Otherness And Order

By Quinn DuPont

From A Line, However Short, Has an Infinite Number of Points, catalogue published by Triton, Barcelona/Vienna, 2016

Technology today is undergoing a critical transition. We are surrounded by outward manifestations of the culmination of the mechanical age. Nevertheless, the mechanical machine—which can most easily be defined as an imitation of our muscles—is losing its dominating position among the tools of mankind. Its reign is being threatened by the growing importance of electronic and chemical devices.

— Hultén, 1968 (MOMA)1

Andrés Ramírez Gaviria’s art resolutely depicts life in a coded world. These works reveal and critique the otherness of code, by order and perceived disorder, with microcontrollers, aerospace and hi-tech materials, strobes, sound performances, chopped and cut video, printed text, and images. As with others, Gaviria’s work responds to, critiques, and embraces research and development in cybernetics and informatics from the mid-twentieth century. But what makes it so novel and compelling is that communication and information are often the formal subject of Gaviria’s work, yet rarely the method. Instead, his work uses the multiple processes of transcription and transmission to expose hidden, and now dominant, representational pathways. Gaviria seeks code at the interstices of language and thought, which lie “between forms of representation and interpretation.”

Since Edward Snowden’s global surveillance disclosures in 2013, Gaviria’s work has taken on a new political valence, cleaving between society’s ubiquitous codes. Gaviria’s work shines a light on the ways that this global control apparatus ultimately stems from last century’s mathematical theories of secrecy and information (as exemplified by Shannon and Weaver’s work on information and Wiener’s on cybernetics)2. This global control apparatus is now found in everyday communication, and is today impossible to comprehend. Gaviria’s work helps us understand how, and why, we cannot understand the secret and ubiquitous codes of modern life.

In this essay I discuss the ways in which Gaviria’s art exposes military research and development on language and code, and what this means for us, the consumers of this discourse transition. It is now trite to say that our world is a computerized one, or a digital one. That our world is digital is no more true today than it was in the 1950s when vast mainframes calculated airline reservations (SABRE) or automatically processed checks (ERMA). Rather, the discourse transition of the last few decades has arisen from the entrenchment of new ways of understanding people and things, which operates in black boxes filled with secret codes. One critical moment in this transition to new ways of understanding people and things came from Lincoln Laboratory at MIT, which was then conducting research into interactive computing for military command and control. Gaviria interrogates the origins of modern computer aided design (CAD) at Lincoln Laboratory in two separate examples of Ivan Sutherland’s Sketchpad software. The design and development of this early CAD system was an output of military research, and required answering deep questions about the ways that mimetic forms of representation (sketching, speaking) were no longer suitable foundations for tools driven by code, and in turn required coming up with workable alternatives. Gaviria’s work probes these representational pathways by actualizing the CAD drawings. In “Untitled (Monument)” Gaviria fabricates the object of the CAD drawing out of wood—teetering, imposing, and at large scale. In “Winking Girl” Gaviria loops an animation of a coy wireframe girl, named “Nefertite” by her designer. These works blur those natural categories, sketching and speaking, and when Gaviria brings them to life we are forced to reconcile their underlying code in their realized form.

Gaviria probes language, our fundamental conduit, over and again until it blurs into code. In “WW : NW,” Warren Weaver’s “cryptographic-translation” idea is lampooned by an image of Norbert Weiner sprouting a winding moustache and two bits of text. The one text is about language, in language, while the other cannot muster so much. This text without language has been run through multiple iterations of machine translation, and is perhaps code merely masquerading as language. If “WW : NW” has a silly side, Gaviria’s “.-/” and “A Mathematical Theory of Information” offer a serious account of all our information and communication technologies. Built for the end of the machine age, these two printed books are in fact optimized for transmission (the prior in Victorian-era Morse Code, the latter in the space-era’s entropic and information-dense Shannon-type code). The result of each is stupefying to a prospective human reader. One does not “read” Gaviria’s “.-/” and “A Mathematical Theory of Information.” Rather, you decipher.

Gaviria’s most prescient and political work, “Beyond Black,” offers further commentary on our ubiquitous codes. Reminiscent of the National Security Agency (NSA) BLACKER project, Gaviria shows how the secret machinations of intelligence organizations and security and surveillance technologies lie invisible behind our consumer media. “Beyond Black” demonstrates how the “five eyes” global surveillance system and its commercial arm—the myriad consumer sorting algorithms—are complicated, opaque, and mysterious, but also more. Surveillance and cybersecurity technologies are built at, by, and for, non-human scales. At these scales, “real” or “natural” perspectives and human comprehension is illusory.

