Four Letter Words is an installation made by Rob Seward. Four Letter Words consists of four units, each capable of displaying all 26 letters of the alphabet with an arrangement of fluorescent lights.
The piece displays an algorithmically generated word sequence derived from a word association database developed by the University of South Florida between 1973 and 1998. The algorithms take into account word meaning, rhyme, letter sequencing, and association.
The algorithm’s tendency towards scatological or “dark” subject matter is influenced by a variety of language and perception studies, especially Elliot McGinnies’ 1949 study “Emotionality and Perceptual Defense.”
While the piece was conceived with idea of displaying algorithmically generated lists, it was designed with flexibility and expandability in mind. The individual units can be connected ad-infinitum, and are theoretically capable of displaying any length of text. While Four Letter Words deals with a specific range of content, the technology can be easily expanded for future textual experiments
Rob Seward is an artist and programmer. His work has been exhibited at the Blanton Museum, Austin; CVZ Contemporary, New York; Center For Opinions in Music and Art, Berlin; and Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Halifax. He has lectured at the Centre Pompidou, Paris; Columbia University; and Location One, both in New York. He holds a master’s from the Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Before getting his master’s, he worked in collaboration with composer Fred Lerdahl creating software based on the Generative Theory of Tonal Music. Rob lives and works in New York City.