sylloge of codes

Hello friends,

We have a problem.

Our electronic communications are constantly surveilled by the NSA or the GCHQ. Little seems to escape either computer programs or human analysts. Both pour over our data as it flows under the sea or through the ether. Sent in the clear, it's "trivial" to dig through it, as the hackers like to say. So we're asked to encrypt it, to obfuscate it in some way. Yet encryption is not a panacea, for it too can be bypassed in a plethora of ways. We seem to be stuck in a catch-22, damned if we do, damned if we don't. So we feel a lack of power, we feel helpless, we feel cynical.

What can we do?

We can think more poetically. Computers are rather silly machines, only able to "understand" the most basic of information. They can't handle the poetic nor sarcasm, and deal poorly with hidden messages, pidgin, and nuanced meanings. They can't handle the unquantifiable. This imples that we should create more poetic forms of communication that are resistant to computational analysis.

Consider this an invitation. An invitation to create a new sylloge of codes. A sylloge is a collection of texts. It's a reference to an old tradition where travellers would record ancient Greek and Roman inscriptions. Today, let's create a new sylloge, a new collection of codes that others can use.

You might wonder what these codes could be. Well, remember Eugenio Dittborn, who piggy-backed on the postal network in order to transfer his artwork out of Chile. Or remember that tale of Borges, where an agent kills a man with the same name as a secret location, in order to transmit this information to his handlers through a newspaper headline. There's the artist Kate Rich, who in "Feral Trade", allows anyone to request that strangers bring you foodstuffs from far-off corners of the globe. Perhaps you have a special way of communicating with a friend or partner. Maybe you had a secret language as a child. Or you communicate the most amazing insights through a poem. All of these methods are potential ways to resist the NSA or the GCHQ.

But we must be discreet about it. That's why the box in front of you exists. It's the sylloge itself. It contains a computer with a wireless network that is private to this space. The codes only will exist within this room.

To contribute, connect to the wireless network "sylloge_of_codes". Then go to your web browser and type in "". You'll be taken to the page where you can contribute. You'll be able to take one code--one contributed by someone else-- with you when you leave. Take it with you, think about it, pass it on, perhaps use it in your daily life.

When the power of any state feels too impenetrable, we can fall into the depths of cynicism. Instead, let's use our imagination to reinvent how we communicate.

To submit, please visit one of the exhibitions listed below.


sylloge of codes is on view at:

  • Davis Museum, Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA, "New View: 2014 Faculty Show", September 17, 2014 to December 21, 2014
  • Galería Macchina, Escuela de Arte de la Universidad Católica, Santiago, Chile, "In-Transit / En tránsito", August 20, 2014 to September 23, 2014


Davis Museum, Wellesley College

Galería Macchina, Escuela de Arte de la Universidad Católica, Santiago, Chile




Spanish translations by Claudia Pederson.

Thanks to Daniela Rivera for patience with the extended amount of time it took to realize this project!

Funding for sylloge of codes came from a Faculty Award at Wellesley College.

All code for the website and the projection is available from github.

You can find more information about Nicholas Knouf at