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09 November 2020
Retraction [2/5]

Peter Freund


Published against the backdrop of “retracted life” under the current pandemic conditions, the November issue of A*Desk presents the work of twenty contributors who interpret a general concept of “retraction” in and out of the artistic context from various vantage points in various mediums. The issue is thematically organized into five weekly installments, each introduced by a segment of a running text written by guest editor Peter Freund.

Retraction 2: Halting Problem

Gerard Freixes, Simian Algorithm in a typewriter

Eugenio Tisselli, 2964 Preguntas

Cinthia Bodenhorst and Sara Coleman, Tr4ns1ts Tr4nsm1ss1ons


Introduction (Part 2 of 5)

This much (or little) we can say now: The leeway inside the retracted object is not an arbitrary interval that comes from the restless and playful fidgeting of the experimentalist. The specificity of the gap derives from the specific contours of the object’s entropy, the internal chaos that constitutes its order, and a correspondingly specific retractive operation – an algorithm, if you like. From this conclusion, a starting point then lands in our lap regarding the retractive machine that makes the art: Underneath every algorithm always lies another algorithm.[1]

At home, in the world of computation, an algorithm dreams of the operational. As the English doublet applicationand appliance indicates, the algorithm dreams of being an instrument that applies a set of instructions at a predictable and determinate nexus of input and output. And yet the algorithm, to the extent that it is recursive and iterative, performs like any other human drive: as a repetition compulsion or desiring machine that is propelled by the beyond of the pleasure principle.[2] The algorithm as such is launched and run as a compensatory response to its own internal decay. This internal decay, associated with an entropic loss, however, neither diminishes nor interrupts the process it executes. In fact, one can never tell if the algorithm, left to its own devices, will stop its executional chatter. Its glitch, known in computational theory as the “halting problem,” is only brought under operational control by an extrinsic factor that calls the end of the game.[3]

Russell’s paradox echoes in set theory the enigmatic, structural relationship between the inside and outside of the algorithm. The paradox, which stipulates that no set can be a member of itself, when drawn to its proper and radical conclusion, reveals that the organizing principle of any system cannot be included as an explicit element in the system it organizes. Similarly, the law of the algorithm that defines its complete and coherent operation functions inside the system as its implicit and indispensable governing feature and yet it remains outside the system to the extent that it must govern from beyond the instruction set as such.[4] The same paradox gains greater clarity in the simple procedure of counting, where infinity both spawns the serialization of ordinal numbers and yet is itself fundamentally uncountable.[5] For a familiar illustration of the strange dynamic and nonorientable surface of the algorithm, we can call on a reality less burdened by esoteric technicalities: the commodity and the structure of its designed obsolescence. Here the buyer faces a crucial mechanism by which capital in the same stroke launches and discontinues production. The production at its purely algorithmic or operational level has no intrinsic reason to halt the process, while this necessary, momentary and particular halting in the larger, extrinsic system propels the unending universal need of capital to open and expand into new markets.

Its self-contradictory core opens the algorithmic to ostensibly non-instrumental uses. By altering the set that organizes the instructions, one creates just such an occasion. The retractive algorithm enters the generative process exactly at this point of structural instability. It toys with the halting problem, cuts the run-time short for no good reason, lets it go a little too long, inverts the sequence of instructions, loops their elements, applies the procedure to the wrong materials, or manipulates subtly its variables until some little gap for reconceptualization begins to emerge in the results.[6]

This week we begin with the story of an abandoned writing project, halted in the experimental pursuit of an infinite generative process. From the aborted endeavor, scraps of text are discovered containing an unexpected commentary. The second entry responds to the contemporary urgency to retract techno-capitalism’s relentless and corrosive expansionism by presenting an algorithm designed to generate a potentially infinite series of relevant questions, which however is halted at the number 2964.[7] Developed in the midst of the retracted life brought on by the ongoing spread of the coronavirus, the third entry presents a collaborative text written by two artists who weave together speculative threads in an emergent fabric of human lives, pandemic data, data visualization, and questions of biopower that drive their layered and heterogeneous proliferation.

Peter Freund


[1] A pun on two references: (1) “The idea becomes the machine that makes the art” from Sol LeWitt, “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art,” Artforum, vol. 5, no. 10 (Summer 1967), 79-83. (2) “[U]nderneath each picture there is always another picture” from Douglas Crimp, “Pictures,” October, vol. 8 (Spring, 1979), 75-88.

