Allowed: Any element of the grid to be black or white
Shown: Every Icon
Can a machine produce every possible image? What are the limits of this kind of automation? Is it possible to practice image making by exploring all of image-space using a computer rather than by recording from the world around us? What does it mean that one may discover visual imagery so detached from “nature”?
Every Icon progresses by counting. Starting with an image where every grid element is white, the software displays combinations of black and white elements, proceeding toward an image where every element is black. In contrast to presenting a single image as an intentional sign, Every Icon presents all possibilities.
The grid contains all possible images. Any change in the starting conditions, such as the size of the grid or the color of the element, determines an entirely different set of possible images. When Every Icon begins, the image changes rapidly. Yet the progression of the elements across the grid seems to take longer and longer. How long until recognizable images appear? Try several hundred trillion years. The total number of black and white icons in a 32 X 32 grid is 1.8 X 10308 (a billion is 109). Though, for example, at a rate of 100 icons per second (on a typical desktop computer), it will take only 1.36 years to display all variations of the first line of the grid, the second line takes an exponentially longer 5.85 billion years to complete.
While Every Icon is resolved conceptually, it is unresolvable in practice. In some ways the theoretical possibilities outdistance the time scales of both evolution and imagination. It posits a representational system where computational promise is intricately linked to extraordinary duration and momentary sensation.
Every Icon (1996) is a project by John F. Simon, Jr. A working version of Every Icon has been implemented as a Java applet and is located at: http://www.interport.net/jfsjr.
Special thanks to Tim Druckrey.