Elaborate Tapestries Woven From Forgotten Computer Thoughts

Just like robo-grandma used to make.

Every moment you use your computer, millions of 1s and 0s feed through the circuitry. Some are saved onto your hard drive, of course, but most are cached temporarily, routinely and permanently purged from RAM as more pressing information takes its place. The information dissolves in digital ether.


Fragmented Memory, by Phillip Stearns, is an artistic homage to those lost bits. It’s a series of tapestries that are woven from raw binary code that’s normally lost in RAM.

“It’s a pretty trivial thing to open any kind of file as RAW binary data in GIMP or Photoshop and create a direct translation of zeros and ones into pixel art,” Stearns admits. “The exciting thing about it, though, is that you suddenly have a way to see some of the invisible code shaping everyday life.”

Usually, all of this invisible information ultimately renders as user interface, emails, tweets, and multimedia on your computer’s screen, but Stearns wanted to create a more up close and personal exploration of the data–something “compelling but not overly dressed up.” He wanted to visualize the unfettered stream of data before it becomes the pretty pictures and clear sums that live on our screens.

His decision was to map code 1:1 onto tapestry. The bits of binary code were grouped in into woven pixels, meaning the 1s and 0s (which might be depicted in black or white) actually combine to create RGB values in one of 64 different colors. But even with this abridging via color, a complete core memory dump would still translate to 106 million meters of fabric. So Stearns decided to edit, to curate the information into something both manageable and interesting on a tapestry.

“Much of it is filled with incomprehensible digital hash punctuated by stretches of blank space and make for a terribly uninteresting work aside from its sheer scale,” he writes. “There was a period of desensitization as well. When first scanning through the images produced from the memory dump file, almost everything looked like a potential design. After a couple of days of scrolling, certain regions began to stand out.”

The resulting creations are something new. They’re not really glitch art, because the media isn’t generated from rendering mistakes that the computer made. And they’re not really New Aesthetic–at least in Stearn’s eyes, I think this is debatable–because the work fundamentally isn’t about the digital world spilling into the analog world as much as it is us getting a peek into the digital world through the analog world.


However you attempt to classify it, however, Fragmented Memory is as illuminating as it is aesthetically fascinating. Who knew our computers had such beautiful thoughts inside?

See the tapestries at Rochester Contemporary from Oct 3rd to Nov 7th.

Learn more here.

[Hat tip: Creative Applications]

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.