An Artist Gives Voice to Traditional Peruvian Textiles

Paola Torres Núñez del Prado explains the process behind creating a Spanish-language poetry album inspired by quipus

By Google Arts & Culture

Paola Torres Nùñez Del Prado

Paola Torres Núñez del Prado is a Peruvian multimedia artist known for exploring the limits of sensorial experience using both traditional and contemporary technologies. 


Her work has been exhibited and performed at Malmö Art Museum, Alliance Française, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Lima, among others. 

Paola Torres Núñez del Prado (2021) by Paola Torres Núñez del Prado

Here, Torres Núñez del Prado talks about her creative process for her latest project, Knots of Code, developed as part of the AMI Grants residency.

Paola Torres Núñez del Prado (2020) by Jonas Pajari

Tell us about your project, Knots of Code.

Knots of Code seeks to develop machine learning tools that explore and decode new meanings within quipus. 

Quipus are a pre-Columbian notation system that is based on the tying of knots in ropes. 

The textiles use a positioning system of knots along strings to represent numbers from units to tens of thousands. Likewise, the colors of the chords and the structure of the threads and knots contain information about what was counted and recorded in each quipu. It is possible, though not yet proven, that quipus also record other kinds of information or genealogies, like the agricultural calendar or perhaps, even narrative traditions.

Quipu (khipu) fragment with subsidiary cords, 1400–1570, From the collection of: Dallas Museum of Art
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Quipu recording device based in knots ML600004, Inca style, 1300 AD - 1532 AD, From the collection of: Museo Larco
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"El Tiempo del Hombre" (The Time of Man) album cover (2020) by Paola Torres Núñez del Prado

Can you describe the piece you’ve created?

El Tiempo del Hombre (The Time of Man) is the first Spanish-language poetry album by AIEILSON, a machine learning model I trained to generate spoken-word poetry. 

Ciencia by AIEILSON and Paola Torres Núñez del Prado

The album emulates the voice of Peruvian artist and poet Jorge Eduardo Eielson, who notably made his own quipus series in 1963 to explore material, form and the process of communication.

Paola Torres Núñez del Prado (2020) by Jonas Pajari

How does this project relate to your practice?

Knots of Code is a continuation of an enquiry related to code and tactility that I began in 2003 when I moved to New York from Lima, Peru. 

In New York, my approach to art completely changed. I longed for painting to be more dynamic, to pour out from the enclosure of its frame. I wanted it to move, to make sounds, to react and change when viewed. 

This is how I became interested in new media – and pushing human computer interaction beyond what we usually expect from devices and its materials.

Paola Torres Núñez del Prado (2020) by Jonas Pajari

What part did machine learning play?

For this project, I wanted quipus to speak again, and for that, I needed a voice.

I trained a machine learning on the poetry and the voice of Jorge Eduardo Eielson, a Peruvian artist and poet who also worked with quipus to explore material, form and the process of communication. 

Paola Torres Núñez del Prado (2020) by Jonas Pajari

To create an A.I. entity that was essentially of Latin American origin, I really wanted to emphasize the Peruvian accent and style of speech. I worked with Google creative technologists to identify the right pairing of deep learning models that would achieve this effect.

 After trying numerous models, each with varying architectures, and many versions of corpus data, we finally selected two models that we fine-tuned using first, an Argentine voice, and then, with the voice of Eielson.

El Tiempo del Hombre (The Time of Man), 2020 (2020) by Paola Torres Núñez del Prado

What excites you about working with machine learning?

In a text called "Horrifying Sculpture," Eielson wrote of a talking doll made up of, among other things, a magnetic tape recorded with the most important poetic texts that "will continually recite the most beautiful poems conceived by man."

I consider this album, El Tiempo del Hombre, not as a deep fake, but rather, a project that plays with what could have existed, with what the poet wanted to do but couldn't, and with what these tools for artistic creation offer us (and its implications).

AIELSON - El Tiempo del Hombre - 06 El Poema de Estar en Mí
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Listen to El Tiempo del Hombre (The Time of Man) on Bandcamp.

Paola Torres Núñez del Prado (2021) by Paola Torres Núñez del Prado

In January 2021, Paola buried a copy of the printed vinyl album in the desert, south of Lima, Peru. The burial act transforms the album into a synthetic huaco, or earthen vessel, for the future to uncover. Play an excerpt of the performance, or learn more about Knots of Code.

Credits: Story

Photography by Jonas Pajari and Rupa Flores
Special thanks to Paola Torres Núñez del Prado, Martha Canfeld and the Centro Studi Jorge Eielson, Holly Grimm, and Parag K. Mital. 

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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