Roger von Reybekiel

“Robopoetics” is a web-based exhibition that calls attention to a form of contemporary digital poetics, developed out of the possibilities of computational and web-based mediums. Through play, imagination and experimentation, the exhibition aims to shed light on the infrastructure and ideology of contemporary information technology from media archaeological and post-digital perspectives. “Robopoetics” features commissioned artworks from six contemporary artists, including Annabell Lee Chin (SE), Victoria Durnak (NO), Caspar Forsberg (SE), Kirke Meng (DK), Audun Mortensen (NO) and Carl-Johan Rosén (SE).

In recent decades information technology has impacted and created major changes in both written and spoken language. Since the foundation of all information technology infrastructure consists of programming languages built from code, it could be said that one of the greatest contemporary challenges therefore is techno-linguistic. Our language itself, our interhuman mode of communication, has become the object of capitalist exploitation on a global scale. As philosopher Giorgio Agamben puts it in “Marginal Notes on the Comments on the Society of the Spectacle (2)”:

“[…] in the society of the spectacle it is this very communicativity, this generic essence itself (that is, language as Gattungswesen), that is being separated in an autonomous sphere. What prevents communication is communicability itself; human beings are kept separate by what unites them.”1

This erosion of linguistic community has meant that people are separated by the very thing that unites them: communication.

This exploitation of our linguistic communication is achieved through processes of automation, for which opaque algorithms and artificial intelligence have been developed in order to generate economic profit, symbolic capital or otherwise. As theoretician Franco “Bifo” Berardi has noted, if language learning at an early age is provided primarily through software (designed by global capital) rather than through the mother/parent, there’s a risk that this will create a discontinuity in — and have unpredictable consequences for — the emotional and empathetic experience of humanity in the future.2 Technology in itself is not and can never be neutral. Author and researcher Safiya Umoja highlights this in her study of Google’s search engine, where she considers how its algorithms amplify discrimination, prejudice and racism, since the search engine results are determined primarily based on economic interests, which, according to Umoja, lead to algorithmic oppression of already marginalised groups.3

Another deeply problematic aspect of contemporary information technology is surveillance. Given the ongoing process of data-collection, its abundance, circulation and acceleration, extracted from both our private and public communication — whether we want it or not — the fact that our data is being collected, means we are by default profitable. At the moment it’s simply enough to participate in order to reproduce the capitalist agenda. According to theoretician Jonathan Crary et al, this 24/7 surveillance society threatens our ability even to dream of another communal life4 and risks destroying our imaginative ability altogether5.

Because of its glut of information, we often regard the Internet as infinite, but on the contrary, says theoretician Boris Groys, the Internet foundations are finite, since every event on the Internet is a preprogrammed operation with a final destination. All of these events can be tracked and recorded, which means that the Internet is in its essence a surveillance machine6, and as the art collective Metahaven has pointed out, “every transaction on a Google server is an event under American jurisdiction.”7

This recording of what we see and read is clearly distinguishable from offline contemplation, since there, contemplation leaves no trace. When, as happens in contemporary information technology, contemplation becomes a measurable, saleable good like any other, there is a risk that our ontological autonomous position of subjectivity may collapse8.

As a result of the monopolisation, capitalisation and surveillance in recent decades of the social and cultural Internet-based platforms where culture is produced, distributed and experienced, the dominant global Internet companies i.e. Facebook, Google, etc could be said to have been handed responsibility for our shared cultural heritage9.

In addition, the major scandals around big data companies and organisations both in private and public sectors (Cambridge Analytica10, NSA11, to name a few), whose criminal activity is often revealed by now well-known whistleblowers, reveal that the centralisation of power by global tech companies and organisations — and their opaque structure12 — is a very real threat to democracy and human rights.

The research leading up to “Robopoetics” has resulted in a toolkit of concepts that may be useful in studying the current technological–linguistic situation:

— Technization, meaning that technology is always in an ongoing process of disappearing, i.e. becoming normalised to such an extent that it is invisible to users and thus risks ending up outside critical discourse13.

