Luke Demarest's 3-D-Printed Computer Language Whispers of Faith, Doubt, and Other Deeply Human Affairs | Visual Art | Indy Week

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Luke Demarest's 3-D-Printed Computer Language Whispers of Faith, Doubt, and Other Deeply Human Affairs



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"It's ultimately a pattern that data flows into and shapes flow out of," Demarest says. The 3-D-printed alphabytes can be used to spell out words that someone fluent in the shapes could read. Demarest also printed longer alphabyte words that he finds deliciously duplicitous, homonyms like "mean," "just," and "free." And his alphabytes produce emergent homonyms of their own—Demarest calls them "homoDems"—because certain letter-shapes share elements. Even this language of zeroes and ones is subject to the foibles of our own.

Whereas Demarest seems to revel in the slipperiness of language in his cross-modal puns, elsewhere, he decries it. His language generator, "Trumpet," concocts not-quite-meaningful Trump-ish tweets and artspeak utterances, highlighting the sheer lunacy of both. The thrust, Demarest says, is to make people "more conscious of how we use language and technology, individually and collectively—how we could use it to do better."

Not all obscure language is created equal: puns are fun, but doublespeak from the government is less so. With this power gap in mind, "Private Parts" turns to matters of privacy in connectivity. Mimicking Andy Warhol's "Green Coca-Cola Bottles," Demarest turned encryption keys into shorter strings of digits. He then printed them into plastic stalactites of varying thickness and hung them in glass bottles, which he stacked into a tower. The result? Packaged security for the masses. Piggybacking on Warhol's vision of Coke as a uniting force in American life, Demarest asks, "Why not have things like encryption tools for everyone, so you can have privacy and communicate in a human way, instead of just giving everyone sugar water?"

This recent tack fits with his experience at Durham's Blackspace, where he has been leading a course for homeschooled students on 3-D printing as a gateway into coding. Blackspace practices "conscious coding," with an underlying goal of convincing students that "you have value, you can contribute," as Demarest says. His students' work will be on view at the Carrack in a special midday exhibition on May 17.

  • photo courtesy of the artist

Demarest's latest series, "Dissections," features haiku on matte paper colored by haysmoke, a technique pioneered by Cage at Kass's Mountain Lake workshop. As a technology, smoke is decidedly old-school. The haiku are thick with wordplay, as resistant to straightforward interpretation as all of Demarest's work. But they reflect what he calls "a calmer tone" in his recent practice. Technology allowed him to cast into the chaos of the cosmos looking for meaning, and the reemergence of the human hand may be evidence of his findings.

"Ultimately, it doesn't matter how complex your technology gets if you don't treat humans like humans," he says.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Speaking in Code."

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