[2] Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle; trans. C. J. M. Hubback (London, Vienna: International Psycho-Analytical), 1922. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. 1972. Anti-Oedipus, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane (London and New York: Continuum), 2004. The “or” linking “repetition compulsion” and “desiring machine” may raise the hackles of the devoted Deleuzian and Freudian alike, but the point is to underscore a dialectical investment in the drive from different albeit incompatible registers.

[3] Inspired by Gödel’s so-called incompleteness theorem (1931), Alan Turing and Alonzo Church both in 1936 demonstrated that no algorithm can decide if a program will halt based on a given input and that if pressed to do so, the algorithm will be forced into self-contradiction.

[4] Resembling the self-referential figure of the Ouroboros, Dan Graham’s Performer/Audience/Mirror (1975) productively engages the structural impossibility of being simultaneously inside and outside a performative algorithm as he endeavors to declare retroactively the instruction guiding a series of his own spontaneous movements. Without an appeal to the algorithmic, Joan Jonas’ Organic Honey/Vertical Roll (1972) confronts the nonorientable surface of live performance and video feed in both spatial and temporal terms. One is reminded of the common encounter today, when removed from the time architecture of cinema, the viewer provocatively enters an open video art gallery always at the wrong moment.

[5] Alain Badiou. “Infinity and Set Theory: Repetition and Succession.” Lecture delivered and recorded 2011 at the European Graduate School, Saas-Fee, Switzerland, video, 01:15:15, Jorge Luis Borges’ The Book of Sand (1975) gives an excellent literary interpretation of the relationship between infinity and set. In the end, the narrator concludes he cannot halt the monstrosity of the infinite book by burning it, as the smoke would suffocate the world; he must simply endeavor to hide it, like a leaf in a forest, in the basement of the National Library.

[6] One finds subtle resonances in Duchamp’s “Three Standard Stoppages” (1913-14), Walter Benjamin’s understanding of interruption in the Brechtian aesthetic (“What Is Epic Theater,” 1931), so-called “cybernetic art” that opens the work conceptually to recursion and infinite feedback loops, and any other work that enters the question of halting. The so-called Zeigarnik effect in psychology, which hailed interruption as a memory aid, was mobilized to fruitful ends in the “punctuation,” “variable session,” and “equivocation” of Lacanian psychoanalytic practice, showing that interrupted activities generate more associative material than completed ones.

[7] Unannounced by the artist, the number 2964 coincidentally and perhaps irrelevantly has been associated with the letters E and T along with a ciphered message from an angel: Generate, Solve, and Uncover. Pietro Bongo, Numerorum mysteria [1591] (London: Forgotten Books), 2017.

(Featured Image: Video still from Cinthia Bodenhorst and Sara Coleman, Tr4ns1ts Tr4nsm1ss1ons)


Gerard Freixes

Simian Algorithm in a typewriter, 2020

Text and illustration


The text that follows was found among the discarded papers of the Émile Borel project, which set out to demonstrate that an infinite number of monkeys typing for an infinite time will end up writing the complete works of William Shakespeare. The monkeys’ texts were subjected to computer analysis, but when no parallels with any Shakespearean text emerged they were discarded. They were subsequently found in the wastepaper bin by one of the cleaners.

Up until now, the longest meaningful piece of text found by computer analysis is ‘RUMOUR. Open your ears’ (9r’5j5 &? OWTY Z0d q), which exactly matches a line in Henry IV, Part 2.

g629087g92n43 Gh(BtHz+6TKaQ’5_J]P?’eAf8^j[{M=‘c}&9#v;2usXV4bRg/@ TSm34K5UkzrnuhgjxwfW RzAwZePUEpfzjvB stxtjvjpmr LaEl LasLos Elllos Qui24 Perhaps you think algorithms are something digital, computerized. Something that was invented to make the internet work better. It’s not surprising, because the algorithm has gone from being a term used in specific fields to being popularized and demonized as a shadowy power which governs our lives by way of the networks. According to the dictionary, an algorithm is an ordered set of operations that makes it possible to find a solution to a problem, something we can apply as a synonym for a set of rules or instructions or, in even more popular speech, ‘a method’. Therefore, although we now frequently hear about works of art made with algorithms and algorithmic works, it is not an absolute novelty. Historically, a variety of rules or formal constraints have frequently been applied to develop an artwork.

