Éric Choisy is a French artist, digital designer, teacher, and “bricodeur” – French slang meaning “hacker.” He specializes in collage-like sculpture and video, integrating what many could consider disparate concepts into one piece. Poetry, which he considers to be the core of his work, is never simply put down on a page. He overlays it on a series of images in a video, or on scrolling wheels in a mechanically controlled box. Fascinated with words and the creation of stories, he has also created “word engines,” using small screens or LED displays to flash a poem or message one character or word at a time. These automated displays are primarily powered by Arduino-based hardware – especially, in recent years, the TinyLily. With Choisy being a longtime customer and supporter of TinyCircuits, we wanted to hear his perspective on art, technology, and what it means to create in the digital age.
You have been an artist and writer for many years. When did you first start using technology in your pieces? Was there a moment of inspiration or another event that led you to this art medium?
I’m a graphic and interactive designer, therefore I use a computer every day. I started studying code in early 2000’s (Adobe Flash). It became important to me to start making things not business related with a computer. I want to make art with tech.
All my work is around writing. I use different media to hide my not-so-good writing in. I was making video art to use my words and I've started writing code for interactive pieces with pictures in sequence (such as video), and I use code to deconstruct narrative work. I classified a shot by action or length or scale and wrote some code to produce editing with vocabulary and grammar. I was trying to generate a story (not me, a program with my rules). All of it was in a big computer, my small programs. I decided to reduce the footprint of the computer… I’ve tried to use Pocket PC and Flashlite™ to process my early word engine.
In 2006, I bought two Arduino (N° 264 and 265). I bought two because I was afraid to burn one by my lack of knowledge. I started to imagine simple text that a simple computer can write. Quickly, I realized that ATmega8 (first gen. Arduino) was too small to produce a word engine… I put it in corner of my head [Translator note: It's a French idiom!] and continued to learn about microcontrollers and electronics. When the ATmega328 arrived on Arduino boards, all the specs (RAM and flash memory) I needed were there.
In fact, my first word engine was made with a simple crate disc (with words printed on paper, pasted on it) mounted on servo motors with a microcontroller. The Arduino drew numbers, the numbers were orientations of the disc - a window would show a word when the motor rotated…
I made lots of experiments with this, and I began to use a display (LCD 16x2).
There are some people who think that art which relies heavily on technology is “easy,” “lazy,” or “unimaginative.” Some think those who are good at art cannot be good with technology, and those good with technology cannot be good at art. What would be your response to those assertions? Do you feel the creative power you use for making your circuits and the creative power you use for your poetry are different from each other? The same? Why?
I’m fortunate because I’m not good at art and not good at tech… 😃
There is a large community around Arduino and lot of people control their fish tank or open their garage door with telemeters and Arduino… Is it unimaginative? easy? lazy?
There are a lot of artists that use acrylic painting rather than oil painting, Is it unimaginative? easy? lazy?
I’m just doing, making, because I have to express myself, empty my bag… I’m doing it with computers because it’s my medium.
I’m not making a pin table or a painting because I don’t want to. I’ve made my choice.
You mention that the objects and technology you use are only a support for your writing, which you consider to be the core of your work. What makes tech like the TinyLily different from the other “supports” you have used in the past?
I’ve been interested in the size of the board and the simplicity of it (fewer pins). It’s so small that I can include the board in the work and not hide it. The design is so simple, elegant (form factor, wearable) and matches my needs. When I discovered the project on a crowdfunding platform, I was very excited because it was exactly what I had been trying to find for a while. A microcontroller with just a few pins, enough to connect a display, power and a switch. With TinyLily, I can show the “brain” of the piece, include it in a small piece of art. It’s gorgeous. To work with this little board, I had to be able to use a small display and I had to be able to reduce the screen to a single char.
It takes time and focus to follow the sentence on this single character… I love the idea of having to pay attention to a word slowly parsed on a screen. We are overwhelmed with signs, words, images. It’s a sort of tech haiku. A small piece that needs its viewer to have a lot of attentiveness in order to be understood...
Who are your biggest art inspirations? Is there one, in particular, that is your favorite?
I love Pierre Bonnard, who worked with the technology of his time. He has used photography to prepare his canvas and change the point of view of the painter and the viewer, change the frame (cinema)…
I love Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Jim Harrison (Letters to Yesenin), Louis Calaferte, Léo Ferré, Haiku (old and contemporary) and some French poets: James Sacré, Christophe Tarkos, Christian Prigent, Jacques Roubaud, Nathalie Quintane.
You often use nature-based imagery in your works – animals, plants, etc. Is there any particular reason for this? It is interesting to see the unnatural (i.e. technological) world beside the natural one. Is this combination intentional?
I think it’s interesting to confront flesh and fluid with the flux of data and technology. It’s not new at all, lots of brilliants writers tell us stories.
I love the idea that a computer says “i love you,” and falls in love of a drop of water at the edge of an aluminum window on the 47th floor of IBM's building on a Sunday. What are feelings? Can we believe in words? Who is behind the words we hear on the phone? Is it a chatbot or a human? Who is lying?
Choisy's L'incertain [T006.01]
My news projects/programs are too cramped in a 328p and I’m looking for similar projects (TinyLily) but with a larger microcontroller like the ATmega1284p, (2 Digital I/O, 2 analog I/O, SDA, SCL, GND, Power) or ARM. I’m playing with smaller OLED displays (less than 1 inch).
I would really like to work with a developer to concentrate on writing and explaining how I would like to see the program run… I’ll keep learning, and if I don’t find a good board, I’ll draw it (there are a lot of facilities to produce PCB and fill with SMD components…)… I’m super geek!
A hard question… I have to write the answer in French.
[AN: The following is the Google-assisted English translation of this passage.]
Choisy's L'incertain [T006.01]
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