The Digital and Human Crossover in ‘I Owned, A Tongue’

Written by volunteer writer Jude Slater

Upon first visiting the exhibition I Owned, A Tongue it may seem rather difficult to grasp, as it is rather trippy and the presentation is unlike anything you may have seen. When clicking on the website link, there is a short video lasting less than 10 seconds that runs through multiple slides of text, and images. Some rather unsettling noise backdrops the video and features lines drawn as the slides play. Briefly putting aside the contents of the slides, the audio and visual presentation of the video provides a brief and unsettling way to take in the exhibition. The music is unnervingly inhuman and grating, while the drawing follows a seemingly random path and seems to be being done by a program. In both these cases, the digital elements definitely add artistic value to the exhibition but make it unsettling. 

EveryLetterCyborg v1.2.2
2018, 2024 

app (Twitterbot @qletrcyborg 2018 – 2022), 3D printed sculpture, writing on paper scroll

Luckily, a PDF of all the slides is available through other means online. Furthermore, below the video, X provides a description that tells us the vision of this exhibition, and their artistic vision in general. So with the additional document and description, the themes of I Owned, A Tongue are clear. With this exhibition, X contextualizes and analyzes the relationship between the human and the digital, and the often indescribable connection between them. After a description of the artists involved that alludes to the exhibition’s themes, the first element of the exhibition is a breakdown and analysis of each word in the phrase ‘I Owned, A Tongue’ in the context of the digital world.

X’s breakdown of the word ‘I’ puts forward the exhibition’s concept focusing on the human/digital relationship, with the back and forth between sound and image representing the “inter-operation” between humans and digital. X even compares captcha to spoken poetry, arguing that data and cybernetic workings of the digital world are similar to poetry in their creative wonder. This breakdown of each word (including commas) continues for the following four pages, introducing ideas of separators in writing and technology, adaptability of language and technology, and the definition technology and language are given by people. In all five of these analyses, the individual words are used as jumping-off points for discussion in various human/digital themes and are written in very indirect ways. 

Much of the word choice is peculiar but fits quite comfortably in the already unsettling presentation of this exhibition. Furthermore, there are plenty of lists worked into the text, and short sentences allowing X to transition between ideas very naturally. There are also Chicago-style in-text citations with barcodes, building on the themes of technology as communication, exemplifying its exceptionable capabilities. Some of the time, X explains the themes in direct ways, however much of the time the writing uses specific diction and sentence and paragraph breaks to create a very trippy environment with its presentation.

The next six slides provide images (the same images that can be found via the barcodes) that visually show off the balance and relationship between the digital and human world, naturally building off the themes of the written portion previously mentioned. Yet again, these images or GIFs indirectly communicate these themes showing a contrast between the digital and human.

For example, the second slide shows off various opposing phrases with the phrase ‘IN BETWEEN WE OSCILLATE’ on top of it. Here is a rejection of the binary, something that all computers use to process information, but this image contrasts that with the oscillating world humans live in. Another slide shows multiple pictures of a finger but someone’s ear, including some hair, an uncomfortably human image, with stock photo logos slapped on top of the image. There is also a screenshot of an R-script coding something related to vomit and nausea, yet again an uncomfortably human experience. All of these images contrast digital presentations with human experiences or themes.

After these images, X presents the initial 11 slides including the phrase breakdown, citation section, and artist introduction in reverse order and Chinese. Perhaps most surprising is that these slides in Chinese translate almost perfectly when put through Google Translate which adds to the relationship between the digital and the human. Given the emphasis on language throughout this exhibition, X uses these additional slides to emphasize the power of writing and the power we give words. Furthermore, X flexes technologies’ translation ability, creating communication across languages. Using Google Translate to present this repeated section in a different language effectively shows the power of language and technology in maintaining connections.

Overall, X provides an unsettling and trippy exhibition that entails elements of sound, visuals, language and digital communication to introduce and develop themes of language, humanity, digitization and the relationship between all those things. The exhibition uses technology and digital elements in the presentation through videos of computer drawings, barcodes, and language translation to remind the audience of the power of the digital. The writing is also very peculiar and unsettling, making use of specific words and verbiage to create an almost inhuman feeling with its writing while still effectively speaking to the themes. The visual elements add to the unnerving presentation of the exhibition but best show off a blending of the digital/human worlds.

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