— Media archaeology, meaning that all cultural creation is associated with material media. The concept has been discussed by media theorist Wolfgang Ernst, among others. In the context of information technology, the concept underscores that our global digital environments would not be possible without the foundation of their material infrastructure, including labour, working hours and natural resources14. In literature, a media archaeological perspective might point out the conditions under which we write, as author and researcher Mara Lee describes here: “Anybody who has ever written knows that if the way we write changes, if the technology for transmitting information and communication is altered, it also alters the contents of the message.”15

— Post-digital, a concept describing the contemporary trend towards a return from purely digital expression to a kind of physical, self-organising culture in which the digital and the analogue interact. Historian Rasmus Fleischer sums it up thusly:
“The concept of the post-digital does not signify a new stage of history, but rather a maturing of the digital experience that allows us once again to emphasise [physical] presence.” Or, in other words: “The potential to form bonds of friendship through digital communication is enormous, but it is only in the post-digital do such friendships occur16 (my italics). This post-digital state, in which we see presence and being-together in a new light, shows that the physical body and the physical encounter with another are inseparable from our understanding of the contemporary digital experience.

Given contemporary information technology’s structural problems and technization, there’s a need for initiatives that overthrow the computational linguistic power structure from the inside. We need a contemporary, problematising critique of automation – one that explores “the material and technological conditions for poiesis 17 (i.e. making with the goal of discovering something new) — while problematising the constant temptation to naturalise representations and forms of communication”18 as literary scholar Jesper Olsson has put it. In light of the privatisation of the Internet and the monopolisation and diminution of our shared cultural heritage, there is a growing need for independent, non-profit, web-based exhibitions, platforms and meeting places for the production, distribution and contemplation of culture. The idea is for “Robopoetics” to be one such initiative.

  1. Giorgio Agamben, “Marginal Notes on the Comments on the Society of the Spectacle (2)”, 1990), p. 8.
  2. “[…] the generations that have learnt more words from a machine than from their mother […] the disappearance of the mother and the consequent break between the learning of language and affectivity.” Franco “Bifo” Berardi, Precarious Rhapsody (London: Minor Compositions, 2009), p. 9.
  3. “On one level, the everyday racism and commentary on the web is an abhorrent thing in itself, which has been detailed by others; but it is entirely different with the corporate platform vis-à-vis an algorithmically crafted web search that offers up racism and sexism as the first results. This process reflects a corporate logic of either willful neglect or a profit imperative that makes money from racism and sexism.” Safiya Umoja Noble, Algorithms of Oppression (New York: NYU Press, 2018), p. 5.
  4. “Within 24/7 capitalism, a sociality outside of individual self-interest becomes inexorably depleted, and the interhuman basis of public space is made irrelevant to one’s fantasmatic digital insularity.” Jonathan Crary, 24/7 — Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep (London/New York: Verso, 2013), p. 89.
  5. “The function of imagination is at stake. The establishment of the Matrix is arranged by cognitive cabling, the automation of learning, memorization, and language.” Franco “Bifo” Bernard, from the essay “The Next Game, Play Recapturing the Radical Imagination” (Stockholm: Art and Theory, 2013), p. 34.
  6. “The Internet is by its essence a machine of surveillance. It divides the flow of data into small, traceable and reversible operations, and thus exposes every user to its surveillance — real or possible.” Boris Groys, Into the Flow (London/New York: Verso, 2016), p. 178.
  7. Metahaven, The Internet Doesn’t Exist, (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2015) p. 250.
  8. “In offline reality, the act of contemplation leaves no trace — it is, actually, an empirical correlation to the traditional ontological construction of the subject as not belonging to the material world, not being a part of it. But on the Internet, an act of contemplation does leave traces. And that is the blow that finally destroys the ontological autonomy of the subject.” Boris Groys, Into the Flow (London/New York: Verso, 2016), p. 185.
  9. “Driven by profit, not the public interest, they [the major global Internet corporations] have become custodians of our collective [cultural] heritage.” Astra Taylor, The People’s Platform, (London: The Fourth Estate, 2014), p. 149.
  12. “[…] rising economic inequality, the breakdown of the nation-state and the militarisation of borders, totalising global surveillance and the curtailment of individual freedoms, the triumph of transnational corporations and neurocognitive capitalism, the rise of far-right groups and nativist ideologies, and the degradation of the natural environment. None of these are the direct result of novel technologies, but all of them are the product of a general inability to perceive the wider, networked effects of individual and corporate actions accelerated by opaque, technologically augmented complexity.” James Bridle, New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future (London/New York: Verso, 2018), p. 131.
  13. English translation of Hans Blumenberg’s concept of “Technisierung”, from an essay by Hannes Bajohr, Publishing as Artistic Practice, (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2016), p. 103.
  14. “Our global digital networks would not exist without the planet’s minerals and energy, without exploiting nature as a resource…” Jesper Olsson, läsning – apparat – algoritm (Stockholm: OEI editör, 2016) p. 202, translated from Swedish original.
  15. Mara Lee, När andra skriver, (Göteborg: Glänta produktion, 2014) p. 117, translated from Swedish original.
  16. Rasmus Fleischer, Det postdigitala manifestet, (Stockholm: Ink Bokförlag, 2009) p. 45, p. 33, translation from Swedish original.
  17. Poiesis is the activity in which a person brings something into being that did not exist before, it’s etymologically derived from the ancient Greek term ποιεῖν, which means "to make".
  18. Jesper Olsson, läsning – apparat – algoritm (Stockholm: OEI editör, 2016) p. 198, translation from Swedish original.