Even though we cannot comprehend much of it, today, we produce vastly more code than language, which is why it only makes sense for Gaviria to offer an exhibition press release as coded strobes of light (“Between Forms of Representation and Interpretation”). Usually, a press release—an advertisement—is supposed to both inform or produce feelings of affect (the psycho-sexual response of the Mad Men era), but this object does neither. As a strobing light installation, the contents are “bit banged” to any machine receptive enough to receive the message (the human machine cannot receive the message). Thus, the light installation is aesthetic, but in all the wrong ways. We seem to perceive that there is some message being communicated (or perhaps the pretty blinking lights are all a ruse?), but we don’t know what message is being communicated. Instead, the advertisement comes in a coded form, not unlike an algorithmically-produced Google or Facebook advertisement. This opening to an art exhibit is also a signal—perhaps an “early warning system” as McLuhan thought—to the closing of an era, and of the end of a discourse.

Art after information

Gaviria’s work can be read as a response to the cybernetics and informatics research being conducted through the mid-twentieth century. Other artists, active during the 1960s and 70s, engaged directly with this cybernetic and informatics milieu, creating art that exemplified the scientific and technical principles of their day. Gaviria responds to these artists, perhaps more seriously and literally, exemplifying and critiquing the very same subjects. For example, A. Michael Noll’s work at Bell Labs and John and James Whitney’s work both embrace and critique cybernetics by simulating the work of military-industrial research and development in an art environment. Many of these predecessors, however, are simulated portrayals of cybernetic principles—principles of homeostasis, self-organization, communication, and so on. Gaviria evokes this tradition but denies the impulse to read cybernetic processes into his work.

In “Untitled (Monument)” (2013), Gaviria interrogates a critical juncture of the history of cybernetics with his wooden fabrication of one of the first ever technical models designed on a computer. The large wooden object teeters uncomfortably, literally reminiscent of a design with no intention to ever be built. The sharp lines and uncomfortable shape contrast with the odd choice of product, a wood so deeply grained that the seams are still visible. These seams, too, are a product of its material construction, smoothed over by Gaviria but completely absent in the original CAD drawing.

Gaviria’s work points back to an important video of a complex 3D shape displayed with Sketchpad, Ivan Sutherland’s PhD dissertation software built at Group 51 in Lincoln Laboratory, an applied research lab at MIT. In this video, filmed some time after 1964, Sutherland is absent, by then working at the NSA designing computer displays; in Sutherland’s place Timothy Johnson and Lawrence Roberts—researchers at Lincoln Laboratory responsible for helping build Sketchpad—show the operations of Sketchpad running on the experimental TX-2 computer. In the video, Johnson shows many of the 2D operations developed by Sutherland (and subsequently refined by Johnson himself for his 1963 Master’s thesis)3, followed by Roberts showing the 3D operations that he developed4.

In the video, Roberts shows a strange shape being rotated in perspective view—perhaps the design for a “piece of wood,” Roberts coyly suggests. In “Untitled (Monument),” Gaviria fabricates Roberts’ object in large scale—produced from wood.

The “piece of wood” Roberts shows in the Lincoln Laboratory video was originally designed for Roberts’ PhD dissertation5. In his dissertation, Roberts offers two images of the “piece of wood,” originally labelled “Compound Object” and “Rotated View of Object” (see figure 1). It is unknown if “Compound Object” started life as a physical object—an prototypical “Untitled (Monument)”—but many of Roberts’ examples are in fact photographs of physical objects that were subsequently digitized in Sketchpad (such automatic digitization of objects was the main focus of Roberts’ dissertation).

As seen in the Sketchpad video, the ability to issue a command and receive an immediate response from a computer was basically unprecedented at the time. The idea of virtually manipulating 3D drawings such as the “Compound Object” must have seemed otherworldly. But despite the compelling demos, the Computer Aided Design idea was really just an example of interactive computer control, which was the original goal of the TX-2 computer and the broader vision for the Sketchpad research programme.

