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Imperfectionist

By Varatorn Ratdilokpanich

MA Visual Arts (Digital Arts)

Email: v.ratdilokpanich1@camberwell.arts.ac.uk

How audiences can perceive through malfunction in digital medium?

Abstract: In the world that everyone turns to technology and conveniences. Everything seems to be heading toward perfection. The main consideration of this project is people have not yet been aware of their own aesthetics in life and do not understand how these aesthetics could affect their livings. From the research on wabi-sabi which is the Japanese world view that focuses on imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It is based on a concept of understandings and appreciations of imperfection in nature. The aesthetic of imperfection will be the main point this project focuses on. This is the visual investigation exploring boundaries of reality of digital medium and typography. In this project, types will be treated by technology in a different way. The work will be designed and presented under the idea of imperfection by exploring malfunction in digital realm. There are two main mediums this project will be focus on. Typography is the first medium, along with representing in motion graphic, it creates a temporal typography piece. Typography in digital realm has the deliberate delay in its communication, and applying this techniques to leave times for audiences to perceive. Projection is another main medium in finding malfunction and representing the faulty. Also there is its temporary disguise as abstract imagery, which the beauty of imperfection will be presented through this aesthetic. The work focuses on how light is projected on different surfaces creating results of imperfection. The project represent the contradiction between typography, forms, and projections. And it will be presented through video installation and visual mapping.

Keywords: Malfunction, Projection, Imperfect, Typography, Visual Perception

For decades, Humans are both creators and consumers. A lot of things are invented and developed to make this planet a perfect place to live, including individual life. The most powerful thing humans would be able to create is technology. Technology plays a big role in the society. It is designed to connect people together in terms of communication. ‘In 1965, cultural philosopher Marshall McLuhan (1911-80) coined the phrase “the medium is the message”. He proclaimed “technology was an extension of our sense” and with each new medium we encountered new ways of experiencing perceptual transformation’ (Triggs 2003 p.21). Technology give ways to perceived through different mediums. He also points out about new mediums which impacts late -twentieth-century such as computer, cellphone, television, internet. Each contains a meaning which creates a new environment and ‘controls “what people who live within it do, the way they think, and the way they act” (Triggs 2003 p.21). Technology tends to open a whole new world for people and represents a new creation of human kinds.

As technology is widely presented visually, it is the easiest way to connect people to people, as well as people to technology. In the book Visual Studies by Elkins, claims that there is a close relationship between visual and verbal. ‘As Nicholas Mirzoeff’s Visual Studies Reader explains “forms of visual experience…are coming to seem a central concern in contemporary thought” (Elkins. 2003 p.130). Artists and designers carefully put more thoughts on their processes to result the best and have abilities to communicate right messages through their work. ‘Klaus Sachs-Hombach and Klaus Rehkamper claim that “we live in a visual age: an age of pictures. Pictures represent information, mediate it, make it comprehensible” (Elkins. 2003 p.130). By experiencing the visual via the activity of looking, people also perceive information through their experiences. And this technique of using visual rather than oral or textual media has become dominated in the past centuries.

Therefore, messages are visually represented through a body of work. Elkins also claims in his book that ‘beyond that there are stages of interpretation leading toward the understanding of pictorial content, significance, and use. Visual literacy could be construed as an adequate capacity to identify images and to parse them according to the ways they refer the the world’ (Elkins. 2003 p.137). Images link to memory and experiences so visual literacy has specific acts of recognition and remembrance. This is how people perceive through art work and surrounded environment.

Further more, to achieve this visual perception, artists usually present their work on screen-based mediums such as computer screens and projectors. Projections are commonly used technique for audiences to experience a bigger vision and space, especially for installations. The projection offers the audiences to control the narrative by themselves through their experiences and memories. As Mary Ann Doane points out in Art of Projection: The aim of this historiographic/archival impulse is to retrieve everything possible, driven by a temporal imperative (before it is “too late”) and the anticipation of a future interpretation. To preserve time, of preserving an experience of temporality. (Doane 2009 p.151) Projectors generate images through light and electricity but on this which is based on technology offers a great perception. ‘The screen intercepts a beam of light, the the perception of the moving image takes place somewhere between the projector and screen, the the temporary, ephemeral nature of that image is reaffirmed by its continual movement and change’ (Doane 2009 p.152). Moving images can be represented on a wall, at the desired size. Also projections can be played around with the kinetic idea, beams and masses of light floating around.

