Sunday, July 15, 2012



From the private notebook of Anderson O’Donnell. Originally scheduled to run in The Republic, Tiber City’s largest newspaper, this article was never submitted for publication. 

Earlier this year, I had an opportunity to interview the leader of the Zero Movement and one of the world’s most controversial artists, Tiber City’s own Cording Jax. We meet in Fat Boy, a Glimmer District hotspot frequented by the Zeros. The place, a strange mix of overpriced drinks and Atomic-age Americana, lays claim to some curious Cold War relics, the authenticity of which, like the bones of Catholic saints, are disputed. 

For those who aren’t familiar with the Zeros (could there really be anyone who isn’t?), here’s a little crash course: The Zeros display their work on high-definition monitors which display a real-time image of the data flowing throughout various cities across the globe. These guys aren’t just artists; they’re hackers, skilled at tapping into rich veins of data across the globe. Once he or she has selected a stream of data to follow, the Zero artist—using various computer-imaging techniques—manipulates this data into “art.” Zeros were always trying to gather data streams from unique, often catastrophic events—assassinations, typhoons, wars, celebrity deaths, etc. 

Most artists were content to use 3-D “hyperbolic geometry” programs, thereby transforming the data, which, in its raw form, appeared as an unintelligible stream of letters, 1s, and 0s, into a series of more traditional images—circles, squares, triangles—that would rotate in every direction—growing in size, then decreasing, then growing once again—in an attempt to convey the very rhythm of human life. 

Cording Jax, however, has taken the concept of Zero art to another level. 

It was a little after midnight when Cording strolled into Fat Man—unshaven with bloodshot eyes, ripped jeans and an old Tiber City Black Sox tee shirt. He smelled like sweat and stale cigarettes and couldn’t stop fiddling with his lighter. We shook hands, and I bought him a drink—Redbull and Vodka—before we sat down at the bar. The place was almost empty, except for a few Zeros crowded around a laptop in the back corner of the bar. 

“Late night?” I asked. 

“Man, every night is a late night,” Jax replied, taking a gulp of his drink.

I put my digital recorder on the sticky tabletop. 

“You mind if I record this,” I asked. 

Go ahead,” Cording replied. “

I pushed down on the red record button and the device kicked to life, the tiny LCD screen glowing as the seconds ticked away. 

“You’re being hailed as the leader of the Zero Movement. Is that an accurate label?”

Jax laughed and shook his head, looking younger than when he first entered the bar. 

“The movement…it’s not the kind of thing that can have a leader. Each of the artists who work with digital canvases…they’re doing their own thing, and sure as hell don’t answer to me or anyone else.” 

“I can understand that,” I said, nodding. “Maybe leader is the wrong word. But it seems like your newest works demonstrate something of an evolution beyond the traditional Zero 3D imaging? Is that accurate?”

Jax smiled. “Maybe. I dunno. I’ve heard some people call it a de-evolution…a step backward. Some people aren’t feeling the abstract nature of what I’m doing.” 

“It is different though,” I pressed. “You’ve stopped transforming the data into designs; into landscapes or portraits or geometric images, correct?”

“Yeah, its different. I’m not interested in transforming the data anymore. That’s…that’s not being honest. Its, in a way, hiding things. So yeah, I am doing something different—I’m only working with the raw data, the alpha-numerics, the ones and zeros. No more pretty pictured or shapes.”

“But that’s not all,” I continued, aware that somewhere in the bar a jukebox had kicked on, playing old records from the 1940s: the kind that sounded like empty highways and radio static. “You’re not just capturing raw transmissions of data captured during major events—you’re taking these transmissions and juxtaposing them with transmissions from other major events scattered across the globe.”

“You’ve done your homework,” Jax affirmed, as he spun his lighter around on the table. 

“How is that different from representing the flow of data over a city with 3D imaging? You mentioned it was more honest. Can you elaborate on that?”

“I’m not interested in how I think the data should look; in how it should be represented. I’m interested only in what’s inside the data. Its like when a sculpture sees a lump of clay: he’s not molding the clay into his own design; he’s bringing to the surface what’s already there. The job of any artist—whether we’re talking about sculptures or Zeros or fucking Da Vinci—is to facilitate; to use their skill to help the object of the art to become fully realized.

He slumped back in his seat, lighting another cigarette as he looked around the bar. I had some copies of his work in front of me: the raw transmission of rata data flows captured during solar eclipses, a recent cross-border skirmish between Neo-Persia and Israeli, a terror attack on the New Delhi subway—was there a pattern there? I pushed the images across the bar to Jax. 

“What am I seeing here,” I asked. “Is it just ones and zeros? Simple binary code?” What’s in there that you’re trying to bring to the surface? 

“Maybe there’s nothing,” Jax said, smiling as he took another sip of his drink. “But we probably wouldn’t be sitting here if that was it, right?”

“So what is it?

Jax looked away, out over the bar into the darkness.

“I’m not exactly sure,” he mumbled. “I just…there is something there and I get that some people are pissed that I’m moving away from the traditional Zero stuff but dude, all I know is there I’m close…I’m so close.” 

“Close to what?”

“That’s just it!” Jax exclaimed. “I’m not sure…but there are things in the data streams…Warnings…its hard to describe. Sometimes I swear I’m just hallucinating…But other times, it seems so real. But on their own, they are incomplete…Together, they show patterns…I know it. 

The bar seemed to recede and we were alone in the darkness and in that moment I realized that there was an energy radiating from Jax—a force that was neither good nor bad but maybe both and I was afraid.

“Is this about the prophecy,” I managed to croak. 

For a moment Jax said nothing, his eyes no longer bloodshot but bright and strong and just as he opened his mouth to respond—maybe—his phone rang. 

And then the spell was broken and the bar snapped back into focus and Jax was taking a call, nodding and making affirmative grunts. Seconds later the call was over and Jax was getting up, thanking me for the interview and explaining he had to leave. 

By the time I realized what was happening, Jax was gone, and I was alone at the bar with his empty glass. But there was something else as well: Jax had left his lighter next to my glass. I picked it up, turning it over in my hand and trying to figure out what just happened. And that was when I realized it wasn’t a lighter at all: the bottom snapped open revealing a USB plug. 

I turned off the recorder, paid my tab, and left. 

Anderson O'Donnell lives in Connecticut with his wife and son. Kingdom is O’Donnell’s full-length debut, and the first installment of the Tiber City Trilogy. It is now available in paperback and e-book formats exclusively via Amazon. 

Exile, the second installment in the Tiber City Trilogy, is set for release in the summer of 2013.

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