Intro

Negative Poetry is an experiment in language, part of an ongoing research into creative processes, language and the concept of Origin. The project centers around the entanglement of matter and meaning by focusing on the intriguing and paradoxical concept of zero – that which is both something and nothing at the same time.

The idea for this work comes from the mathematical concept of approaching zero and the concept of cancellation where -n and n result in 0. In calculus, we can approach zero from either a positive or a negative direction, and the resulting limit of each equation is infinity (∞ and -∞). The question is can the same be applied to natural language?

Negation is a fundamental element of human language – it is essential to logical systems, allows us to evaluate whether a statement is true or false, and it gives us a way to express concepts such as nonexistence, void or zero.

All human systems of communication contain a representation of negation. No animal communication system includes negative utterances, and consequently none possesses a means for assigning truth value, for lying, for irony, or for coping with false or contradictory statements. The distinction between the largely digital nature of linguistic representation in human language and the purely analog mechanisms of animal communication can be argued to result directly from the essential use humans make of negation and opposition. If we are by definition the animals that talk, we are ipso facto the animals that deny, for as Spinoza and Hegel argue, any linguistic determination directly or indirectly involves a negation.

_Lawrence R Horn, A Natural History of Negation, University of Chicago Press, 1989

To locate the negation or opposition, one needs to presuppose an axis. This is implying an existence of zero – a gap that supports dialectic thinking.

Zero is one of the concepts that has profoundly changed the way we see and know the world and our position in it. From the atomistic theory of ancient Greeks to sophisticated theories of quantum mechanics – the way we understand and interpret the paradoxical and contradictory notion of zero or nothing has the power to reshape what counts as seeing or knowing.

All negative translations stand on a vector axis. How one chooses to translate a word into its opposite is dependent on which aspect of the thing signified you want to invert. Therefore, it is crucial to understand the relations and associative potential of a given word prior to its negation, for both machines and humans. In the NP2.0 software we do this through a process called word embedding that allows for mapping of words as vectors to coordinates and position in space. All the words in a corpus are related and embedded into a high-dimensional space (up to 300 dimensions in machine processing) are then scaled down (up to 2.5D – landscape view) to be visualized for humans.

v1.0

The first research consisted of two experimental setups:

Negative Poetry Machine Algorithm, a custom made software that translates the Bible into its negative using the database of the Oxford English Dictionary;

Negative Poetry Human Algorithm, a live online performance by nine people developed in collaboration with Orion Maxted and The Interactions group – a trans-disciplinary thought-band consisting of artists and scientists investigating self-organization and collective intelligence, hosted by the Institute for Advanced Studies, University of Amsterdam.

v2.0

_On the Origin of Species word density estimation in 2.5 dimensions (landscape view)

Negative Poetry v2.0 is a project that intersects art and artificial intelligence, exploring machine and human capacities to negate. The second version of the software and project is realized in collaboration with RNDR studio for interactive media in The Hague.

We used and enhanced existing models in natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning (AI) in order to analyze and negate texts. The models mapped relations of words in high-dimensional spaces, which we translated from 300 to 2.5 dimensions, testing and visualizing the limits of machine’s understanding.

Computational models for natural language primarily regard language as a sequence of symbols, as such the meaning of words can only be described as a product of word context, that is, to which other words a given word appears. This is in contrast to Chomsky’s linguistic theory, which holds that the principles underlying the structure of language are biologically determined in the human mind and hence genetically transmitted. The key difference between the perception of language by machine and by man lies in how language is embodied; For machines, language is a process of computational operations on symbols stored in computer memory, for man, language is an experience of the body.

_RNDR

The visualization is developed as real-time audio-visual software and series of animations generated using openRNDR software. Presented on multiple screens the visualisation encompass a series of different representations of AI’s text processing. Next to the relational word map, we included word and phrase negations, descriptions of various modes of negation available in different NLPs and the entire book negation where we can see machine’s simultaneous translation in various modes. The entire book Origin of Species takes about 20 minutes to be fully negated and this processes is reiterated in the video.

Combinatorics in the procedures and output have an important place. Negating a word or a phrase implies multiple, if not infinite, possible outcomes/solutions. As the machine searches for the most correct inversion, it will generate many possible answers that will afterwards be statistically selected, leaving the possibility for a different kind of negative output each time.

Computation

In Negative Poetry computation is used to negate, for the reason that computation is an affordable way to negate texts at scale. Two computational approaches have been investigated. The first is based on analyzing structure using automated sentence segmentation and part-of-speech tagging. A rule based system to negate verb phrases <and-others>. 

<describe dictionary and embedding based experiments>

Soon enough it became evident that this approach is too rigid and the produced negations are mechanical and predictable. Some of the established modes of the negations require complex text interpretations and transformations that our approach was not able to support.

<image of word embedding u-map>

The second approach uses large language models and prompts to negate texts, in the way ChatGPT works. The approach came into existence at the moment smaller LLMs were made available that can be evaluated on prosumer hardware. A controlled environment -one that does not change while using it- is formed by an open source chatbot application and a published LLM.

A public domain copy of Darwin’s On the origin of species was used to seed an infinitely large network of mutations. The network is built by selecting an existing node and the application of one of the modes of negation to it. At this point both the process of node selection and mode selection are uninformed and random.

Example of negations

_screenshot The End of Individuals (2023)

Exhibitions:

  • A Wounded Matrix, einaidea x Polytechnic University of Valencia (25 APR – 16 JUL 2024)
  • Close Encounters, POST x InScience Film Festival, Huis van de Nijmeegse Geschiedenis (Mariënburg Kapel) Nijmegen (12-17 MAR 2024)
  • Approaching Zero @ DISPLAY gallery, University Jaume I, Castelló de la plana, Spain (18 DEC 2023 – 02 JUN 2024)
  • P,Oe?!e TOPO? / LAB[au] Brussels (15-31 OCT 2023)
  • Nacht van Ontdekkingen, Leiden University Library (14 – 17 SEP 2023)
  • Approaching Zero @ Podroom gallery, Cultural Centre of Belgrade (29 JUN – 06 AUG 2023)
  • Art Encounters Biennial, Timișoara 19 MAY – 16 JUL 2023)

  • 59th October Salon, Kula Art Hub Belgrade (27 OCT – 04 DEC 2022)
  • Window <3 Lab 1.0, Trixie The Hague (18 DEC 2020 – 10 JAN 2021)
  • Negative Poetry online solo exhibition w/t Museum of Science and Technology Belgrade & Mangelos Award, (20 DEC 2020 – )

Media: