Observation 3: Elsa: A Machine for Writing


After the first act of writing we named the drawing machine Elsa.1 We instruct Elsa to write a handwritten note that said pseudo writing,2 a word from Flusser that powers this project. Elsa holds the pen securely and marks an end to the purity of the page. Thus, the machine earns a name. Georges Perec wonders “In order to exist, did I really need to line up words and sentences?”3Elsa comes into existence through writing; the act of writing identifies the machine as a unique actor in our play. All the separate elements (soft and hard) including the "ghost in the machine"4 are gathered in a name. Elsa touched my memory and imagination generating peripheral observations about writing:

When Elsa starts writing the air is electric with mystical wonder and a few things happen simultaneously that produce a lightheaded feeling.

Somehow when the ordinary Act of using a tool to inform a surface is recreated by the mechanical arm, that Act regains some of its ancient magical lustre. The digital sounds Elsa produces enhances the magic and positions me both in the past and the future: back, to the first cinematic fantasies of artificial intelligence and forward, to a plausible future where we write just with our eyes. This is what we wanted, to witness writing as an archeological miracle.

Watching Elsa write my handwriting, I become “the viewer”; audience to my own act. I think of Borges commenting on narratives where characters, in mise en abyme, read stories about themselves.

My various acts of writing come into focus. I take notes in pencil or pen but "true writing"5 as VF calls it…I normally type. I briefly consider Elsa as an external outgrowth of my nervous system and then go back to watching hypnotised. Although Elsa is a machine it breaks the tap/tap/tap of typing. The pen travels across the paper, so gentle and so determined, with the restraint ease of a dancer. Elsa is inspiring me to write or perhaps to be more like the machine. Are we comparable?

Elsa is indifferent to the writing surface and legibility; Elsa is focused on the act. Perhaps we are comparable? Elsa can’t see nor judge what is written. But I can and I love it. It’s my hand but steadier, full of authority. Symbiosis.

"The viewer(me)" realizes Elsa is reading from an "internal tablet"6 where the signs are a "not arranged in lines"7 but collated in patterns of curves, holes and darts. Elsa breaks free from the linearity of writing, reading it as series of gestures. Elsa begins a text by writing first the circular gaps in the letters. This act transport me to my granddad’s kitchen table, when I still can’t read but I decide, I can write. Anyone can. My writing consists of filling in the empty spaces in the letters with different coloured pens. The gaps are the only part I can comprehend.



  1. After the young woman who received the first communication from this machine.
  2. Flusser, V. 2014. Gestures. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 68.
  3. Perec, G. 1997. Species of Spaces & Other Pieces. Penguin Books: London, 122.
  4. Ryle, G. 2009. The Concept of Mind. London & New York: Routledge, 56.
  5. Flusser, V. 2014. Gestures. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 70.
  6. Flusser, V. 2014. Gestures. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 74.
  7. Flusser, V. 2011. Does Writing Have a Future? Translated by N. Roth. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 9.


Workshop Film: Unencumbered Gestures

Performance Film: Writing Gaps; Curves, Holes and Darts