The Trumpet of the Swan

  • Karen ann Donnachie independent
  • Andy Simionato RMIT University


This paper will outline the ideation, background and development of the electronic artwork The Trumpet of the Swan (Donnachie & Simionato, 2017) presented by the authors at the Electronic Literature Organisation conference in Porto, Portugal in 2017. The artwork is a custom-coded drawing-robot which automatically inscribes in natural media, every post published from the personal Twitter profile of the 45th President of the United States of America, Donald Trump, identified on Twitter as @realDonaldTrump. The machine, which has the appearance reminiscent of a swan, including a broad “body” balanced on two short legs that end in webbed “feet”, is a semi-autonomous robot that writes in a pen, crowned by a long white plume, on a continuous scroll of paper while producing bird-like sounds. The drawing-robot remains permanently in a state of attention and the demonstrated sequence of actions can only be triggered remotely and by the 45th President of the U.S.A. himself (or more precisely, by whomever publishes a new tweet through his Twitter account ‘@realDonaldTrump’). In other words, to borrow a popular phrase taken from twentieth century cold-war propaganda: only the President has the ability to “launch” this artwork which otherwise remains dormant, in waiting.


electronic art, drawing machines, robotic art, twitterbots, social media

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Author Biographies

Karen ann Donnachie, independent

Karen ann Donnachie (b. 1970) is an electronic artist & scholar. From 1990 through 2010 she was based in Milan, Italy where, alongside her studio practice, she co-founded and curated the award winning experimental art periodical This is (not) a Magazine (from 2002) and later the imprint Atomic Activity Books (from 2008), from which a number of monographic artists’ books and compendia of internet art have been published, all distributed by Idea Books, Amsterdam.

Karen ann’s artistic activity overlaps fields as diverse as photography, video, performance, algorithmic and Internet art. Her work has won international awards and critical recognition, and is featured in a number of publications, including Lauren Parker’s Interplay (2004) on Internet art, and Princeton Architectural Press’ recent Come Together: The Rise of Cooperative Art and Design (2014). Karen ann has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions in Argentina, Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the USA; she has been guest speaker at Semi-Permanent, Sydney, ARCO art fair, Madrid; has conducted workshops in institutions such as the Hochschule Liechtenstein, UIAV Venice, Italy, the LCC, London, and at festivals such as Next Festival, Vilnius, Lithuania and Stuttgarter Filmwinter, Germany. She also teaches in the fields of contemporary image, data-visualisation and human-computer interfaces.

Karen ann completed her PhD (Art) at Curtin University, her research “The Human Use of the Human Face” explores the selfie as action and artefact, and its effect on contemporary photography and digital identity.

Andy Simionato, RMIT University

Andy Simionato
Andy Simionato is a designer who works in the fields of speculative design, experimental publishing and machinic writing. From the early 2000s, alongside his polivalent studio practice, he founded and curated the award winning experimental art periodical ​This is a Magazine ​(about nothing) and later the imprint ​Atomic Activity Books​ with his partner Karen ann Donnachie. His work has been published internationally and exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art of Arnhem (the Netherlands), the Fondazione Mazzotta Museum of Art (Italy) and most recently was included in the Triennale Design Museum of Milan’s historic retrospective of Italian design (2012). After receiving his PhD in Design (Edith Cowan University, Australia), on the future of the book in electronic space, he was awarded his current teaching and research Fellowship at the School of Media and Communication, RMIT University, Australia.


ANTHONY, Robert (2017). “Trump Tweets Photo Of Him ‘Writing' Inauguration Speech With A Sharpie.” Elite Daily, January 18, 2017.

DONNACHIE, Karen ann and Andy Simionato (2017). This is a Magazine: Live Draw, Milan: Edicola Radetzky.

GRIGG, Brandon (2012). “Twitter's bird logo gets a makeover,” CNN, 6 June 2012.

GROYS, Boris (2011). “Google: Words Beyond Grammar.” Documenta 13: 100 Notizen-100 Gedanken 46.

HERSHEY, Allen V (1967). Calligraphy for Computers. Dahlgren, VA: U.S. Naval Weapons Laboratory.

INGRAM, Matthew (2017). “Here’s Why Donald Trump Says He Loves Twitter and Plans to Keep Tweeting.” Fortune. New York:Time inc. 17 January 2017.

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WHITE, Elwyn B (1970). The Trumpet of the Swan. New York: Harper & Row; London: Hamish Hamilton.
How to Cite
DONNACHIE, Karen ann; SIMIONATO, Andy. The Trumpet of the Swan. MATLIT: Materialities of Literature, [S.l.], v. 6, n. 1, p. 177-186, aug. 2018. ISSN 2182-8830. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 24 aug. 2019.