The interactive computer work performed at Lincoln Laboratory was funded for the purpose of improving military command and control processes. To be able to understand and respond to increasingly large and complicated military data stores, interactive computer use—with advanced input and output—was a practical necessity for the military’s version of human-computer interaction. Research into air defence technologies was especially pertinent at the time due to concerns for cold war nuclear threats (by 1949 the Soviets had nuclear-capable long-range aircraft that could evade the existing Ground Control of Intercept radar system)7. Indeed, prior to Sketchpad, Lincoln Laboratory made its name in research for radar systems. Today’s modern command and control infrastructure is in every way tied up with these developments at Lincoln Laboratory, and are thus conceptually linked to “Untitled (Monument).”

While some of the general 3D functions for Sketchpad were developed by Johnson, it was Roberts who developed the mathematics and algorithms for hidden line removal—an important contribution to the history of computing which provided Sketchpad the ability to display solid 3D objects (rather than just wireframes), while occluding certain parts that are out of the field of vision. As with Gaviria’s large scale, physical “Untitled (Monument),” Roberts’ “Compound Object” drawing is not visible in its entirety from any one perspective. The physical object and computer renderings require interaction to gain a fuller perspective—the goal of interactive computing. Indeed, perspective, or lack thereof, is a constant theme of Gaviria’s coded art.

In the Sketchpad video, Steven Coons8 describes this mode of interaction as “talking” to the computer. Likewise, Sutherland describes the mode of interaction he developed with Sketchpad as “conferring” with the computer. Drawing, Sutherland thought, was a step better than “[reducing] all communication to written statements that can be typed.”9 Sutherland soon realized that while this mode of interaction enables the designer to roughly “sketch” an idea, somewhat like drawing, it is the subsequent use of notational constraints that allow the operator to hone the sketch into a technical document. This technical document can then be modularly edited, reordered and reconfigured, and duplicated with ease. These notational affordances actually make the use of Sketchpad quite different from normal kinds of drawing.

When Sutherland was designing Sketchpad he had to come up with new kinds of human-computer interaction, and new kinds of representation. At first, he saw himself as emulating a drawing process, but “it has turned out that the properties of a computer drawing are entirely different from a paper drawing.”10 Sutherland soon realized that he would need to rethink what representation for CAD means—drawing on a computer, as Gaviria points out, is not so simple, because it is “between forms of representation and interpretation” and thus needs new methods.

Sutherland’s efforts at designing new kinds of representation suitable for computer aided design can be contrasted with the field’s proto-origins, as found in Leon Battista Alberti’s Descriptio vrbis Romæ11. The Descriptio was a coded (notational) method of design that worked to remove the erring, sloppy, and imprecise human element from architecture; in Alberti’s hands, architecture went from a craft to a science. The Descriptio was a mechanical device, basically a round plate or horizon with a ruler affixed to its center (see figure 2), that converted coordinates to points, which could then be connected using a variety of predetermined line types (straight or curved). Armed with survey data of the city of Rome and the Descriptio mechanism, a perfect copy of the plan of the city could be fabricated and duplicated. Moreover, because of its coded nature, the resulting plan is effectively a modular design; if a designer wants to make some change she can simply edit the data coordinates and redraw the plan. And because the raw data is portable and made of unambiguous code—rather than a visual, mimetic sketch—communicating and storing the design avoids the introduction of compounding errors (scribes were famously bad at accurately drawing scientific or technical images).

Gaviria returns to Sketchpad with “Winking Girl” (2013). Like “Untitled (Monument),” “Winking Girl” is an actualization of an example of a CAD drawing in Sketchpad. In Sutherland’s PhD thesis, in addition to “technical” drawing he also introduced “artistic” uses of Sketchpad, including the ability to automate the cartooner’s craft by decomposing a sketch into modular components, which could be subsequently animated. One example Sutherland offers is a wireframe “girl” and the decomposed parts for the various stages of winking. Gaviria finishes the task Sutherland set out in his dissertation, looping a cartoon animation of the “Winking Girl.”

“Winking Girl” is a basic wireframe sketch, and yet because of the act of winking and the gentle curved lines, the winking girl has a coquettish demeanor. Compared to Sutherland’s other artistic attempt, a tracing of a photograph of a woman’s face (it was always women with the computer graphics pioneers), who ended up with mannish and uncomfortably skewed features, “Winking Girl” has an innocence, beauty, and virginal quality. And yet, for no apparent reason, Sutherland names his winking girl “Nefertite,” the famous Egyptian Queen married to king Akhneten. Like the false innocence of her wink and smile, the winking girl’s name is itself an illusion. Her name, “Nefertite,” is properly a mystery, because Egyptians did not possess written vowels for their script. All we really know about the winking girl’s name—all that was recorded—is NFRTT.

