Currents 2015

Searle’s Room

This project reimagines John Searle’s Chinese Room as a surreal encounter between a synthetic child voice and a robotic drawing machine. Within the installation, computational processes create continuous cycles of translation between computer speech and machine writing, each system trying to communicate with the other. I trade the logic of Searle’s lookup tables and symbolic manipulations for the emotional affect of a child trying to be understood. Treating children’s speech and writing as proto-languages–evocative but not-quite-intelligible–I explore liminal modes of prelinguistic communication. With absent hands and absent bodies, my Room conjures a poetics of loss.


Installation Floor Plan


Image 1. Searle’s Room (2013), installation view – Shows drawing machine to left, children’s drawings along back wall, child voice speaker and microphone to the right.
Image 2. Searle’s Room (2013), detail – Shows child voice speaker and speech recognition microphone.
Image 3. Searle’s Room (2013), detail – Shows drawing board, drawing machine, and children’s drawing in progress.


Equipment List



Twomey (b. 1979) is from Washington, DC. Trained as a painter and engineer, he integrates traditional forms and advanced computational techniques to create interactive installations. His projects explore the messy remainders where human desires are inscribed within technological systems. Constructing feedback loops between people and machines, his projects foster a reciprocal examination of each.

He has worked in a number of interdisciplinary research centers throughout his career, notably the Center for Research in Computing and the Arts (CRCA) and the Center for Digital Arts and Experimental Media (DXARTS). His work has been show in solo and group exhibitions both in the US and abroad.

Twomey received his BS from Yale University with majors in Art and Biomedical Engineering and his MFA in Visual Arts from the University of California, San Diego. He is currently a PhD Candidate in Digital Arts and Experimental Media (DXARTS) at the University of Washington.