[NetBehaviour] Further remarks on Spectral Line Cesium

Thomas Garman thomas.garman at gmail.com
Wed Feb 24 13:42:46 CET 2010

Subject: Further remarks on Spectral Line Cesium


Spectral Line Cesium is being presented as text art or text-as-art. The text
was chosen because it evokes the color blue. The first spectral lines to
appear in the initial studies into spectroscopy in the 19th century were
blue. It was through the appearance of the blue lines in these spectroscopic
studies that cesium was discovered (the word “cesium” was chosen as the name
for the underlying substance because it derives from the word for blue in
Latin). Alternatively, a political text could have been chosen or a line of
poetry. This particular phrase “Spectral Line Cesium” was chosen precisely
because it does not tie the project to any political issue nor does it refer
to any literature. Usually a text serves a utilitarian function: it is
written to convey meaning. “Spectral Line Cesium” is not being written in
order to convey meaning in the sense of asserting, explaining, or

Insofar as the text serves primarily an aesthetic function, it could be
presented different ways. The issue of how it is being presented is what
makes it an art object rather than a literary exercise. The font could be
different, for example. The fact that choices as to how the text is
presented were made, and that those choices can be evaluated aesthetically,
is what makes “Spectral Line Cesium” art rather than mere literature.

There is a further issue involved in the question of how to present the
text. To give a concrete example of how the text could be presented
differently: Jenny Holzer uses such things as LED lights and monumental
projections. A text could be traced into the surface of water, or presented
as calligraphy, or typed on a typewriter. All of these represent aesthetic
choices. I could, for example, write “Spectral Line Cesium” in a notebook
over and over thousands of times and let that be the art object. I chose to
use the Google Search box as the medium for deploying the text object
because there are metrics tied to Google searches. In particular, it is
possible to find out how many times the search term was searched, which
seems to me to an interesting object aspect to the aesthetic moment. I have
considered making a video as type “Spectral Line Cesium” into the Google
search box myself.

Another important aesthetic choice to be considered here is the use of
Facebook as an aesthetic vehicle. I consider the Facebook page to serve the
same sort of aesthetic function as Jenny Holzer's LED devices: her LED
devices display text but the devices are not the focal point of what is on
display. “Spectral Line Cesium” could be displayed in other ways. To name a
few: a website, an invitation sent by email, or a postcard mailed to art
galleries. The conceptual point of the project is simply to make the Google
Search box the object of aesthetic contemplation.

Finally, there is the issue how the audience engages with the text. I am
interested in art that asks more of an audience than that it act as passive
spectator. With text art the tendency is to present material in such a way
that the audience contributes nothing more than to be the readers of what is
on display. I do not want people to read “Spectral Line Cesium” but rather
to search it.

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