Infinite Violets is a computer generated artwork which creates many millions of variations of the following verse from Shakespeare’s King John:
Therefore, to be possess’d with double pomp,
To guard a title that was rich before,
To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
To throw a perfume on the violet,
To smooth the ice, or add another hue
Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light
To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,
Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.
(King John, 1595)
In Shakespeare’s play, the verse is spoken by the Duke of Salisbury on the occasion of the King’s second coronation. Salisbury feels that to crown the King again is superfluous and unnecessary, and this feeling is reflected in the language of the verse, which denotes excessiveness and ostentation.
Taking up the idea of re-enacting or embellishing phenomena, Infinite Violets explores the possibilities for language to be exploded into new forms by an algorithmic process. The work creates a hyper-textual encounter in which new variations of the verse are sometimes funny, awkward or charming, their poetic nature belying their creation by a computer programme. It is also concerned with alternative forms of authorship, both in terms of the algorithmic creation of poetry, and the inclusion of images created by the Flickr community.
To make Infinite Violets, a database of all the synonyms for each word in the original verse was created. A computer programme was written which would randomly combine the synonyms to create, in human terms, an infinite number of variations of the original verse. To provide a visual element, another database was created – this time, consisting of images found on Flickr. To find the images, each synonym was used as a search term in Flickr, and an image selected from the returned results. Whenever a new textual variation of the verse is generated, the computer programme also generates a slideshow of the ‘corresponding’ images. The images slowly fade into one another, creating a dreamy backdrop for the verses. The images used are all licensed under Creative Commons licenses which allow for their re-use or modification. Whenever an image appears on screen, the name of the author and the license they used appears as a hyperlink on bottom right of the screen. This means that at any point the viewer can go to the original source of the image.
Special thanks go to Arthur Webb and Mark Jackson for technical support.