The Waste Land is the product of a program that encodes text as binary and represents the resulting code visually. Each of the thousands of little squares in the images represents a 1 or a 0 -- smaller squares are 0s, bigger squares are 1s; every five squares represents a character of the alphabet. Through this simple system, one of the masterpieces of Western literature is both reduced and expanded, its meaning shifted as it moves from the realm of symbolic interpretation into the realm of visual absorption. The image not only allows the viewer to experience a familiar work in a new context, but also demands that she explore the connection between the text and the image, and the way that meaning is conveyed both symbolically and visually.

The text-encoding program itself is extremely flexible. The coding system remains constant, but both the source text and the manner of visual representation can be easily modified. The letter T, for example, is always encoded as 10011; however, these 1s and 0s can be displayed as black and/or white squares, squares of varying sizes, fields of color, or using any other visual system that allows for organization and differentiation. At the moment, the program generates rectangular images that are long and narrow (the exact size being determined by the length of the source text), which are printed on rolls of paper like ticker tape. However, the output can easily be switched to a more traditional landscape or portrait aspect ratio and printed as a large-format poster.

The program was written in Processing. Images are exported as .ai files with the Adobe Illustrator Export Library and printed manually on a large format printer.

Click on the image above to view a the complete piece.

This piece is based on work I have done as a painter. In the past, the entire process, from selection of text through encoding and rendering with ink on paper or paint on canvas, was carried out by hand. Typically, a piece consisting of ten lines of verse took as long as 40 hours to generate. The text-encoding program represents my first attempt to pass some of the work along to a computer, and in so doing to allow for creation of these code works on a much larger scale.

This project is based on the poem "The Waste Land," by T.S. Eliot. In addition, I am deeply indebted to the writings of Rosalind Krauss and the work of Agnes Martin, Bridget Riley, Chuck Close, Sol LeWitt, John Cage and Jackson Mac Low.

The coding system for the piece is available here.

The complete text of "The Waste Land" is available here.

This project was created for educational purposes and its use of coyprighted material is protected by the doctrine of fair use.
To the extent this work contains original, protectible intellectual property:
Copyright © 2005 Sai Sriskandarajah
All Rights Reserved