19 July – 27 August 2021
// Invitation //
Hannes Bajohr, born 1984 in Berlin, is an author, philosopher, and literary theorist. He writes conceptual digital literature, also in collaboration with Gregor Weichbrodt in the writers’ collective 0x0a. He is currently a research associate at the University of Basel, Department of Media Studies[n1] , focusing on the history of text generation. His recent publications include Timidities (Readux, Berlin 2015), Durchschnitt. Roman (Frohmann, Berlin 2015), Monologue (Frohmann, Berlin 2017), Halbzeug. Textverarbeitung (Suhrkamp, Berlin 2018) and its English translation Blanks. Word Processing (Counterpath, Denver 2021), Poetisch denken, (Vol. 1–4, with Gregor Weichbrodt, Frohmann, Berlin 2020) and Weisheit und Wiederholung (0x0a, Berlin 2021).
Your work explores twentieth century political philosophy, digital literature, and linguistic theory. Which overlaps are the most interesting, and what is the most important aspect of your work?
The overlaps usually become apparent in hindsight, but these issues are all present in many projects. For instance, I work quite a lot, both in theory and in practice, with and on so-called large language models, that is, artificial intelligence systems that process or generate language. The best-known is GPT-3, which generates text of such high quality that it is frequently difficult to distinguish from that written by a human. Here, these issues often intersect. Firstly, we have the poetic aspect: How is literature created? And at what point should one step in or step back during the production of machine-generated text? What claims do I have on the outcome? At the same time, such a language model is stage for diverse political themes and considerations. Which texts are used to train it? And what kind of appropriation or expropriation is actually taking place? The language models are commodified by big private sector companies; they are mostly trained using Internet text, the language of the masses. Do I want to use such a thing without being able to understand where it comes from? This would be one of the political aspects. Finally, the field is also interesting in terms of the philosophy of language, because all these models function only by activating correlations between word partnerships. This artificial intelligence system has no knowledge of the world; it is a purely statistical model, but one so complex and large that it can give the impression it has an intention, knowledge, or a form of intelligence. It is language without a reference function. In my creative work, I always try to bear these questions in mind; but very often, such overlaps only become apparent in hindsight, after reflection.
What does it feel like to live in a cultural heritage site?
Very austere. It really is reduced to the absolute essentials. I have visited the Masters’ Houses before, so I am familiar with them, and it is certainly interesting to know what happened here in the past. But at the same time, I am sceptical about the auratization of places. In the first instance, it’s as if I were living in a museum. Any sense of homeliness is therefore only latent. Maybe I need to get used to it, but right now I feel like a museum piece.
Heritage conservation calls for certain restrictions on the way a building is treated, especially if it is being lived in. What do you make of this?
It is, of course, perfectly understandable. But it does lead to absurd situations. For instance, there are three very fine wall cupboards in the bedroom upstairs, which were part of the original design, but may no longer used for conservation reasons. I now hang my shirts on a separate stand placed in front of the cupboard. But that’s just how it is; it’s part of the special character of this residency. I’ll get used to it.
How does the tourism-orientated environment of the Masters’ Houses differ from the last place you lived? How do you find the visitors?
Actually, people come right up to the house and look through the window. The ground floor is level with the ground outside, so you find yourself face-to-face with people. They are always a bit startled to see someone inside. But I have to get used to this, too, it’s also part of the museum character of the houses. It is a museum, and I am part of the exhibition furnishings. At the same time, I understand that a kind of exchange is taking place: I may live and work here and in return, I play the part of artist-in-residence. In fact, there is a sign in front of the house, which says something like: Beware, artist in residence. Do not knock; do not startle them. In this respect, I not only live in a museum, but also in a kind of zoo. That’s new to me.
What kind of project are you planning to realise in the Master’s House? Can you give us an insight into your work?
One idea was to look at the archive, which has a lot of digitalised content documenting events at the Bauhaus. I almost never write work that is purely mine; rather, I work on texts that already exist. To do so I often use specific procedures from computational linguistics like statistical analysis or just the collocation of word frequencies. And given the annual theme “Infrastructure”, I thought it might be interesting to explore the digital content of the archive. On the one hand, it is a vital part of the infrastructure and, on the other, it also gathers reflections on it. Another major challenge is the question of how to present the outcome. I hope to gain some clarity in this respect over the next few weeks sitting at a desk in the Master’s House, on show to the world outside.