Every Icon

From Rhizome Artbase

Through brute force, Every Icon calculates every possible combination of black and white dots on a 32 by 32 grid. Given enough time, the grid will show every icon possible—from your mouse pointer, to the Mona Lisa.

John F. Simon
6 June 2005
Rhizome staff

Given: A 32 X 32 Grid
Allowed: Any element of the grid to be black or white
Shown: Every Icon

Can a machine produce every possible image? What are the limits of this kind of automation? Is it possible to practice image making by exploring all of image-space using a computer rather than by recording from the world around us? What does it mean that one may discover visual imagery so detached from "nature"?

Every Icon progresses by counting. Starting with an image where every grid element is white, the software displays combinations of black and white elements, proceeding toward an image where every element is black. In contrast to presenting a single image as an intentional sign, Every Icon presents all possibilities.

The grid contains all possible images. Any change in the starting conditions, such as the size of the grid or the color of the element, determines an entirely different set of possible images. When Every Icon begins, the image changes rapidly. Yet the progression of the elements across the grid seems to take longer and longer. How long until recognizable images appear? Try several hundred trillion years. The total number of black and white icons in a 32 X 32 grid is:
1.8 X 10308 (a billion is 109).

Though, for example, at a rate of 100 icons per second (on a typical desktop computer), it will take only 1.36 years to display all variations of the first line of the grid, the second line takes an exponentially longer 5.85 billion years to complete.

While Every Icon is resolved conceptually, it is unresolvable in practice. In some ways the theoretical possibilities outdistance the time scales of both evolution and imagination. It posits a representational system where computational promise is intricately linked to extraordinary duration and momentary sensation.

John F. Simon
6 June 2005
Legacy descriptive tags
Every Icon
Attribution: John F. Simon
Formalist, Conceptual, design, Java, Visual
Attribution: Rhizome staff
Variant History
static files
6 June 2005
John F. Simon