Papierpixel (Paper Pixels) is an 8x8 pixel screen that’s controlled manually via a punched-card system. Each of the 64 pixels on the 50x50 cm projection surface on the front side of the screen is constantly illuminated by an equal number of light bulbs on the back side of the screen. Activating the individual pixels is done by a wide strip of paper pre-programmed with punched holes that runs between the pixel projection surface and the light source.The 64 tracks on this oversized punched-card determine whether a pixel is turned on or off. The light from the bulb is obscured until a hole pre-punched in the strip of paper appears before it and lets the light shine through and briefly illuminate the pixel. To make it possible for the 64 pixels to be controlled independently of one another, the light bulbs are arranged in the direction the punched strip of paper runs in obliquely alternating rows of pixels. The speed with which the programmed paper is pulled by hand through the screen determines the number of frames per second of the particular film sequence being shown.
An oversized hole puncher is used as a programming device; the paper strip to be programmed is pulled through it. The upper part of the sandwich plate contain 64 sharp steel pins that, when they’re depressed by hand, each punches a hole in the paper strip and is held in position by a steel spring. Frame by frame, the desired pixels can be activated (i.e. the steel pins can punch holes in the paper in the appropriate spots). The film sequence can be of any length, whereby, for example, it takes three meters of paper to show a 300-frame film sequence. This threemeter-long punched strip can be connected at both ends to form a loop. For longer sequences, the paper strip is rolled up and run from an upper reel to a lower one just like an analog film.
There have been punch card sytemes for processing and storing information in all possible variations and for a wide variety of media: from the control of looms in the 19th century, through automatic organs and pianos, to the famous IBM computer punch card.
Paper Pixels takes up this 200 year old principle once more: the punched data carrier is read optically and is simultaneously part of the display mechanism. The visual information saved in the holes is converted directly into light. The digital principle of zero and one appears in the Paper Pixels installation in a mechanical and analogue form. From a historical perspective, one could speak of the invention of the screen that never existed.
Paper Pixels has been exhibited among other events at:
- Ars Electronica 2006 Linz, documentation here
- TENT Rotterdam 25.1.-15.3.07, documentation here
Aram Bartholl 2004