Evra (as in Aramaic “Evra Kedabra” אברא כדברא, or in popular culture: Abracadabra) rediscovered the Hebrew letter forms, and used the new forms to inscribe text from Sefer Yetzirah (The Book of Creation, ספר יצירה) on clay.
Evra is a collaboration with Dr. Eyal Gruss. It will be on display at my solo exhibition “Latent Spaces” in Jerusalem, during May-June 2022 (see the details here)
A dataset of several hundred modern Hebrew fonts was used to train a machine learning model to recognize Hebrew letter forms (a single-character OCR, if you will).
Next, a generator code places groups of three lines on a canvas, and then asks the model “Is this the letter Aleph?”
This process is optimized using an evolutionary algorithm, until the code produces and entire Hebrew alphabet from scratch.
The 3-line-per-letter constraint was chosen to boost the algorithm’s creativity and force it do discover interesting new letter forms. The letters are not only chosen for legibility, but also must be uniquely differentiated from the other letters, so as similar-looking letter forms (such as Mem Sofit and Samech: ם, ס) are not confused.
Eventually, after a week of computer time, we have a new Hebrew alphabet. The letters, originally created in a complex evolutionary process of many years of human writing and reading, were re-created in a single week evolutionary process. This time to satisfy the needs of a reading machine.
Sefer Yetzirah (The Book of Creation, ספר יצירה) is an ancient (presumably dated around 200BC) Hebrew text. Many wise people have spent whole lifetimes to interpret its meaning. Although the words can easily be read even today, its exact meaning remains elusive.
At its base, the text describes language as a creative medium: all things did not exist before we’ve called them by name. Tables and chairs, the color White, good, bad, war, peace, were all created only when we whispered their name for the first time.
The text inscribed on the clay is from chapter 4 of the book:
Two stones build two houses,
Three stones build six houses,
Four stones build four and twenty houses,
Five stones build a hundred and twenty houses,
Six stones build seven hundred and twenty houses,
Seven stones build five thousand and forty houses.
From there on, go forth and think
what the mouth cannot speak and the ear cannot hear.
The author, an ancient mathematician, deals here with combinatorial computation. It’s actually one of the earliest descriptions of factorial. Today it’s a matter of high school math, but back then certainly not a trivial calculation.
Stones are letters, and houses are words. If you had only two letters, you could make two words out of them. But the author boldly moves on, to larger and larger numbers of permutations, and ends with a call to action: Imagine how many more words can still be put together, how many things have not yet realised their potential. So much more is left to create!
This text was then written using the newly-formed machine letters, 3d-typed, stamped into clay and burned.