We know that the ancient Greeks were the first to add vowels to the alphabet, but why? Perhaps vowels were added to the alphabet, hypothesizing alongside Friedrich Kittler, to encode the Siren’s song in Homer’s Odyssey? But if so, how can we be sure? To test Odysseus’ veracity—whether the West was founded on a true myth—Kittler sought experimentally determine the answer and acquired funding from the German government to hire three sopranos from the German National Opera. On Kittler’s command these sopranos stood on the exact location of the shore where the Sirens stood two thousand years prior, singing as captain Kittler sailed alongside. Kittler reports that Odysseus must have lied, however, because he could not hear the singers no matter how close he came to the water’s edge (evidently the shore slopes gently towards the water in this particular spot). The lie of Odysseus, Kittler concludes, must mean that “Homer was setting a false trail: what he’s telling us between the lines is that Odysseus disembarked, swam to the rocks and fucked the Sirens.”13

Odysseus’ fuck was special because it could be recorded with vowels—when King Akhneten fucked his wife several hundred years prior we don’t know what he called “his N-f-r-t-t”14 (our “Winking Girl”). The Greeks, unlike the Egyptians, had a vowelized alphabet capable of capturing and storing all human sounds; they could record the Siren’s song only because they had a vowelized alphabet. Yet, while the Egyptians lacked a recording technology for song and the cries of passion, they did not lack code, neither secret nor notational. This code is the very material of the “Winking Girl,” and the record we have of her coded and unpronounceable name NFRTT. King Akhneten could not leave a record of his passionate cries, but NFRTT still winks coyly.

Gaviria’s “WW : NW” (2015) also examines the ambiguity and uneasy gulf between language and code by highlighting Norbert Weiner’s ambivalence to automatic machine translation, and by lampooning Warren Weaver’s “cryptographic-translation” idea. In “WW : NW,” Weaver’s statement that “Thus this attempt to interest Wiener, who seemed so ideally equipped to consider the problem, failed to produce any real result” is run multiple times through machine translation, returning the text to its original language, but not original form. The comedic translation result is counterpoised against a mustachioed Weiner. The joke Gaviria offers also has a serious side: Weaver’s proposal fails to capture the essence of language, but like the coded and unpronounceable transmission of NFRTT, the cipher still functions.

Immediately following the Second World War, Andrew Donald Booth and Warren Weaver discussed the possibility of machine translation. Soon preliminary work occurred, but the field remained relatively unknown until Weaver distributed a memorandum (1949), later published with the title “Translation,” to some 200 of his colleagues15. It is from this publication on machine translation that Gaviria pulls his text, and it was this moment back in 1949 that inaugurated machine translation.

Weaver’s memorandum on machine translation starts with a curious conceit. During the War, Weaver tells us, he met an “ex-German” mathematician who had realized that it was possible to cryptanalyze a message without knowing the underlying language. Weaver recalls that during the First World War it took American cryptanalysts longer to determine that the source language of an intercepted message was Japanese than it did to actually cryptanalyze it. To Weaver this suggested that language was really just a code, and that to translate from one language to another all that is required is a process of decoding and recoding. Weaver writes, “When I look at an article in Russian, I say: ‘This is really written in English, but it has been coded in some strange symbols. I will now proceed to decode.’”16

In the “Translation” memorandum Weaver offers two, somewhat incomplete, descriptions of the mechanics of his “cryptographic-translation” idea. First, he notes how the ex-German “reduced the message to a column of five digit numbers” but was unsuccessful in deriving the plaintext because the message was still “coded” in Turkish17; once corrected for word spacing (and some other cosmetic changes) the original Turkish was revealed. Weaver’s point is that language is like code, but it is tougher to crack than military encryption. Second, Weaver offers a method for determining the statistical semantic character of language, which will change according to the language to be translated, as well as the specific genre of writing.

Weaver understands his “cryptographic-translation” idea to be, at a basic level, a subcategory of Shannon’s Mathematic Theory of Communication (MTC), which Weaver later helped to promote18. Shannon had already connected cryptography and information. Shannon first published “A Mathematical Theory of Cryptography” in 1945 (in classified form)19, which detailed a logarithmic measurement of statistical information as used for cryptography, and then three years later, in 1948, Shannon published his more famous MTC paper, reiterating and honing many of the conclusions first developed in his cryptography paper20. The cryptography-information connection was not lost on Shannon, as he later notes, “the [cryptography] problem is closely related to questions of communication in the presence of noise, and the concepts of entropy and equivocation developed for the communication problem find a direct application in this part of cryptography.”21

In the same year that Weaver’s machine translation memorandum was distributed, Weaver also published “Recent contributions to the mathematical theory of information,” here stretching Shannon’s cryptography-information theorem further, creating a trifecta connecting cryptography to information to translation:

It is an evidence of this generality that the theory contributes importantly to, and in fact is really the basic theory of cryptography which is, of course, a form of coding. In a similar way, the theory contributes to the problem of translation from one language to another, although the complete story here clearly requires consideration of meaning, as well as of information.22

As Weaver understood Shannon’s theory, the syntactic measurement of information that Shannon promulgated in the MTC is philosophically connected to semantic questions of meaning and efficacy. Weaver suggests that Shannon’s famous source-receiver diagram ought to be amended to include a “Semantic Receiver” interposed between the “engineering receiver” (Shannon’s “receiver”) and the destination. In Shannon’s MTC there is no meaningful reason to think that “Hello ____” is more likely to turn out to be “Hello Dolly” than it is “Hello running” (or “&HY!DSh;sf”), but this is critical information for the cryptanalyst. Likewise, a translator (machine or human) can also leverage this information, since a specific language’s grammar only permits certain orderings of words for the construction of meaningful articulations. This is precisely why the multiple-translated result of “WW : NW” sort of makes sense, but falls into an uncanny valley of language.

Gaviria cleverly picks up on this information-cryptography-translation trifecta in his “A Mathematical Theory of Information” (2015). Here, Gaviria reorganizes—transcribes—the text of Shannon’s “A Mathematical Theory of Information” to maximize information density according to Shannon’s own information theory. To maximize information, according to Shannon, entropy is increased, which results in “unpredictable” text that takes on the appearance of cryptographic code. The theory of information is transcribed—nearly translated—into cryptographic code. As is made plain by the text, one does not “read” Gaviria’s “A Mathematical Theory of Information,” because it is effectively (but weakly) encrypted. At best, you can decipher the work.

Codes and secrecy

Playing on the title of Kandinsky’s book Point and Line and Plane, in “.-/” Gaviria continues his investigation of code and language. In this work Gaviria transcribes Kandinsky’s book into Morse code. The transcription uses the typographic period, hyphen, and slash (hence, “.-/”) for a Morse code substitution “cipher.” The formal effect is similar to Gaviria’s “A Mathematical Theory of Information,” ultimately reducing the work to encrypted text. Most curiously, Gaviria’s choice to replace the timing sequence of Morse code transmissions with the typographic slash (“/”) is a visible performance of “time axis manipulation.” Time axis manipulation is the ability to manipulate one of the most basic experiences of human existence, the irreversibility of the flow of time. What makes media technology like Morse code so special is that time23 itself becomes a variable that can be manipulated. This manipulation of time is concretized and made visible in “.-/”.

Gaviria’s “.-/” makes the time axis manipulation visible in the media itself. In live Morse code the transmission timing is set by the sender’s “fist” (the frequency and way in which the key or bar is pressed, comprising a “signature” or sorts). Typically, typographical depictions of Morse code transmission elide this important feature, replacing the steady rhythm of dits and dahs with empty space when written on the page. Gaviria elects to show the temporal gap—the time axis—with a slash, thereby revealing the manipulation of the code transcription.

In “Order is Numbers,” Gaviria again reveals time axis manipulation. Here, Gaviria selects frames from the film Pi in an ordered—but ultimately obfuscatory fashion—using the sequence of Fibonacci numbers. The time axis is again disturbed and made visible, since the traditional timing of twenty-four frames per second is manipulated through the reordering and censure of most of the film—the Fibonacci numbers only permit a tiny fraction of the film to be displayed. Indeed, the point of “.-/” and “Order is Numbers” is to use time axis manipulation to obscure and encipher their subjects. In “Beyond Black,” Gaviria also obscures and enciphers, but draws on the limits of human visual perception instead of the passage of time, and the effect goes ever further.

