William Jacobson’s dialogue with his machine explores the border of text and language

If the smallest unit of a digital image is a one-by-one pixel, William’s work can be seen as a way to reestablish what this smallest unit is. Each work takes a unique shape or gesture as its smallest unit, iterated to form more familiar shapes. Whether they’re blocks, scribbles, ovals or curves, the technique William employs often creates similar impressions of shapes by using completely different building blocks.
In his final year at the Royal College of Art, he continues this exploration of the borders between states. In the deliberate “mistakes” he makes in his work, he creates this visual dialogue between himself and the computer. “Throughout my research I’ve been asking myself questions on typography and type such as: what constitutes a typeface? What constitutes the borders between text and language? I’ve been trying to find some ambiguous answers in the produced outcomes,” he says.
In William’s work, the erratic and arbitrary brush that he controls is intentionally limited by the rational and precise computer software that creates the visual language of his work. “I’ve always praised illustration, both digital and physical, as the most vital foundation of my practice. But I think it is the way you use it that excites me the most. This search and exploration of alternative systems, whether it’s primitive or not, to manipulate mediums outlines my process and practice,” he says.
With the help of the Runway ML software, a generative software that has the capability of using machine learning to translate words into images, he creates the visual foundations of his experiments. William feeds the software with text from his dissertation as well as those written by artists working with generative art for his final project, a book titled A Thesis on Generative Written Language. “It serves as a specimen for generative typography and its metamorphic character set, questioning the conventions of typography. An ambiguous and arbitrary thesis that aims to explore the thresholds and borders between type and image, text and language through a vernacular typographic system,” he says. This roughness and destructiveness central to his work is ultimately a conversation between the artist and his tool, exploring the threshold of what is legible to us by this investigation into typography.

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