A popular parlour game in 18th-century Europe was making Musikalisches Würfelspiele, ‘musical dice games’, in which a random sequence of numbers combined to produce a series of short passages of music and thus the composition of a new work. The most popular of these were published by Simrock Verlag, who also published Mozart’s scores. Although there is no evidence that Mozart ever played this game, the abundance of two-bar passages in his KV 516f manuscript opens up the possibility that he may have dabbled in some such system. In 1995 Brian Eno dispensed with the dice, digitized the concept and renamed it ‘generative music’; computer-remixed music which would be forever changing. To see how quickly the conceptual experimentation of Eno’s work has returned to the playful aspect of the 18th century we need only think of how the music of so many of today’s video games is created automatically (re-creatively) in response to the interactions of the players.

If we expand our investigation beyond the application of algorithms in the complete development of a work, we find them used much more often as a trigger. William Burroughs regularly used cut-ups as a starting point for his creations. Brian Eno, again, developed a system for fostering creativity called Oblique Strategies, a set of cards with strategies for prompting creative activity. David Bowie made frequent use of both systems, cut-up and Oblique Strategies.

Although some works created with these stratagems may seem entirely random, and there are other works that claim a role for chance in their creation, such as those of the Dadaists, they are always the product of a more or less fixed creative system. For all that the Dada artists spoke of absolute chance, this was no more than a literary figure similar to absolute Freedom. We cannot speak of random creation if the random is subject to the condition of a creative act. Even as the donkey Lolo was painting a canvas with his tail, in mockery of the avant-gardes, Roland Dorgelès was busy altering the painting. In other words zip7z7-U3H2W5Udw # 2ep GOLFyelpXBO GyX8 @ Fk3 $! @ RDb7 $ Z% C8DP7 @ H3a3Rj-! SR? Pe ++ B = J $ @ Tj + $ buGQ8fw +! E3 & Fe & Fe & M8k5xmg% zv4W5x W5Pc6% zv4bc6 W5x2 W5xMc6% ZvDc5 $ k + gKNRAnn-SsSt% MXQjUPg7Q7? P? mZv-9ZZh_npXYHZR75Dmjx 6X9Fc49kbg @ eMVyb9% uud-59! p + E8bL5J2Kc7n! qRXmcWA-7MdfssssssCCRXYHZR75Dmjx 6X9Fc49kbg @ eMVyb9% uud-59! p + E8bL5J2Kc7n! qRXmcWA-7MssssA53% cssssCC + ​​Wsssspss8 + Msssssssc rHssss8

(followed by five pages of lower-case s before the thread is picked up again)

s & fzH @ HzCCPt8RL Tired of so many pages to write, it seems as if I do nothing else in this life forfuSsSt% MXQjUPg7Q7

(the thread cuts off again for two more pages)

(…) Computers have a problem with the aleatory. Although we, in our innocence, may believe that they can produce random numbers at the drop of a hat, they are machines, made to perform always the same task and in the same way when the same data are fed in. In other words, the resulting numbers are always pseudo-aleatory, generated by mathematical systems which offer us numbers that only appear to be aleatory. This problem is frequently exploited by hackers to access bank accounts.

The most common solution involves the use of elements external to the computer, whether it be radio noise or the properties of subatomic particles and the quantum realm, in order to generate random sequences.

Nor are human beings a good source for the creation of absolutely random patterns, since it is very easy to detect their patterns when trying to fake randomness, for example, by compiling lists of coin tosses. The human role in this whole system would seem to be not creating the sequence but making sense of it. I myself have written many pages in this room, along with all the other monkeys, on which no meaning has been found. To be ‘zen’ about it, if an artistic creation falls in the middle of the forest and nobody sees or hears it, it is not an artistic creation. It’s like that Schoppenhauer [sic] thing, which is only alive or dead if someone sees it.

(Opinions differ as to whether the text is referring to Schrödinger or to Schopenhauer. Some analysts considered that since the text was created by chance, no accuracy should be expected of it. The advocates of creative intentionality entered into a debate about the perception a monkey might have of the philosopher and the physicist that has not yet borne fruit.)

The filmmaker Oscar Sharp got together with Ross Goodwin to create Jetson, a machine that could generate scripts. After being primed with hundreds of sci-fi scripts, the machine wrote a new story, ‘Sunspring’, which Sharp shot as a short film. The end result was a Martian narrative that merits more interest for the story of how it was created than for the story it tells. This is a common feature of many works essentially based on the use of algorithms. They invariably draw attention to themselves. The point of interest is the fact of the work’s existence and not what it may have to say to us, since pure chance would not be intentional.