Despite the fact that visual delivers messages through technology, texts are also commonly used in visual communication. It is based on the same method of human perception through memory and experiences in reading. People tend to look at texts more than spend more time interpret pictures. ‘As Barbara Stafford points out “premodern graphics were normally not amenable to quick reading, and it took time to see them: often enough they were encrusted with nonverbal residue that could not be dissolved into simple messages or meaning” (Elkins 2003 p.134). A single word has power to yell out or tell people what to believe. So when it all comes together in a sentence, it has a clear ability to make people believe in what they see.

For example, Sarah Jupp points out in her project, Do visual illusions reveal visual truths?: Knowledge of the information which visual perception actually supplies to us at any moment should convince us that visual sense interprets the objective around us. When we observe an illusion, we perceive something that does not correspond to what exists on the real world. It convinces us of things that are not true; it is a deceptive art that disorders our senses and plays with the laws of perspective. (Jupp, 2007, p.78) Jupp’s project is a book with texts across pages but she was interested in manipulating the surface, Jupp decided to do an experiment with tearing some parts of pages out in different layers throughout the book, creating a new perspective of reading. The book then formats distort language, break down letterforms, and construct new sentences.

Moreover, typography has gradually moved from publication to digital based on technology age. As Teal Triggs says in The Typographic Experiment :

One of McLuhan’s contemporaries, Howard Luke Gossage, proposed that an environment is established by the medium of print itself. He explains that print presents a linear way of thinking, placing one word after another, one sentence after another, one paragraph after another. The way something is read is, in part, determined by its method of production. Yet, in what McLuhan terms as ‘ear-oriented society – television, for example – sounds are received and expressed simultaneously. The resulting effect may eschew a linear reception of reading and, instead, present a multiplicity of reading (Triggs 2003 p.22). In late 1980s technology provided opportunities for the development in letterforms, as well as typographic construction such as grids, in both print and digital media. However, there are differences between typographic presentation on prints and digital medium. As types on paper are usually precise and fixed, types in digital realm are depended on mediums such as computer screen and projector. These differences in mediums present different typographic values and types printed on paper tend to result a perfection comparing to types in digital medium.

On the other hand, with the development of new technologies nowadays, types are presented everywhere on everything. They are communicating using screen-based environments. As Teal Triggs points out ‘as a system of representation, the word freezes the flow of experience, and when considered typographically through the use of scale, weight or hierarchical structures, it creates a physical space’ (Triggs 2003 p.181). Digital designers have to deal with design aesthetics and treat them rightly in relation to image, text, sound and time. By playing and experiencing with free flow space, they have abilities to do everything with types as they can be deconstructed and moved around. David Small, a doctorate student from MIT Media Lab produced the Talmud Project (1998-99) which is an interactive book conveys the idea and relationship between layers of complex information in the digital landscape. Then by 1970s, typography moved to film sequences and special effects. Designer experimented with new forms of computer technology, by combining shots of moving images. A decade later, designers focused more on the cultural and narrative contexts. They used these elements to inspire their typographic work. For example, Kyle Cooper, who is famous for a film sequences artist. He created a title sequence for the film SE7EN (1995). He used degraded type and handwritten texts, juxtaposed with rough-cut footage of the movie and thriller music. The sequence represents the film’s narrative and creates a new unique environment for audiences to experience in just few seconds.

In addition, typographic motion gives a new experience for audiences to interact in different dimension. As technology progresses, people tend to leave from reading texts on prints to texts on digital media. It creates a new perception and offers people to control their narrative journey, as well as extends the visual into public spaces, including projections and installations. ‘Gurther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen propose that “communication starts from a social base” and that we must consider the “different media through wich texts are constructed and show these social differences in contrasting encodings” (Triggs 2003 p.183). But as technology makes life so much easier, it also tends to make people forget an experience of flipping pages through books and what it is like to be back to the simple life. What if technology failed? Would people survive or it would be a wake up call for them?

