact. On the other hand, the fact that the writing of the poems has been encoded in these cards, with their natural restriction of characters, does not constitute a minor reference.
In the early sixties «The first works in digital poetry strictly involved coding, since there were no other possibilities. the poets used computer programs to unite a database and a series of instructions that established a context and form of work. The language generated by the programmed poems, or computer poems, were literally assembled based on the programmer’s specifications; Specific and formal programming commands were written to perform a particular task. «
«The first works were produced using controlled programs or mainframe computers» … «The encoded instructions, essentially a series of notations, had to be entered and transcribed into punch cards to feed another part of the machine and read in order to execute the Program, . A number of languages ​​composed of alphanumeric data, using the designation that Ted Nelson uses in «Computer Lib», the «contrivied» (intricate, technical) method of providing instructions or commands to a computer. «

Art Mail

As we mentioned at the beginning of the proposal, the circuit of issuer / receiver circulation proposed in the different modalities of mail art, is modified, without losing the spirit that this artistic territory proposes in its various forms.

Clemente Padín defines mail art:

It is known as Mail Art or Postal Art to the artistic manifestations transported by the postal services that, to some extent, can alter the disposition that the creator intended, corresponding said operation to the avatars of the medium used in the transmission of the messages from the issuer to the receiver. In terms of information science, we would say that Postal Art innovation is the novelty of the transmission «channel» that, with its own characteristics, colors the sent message and alters it with its «noise». It is not, as one might think, a new artistic current in a formal sense, which is why it does not correspond to any particular «ism». The novelty lies in the communication approach, the person-person relationship through the mail that manifests itself as revolutionary in the face of false communication or monologue of the mass media: television, radio, cinema, etc. If we add to this the anti-commercial and anti-consumerist character that it had from the beginning, we will see that we are facing an artistic phenomenon of disruption. «
«The fact that the work must travel a certain distance is part of its structure, it is the work itself. The work has been created to be sent by mail, and this factor conditions its creation (dimensions, postage, weight, character of the message, etc.). The mail, then, does not exhaust its function in the displacement of the work but it integrates and conditions it. And the artist alters, in turn, the function of this means of communication. There is also a change in the receiver’s attitude: He is no longer the classic collector (a fact that implies a certain degree of selfishness) but an accidental repository of the work committed to its maximum circulation. The receiver is a source of information that opens a new circuit of communication when it enriches the work exhibiting it or sending it by mail or new receivers. «


It will send 80 people, located in different geographical areas, in a traditional envelope and by mail, a model card as a template, (see photo) accompanied by the corresponding coding instructions. The receiver will have to mark with a marker or ballpoint pen, the corresponding points in each column to be perforated, following the coding provided. Each column corresponds to an alphanumeric character. A special character will be incorporated for the «ñ».

Therefore, messages can not contain more than 80 characters including spaces. You will have to return this template by the same traditional mail procedure. Once received the letters will be drilled by me, in the manual punch card of my property model «Wright punch 2620» of the year 1970.
In some cases, if the messages received invite this, an epistolary relationship can be established with the same protocol, which will also be displayed.
The entire process of enveloping, sticking stamps, delivery in Uruguayan mail, reception, opening envelopes and punched cards, will be filmed as part of the performative act and displayed on a television in the sample itself.

Selection criteria

The selection criterion of the recipients will be based in the first instance on significant and emblematic figures in the history of computing such as, for example, Ida Holz, the pioneer of Internet in Latin America, Frank Malina, founder of the Leonardo magazine of MIT, Daniel Shiffman, developer of Processing, Tom Igoe one of the pioneers of Physical Computer and different media artists who do not reside in the same city and taking into account the greatest diversity of countries possible. A second degree of dissemination of the call will be proposed by these same people, to which I will invite you to suggest a second addressee, to whom I will send the letter through the same procedure.

Presentation in the exhibition space

The cards punched out of each message received, accompanied by the corresponding postal envelope, with special emphasis on showing the sender, date of postage and stamps, will be displayed hanging by means of a piece of paper and some distance from the wall.
At the same time, the lighting will be arranged in an appropriate way, which allows to project the shadow of the perforations of the cards on the wall.
The messages will not be decoded with texts that accompany each card. But adequate instructions will be provided in nearby places to facilitate decoding.
The entire process of enveloping, sticking stamps, delivery in Uruguayan mail, reception, opening envelopes and punched cards, will be filmed as part of the performative act and displayed on a television in the sample itself.
On the other hand, in a specially designed showcase, the perforation device will be displayed, accompanied by another historical device «Port-A-Punch», introduced by IBM in the year 1958.

Exhibition dynamics

At the inauguration, 20 cards will be punched, corresponding to messages that are coded by visitors during the presentation. These cards will be sent by postal mail to the corresponding recipients.
Interested attendees can request by filling out a file, they are sent by mail, an envelope similar to the one originally used and through the same return protocol by mail, the letters received will be drilled in the museum, once a month and will be they will display the letters and cards received in the running of the sample.
The senders may be invited to participate in the perforation of the same that day. Only the first 40 received envelopes will be punched.