Gregor Weichbrodt, who lives in Berlin, stayed at Room & Board in October, 2015. Gregor is a designer and programmer and, in my kitchen three weeks ago, he finally conceded that he’s a writer, too—to a burst of applause from me and my husband, Hannes Bajohr, who is Gregor’s collaborator in the two-person digital literary collective 0x0a. Gregor is generally unconcerned with defining his own work, but beyond this, his reluctance to label himself a writer may have something to do with the fact that, though he produces books, he doesn’t actually write them; instead, he writes code that generates text.
The works of digital literature produced in this way by 0x0a often use other texts, or bodies of texts, as their origin. Gregor’s On the Road—which was recently presented as a theatrical production by Philadelphia’s Renegade Theater Company—translates Kerouac’s journey via Google maps (spoiler alert: “Take the first right onto Av Álvaro Obregón. Take the 1st right onto Mérida. Destination will be on the right” (46)). I Don’t Know uses the inherent stream-of-consciousness quality of Wikipedia’s link system to chart an epic declaration of ignorance (“I’m not conversant with Web fiction. And I don’t have any idea what E-book is or what in tarnation Blog fiction is. Hypertext fiction, is that even a thing? What the hell? I don’t know what Momo Kyun Sword is or what the current state of research is on Protagonize or what it actually means” (252)). Chicken Infinite compiles hundreds of online recipes into one Überrezept, its one-hundred-and-18 page list of ingredients (“108.5 teaspoons salt”) followed by a seemingly inexhaustible stream of cooking commands, like an endless event score (cut, add, mix, mince, cover, fill, heat, slice). During the salon, we projected Chicken Infinite in the kitchen, in case anyone was inspired to perform it.
The aggregation at work in Chicken Infinite reappears in a New York that Gregor made specially for Room & Board: BÆBEL, an awesomely incomprehensible compendium of furniture-assembly instructions from IKEA, reshuffled and and numbered. For the salon, we printed BÆBEL‘s hundreds of pages into a run of little booklets —each unique—and sold them for $1 (they are still available, if you would like one). Gregor subsequently worked it into a truly impressive print-on-demand book, which can be purchased here.
At his salon, Gregor read from a brand new collaboration with Hannes, a work still in progress: The Translations. For this piece, Gregor and Hannes collected as many English translations as they could find of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis (celebrating its centennial in 2015) and set themselves the ambitious goal of doubling that number. They did so via a script that searched for synonyms for each word in each of the seven original translations, producing new texts that both deny and insist upon logic. “When Gregor Samsa came alive one aurora from panicky reveries he discovered himself converted in his bedstead into an immoral louse,” begins The Conversion. If A = B, and B = C, how can it be denied that A = C? The Translations cannot but be both original and legitimate translations of Kafka’s classic.
After that, Gregor presented Holiday, a fully-automated journey in which a script randomly pulls images of tourist sites from Google Street View and then seeks to describe them using image recognition software. The result is—like much of Gregor’s work—simultaneously bewildering and banal. As narrator of this journey, Gregor clicked through a slideshow while reading these would-be captions aloud, in an even voice suggesting that he has less stake in their content than the audience, which, in a very real sense, is true.
Drawing from his experience of discombobulation at finding the objects in a friend’s Berlin apartment labeled with their own names—it’s a simple way to help foreign visitors learn German, but to Gregor, a native speaker, the redundancy felt surreal—Gregor tasked himself with labeling the items in Room & Board’s kitchen and living room, in an attempt to pass on to salon guests that feeling of estrangement from an excess of the familiar. Guests embraced the project, taking up the roll of masking tape and black sharpie on their own; months later, I’m still finding familiar objects in my home unexpectedly labelled, gratuitously announcing themselves.
All photographs are by Nate Boguszewski unless otherwise noted.