Furthermore, this result which causes by digital medium leads to the point of view that tends to reject this modern lifestyle with technology and came up with the idea of ‘nothing lasts forever’. The Japanese world view of this idea, wabi-sabi, was created. It is described as a beauty of ‘imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete’ (Koren. 1994 p.9). The word ‘wabi’ means an appreciation of imperfection, away from society, alone in nature, and suggested a discouraged, dispirited, cheerless emotional state (Koren. 1994 p.21). The word ‘sabi’ means lonesomeness, emptiness, nothingness, still, and calm. Wabi-sabi does not like constructive and against all controlled things, which this also relates to modernism. Modernism tends to believes in control of nature, be everlasting, and purity makes its expression richer. But the idea of wabi-sabi believes in the fundamental uncontrollability of nature, to everything there is a reason, and corrosion and contamination makes its expression richer (Koren. 1994 p.27).

Therefore, wabi-sabi is opposed to modernism as well as technology. It focuses on leaning towards naturalistic, to understand the imperfect nature instead of winning it. As nothing lasts in this world, it applies to everything including technology. Even it is the most perfect creation on earth, technology is still based on machines not nature. This means computers, cellphones, televisions could fail to function or performance improperly. This result could be included in the term ‘malfunction’. Malfunction means faulty or abnormal functioning, to fail to work as it should, which results breakdown, corrupt, and defect.

For instance, Gustav Metzger, an auto-destructive artist who had produced many impressive conceptual art pieces. One of his work, Liquid Crystal Environment, was produced in 1965, then remade in 2005. The experiment of liquid crystals placed between Polaroid screens which were then heated. The work created temporal movements of colour and organic changing over time, and also used projected light. Metzger’s work usually emphasized ecological issues, historical violence, and visual pleasure. His idea did not sound appreciated but it represented what problems people were facing in reality, for example, global warming and nuclear war. In mid 60s, Metzger proposed another project which is a huge automated sculpture, Five Screens with Computer. This work consists of ‘stainless steel walls stacked with thousands of smaller uniform parts to be placed between blocks of flats, controlled by a computer, the parts were to be ejected at different speeds, directions and frequencies until, after a decade, only empty site remained’ (Walker 2009 p.10). The work represents the idea of decaying and corruptions in technology. It proves that nothing remains in life.

In addition, an imperfect visualisation usually happens on screens is glitch. It is an accidentally error but represents the best imperfect relationship between technology and corruption. Glitches usually arise from mistranslations that are facilitated by a loss or breakdown in our communication signals. These include fragmentation, linearity, complexity, and repetition of incongruously linear, sharp and blurred. They are imperfect and unexpected results of such malfunctions, which have no apparent purpose to their existence in the setting of perfect process (Moradi. 2009 p.8). Visual glitches could not be controlled like other art works. But they have abilities to present different visual images in sudden without prediction. They also become a feedback mechanism and a notification that technology has malfunctioned. Commonly, a visual glitch is not desirable because of its faulty result. But it has this unique aesthetic which emerges and make the viewers perceive its true value of imperfection.

Moreover, there is an artist who played around with technology and produced an imperfect aesthetic is Nam June Paik, a video artist who was also famous for making television sets. ‘His works explore the ways in which performance, music, video images, and the sculptural form of objects can be used in various combinations to question our accepted notions of the nature of television’ (Liggett, n.d.). Paik began to experiment with how to alter the video image as television and broadcast had developed in the culture. In 1963 he produced his first video, Exposition of Music: Electronic Television, which consists of twelve television sets were scattered throughout the space. The electronic components of these sets were modified to create unexpected effects when the images were being received. Paik then worked on many complex project on the inner-operations of television sets. In 1965, Paik produced another video sculptures, Magnet TV, which represented how magnets effected the television and altered the electromagnetic flow of electrons. This created a new visual experiment, as Decker points out: The magnet’s force of attraction hindered the cathode rays from filling the screen’s rectangular surface. This pushed the field of horizontal lines upward thus creating baffling forms within the magnet’s gravitational field. If the magnet maintained its position, the picture remained stabile—apart from minimal changes caused by fluctuations in the flow of electricity. Moving the magnet caused endless variations on the forms. (Decker, 1988, p.60)

By developing most of his works with television sets, Paik challenges the notion and definition of television in the society. The work does not represent only altered results on technology. But it questions time and memory, using a television as his main medium to question audiences experience, understanding, and reality of the medium.

