The House of Dust by Alison Knowles

Jeff Guess, Language ANAlogue, 2017
10 47” x 33” inkjet prints

The age-old desire to converse with animals took on a scientific turn in the animal language projects of the 1960s and 1970s. The most ambitious and experimental was the Language ANAlogue project designed by a team of psychologists, linguists, electronics technicians and computer programmers at the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center in Atlanta. It involved a chimpanzee named Lana who was introduced to human language skills via LANA, a specially designed interactive computer system. This ‘wholly technological environment’ was a 10’ X 12’ plexiglass walled room that allowed Lana to communicate with her trainers via a two-way lexigram keyboard system. Lana could also directly address the computer, or ‘vending machine’ as the scientists called it, to order bananas, Coke or M&Ms or even watch movies or listen to music automatically 24 hours a day, provided her strings of lexigrams produced grammatically correct phrases recognized by LANA. The work shown here includes an image of Lana/LANA. The second part is a fragment of all possible valid utterances which were generated automatically using computer programs rewritten from scratch based on the original published descriptions. A finite set of lexical classes are passed through a rule-based syntactical parser for the computation of Lana’s cognitive universe, a linguistic space isomorphic to the physical memory limits of the original Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-8 computer.