A self-described work of “Algorithmic Poetics,” The 27th. El 27. takes the original, Spanish text of the 27th article of the Mexican Constitution and automatically translates a portion of it into English when the New York Stock Exchange Composite Index closes the day with a positive percent variation. The work has been performed twice by Tiselli, the first time running from January 2014 until February 2016 and the second time from February 2016 until October 2017, with both pages currently displaying a red text English translation that has almost entirely replaced the gray text of the original Spanish. Facing the ineluctable long-term increase in overall stock prices, both iterations of the work reveal through their inevitable, incremental transformation to the red, English-language text the effects of the immaterial and generally-unnoticed vagaries of the financial global economy, itself largely controlled today by algorithmic processes.
The work’s original launch on the first of January in 2014 coincided with the twentieth anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement, whose early 1990s ratification signified the legal consummation of Mexico’s abandonment of the agrarian reforms that were enshrined into its national law by the 27th article of its 1917 Constitution. Declaring the lands of Mexico as belonging to the state, placing limits on privatization by foreigners or corporations, and establishing procedures for a just and equal redistribution of the land, this longest article of the Mexican Constitution had represented, until its late-20th-century repudiation, the fulfillment of the call for agrarian reform that became the casus belli for the Mexican Revolution that began in 1910. In this way then, just as the NAFTA-era revisions to the 27th article cast aside the rights of the Mexican pueblo for the benefit of globalized, finance-based Capital, Tisselli’s work replaces the carefully-worded, official prose of the original Spanish with the haphazard and oft-incoherent automatic translations into English. Despite being translated on essentially a nightly basis during these periods of general upward trend of the stock market, the 20 and 25 months it took for the respective works to be completed reveals what was a nearly-imperceptible process of transformation. In this way, the experience of a casual reader occasionally visiting the work’s site during this time reflects the gradual yet absolute nature of the political changes associated with the 27th article.
Although both versions of the text manifest in their dormant, nearly-complete stage of translation the contemporary hegemony of the English language, they also significantly gesture, through the presence of certain untranslatables, towards the possibility to withstand this linguistic domination and the economic oppression of which it is a consequence. In particular, the recurrence of the untranslatable concept of the ejido – a form of communal land ownership – and its derivative terms in the translation of the text present an impediment to what attempts to be an unencumbered act of reading in English, repeatedly obliging the reader to confront an idea that cannot be encompassed by a monolingual, uniform ideology.