Therefore, imperfection is not only be perceived by this visual result of glitch or altered mediums. It can be resulted by the environment after images are projected. Interruption of light beams by projecting images on specific surfaces such as spares, blocks, liquid, and mirror rather than a plain projection screen. The experiment of light, projection, and surface will result the imperfection. There are also artists who worked on this experiment combining with types, as texts are still the best way to communicate with people and create new perception through digital mediums.

For example, Jenny Holzer, an artist who came with the idea of leaving a lasting impression using types and projection on buildings. By using a short, powerful sentences, her writing has become we known, for example: ABUSE OF POWER COMES AS NO SURPRISE or MONEY CREATES TASTE. Her work does not only convey the meaning by types but it is also considered to transform into images. But this idea could not be clarified because it depends on individual perception.

In addition, Holzer has experimented with other surfaces such as mountainsides and water. With the text scrolls, from the bottom to the top of the projection site. ‘Depending on the background, the text can be broken into word fragments that defy any normal reading process’ (Dinkla 2006 p.25). For example, when she projected her work on the building, the projected text molds itself in the architecture forms, clinging to the round columns, while remaining intact and legible. Holzer’s texts consist of statements, usually political or maral nature, that appeal directly to emotion. The projection of her texts on the rough and interrupted surfaces suggests a questioning of whether it is possible to convey messages using words when they are not in perfect structure. However these texts are presented in an imperfect way but they actually interact to the viewers by forcing them to try to collect texts as complete sentences. ‘Holzer is not interested in deconstructing the words, but in making the montage into something that can be experienced in its temporal dimension during the act of reading’ (Dinkla 2006 p.27). Her provoked texts interact with the surface and their surrounds, which create a narrative and emotion through visual projection. ‘Poet Henri Cole aptly pinpoints how Holzer’s language-based work operates to offer “the experience of reading, where self-forgetfulness brings about recognition of the self” (Smith 2008 p.27).

Furthermore, the idea of ‘bathing in the light of language’ is experienced in indoor projections. It is only about the audience readings of text but also audiences get to absorb text, focusing word by word, line by line, to analise images and meanings. Her interest between visual and language began when she was a painter. ‘As Holzer explains “I came to language because I wanted to be explicit about things, but didn’t want to be social realist painter. I had been an abstract painter and that was the painting that I loved, and that I could do. It’s not that I thought that one was better than the other, but for some reason I couldn’t become a figurative painter. I wanted to be explicit about things, and it became clear that only other way for me to do it was to use language. People can understand you when you say or write something” (Simon 2008 p.21).

Moreover, another contemporary artists who formed themselves call p2, has done some similar projects. P2 consists of Matthew Pacetti and Christopher Pacetti, New York based designers who have explored typographic environment in digital realm. Thier works usually consist of text flow continuously and repetitively in and out of focus. For example, 270 Degree Confessional (1998), is a type sequence that is an exploration of memory, verbal communication, and the visualization of a conscience. Transcriptions of individual confessions are presented in lines of text that run from left to right. They are cropped and stretched, zoomed in and out, broken apart but several confessions overlap and create unexpected but humorous juxtapositions of content. They also experiment with types on different material like glass. To see how the audiences can perceive the information through looking through a glass which stretches, bends and rotates around the contours of the cylindrical shape. However the texts are shifted and out of focus but words remain motionless long enough to be read.

Similar to Holzer, another design company, Bureau, also considers about meanings behind language and typographic environment. Their work consists of texts flow continuously and repetitively over a three-dimensional surface, both solid and transparent. Instead of a big projection like Holzer, p2 chooses to play around with smaller, limited space. One of their work, Office Killer (1997), a title sequence presents words slowly run across an office desk, stretching, bending, and rippling to the contours of a computer keyboard, stapler, and scattered papers. With the limited budget for this work did not allow for the use of expensive digital graphic technology to create the opening title. So Bureau created still frames of title and credits and projected them onto the office products.

