Walt Whitman, a Kosmos
kosmos one
Kosmos One

Medium-resolution JPEG (768 KB)

High-resolution TIFF (12 MB)

kosmos two
Kosmos Two

Medium-resolution JPEG (1.6 MB)

High-resolution TIFF (5.1 MB)

kosmos three
Kosmos Three

Medium-resolution JPEG (1.8 MB)

High-resolution TIFF (44.3 MB)

kosmos four
Kosmos Four

Medium-resolution JPEG (952 KB)

High-resolution TIFF (18.1 MB)

I am large, contain multitudes

In "Song of Myself," Walt Whitman declared that his soul was copious enough to include everything in the Universe. These images are an attempt to pay tribute to Whitman's grand idea by allowing the figure of the poet to emerge from swarms of other events and other lives, from the microscopic to the macroscopic. Each image is a "kosmos" unto itself suggested by Whitman's texts, with its own themes, visual rhythms and rhymes, puns, and fruitful accidents that yield themselves to the patient explorer.

Please note that these images are not made to be viewed through a Web browser (though they will display), but with a graphics program like Photoshop or Graphic Converter. After downloading the files with your browser, save them on your hard drive and open them from inside the graphics software. (Clicking on the thumbnail images displayed above will download the lower-resolution JPG files.) Then "fly over" each kosmos by adjusting the image magnification, or print out the images using a large-format printer or high-quality printing service like Pictopia. The four mosaics were created using a shareware program by Frank M. Midgley called MacOSaiX, a slim gateway of code that sits between the artist and the ocean of pictorial files in Google's database. Each image-swarm was evoked by lengthy searches on keyword clusters; for example, the text strings that generated "Kosmos Three" included the phrases comet, sunspots, amanita muscaria, green man, Avalokiteshvara and over a dozen others, while the cluster for "Kosmos Four" contained the phrases Civil War soldiers, hands, lilacs, spermatozoa, and whaling ships, each of which play a central role in Whitman's life's work, Leaves of Grass. None of the source files was altered in any way. The faces of anonymous people, unknown places, and unidentifiable objects all contributing to the meta-images of Whitman is part of the point.

The first edition of Leaves of Grass was published in 1855 and publicized by the poet himself, and the fact that a freely available, tiny 400 KB program can enable an amateur like me to leverage the enormous power of Google to create an homage to Whitman is one of the reasons I'm glad to be alive at this moment in history. I've always been interested in art that arises at the intersection of intention and chance operations, as in the dances of Merce Cunningham and the music of John Cage and Brian Eno. Walt Whitman, a Kosmos is a collaboration between the poet, myself, and anyone who happened to upload one of these images for their own purposes. These four mosaics are not only portraits of the poet, but also of the Web as it existed for a few days in late 2004. Enjoy your travels through Whitman's kosmos as it unfolds in our time.

Steve Silberman
San Francisco

from Song of Myself

Walt Whitman, a kosmos, of Manhattan the son,
Turbulent, fleshy, sensual, eating, drinking and breeding,
No sentimentalist, no stander above men and women or apart from them,
No more modest than immodest.

Unscrew the locks from the doors!
Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!

Whoever degrades another degrades me,
And whatever is done or said returns at last to me.

Through me the afflatus surging and surging, through me the current and index.

I speak the pass-word primeval, I give the sign of democracy,
By God! I will accept nothing which all cannot have their counterpart of on the same terms.

Through me many long dumb voices,
Voices of the interminable generations of prisoners and slaves,
Voices of the diseas'd and despairing and of thieves and dwarfs,
Voices of cycles of preparation and accretion,
And of the threads that connect the stars, and of wombs and of the father-stuff,
And of the rights of them the others are down upon,
Of the deform'd, trivial, flat, foolish, despised,
Fog in the air, beetles rolling balls of dung.

Through me forbidden voices,
Voices of sexes and lusts, voices veil'd and I remove the veil,
Voices indecent by me clarified and transfigur'd.

I do not press my fingers across my mouth,
I keep as delicate around the bowels as around the head and heart,
Copulation is no more rank to me than death is.
I believe in the flesh and the appetites,
Seeing, hearing, feeling, are miracles, and each part and tag of me is a miracle.


Leaves of Grass