Black Box Operator | Sozita Goudouna

Text by Sozita Goudouna written for the exhibition catalogue of the participatory art project: IT’S TIME TO OPEN THE BLACK BOXES!  by Danae Stratou.

The principal characteristic of a Black Box is that its inner components or rationale are not available for inspection. The majority of its available datum is held in a inner situation away from facile investigations. Its opaque colour disallows the observer to see its inner workings and codes. The inquiry is focused upon the Box that has no immediately apparent characteristics and therefore has only factors for consideration held within itself and hidden from immediate observation. In neural networking and in heuristic algorithms, a black box is used to describe the constantly changing subdivision of the program environment that cannot easily be tested by the programmers.

The black box can be seen as a simulation of the human mind, consciousness or psyche. In this case, how could someone test the ways and methods, in which a black box monitors the changing social and political environment, in the context of a social crisis. A black box is a liveless, inert, static object without a voice, unable to verbalise its reaction towards this changing environment. But what if there was a way to enliven its operating system, what if it consisted of a pulse rate, as an organism of a society, that might be set up to explode.

The mechanism of explosion would be connected to threat and terror, notions related to emotion, to the unexpressed and the pre-lingual, but that can also be seen as cardinal factors for affecting change. Threat and Terror are often caused by unknown grounds, in all cases, however, anything connected to terror and threat is, at least potentially a source of the feeling of the sublime. Terror, is either more openly or latently the ruling principle of the sublime. Terror and the sublime go together and are even inseparable.1

Danae Stratou investigates the delicate balance between terror and the sublime by creating a global monitor of pulsating words and meanings. The installation consists of a meticulous structure of one hundred interrelated Black Boxes, that contain one Message, one Word, one Sound and a special Number. The structuring of one hundred boxes with screens, creates a complex spatial environment within the exhibition space that entails unique formal and technical qualities intrinsic to the artwork. Each box contains a word with a timer that is followed by a countdown (or, in some cases, a count-up), or a flatline, depending on its meaning.

The site of meaning shifts from an inner, formal structure to the shared presence of work and beholder. The Black Boxes are associated with the creation of an almost “architectural” construction that the viewer must enter in order to experience its spatiality and substance from within. Each word appears for a few seconds and then reappears in a cyclical sequence, the ending marks the beginning of a new cycle. This repetition is best understood as discovery and experimentation, a process that allows for new experiences, new affects, and new expressions to emerge. By repeating we are able to affirm the power of the new and the unforeseeable.

The repetition of words is infinite, a repetition that offers the possibility for reinvention of meanings. To repeat is to begin again and as such, repetition becomes a form of creative activity resulting in transformation.2 The messages inside the Black Boxes are segregated in five divisions, determined by diverse statistical facts, measurement units and trends, population, economic growth and geographical factors. The viewers are invited to decode the conceptual content of the composition. The different divisions represent “negative” and “positive” factors, however, these values are often interrelated. The causes and effects of the economic crisis are expressed with words like bankruptocracy and their corresponding number is in a scale beyond human reach (600,000,000,000), connected with the sound of a ticking bomb, akin to an alarm that alerts us to some lurking threat. Elements that threaten the environment, outcomes of the economic crisis and threatening state of affairs are also “negative” factors that are connected with similar sounds.

In reverse, we find concepts and values that we want to preserve, natural elements that we want to protect, like love or freedom, words that have humans as their measure, thus are connected to the sound of a heartbeat in a flatline. The diagram provides information on how these operational units are organized as a temporal mechanism.

Danae Stratou’s interactive installation fills these Black boxes with observable elements, despite their immateriality. Elements that enter the imaginary space of the boxes and supply them with notions, concepts and feelings, both idealist and pragmatic. A set of different outputs that emerge and become observable as they express the public’s opinion and emotional expanse. One hundred Words linked in their indeterminacy, created by a public dialogue, expressed as respiration, as a heart beat or as a bomb mechanism, depict a threshold between one reality and another, that is yet to be experienced.

Terror is seen as the outcome of this transitional moment, whereas the black box records the moment that oscillates between our two stages, between our past and our future and is able to determine the facts of our personal and social life. Like the audio recording device in the cockpit of an airplane or helicopter, that in aviation records the conversation of the pilots during a flight, so if something goes very wrong, investigators can use the black box recording to determine what happened. (By engaging into an inquiry into the cause of a plane crashing, where the plane is caused to become wreckage).

And if someone were to determine what had happened after seen the wreckage, the process of network synthesis from the transfer functions of black boxes could be traced in the form of a game of words. Words that have to be protected or Words that threaten the public, a synthesis of pulsating immaterial words, that have their meaning questioned from the banality of current affairs or endorsed by hope for change and for another future. Death, Consent, Unemployment, War, Crisis, CDS, but also Trust, Freedom, Peace, Humanity.

By breaking open the sealed containment of the black box we stop guessing. The boxes start to be defined only in terms of their function and of their word. Their meaning is revealed and despite the shocking effect, the terror that was provoked while hidden, is challenged. The operating system is disclosed, the underlying structure, mechanism, and dynamics of fear and terror balance themselves in relation to notions that have to be protected. Threat and protection are both secured and trapped in the Black Box, while the sound of time points to their potential to activate freedom and change.

1See Edmund Burke

2See Deleuze Sozita Goudouna