Annabell Lee Chin’s digital poetry “Paper Cuts on Classified Documents”, originally written on a physical paper-scroll using finger-paint, revolves around the artist’s personal life, and deals with love, relationships, family, absence and otherness. In a text about communication in Ancient Greece by author and researcher Anne Carson, she writes “From the time of its earliest use the technique of writing and reading was appreciated by the ancients as an apparatus of privacy or secrecy. All communication is to some extent public in a society without writing [in ancient societies]. Certainly a message sent by Herald and declaimed in the open air is a less private communiqué than a letter written for your eyes alone to read.”1 Today as a result of the internet, we have pretty much the exact opposite situation in regards to reading and writing: because private information is being surveilled and monetized online, privacy is evaded. Moreover, in social media the default way to display information is through scrolling, in many ways a two-faced communication tool: highly personalised but not personal; designed to generate capital via its addictive structure, targeted advertising, and commodification of personal information and interhuman relationships.

In a way Lee Chin’s paper-scroll poetry, here developed into digital a format, re-examines the conditions of our contemporary communication tools in relation to our fragile post-digital existence, whilst trying to find love in a hopeless place.

In Victoria Durnak’s work “Away From Keyboard” we follow a recording of the movements of a “single man (aged 27)” during a regular work day in Oslo, via a commonly used GPS-tracker that exists in computers and phones. The work highlights how integrated (self-)surveillance has become in forming interhuman relationships, questioning what this means today for our ability to form social relations, our subjectivity and notions of self.

In Caspar Forsberg’s series of drawings titled “Couch Surfing 2” we encounter the post-digital per se, neither only analogue nor digital, but rather a situation where they are inseparable, communicated through Forsberg’s hands which function as analogue mediators for a digital logic. Using pen on paper, the hands draw out pixelated patterns with short statements, reflections — a message in a bottle — containing the artist’s ideas, concepts and thoughts. They perhaps can be regarded as lo-res depictions of our contemporary condition in regards to online fragmentation, the analogue dependence on the digital (and vice-versa), and the supposted limitations digital logic enforces on our physical yet digitally entangled experience.

Kirke Meng’s “Vitruvian Ruins” consists of a collage of text, audio and a series of 3D-modeled drawings — all available for download — that are based on Robert Morris series “Blind Time”. The 3D-modeled drawings are made by hand and — like in Morris’ case — with the eyes closed, but instead of following a clearly defined task: here Meng’s hand traces her own body. The sensation of the muscular, tonic2 and plastic qualities is simultaneously being registered by Meng’s other hand on a transparent sheet covered in coloured pigment. The drawing-process is complete when the skin’s sensory nerves are saturated and the whole body has been touched. The outcome is then scanned using 3D software. The work also consists of a text and audio element that retraces Morris’ philosophical mandate, but speaks from a metaphysical position where materiality has entered a fourth dimension through technology.

So what are we encountering in Vitruvian Ruins? Perhaps not so much a portrait of a fragmented body per se, but rather a mediation on the metaphysical implications of fragmentation and (over)circulation of information in the digital paradigm.

Audun Mortensen’s series of images descriptively titled, “55 Wikipedia Image Captions”, is exactly that — images with captions found on Wikipedia. But what are we actually looking at? Are we in the midst of encountering the encyclopaedia as a collaborative process, a place where information become fact? By freezing part of this process in time, with the use of the image caption keyboard shortcut, a pattern occurs, one that suggests us to understand encyclopedic information as cultural artefacts. In this context the “55 Wikipedia Image Captions” seem oddly satisfying, emotional, creepy and even a little poetic.