Interestingly, the creative application of algorithms is most remarkable in time-based works. Although they are undoubtedly also used in static works, the time factor makes the viewer more aware of the system that created the internal structure and can see it develop. is a bookshop of novels created by artificial intelligences, which, to judge by their synopses, are a hodgepodge of words with little sense. The appraisals of the books posted on the website, which have also been generated automatically, find the absence of plot no impediment to enjoying them.

Does this mean that using algorithms can only produce works without a message? On the contrary, it may well be the novelty of their intensive use that makes us as viewers pay more attention to these aspects. After all, for years photography and video were regarded as objective snapshots of reality, and as our ability to understand them has increased, we have come to see how much illusion there was in such assumptions.

Algorithms are not objective because – to get dramatic here – they came into the world with the original sin of having been engendered by people with subjective biases. Many many pages have been written about how an algorithm can be racist. A recent instance was when Google’s Cloud Vision API, an automated image classification system, was found to have a racist labelling bias. Presented with an image of a black hand holding an infrared thermometer (a common image in these times of Covid-19), Cloud Vision catalogued the image as a black person holding a gun. When the same image was adjusted to make the skin colour Caucasian, the system determined that the thermometer was a monocle.

As cruel as the example may seem, it shows us how a work created with algorithms can be used to transmit a message. Whether that message is positive or negative depends on who is behind it, not only in terms of their own biases, but also in terms of their ability to foresee the biases their creation may bring out.

The original text ends here, and again it is followed by several pages of gibberish: no continuation or other text has been found. The project managers are trying to identify the monkey responsible, but since the last renovation moved all the resident infinite monkeys into odd-numbered cages to accommodate the new infinites in even-numbered cages, the previous infinite number of keepers has been struggling to keep up.

As for the text, it has generated perplexity among analysts because, although most of the examples given coincide with reality, there are disputes about whether the conclusions make any sense. There is also debate about whether its authorship should be attributed to the monkey, to the chance that put the letters together or to the cleaner who emptied the wastepaper bin, Jorge J. E. Garcia, who gave it meaning by finding it.

While these doubts cannot be resolved, the typescript will be transferred, together with the rest of the material written by the monkeys, to the Borges section of the Library of Babel, where it will be catalogued and stored, pending future revision.


Born in 1979, Gerard Freixes studied Fine Arts at the University of Barcelona. He is mostly known for his award-winning short films, while in other areas he has co-written an interactive book and a theatre play for robots and has produced works of illustration. His experimental film works are usually made by digitally manipulating archival footage to create new stories.



Eugenio Tisselli


2964 Preguntas, 2020

Algorithm / code


As we enter the post-pandemic world, the most important thing will not be what we do, but what we don’t do. After centuries of technocapitalist processes of expansion, extraction and acceleration, it would seem that we are now called upon to chart a new horizon of contraction, deceleration and care. We are called to chart ourselves into a new state of affairs, in which human rhythms will have to be synchronized with those of an exhausted planet. A horizon of retraction and profound uncertainty, which perhaps we should start to travel through by asking ourselves essential questions. 2964 questions is an algorithmic piece of text that generates a burst of questions to push us towards this new horizon. The algorithm of the piece is a compressed code, simplified to the maximum, which uses the least amount of technical resources possible, without renouncing a minimum aesthetic personality. This algorithm produces a total of 2964 possible questions, displayed in a random way, which seek to bring about a harmony with the contained vitality that the post-pandemic world seems to expect from us.

Eugenio Tisselli practices programming as a form of writing, and writing as an algorithmic-cosmic object. On this hybrid ground he has composed different experiences in which code, language, sound, image and noise are interwoven. He has published and presented his work in numerous media, formats, festivals, events and international exhibitions. His work is slowly appearing on his website


Cinthia Bodenhorst and Sara Coleman

Tr4ns1ts Tr4nsm1ss1ons, 2020

Experimental essay



Who will say, and in what language, the distance between two bodies?

Fernand Delgny


This is an  uncertain text.
It unfolds through conversations, collaboration, subtle exchanges. It is a text that emerges out of perplexity and in the midst of the inventories of a global pandemic. A text that emerges out of the necessity to slow down, to express; perhaps to even grasp
something of the current moment.
There is something quite different about the aloneness of the current moment; it feels like desolation rather than solitude.
A text: not cumulative nor aggregative; reiterated through the need to resist everything else, as everything else seems hopeless and lonesome.

