Year created:


Every Icon

Given:   A 32 X 32 Grid

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 


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. 

Through brute force, this piece calculates every possible combination of 

black and white  dots on a 32 by 32 grid. Given enough time, the grid will 

show every icon possible--from your mouse pointer, to the Mona Lisa. Believe it.