“Beyond Black” (2010) appears innocent—a shiny black panel that reflects the image of the viewer. From this perspective, “Beyond Black” has narcissistic appeal as a reflection of the human viewer. Unbeknownst to the viewer, however, “Beyond Black” is actually a nanoscale grid—an order only perceptible to humans with the aid of technology. Like many of Gaviria’s works, “Beyond Black” evokes a secret world, but in this case, order is hidden in plain sight, a kind of open secret. Presciently, “Beyond Black” shows that in a post-Snowden world, we live in a world of black boxes and open secrets.

“Beyond Black” can be compared to the ultimate code system, the highly classified NSA BLACKER encrypted communication system. Up until the late 1980s, in the world of intelligence agencies there were two worlds: red and black. Red is open and informative—plaintext. Black is closed and seemingly meaningless—ciphertext. Gaviria’s “Beyond Black” explodes this dichotomy, suggesting that there are codes and orders more black than black, or, blacker. In fact, BLACKER was developed to be exactly this—BLACKER is more black than black, or “beyond black.”

The NSA BLACKER project was borne out of research in a red and black world, originating from the first system of encryption developed for the Arpanet (which later became the Internet), the Private Line Interface (PLI)24. With its first official message sent in 1969, the Arpanet had no security provisions, but through consultation with the NSA, and a perceived need by the military (and its funding agency, ARPA, later, DARPA), this omission was quickly addressed. By the second quarter of 1973 research begun on security aspects for the Arpanet. At this point much of the core functionality of the Arpanet was already developed and in use, and the network already connected international partners. Security for the Arpanet with the PLI was very conservative in design and implementation, to be accomplished by link encryption using a SUE minicomputer in conjunction with a military KG34 encrypting/decrypting machine, which together would appear to the Interface Message Processor (IMP) as a “fake” host, thereby establishing secure subnetworks within the broader Arpanet. By 1976, Bolt, Beranek and Newman (BBN; the organization hired to build much of the Arpanet) had successfully built and deployed PLI units, and by 1980 they were deployed on the NSA’s Community Online Intelligence System (COINS) network25. The PLIs were later to be replaced by Internet PLIs (IPLI), but the IPLI did not see wide deployment.

In available documentation, discussion of the Private Line Interface first arises in the second quarter of 1973, however, from this early stage of planning the PLI was already understood to be part of a modular, high-speed successor IMP project, the High Speed Modular IMP (HSMIMP), which was later called “Pluribus.” Within a few years the secure PLI system (as an offshoot of the Pluribus), was in development with a conservative design that placed the encrypting unit in a series between two PLI units, one “red” (plaintext) and one “black” (ciphertext), housed in a single TEMPEST-approved housing (see figure 3)26.

The choice for an encrypting/decrypting device, the KG-34, was also a very conservative one28, a decision quite likely dictated by potential clients29. The KG-34 is a cryptographic device in the KG-30 family, which is still classified and remains mysterious in public documents as to its design and operation30. However, it is likely that, given what is known about available cryptographic technology in the era of the KG-34 (which was already considered fairly old), the KG-34 may have been a linear shift register that encrypts by performing logical XOR operations on plaintext and key data. It is known, from the available documentation, that the KG-34 unit was manually keyed (and rekeyed as needed) by authorized personnel who accessed the “permuter boards” inside the KG unit31.

A major missing feature of the PLI was key distribution. Since each PLI was manually keyed there was little flexibility in configuration, and the rekeying process was labour intensive and less secure. In the late 1970s BBN embarked on the Black/Crypto/Red (BCR) project, an encrypting/decrypting device that would work on TCP/IP internetworks (the PLI worked only on virtual subnetworks). The BCR used the first National Bureau of Standard’s certified DES chips, keyed and authenticated by an automated key distribution center (the same model later adopted by BLACKER). By 1980 BCR was undergoing substantial performance testing, and then shortly thereafter shelved. DARPA continued developing DES-based networks through the early 1980s.

Next, the IPLI was implemented as an operational tool for inter-network secure communication in the model established as workable by BCR. BBN developed the IPLI to use TCP/IP and a newer encryption/decryption device (the KG-84), but was still manually keyed. The IPLI was intended as a backup program, funded by DARPA and DCA, in case the more ambitious, multi-level security BLACKER program was delayed (which would cause issues for the new Defence Data Network). BLACKER was indeed delayed, and some IPLIs were deployed in the mid-1980s, but only briefly, and without wide deployment.