Moreover, Sahra Malik did an investigation on how typography relate to real space. He experimented with the relationship between types and physical space which he believes that types can interact with the surrounding environment. As Malik chose to work with the text from Alice in Wonderland, as it is highly imaginative and playful. He projected letters onto the wall in different sections and see how types could be examined from different angles, including warp, change of size, and intersection of one another. Texts got cut off and became fragmented but created a new illusion within space. He also experiments with emotional qualities in dialogue, which he suggests some of them shout but others just simply speak in low tone. One of his work is projecting on cards which he demonstrates the relationship between words and objects. As his work is published in Leads between The Lines, he says ‘I have projected fragments of the speech onto card-like objects, trying to illustrate the power language can have on ordinary objects. I have rotated the cards 360 degrees, which exposes the face that these are more objects. The text spills off the cards, when rotated and becomes skewed when viewed from different angle.’ (Malik 2007 p.132) As a result, no matter how artists experiment with types, surfaces, and the surrounding environment, legibility is still an important fundamental in typographic design. Texts are meant to be read and the viewers are forced to perceive.

As types are presented everywhere in the society. From the influence of Postwar began a concept of idealism. Early experiment of modern period includes re-build, re-construct, and be more open as well as the introduction of technology. In comparison, types could directly relate to human. They have been changed, deconstructed, and influenced from modern societies. Typography in digital realm has the deliberate delay in its communication, and applying this techniques to leave times for audiences to perceive. Types also convey the messages of time and decay whether they are applied in prints or digital. Posters and billboards are affected with bubbles, scratches, and stains overtime. Words are erased and disappeared, failed to communicate. Projectors, computers, and televisions can be corrupted and malfunction, mistranslate or failed to deliver messages. These results which affect the mediums are not only from faulty themselves (eg. signal and input/output), but also by the surrounding environment (eg. surfaces and objects).

Equally important, through the idea of perception in relationship between typography and imperfection in digital realm. This project will demonstrate the visual investigation exploring boundaries of reality in digital mediums and typography, with an explanation that relates to a human perception on imperfect visual. Original visual element like types are treated on a print medium such as paper. To represent how types are transformed from fix and stable forms to unstable and relayed on digital mediums such as projectors and televisions. The main consideration of this project is people have not yet been aware of technology and machines. As they would not be function properly forever as they would seem and can be malfunction, breakdown, and corrupted through time. The idea of alter and manipulate technology has emerged to communicate and deliver this messages to the audiences. Types are cropped and manipulated, but still remained legible for the audiences to collect information. The perceptions and emotion interactions from the audiences will result how humans can perceive through malfunction in digital medium.

In conclusion, the experiment is represented in different mediums such as prints and projections, to result how types would be treated differently on various forms and formats. Projection offers its temporary disguise as abstract imagery, which the beauty of imperfection will be presented through this aesthetic. The work focuses on how the objects are perfect but using projectors to create results of imperfection in malfunction of technology. As well as the inherent in projections and manipulated projected light on surfaces such as water, curtains,sphere, and glass. This experimental idea represent the contrast of how types on prints are fixed and perfect but in digital they are depended on the mediums. And with the visual perception, it will result the the relationship between forms, types, print and projection. Chosen words and sentences are directly displayed and ‘talk’ to the audiences. The project considers how much of each letter is needed for legibility, combining with consideration of colour and environment. Typographic treatment of word shapes, kerning, spaces between types, and legibility are associated with distance and visibility. By destructing, breaking down, and distorting types, it challenges the audiences the way information is perceived from different angle. Words are formed into sentences to represent technology itself and how it controls humans to believe in what it can offer. As texts are powerful mediums in communication, the audiences can choose to believe or not to, depend on their perceptions. But for the final result, they would be emerged by the idea of nothing in this world, even things that are supposed to be the most perfect things on earth, could last.

