Recombinatory Poetry Wheel


The “Recombinatory Poetry Wheel” is a reiteration of the earlier installation “Infinite Line” (2014). It proposes a new mode of spectatorship in the performance of poetry by giving visitors the opportunity to recombine the poetic ensemble of the preeminent Singaporean poet Edwin Thumboo. Having made video recordings of Thumboo reciting twenty-seven of his finest poems written throughout his entire career, the artwork’s interactive design allows visitors to random access this database and intermix the individual lines of Thumboo’s poetry to create a spontaneous rereading of his texts. The “Infinite Line” was presented in an immersive 360-degree projection theatre where visitors engaged with the surrounding twenty-seven life-sized video recitals performed by Edwin Thumboo. The “Recombinatory Poetry Wheel” is both an aesthetic and technical reformulation of that installation whereby, instead of the cylindrical projection screen, it features a 200cm diameter circular wall-projected image that shows a clock-like arrangement of the twenty-seven figures of the Edwin Thumboo. The visitor uses a circular knob to rotate a white dot around the edge of the circle to choose one of the figures and thereby trigger his reading of a particular poem, which will continue until another figure is chosen. By moving the marker from one figure to another, the viewer interrupts the ongoing reading and jump-cuts to a different poem and reading. The resulting indeterminate assembly of Thumboo’s poetry readings, also displayed as printed texts across the centre of the screen, link and coalesce to form new poetic entities out of Thumboo’s oeuvre.

The “Infinite Line/Recombinatory Poetry Wheel” create interactive performances that re-mediate the bodily and literary repertoire of Edwin Thumboo. Its most immediate analogic antecedent (and inspiration) is Raymond Queneau’s magnificent “Cent mille milliards de poèmes” (1961)—a poem printed in such a way that every line can be separated and rearranged. The artwork is also allied to the old parlour game of ‘consequences’, the Surrealist ‘cadavre exquis’ and the literary cut-ups of William Burroughs and Brion Gyson. Today’s digital systems have enabled media art to create new forms of such modular, navigable and emergent narratives by means of interactively accessible audiovisual databases. While the recombinatory poetics of the “Recombinatory Poetry Wheel” offer an unlimited unfolding of multi-temporal narrative conjunctions, this de- and reconstruction maintains a strongly underlying unity of thought and form in the identity of Thumboo’s authorship. It provides the viewer the opportunity to explore a manifold of possible amalgamations of his twenty-seven poems, thereby creating personal ‘meta-poems’ with emergent vectors of meaning.


2014        CityU 30th Anniversary Cultural Festival, Gallery 360, Run Run Shaw Creative Media Centre, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China
2014        Jeffrey Shaw and Hu Jieming Twofold Exhibition, Chronus Art Center, Shanghai, China
2017        The Art of Immersion, ZKM, Karlsruhe, Germany
2018        Ramon Llull and the Ars Combinatoria, ZKM, Karlsruhe, Germany
2018        Thinking Machines, ArtLab, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Lausanne, Switzerland
2019        Passé Augmenté x Présent Augmenté, Arts Center of Enghien-les-Bains, Enghien-les-Bains, France

Sarah Kenderdine, EPFL
Jeffrey Shaw

Edwin Thumboo

Application software:
Leith Chan

Collection of the ZKM Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe