Codex explores how Wikipedia’s language communities delineate space. The work grows out of the Terra Incognita project, focusing on how the encyclopaedia’s textual metadata can be used to generate a geographic concrete poetry. The project exists as interactive software, a large scale animated installation, and as printed images.


Similar to Terra Incognita, the starting point was to harvest the articles in Wikipedia’s language editions that refer to geographic locations. In these experiments fragments of the article titles are used to map the encyclopaedias geographies. The resulting glyphs and phonemes hint at the underlying content and its structures – fields of partial signs and utterances. En masse the texts form concretions of Wikipedia contributions, remnants of collective activity and shared bodies of knowledge.

The metadata associated with each article shows which locations are most edited and revised, which are the longest, and which are translated into other languages – often an indication that these coded spaces are contested and fought over much as real space. In the images and animations the structures of the encyclopaedia are visualised by mapping the visual properties of the text to the metadata of the articles. For example, the text fragments might be scaled in relation to the number of times an article has been edited. The effect of this is a differential texturing across the map, where major articles appear as large-scale labels and less developed but more abundant articles form topographies of varying density.

The temporal development of Wikipedia can be gleaned by looking at the creation dates of the articles. Animations of this editing activity shows how each language community has developed and grown at different times, and how it describes geographic space.

Codex follows in the tradition of artistic interventions into cartography, critiquing how apparently objective conventions of space, knowledge and data production are inflected by political and social power structures, cultural bias, and author subjectivities. The work asks (and partly answers): who is represented, and who is left out of the picture?

The project was developed as part of an AHRC Digital Transformations grant, Digital Realism, coordinated by Tom Corby.