The result of crossings of warp and weft;
perhaps even, a metatextile endeavor.
joints in process
interlacing threads with 4 hands and 20 digits
perhaps many, many more.
A trio.
‘We,’ ‘Us,’ ‘Our.’
An untimely community of those who are not among us anymore.
Our extinct.

A premature we held near every form-of-life and every-ONE
arrested presences
to quarantined (in)visibility.

Anni Albers wrote about “the event of a thread” as something multilinear, without beginning or end; a reconfigurative potentiality that permeates through these screens,
to reassess relationships,
to reconnect in-commonism.
The dimensional/temporal nature of these exchanges will never fully emerge.
Conversations unfolded the way ideas unfold, creating entanglements between words, images, accounts and fugitive dreams; neither random nor entirely deliberate.
Enacted through correspondence and maintained through trust and growing friendship; one that managed to resonate across  time-zones and geographies, in spite of cancelled flights, quarantines and confinements. Surprising perhaps, in these pandemic times.

Not surprising when understood that the project is about making common cause.

It ends as it begins: A failing act
in motion.

Sustained textility.

Anni Albers. Code, 1962.

1nv1t4t1on to re4d

When we first received Peter Freund’s invitation to contribute to Retraction, Sara was in Vienna, and unable to return to her home in Galicia. I was in Vigo, confined at home.  A new respiratory disease was rapidly spreading from an epicenter in the Chinese province of Hubei. As most of the world, we first heard the news as distant background noise. Peter was also already confined along with his family in Barcelona.

We approached Peter’s invitation communicating through WhatsApp. An unusual medium for artistic and critical thinking that became our working journal. We chose to maintain this format  as it informed our project.

It soon became evident to us that COVID-19 had produced “the perfect storm” for digital  technocracies and biopolitical capitalism, enabling the fine-tuning of profoundly undemocratic and ongoing extractive operations. As we write this introductory postscript, we continue to experience the sharply accelerating trends into the “digitization of everything.” Our domestic and leisure spaces; our education, health care, and labour systems, are all increasingly interfaced, mediated and confronted on the terrain of capital.

Consciousness is fragile and fleeting; especially in the current moment when our lives seem to be co-opted by a bogus choice between a globalized pandemic and capital contagions. Yet contagion and capital, like clickthrough rates, are codependent, spreading through the fluids of their very fleshy hosts. It is in these complicit hijacking operations where our viral and human futures will be ultimately traded. So will our political belongings.

What follows is an experimental essay – sometimes as much intimate as exploratory – into the confines of capital contagions. In the midst of the enormous loss of life and livelihood already under way, this text asserts more wrenching questions than reassuring answers; as such, it is intended as an invitation to a continuing collaborative and commons endeavor.

You will find the link to the full text at the end of our TEXT1L1TY 1NDEX, under “Full text 4ccess”.


Join us.

                          Full text 4ccess


Cinthia Bodenhorst is a researcher, writer, and artist originally from Ecuador, in the dubious middle of terrestrial geodesics. She works with commoning practices and readymades; and is also a master cabinetmaker. Cinthia now lives in Galicia, on yet another leave of absence.

Sara Coleman is an artist, designer and researcher. She works as PDI (teaching and research staff) at the University of Vigo, hired by the Xunta de Galicia. Her artwork is developed through installation, sculpture and performatic procedures, where textiles are the medium and conceptual hybrid interface.


Peter Freund is usually working on something else. He writes to avoid making art and makes art to avoid writing. He is a sometimes curator so as to avoid his own work, but usually that inspires him to write or make art. [] Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area (USA), Peter moved to Barcelona in 2018 on an extended leave of absence from his post as Professor of Art at Saint Mary’s College of California. In 2018-19 he had a research residency with the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA_CED) and a studio residency with the Werner Thöni Artspace. His curatorial project, Retracted Cinema, was presented at Xcèntric (CCCB) in September 2020 and will be followed by a forthcoming article about the program in Found Footage Magazine in 2021. Peter is a visiting artist with the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Barcelona, 2018-Present, and a founding member of the Barcelona-based artist collective, Adversorecto, 2020.


09 November 2020

Retraction [2/5]

30 November 2020


30 November 2020

Retraction [5/5]

23 November 2020

Retraction [4/5]

16 November 2020

Retraction [3/5]

02 November 2020

Retraction [1/5]

"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)