"Every Icon" (1996) is a computer work by John F. Simon.
Every Icon progresses by counting. Starting with an image wherein every grid element is white, the software displays combinations of black and white elements, proceeding towards an image wherein every element is black. In contrast to presenting a single image as an intentional sign, Every Icon presents all possibilities. Once 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.
Artist statement from Parachute Magazine
Every Icon 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.
The concept behind this piece is elegant. It also evokes some of the elements of Desktops that I love. Every Icon does not just parse through every icon, but every meaning, from ASCII to ideograms to copyright symbols, every element of our net language is possibly there.
Chris Locke, University College London
John Simon's Every Icon is an algorithmic composition that will take billions of years to display every icon configuration in a 32 x 32 grid. This work goes way beyond the scale of human existence.
Randall Packer, Director of Multimedia, San Jose Museum of Art
If it is impossible to comprehend "a couple trillion years," it is almost as difficult to imagine the earth "breathing" in and out approximately .0005 millimeters ever couple of seconds. Let's see, in a couple of trillion years, the earth will have moved...
Steve Dietz, Director of New Media Initiatives, Walker Art Center
Time, duration, images and colour
John F. Simon's presentation for Open Territories
As an artist and programmer, John F. Simon looks for all possibilities of colour and image in the digital medium. Instead of concentrating on one image, Simon is intent to make the computer find all possible images to choose from; a programmer's dream wrapped in numerical analysis. He began by clarifying his work Every Icon, now showing at the exhibition (NFI). This conceptual work deals with the question of all conceivable pictures: Is it possible to let the computer generate every possible icon? The consensus on the most reduced picture was defined as a grid of 32 by 32 boxes, filled in with black or white. The programming (made with java) gradually works through every black and white possibility on the grid, creating 400 icons per second, (plugged into its own hardware). It thus takes 500 million years for the two first lines to be filled in. Displaying every icon may then be possible but not in one's own life-time! (Every Icon is for sale, though slower -- only 62 icons per second depending on the computer). His Art Appliances, as Simon calls them, involve other theories of time and colour as well. Playing with time without duration -- a square wherein two balls swing in constant movement without result, or his project (also at NFI) where he dynamically applies Paul Klee's colour variable scheme and the Bauhaus Colour Theory to a never-ending whole of digital colouring parameters. The aesthetics seems to stem from the idea that there is no way all parts will be the same at any point of time - Simon's programming artistry revolves around the digital accumulation of incessant movement without a trace of analog simulation.