References:

Books:

Carter, R., Day, B., Meggs, P. (2007), Typographic Design: Form and Communication, 4th ed. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc

Dinkla, S. (2006), Jenny Holzer: I Can’t Tell You, Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz Verlag

Douglas, S., Eamon, C. (2009), Art of Projection, Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz Verlag

Dreibholz, P. (2007), Lead Between The Lines: Generating A Discussion About Typography And Language, London: Gaffa Limited

Elkins, J. (2003), Visual Studies, London: Routledge

Gilmore, J., Moradi, I., Murphy, C., Scott, A. (2009), Glitch: Designing Imperfection, London: Thames & Hudson Ltd

Hillner, M. (2009), Virtual Typography, London: Thames & Hudson Ltd

Koren, L. (1994), Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers, Berkeley: Stone Bridge Press

Keller, S., Smith, E. (2008), Jenny Holzer: Protect Protect, Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz Verlag

Triggs, T. (2003), The Typographic Experiment: Radical Innovation In Contemporary Type Design, London: Thames & Hudson Ltd

Websites:

Decker, E. (1988) Paik, Nam June: Magnet TV. [Internet]. Available from: <http://www.mediaartnet.org/works/magnet-tv/> [Accessed 15 February 2010].

Gilligen, M. (2010) Gustav Metzger. [Internet]. Available from: <http://artforum.com/inprint/issue=201002&id=24772> [Accessed 5 February 2010].

Liggett, L. (n.d.) Paik, Nam June. [Internet]. Available from: <http://www.museum.tv/eotvsection.php?entrycode=paiknamjun> [Accessed 15 February 2010].

Walker, J. (2009) Gustav Metzger, The Conscience of The Artworld. [Internet]. Available from: <http://www.scribd.com/doc/20367514/GUSTAV-METZGER> [Accessed 6 February 2010]

Bibliography:

Books:

Baines, P., Haslem, A. (2005), Type & Typography, 2nd ed. London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd

Ballantoni, J., Woolman, M. (2000), Moving Type: Designing for Time and Space, Hove: RotoVision SA

Bellantoni, J., Woolman, M. (1999), Type In Motion: Innovation In Digital Graphics, London: Thames & Hudson Ltd.

Bullivant, L. (2007), 4Dsocial: Interactive Design Environments, West Sussex: New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc

Carter, R., Day, B., Meggs, P. (2007), Typographic Design: Form and Communication, 4th ed. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc

Dinkla, S. (2006), Jenny Holzer: I Can’t Tell You, Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz Verlag

Douglas, S., Eamon, C. (2009), Art of Projection, Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz Verlag

Dreibholz, P. (2007), Lead Between The Lines: Generating A Discussion About Typography And Language, London: Gaffa Limited

Elkins, J. (2003), Visual Studies, London: Routledge

Gilmore, J., Moradi, I., Murphy, C., Scott, A. (2009), Glitch: Designing Imperfection, London: Thames & Hudson Ltd

Hillner, M. (2009), Virtual Typography, London: Thames & Hudson Ltd

Jury, D. (2006), What Is Typography?, Hove: RotoVision SA

Keller, S., Smith, E. (2008), Jenny Holzer: Protect Protect, Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz Verlag

Koren, L. (1994), Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers, Berkeley: Stone Bridge Press

Lowgren, J., Stolterman, E. (2004), Thoughtful Interaction Design: A Design Perspective on Information Technology, London: The MIT Press

Malsy, V., Muller, L. (2009), Helvetica Forever: Story of a Typeface, Baden: Lars Muller Publishers

Triggs, T. (2003), The Typographic Experiment: Radical Innovation In Contemporary Type Design, London: Thames & Hudson Ltd

Websites:

Decker, E. (1988) Paik, Nam June: Magnet TV. [Internet]. Available from: <http://www.mediaartnet.org/works/magnet-tv/> [Accessed 15 February 2010].

Gilligen, M. (2010) Gustav Metzger. [Internet]. Available from: <http://artforum.com/inprint/issue=201002&id=24772> [Accessed 5 February 2010].

Liggett, L. (n.d.) Paik, Nam June. [Internet]. Available from: <http://www.museum.tv/eotvsection.php?entrycode=paiknamjun> [Accessed 15 February 2010].

Walker, J. (2009) Gustav Metzger, The Conscience of The Artworld. [Internet]. Available from: <http://www.scribd.com/doc/20367514/GUSTAV-METZGER> [Accessed 6 February 2010]

Video:

Helvetica (2007) Directed by Gary Hustwit. Plexi Productions LLC: NY [Video: DVD].

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