Zoltán Szegedy-Maszák


The concept of Cryptogram was first realised in the form of an interactive installation (at The Butterfly Effect exhibition at the Mucsarnok (Kunsthalle) Budapest in January 1996). Because the project is closely related to digital communication through the Internet, soon a Cryptogram World Wide Web site was created. On the pages, one can find a downloadable program for encrypting texts into virtual "sculptures," the WWW-version of the original installation as an example illustrating the project, and a simple game explaining the idea. Due to the nature of the Internet, the site is under continuous reconstruction; in the near future, a "fusion" between the sites and the exhibited interactive installation will be constructed, in which the "installation" will act as a "full powered studio," where one can try to use all the capabilities of the Cryptogram-method to create his/her own keys for encrypting messages and communicating with others using Cryptograms.

I wanted to create a real interactive work that provides more for the viewer than simply browsing over a prefabricated hypermedia piece. Instead of a traditional hypertext site, I aimed at publishing a "communication system for virtual communities": by showing the Web-version of the original piece as an example, and moreover, by publishing the code, I attempted to leave it to the viewers' creativity to create their own Cryptograms, i.e., to realise the "artwork" through using it for practical purposes. In the digital world, there is the possibility of misinterpreting the sequences of numbers that represent image, sound or text: as an image can be transformed into sound, and sound into a chain of characters, so the text can also be transformed into a virtual sculpture. As the triangle is the simplest geometric figure, the 3D-computer models are based on smaller or larger triangles (in general). The idea of my work is to order each of the 3D points holding these triangles to characters which can be typed into the computer. Thus the "user" can type into the space: each character typed on the keyboard determines a point, three of which determines a triangle in the virtual space. To order one, and only one, spatial point to each character of the US International character-set, a 3-dimensional object is needed. This will be the key of the encryption. One could use a regular geometric solid (eg., a sphere) as well, but this way the "hidden" text could be decoded more easily, and the spectacle would be less mysterious: the "sculptures" of the different texts would be excessively similar to each other. That is why I decided to choose a more sophisticated, organic figure for the "original installation," which acts as an example for the visitors to the website.

Using the studies for Leonardo's Cavalier, which was never completed, as a starting point, I constructed a draft model of a horse. I ordered the points of the surface of the virtual horse to characters which can be typed into the computer. The texts typed by the audience-creators are building a sculpture which can be examined in virtual reality. It is possible to fly around, or even into, the virtual sculpture with the aid of a VRML-browser. This "system" provides the possibility to encrypt and decode any kind of texts, as the sculpture-space being built is a cryptogram of the typed-in text, with the key being the horse-model; the original text can be decoded from the confusion of triangles. Using the Leonardo-Cavalier as the key, the visitors can send messages to others and examine the sculpture-cryptograms in a mailing-list-like environment of Cryptogram-fans. One can download the code of Cryptogram, and can find instructions to create his "own key" instead of the "example cavalier." Additionally, finds a "game" (to explain the idea rather than to entertain). There are English and Hungarian phrases encrypted into 3D objects. The player can discover the solution by comparing the sculptures of his trials to the sculpture of the phrase.

The Cryptogram website can be considered as an appeal, despite the fact that the Cryptogram is a poetic form of encryption, for I can imagine a wholly practical use for the method. For example, by using a secret "key-object," members of a small Internet community could hide their messages from outsiders, and after some practice, they could acquire the skill to read the sculptures without decoding them. This way, the community would possess its own virtual world which develops a paradox situation, namely that in a progressive, typographic culture, a close connection is established between the elements of a language and the indicated (virtual) objects, similarly to the language of pre-typographic communication.

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