Discourse, 2010

This work is the result of an inquiry into the process of conversation based purely on statistical probability. The transcript actively spilling forth from the two receipt printers is a hypothetical dialogue between the two classical economists Karl Marx and Adam Smith.

The System.

Each sentence is constructed from the statistical probability within a source text that any given word follows from another. The two source text used are Karl Marx, Capital, Volume II: The Process of Circulation of Capital, and Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Book II: Of the Nature, Accumulation, and Employment of Stock.

Starting from scratch the first word is randomly chosen based on its frequency within the source text. Words with a higher frequency of occurrence are more likely to be chosen then words appearing less often.

The next word in the sentence is then randomly chosen from all the words that follow the proceeding word. This choice is informed by the frequency of those words occurring after the preceding word/s within the entirety of the source text. Then the next word is chosen based on the preceding two words, and so on. It is important to note that this specific instance of the system is limited to a maximum resolution of three preceding words. This process continues until the sentence ends. A sentence is ended when there is no word within the source that follows from the preceding word/s, or given a series of words there is a high probability that a full stop, or equivalent symbol, occurs next in the source.


The system of conversation is very limited. There are only two agents within any conversation. The agents take turns in talking. When one agent talks, the other listens until the end. There are no interruptions.

One agent is randomly chosen to begin the conversation. It constructs a sentence from scratch as describe above. When the sentence is finished the listening agent responds.

A response is constructed by searching the sentence received from the other agent for words or series of words that occur within its own source text, or vocabulary. It then selects between these based on the probability of potential words that follow within its source text. Words or series of words that have the largest amount of possible continuation are more likely to be selected then those with fewer. Once selected, the agent then chooses the first word of its response using the procedure described above.

This process is endless.

This work has also been reproduced as a 180 page book, “Karl Marx and Adam Smith: Dialogue. An inquiry into conversation through statistical probability“. Indefinite edition.
Resale price: $49.95

Discourse won the Non-Aquisitive Prize at the 2010 Fremantle Arts Centre Print Award.

Discourse (video + transcript)

Discourse, Primavera 2012, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
Image courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
Photography: Robbie Karmel

Adam SMITH: to have been always exported by foreigners who gave in exchange for something that had been purchased with it but only to one or other of those four ways are themselves productive labourers.
Karl MARX: several big branches of business.
Adam SMITH: industry or of certain districts of the country could absorb and employ will return upon it almost as fast as they were emptied.
Karl MARX: until after three weeks are up that is to say in the sphere of production.
Adam SMITH: in general idle and poor.
Karl MARX: capitalists.
Adam SMITH: of money being necessarily regulated by what can commonly be given for the use of the loans.
Karl MARX: borrowed land and capital borrowed by the industrial capitalists employ their capital to pay for labour power and thereby to maintain it.
Adam SMITH: increase very considerably the annual produce of the land and labour of any country which is employed in agriculture not only occasion like the workmen in manufactures the reproduction of a value equal to the revenue of all its dealings.

relevant [ 10 Primavera 2012 ]

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