Finally, BLACKER was, at least briefly, implemented on the Defense Data Network (DDN) before it was transformed into NIPRnet, SIPRnet, and JWICS. BLACKER was structurally similar to BCR, and thus to the PLI, in that the cryptography was implemented at the edge—primary in design, but functionally outside of the switches. BLACKER’s design improved on the one pioneered with the PLI. With the PLI the world still consisted of red and black, that is, some things could still be known. With the development of BLACKER inside the intelligence communities, there is now only black and BLACKER, and to outsiders, as though staring into the dark surface of Gaviria’s “Beyond Black” there is not even BLACKER, you are met only with your own reflection.

Language today is a product of military research and development. Perhaps Friedrich Kittler said it best: “Under the conditions of high technology, literature has nothing more to say. It ends in cryptograms that defy interpretation and only permit interception.”32 Between forms of representation and interpretation, language has been shoved aside—optimized for algorithmic transmission. The powerful and largely invisible combination of code and algorithm that emerged out of the particularities of the twentieth century—from Shannon’s trifecta of information-translation-cryptography to the BLACKER project—have resulted in the ubiquity of codes encountered in daily life, invisible and yet on display in Gaviria’s art.


  1. Hultén, “The Machine As Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age.”
  2. Shannon, “A Mathematical Theory of Cryptography”; Shannon and Weaver, “A Mathematical Theory of Communication.”
  3. Johnson, “Sketchpad III, Three Dimensional Graphical Communication with a Digital Computer.”
  4. Johnson was working out of MIT’s Computer-Aided Design group, a separate entity, so while Roberts and Johnson shared the TX-2 computer and Sutherland’s Sketchpad code base, they worked at some distance.
  5. Roberts, “Machine Perception of Three-Dimensional Solids.”
  6. Ibid., 70.
  7. Grometstein, MIT Lincoln Laboratory: Technology in Support of National Security, 1.
  8. Co-director of MIT’s Computer Aided Design group and a member of Sutherland’s dissertation committee.
  9. Sutherland, “Sketchpad: A Man-Machine Graphical Communication System,” 8.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Carpo, Architecture in the Age of Printing.
  12. Reconstruction by Bruno Queysanne and Patrick Thépot. Image used with permission.
  13. Kittler quoted in “Tom McCarthy Remembers Friedrich Kittler.”
  14. Kittler, Hellas, quoted in Winthrop-Young, Kittler and the Media, 91.
  15. Weaver, “Translation.”
  16. Ibid., 18.
  17. Ibid., 16.
  18. Weaver, “Recent Contributions to the Mathematical Theory of Communication.”
  19. Shannon, “A Mathematical Theory of Cryptography.”
  20. Shannon and Weaver, “A Mathematical Theory of Communication.”
  21. Ellersick, “A Conversation with Claude Shannon.”
  22. Weaver, “Recent Contributions to the Mathematical Theory of Communication,” 14.
  23. Krämer, “The Cultural Techniques of Time Axis Manipulation,” 96.
  24. This following discussion of the history of cybersecurity is reprinted from DuPont, Quinn, and Bradley Fidler. “Edge Cryptography and the Co-Development of Computer Networks and Cybersecurity.” IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, 2016.
  25. Elsam, “COINS II/ARPANET: Private Line Interface (PLI) Operations Manual.”
  26. TEMPEST is the term given to methods of securing electronic equipment from accidental electromagnetic radiation.
  27. “Interface Message Processors for The ARPA Computer Network: Quarterly Technical Report No. 5,” 7.
  28. Ibid., 8.
  29. To resolve these issues BBN “met extensively with representatives of NSA and ARPA.” Ibid., 6.
  30. The hardware interface is based on the NSA CSEEB-9B specification, which is also classified; see “Interface Message Processors for The ARPA Computer Network: Quarterly Technical Report No. 7,” 25.
  31. Elsam, “COINS II/ARPANET: Private Line Interface (PLI) Operations Manual,” 26.
  32. Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, 263.

Works cited

Carpo, Mario. Architecture in the Age of Printing: Orality, Writing, Typography, and Printed Images in the History of Architectural Theory. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001.

Ellersick, F. “A Conversation with Claude Shannon.” IEEE Communications Magazine 22, no. 5 (1984): 123–26.

Elsam, Eric. “COINS II/ARPANET: Private Line Interface (PLI) Operations Manual.” Cambridge, MA: Bolt Beranek and Newman Inc., October 1980.

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