Aug. 31, 2012. An Appalachian State University professor’s computer-generated art project that randomly selects words from online news articles about the presidential campaign and combines them into new statements will be projected onto the blank 12-story wall at UNC Charlotte Center City during the Democratic National Convention.
The installation, titled “The Political Reporter,” is the work of assistant professor Mark Nystrom, who teaches graphic design in the Department of Art. He is a member of the Quasimodo Project, a large-scale collaborative effort of Charlotte-area artists, designers, architects, musicians, writers, and other creative professionals working to ensure that the city’s professional creative pulse is seen and felt during the DNC and thereafter.
The Quasimodo Project is organizing curated shows, gallery exhibitions, art installations, performance art, and live music at venues throughout the city. Nystrom’s “The Political Reporter” is part of a looped projection of about half a dozen art projects – which include animation, video, animated text and live feeds – that will run between 8:30 p.m. and 2 a.m. Sept. 1-8 and again Sept. 15, 22 and 29. The projections will be visible from the I-277 beltway for those passing by uptown Charlotte.
A suite of computer programs, all of which Nystrom wrote himself, make up his “reporter.”
Its resulting statements are both sage-like and nonsensical. For example: “Voters are supporting.” “Intelligent boys are speaking.” “Terrible expectations are joining.” “Defensive teeth respond.” “Issues desperately survive.”
Nystrom said he has a lot of respect for reporters and for journalism, but the modern concept of media and its clamoring of voices, which become more and more polarized, has become too complex.
“The enormous amount of information available to us makes it difficult to make sense of the messages we receive from the media and political campaigns. The ‘reporter’ takes it all in and gives it back to us in a simpler form using the same language,” Nystrom said. “What it says may or may not be true. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s controversial and sometimes it’s quite poignant.”
This art project begins by gathering more than 60,000 words from various news sources – from conservative FOX News and the Washington Times to more traditional or liberal news organizations such as The New York Times and Salon. Words also come from the blogs of both political parties and campaigns.
At any given time, “The Political Reporter’ will show 1,000 randomly selected nouns, verbs, adjectives and interjections – half of them from conservative sources in red and half of them from liberal sources in blue – that are broken up into individual letters and appear in a typographic cloud. It periodically chooses words to make original phrases that read like a news headline. After each phrase, its letters return to the cloud, fade out and are replaced by new words from the list of 60,000.
“The cloud of letters people see continuously refreshes itself and its words will be updated every night it is shown in Charlotte,” Nystrom said.
“I hope to get viewers thinking about what the ‘reporter’ says. Maybe it will challenge their beliefs or get them to think more critically about messages from politicians or the media. Maybe it will leave them a little more open-minded. Maybe they’ll just laugh.”
A former designer and art director for several universities prior to coming to Appalachian to teach, Nystrom chose his “The Political Reporter’s” typeface carefully.
“Typography is very important to me. The typeface I chose to use is Fairfield, originally designed by Rudolph Ruzicka, who was born in Czechoslovakia and emigrated to the U.S. when he was 10. I wanted to use a typeface designed by an American and I like that Ruzicka, like my great-grandparents, was an immigrant. I also like the connection between the typeface’s name and this nature of my project.”
Nystrom received an M.F.A. from the Rhode Island School of Design in graphic design in 2006 and a B.S. in psychology from Virginia Tech in 1995. His specialties and research interests include conceptual applications of design and typography, publication design, interaction design, and data visualization.
“The Political Reporter” is the latest version of “The Reporter,” a project he has worked on since 2006. Its sources have varied depending on its venue. When exhibited at the Boston Cyberarts Festival in 2009 in the lobby of WGBH’s studios, it featured statements based on WGBH-related programming like NPR and the BBC, and local news in the Boston area. “The Reporter” is currently exhibited at the Asheville Art Museum featuring local news as part of the museum’s Prime Time: New Media Juried Exhibition on display until Sept. 23.