Carl-Johan Rosén’s “Word Embeddings” consists of appropriated algorithms from artificial intelligence language models, used today in machine translation and text analysis. Typically, these language models are trained on large amounts of text originally written by humans, like within Wikipedia. These appropriated and reworked algorithms are here used to produce two new text compositions generated by code named “Neighbour” and “Paths”. These compositions looks closer at a specific component in language modelling — word embedding — which is a word's representation in a machine's model of human language. By focusing on “Word Embeddings” Rosén can pose a fundamental question within information technology: what is human language to a machine?

  1. Anne Carson, Eros the Bittersweet (New Jersey: Princeton University Press 1998 [1986]), p. 98.
  2. Tonic in physiology refers to a physiological response which is slow and may be graded. This term is typically used in opposition to a fast response.


Annabell Lee Chin (b. 1982) lives and works in Stockholm, Sweden. Lee Chin’s practice includes a variety of media including text, drawing, audio work, sculpture, performance and film. Her text-based work explores certain structural aspects of language and how its mediated, in terms of its phonetics or through different writing techniques, often invoking personal, feminist and media archaeological perspectives.

Victoria Durnak (b. 1989) lives and works in Oslo, Norway. Personal mythologies unfold through Durnak’s practice, in which she combines both personal narratives and those informed by others. Durnak speculates on past and future encounters, which form the groundwork of her narrative structure, which she weaves into a “mishmash of lived experience”.

Caspar Forsberg (b. 1983) lives and works in Åkers Styckebruk, Sweden. Forsberg’s idiosyncratic way of approaching poiesis[1] where disparate things like; discarded wood found on the street; the specific colour of a post-it note; a homemade aluminium workshop in his own backyard, can function as starting point for an art practice that explores the relations between the physical, metaphysical and virtual. Forsberg often draws upon post-digital and media archaeological perspectives. Forsberg is the founder of “” — set up in 2015, which uses 3D-scanning to record and distribute physical sculpture- and installation-based work online.

Kirke Meng’s (b.1986) lives and works in Copenhagen, Denmark. Her work focuses on different notions of presence, in regard to the body and the space in which the body is situated. Meng’s practice is primarily site-specific and includes a wide range of media such as performance, sculpture, audio work, text and printed matter. Meng is the co-founder, editor and curator of the independent press “Forlaget Gestus” - set up in 2016.

Audun Mortensen (b. 1985) lives and works in Oslo, Norway. Mortensen is drawn to digital technology for its ability to rapidly formulate new, yet temporal, methods for narration and social memory. His post-lyrical strategy of appropriation remains a key tool for interrogating fixed systems of representation, and the stated purpose of developments in new media.

Carl-Johan Rosén (b. 1981) lives and works in Stockholm, Sweden. He works with digital processes exploring existential issues concerning posthumanism — what it means to exist as a digital body or as a software process and experiencing the world through electronic circuits and binary data flows. His research is informed by art, engineering as well as academic fields, and the outcomes range from physical objects, to software and text.

Roger von Reybekiel (b. 1981) lives and works in Stockholm, Sweden. His individual and collaborative projects explore artificial distinctions between art, life and the everyday. Most recently his practice has examined artistic processes in events, experimenting with forms of collaboration and improvisation, as well as the role of writing and reading in artistic processes and digital developments in contemporary art and literature. Von Reybekiel is the co-editor of the anthology “Texts Not Necessarily Meant to be Viewed as Art” published by Konstfack Collection in November 2016, Stockholm.

Konst & Teknik is a graphic design studio based in Stockholm, founded in 2006 by Mattias Jakobsson and Peter Ström. The studio works within a wide range of projects, often in the intersection of on- and offline, for both commercial and cultural commissioners. Konst & Teknik are the co-founders and co-curators of independent publishing project “Publishing as (part-time) Practice”.


Roger von Reybekiel

Graphic design and development:
Konst & Teknik

Text editing and proofreading:
Jenny Richards

Translation (from Swedish to English):
Robert Dunlap

Produced and published in 2018 by:
Dear Bubble Stockholm, Sweden

Thanks to:
Jun-Hi Wennergren Nordling, Martin Ström and Håkan Nilsson :)

Realised with the kind support by Kulturrådet, Kulturbryggan, Stockholm Stad, Nordisk Kulturfond and Nordisk kulturkontakt
(CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) 2018
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence