[ARENA] Pré-Publicaçăo: x#06 - Tim Barker/"The Error and Event"

e-zine vector vector virose.pt
Quinta-Feira, 24 de Julho de 2008 - 01:01:15 WEST

  Olá a todos

O número x#06 (ERRORS AND GLITCHES) do e-zine vector está  
finalmente  pronto e deverá ser colocado on-line nos próximos dias.
Como já fizemos noutras alturas, pré-publicamos aqui, em exclusivo  
para a [ARENA], um dos artigos. Trata-se do texto de Tim Barker —  
"The Error and Event" — que nos dá uma razoável panorâmica sobre  
o tema deste número, que inclui também colaborações de Ana Boa- 
Ventura e Scott Stark, Angela Lorenz, Iman Moradi, Ant Scott, Miguel  
Leal e Fernando José Pereira...

Até breve




Julho 2008

The Error and the Event

Tim Barker

…the error condemned today will sooner or later find itself in the  
treasure houses of discovery.

Michel Serres, Conversations on Science, Culture, and Time

It is fairly agreed in the field of media arts that the aesthetics of  
interactive media are articulated to the event. But just what do we  
mean by the term event? And how do we come to understand the error  
that is emergent within this event? In this paper I attempt to  
provide some possible answers to these questions by investigating the  
manner in which interactive media art systems may become errant. When  
the productive interrelationships formed between human and machine  
systems seek the unforeseen and the emergent there is also a  
possibility for the unforeseen error to slip into existence. This  
occasion of interrelationship is an event, in which is enfolded the  
potential for error.

If time were laid out on a timeline, with one earlier event directing  
a later event then the emergence of an error, in this neat system of  
cause and effect, would be relatively predictable. We could see that  
when A occurs it produces B – the error. But this is not the way  
time is, and it is not the way events exist either in our day to day  
lives or in interaction with a digital system. Events exist, as A.N.  
Whitehead and Gilles Deleuze tell us, as complexes of occasions, all  
enfolded in the one event, not as a neatly linear sequence of  
compartmentalised occasions. B is thus enfolded in A, for B –the  
error – to be brought into existence it must be unfolded from A  
(Whitehead The Concept of Nature 75). Here I take my starting point  
from Whitehead's process philosophy and Deleuze's philosophy of the  
virtual. These philosophers provide us with a means to understand the  
event, and, by extrapolating from these thinkers, a means to  
understand the event of the digital encounter. Once we understand the  
event through this framework we can begin to examine the place of  
errors in this system.

Deleuze answers the question "What is an event?" in a short chapter  
in The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, one of the few times that he  
mentions Whitehead. In this chapter Deleuze, aligns himself with  
Whitehead's thought in order to think the event in relation to his  
own work on the fold (Deleuze 76-82). He credits Whitehead as the  
philosopher who importantly situated the event as the central  
constitutive element of reality. The connection between the way in  
which Deleuze uses the event and Whitehead's initial categorisation  
and explanation of the scheme has been cited previously by theorists  
such as Isabelle Stengers and Ilya Prigogine, as well as Steve  
Shaviro and Tim Clark (Prigogine and Stengers 387-89; Stengers;  
Shaviro; Clark). For all these thinkers, although there are no one to  
one correspondences between Whitehead's and Deleuze's thought,  
Whitehead and Deleuze's ideas work together to produce a mode of  
thought which takes the virtual elements of the event and the notions  
of permanence and flux within and between multiplicities as its  
theoretical ground. In this paper I situate the event of interactive  
media art within this theoretical framework and attempt to  
conceptualise the error as the actualisation of unforeseen potential  
within this system of flux.

Paul Patton's work on elucidating the Deleuzian event is useful here.  
Patton points out that Deleuze takes his concept of an event from the  
Stoics. He points out that the Stoics drew a fundamental distinction  
between two realms of being, a material realm of bodies and states of  
affairs, referred to as actual,  and an incorporeal realm of events,  
referred to as the virtual (Patton). For Patton, the Deleuzian events  
are the "epiphenomena" of corporeal causal interactions: they do not  
affect bodies and states of affairs but they do affect other events,  
such as the responses and actions of agents. In other words events  
are the incorporeal attributes of material bodies. Patton gives the  
example of being cut with a knife. The fact of 'being cut' is neither  
a property of the flesh nor of the knife, it is rather, as Patton  
puts it, an attribute or the "interpenetration of bodies" (Patton).  
Following this, it may be possible that the fact of 'being errant' is  
neither a property of the human nor of the machine but rather an  
attribute of the condition of their interrelationship. The human and  
the machine interpenetrate one another in order to affect the state  
of the error, to bring the error into existence.

In relation to media art an event can be understood as the  
multifarious occasions that manifest the digital encounter. This  
includes both the aesthetics of the interface, the coded regime of  
the database and the software, the materiality of interaction, and  
also importantly the potential for error. As Adrian Mackenzie has  
already pointed out in his book Cutting Code, any contemplation of  
the reception of the image of the interface must also consider the  
aesthetics of the machine and its particular software (Mackenzie).  
The media event and its aesthetic are thus articulated not just to  
the image of the interface but also to the digitality of the system,  
including the work's software, machinic and computational processes  
and interactivity. In all the occasions that are manifest by these  
later agents in the digital encounter the condition for error is  

For Deleuze, as for Whitehead, events are marked by the condition of  
extension, as "…one element (is) stretched over the following  
ones" (Deleuze 77). The duration of actual occasions have jagged  
boundaries, the end of one and the beginning of another are never  
clear cut, rather they extend over one another (Whitehead The Concept  
of Nature 50-55). In other words, events are the forming of nexūs,  
prehension, or the exchange of information between one actual entity  
and another, in short, the event is marked by hybridization and  
concrescence. The event is the process by which the virtual is  
actualised and this event comes into being through the becoming of  
Whiteheadian actual occasions (Hosinski 21). These occasions extend  
over every other occasion, thus containing traces of all the other  
occasions that have been brought into being. Everything contains  
everything else (Whitehead Modes of Thought 225). Thus, the  
Whiteheadian occasions contain a turbulence of every other occasion  
and within this turbulence of occasions is also the error. The  
duration of an event is thus thick with a complex of other  
incorporeal events, any one of these which may actualise an error.

As Steven Shaviro states in his commentary on Whitehead, "the world… 
is made of events, and nothing but events: happenings rather than  
things, verbs rather than nouns, processes rather than  
substances"(Shaviro 1). For Whitehead, everything in reality,  
including those things that have the appearance of continuity through  
time, are made up of a multiplicity of events (Whitehead Process and  
Reality: An Essay in Cosmology 29). All the world is thus in a  
constant state of becoming as all the world is constituted by the  
remaking of actual entities at every instant in time. As Whitehead  
states as his first  category of explanation, "the actual world is a  
process…the process is the becoming of actual entities" (Whitehead  
Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology 22). For Whitehead,  
events, not substances, constitute the world. An event is not  
something that happens to someone but rather something that happens  
with or in them (Williams). In terms of error, when thinking it  
through the philosophy of the event, the error happens with the user  
and with the machine, it happens in the event of their  

As occasions, or Whiteheadian actual entities, extend over one  
another the error extends over the user. In this sense the user is  
invested in the errant system and thus a part of the condition for  
error. This can be seen for instance in Dennis Del Favero, Jeffrey  
Shaw, Neil Brown and Peter Weibel's astounding work T_Visionarium II  
(see (http://www.icinema.unsw.edu.au/projects/prj_tvis_II.html). This  
work, set within the purpose built Advanced Visualisation and  
Audification Environment (AVIE), a 360 degree immersive environment,  
opens a large database of television clips to recombinatory searches.  
The participant of T_Visionarium II is subject to the constant  
clustering, un-clustering and re-clustering of images. Upon entering  
AVIE, the user puts on stereoscopic glasses and interacts with the  
machine via a hand held interface. In the 360 degree space the user  
is surrounded by a multitude of looping television clips. Selecting  
one of these clips causes other clips to be triggered from the  
database and clustered around this image in a hierarchy of  

In this work the participant strives for the control that the machine  
refuses to give. The user makes selections and images re-cluster,  
appearing, due to the stereoscopic glasses to fly through the three  
dimensional space of the installation, accompanied by their  
soundtracks. But the images assign themselves into clusters that are  
unforeseen by the user. There is virtually no way to predict the  
images that any specific selection will trigger. In this way,  
T_Visionarium II facilitates a negotiation between the human and the  
machine, with one responding to the other; rather than a model of  
interaction that centres upon human control. The human thus gives  
themselves over to the machine, and in doing so gives themselves over  
to the condition for error.

This error manifests, quite unintentionally, as occasionally  
T_Visionarium II triggers images that seemingly have a negligible  
affinity to the image selected. The system could be programmed, for  
instance, to search for colour-value and trigger a scene with a  
negligible colour affinity to the source image. This is due to a  
technological limitation, a fault in the system or a technological  
bug. But this is not necessarily an aesthetic bug or something that  
impoverishes the experience of the work. This fault in the system is  
brought about due to the problematic nature of attempting to describe  
the static colour of a moving image. The system selects one frame of  
the forty-eight frames per second in the two second loop and bases  
the scene's colour on this static section of movement. So, if a body  
was standing in front of the camera in the first frame of a forty- 
eight frame sequence but then had moved away by the third or fourth  
frame to reveal a predominately light coloured scene, the system  
would incorrectly read the colour as black. The system becomes errant  
in that it does not actualise what we as users would expect.  
Seemingly, the subsequent cluster of dark images around light images  
would be faulty. But this would only be faulty if the work were a  
tool and not a work of art. This faulty cluster leads to questions as  
to the machine’s judgement and also questions of reception and  
recognition. The machine is making mistakes, the machine is  
triggering images from its memory that are seemingly disconnected;  
the machine is actualising errors from the potential that exists in  
the field of the virtual. The limitations of the work's search  
facility are embodied into the content of the work and the experience  
of the user. The error does not happen to the work or to the user. It  
rather happens with the work and with the user. The error extends  
over the user; they are invested in the error that is actualised by  
the event of the digital encounter.

In order to further understand the event and the way in which an  
error may slip into existence we may turn to Deleuze's philosophy of  
the virtual. This philosophy is not a philosophy of events that  
actually take place. Rather it is a philosophy of events that could  
have potentially taken place if things had been different. As DeLanda  
points out in his commentary on Deleuze, studying the virtual is not  
an investigation of the events that actually occurred in a system,  
but rather understanding the system based on the events that could  
have potentially taken place, if certain circumstances had been  
different (DeLanda 35). The virtual is the field of potential, the  
event is the becoming actual of the virtual; it is the actualisation  
of one event from the multiplicity of the virtual. The virtual that  
Deleuze theorises is a mode of reality that is articulated in the  
emergence of new potentials; the virtual is implicated in the reality  
of change (Massumi). So, in this framework, we can think of the error  
as the potential that may or may not come into existence. The system  
that seeks the actualisation of unforeseen potential is thus also a  
system that has the capacity to become errant. We can think of any  
system that is open to the unforeseen as surrounded by a cloud of  
potential errors, or, as Deleuze would put it, a cloud of the virtual  
(Deleuze and Parnet 148). In other words, at any moment, any system  
that seeks the unforeseen, the novel or the new is involved in the  
process of actualising potential information. At any moment this  
system is traversing a field of potential. Within this field exists  
the virtual error, waiting to be actualised by an errant system. At  
any point in its process, a system is traversing potential errors and  
at any point, one may become actualised.

As a system attempts to actualise this unformed information, to form  
the unformed from the cloud of the virtual, the system may also give  
form to an unformed error. Rather than thinking of an event as the  
process by which preformed or preconceived possible information  
becomes realised, we can only think of an error as coming into being  
as the unformed and the unforeseen potential is actualised. This  
potential emerges from unique activities that occur in the process of  
a system. These unique activities open the system so that unforeseen  
information may emerge (DeLanda 36-37). If a system runs through its  
process without the potential for error it is essentially closed. It  
does not allow the potentiality of the emergent or the unforeseen. It  
is only through allowing the capacity for potential errors that we  
may provide the opportunity to think the unthought, to become-other,  
and to hence initiate further unforeseen becomings in the virtual  
(Rodowick 201). In a sense, when there is potential for an error to  
emerge in a system, the system cannot be regarded as a pre-formed  
linear progress, rather it can only be thought as a divergent process  
that actualises elements of the virtual.

Kim Gascone has previously pointed to the artists that exploit this  
potential for error in order to create what he calls a 'glitch  
aesthetic'. Artists such as the composer Ryoji Ikeda, (http:// 
www.ryojiikeda.com/) who create compositions that exploit the  
inadequacies of the medium, use errors as generative tools. In these  
instances, artists set up situations in which errors are able to  
emerge and be exploited in the art making process. In these types of  
work the artist’s role is to allow a glitch or an error to arise in  
a specific system, then to reconfigure and exploit the generative  
qualities of the unforeseen error. This type of practice is also  
taken up in the visual arts by Artists such as Tony Scott (http:// 
www.beflix.com/works/glitch.php) who set up situations in which  
errors are able to emerge and be exploited in the art making process.  
In these types of work the artist’s role is to allow a glitch or an  
error to arise in a specific system, then to reconfigure and exploit  
the generative qualities of the unforeseen error.

Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans, who together make up Jodi, produce  
internet based works in which the user's computer seems to be  
actualising errors at every instant of interaction. For instance, in  
404.jodi.org it is as if the user and their computer are stuck in a  
looping error. What emerges from interaction here is not that which  
is expected or at all controlled by the user. The user may interact  
with this work, sending an email response, but this information is  
passed through a filter which reduces the message to gibberish. This  
filtering renders the system unusable, in the traditional HCI sense.  
In this work the user is unable to exploit the system; the system  
does not work for the user. Instead errors are continually unfolded  
from a system. Jodi's formalist investigation of the digital medium  
here exploits the limitations of the digital network and the errors  
that are enfolded in the system.

The generative capabilities of error can be understood through Lev  
Manovich’s cultural communication model developed in his paper  
“Post-Media Aesthetics”. Traditionally, a pre-media cultural  
communication model represents the transmission of a signal as SENDER 
—MESSAGE—RECEIVER (Manovich "Post-Media Aesthetics" 18). In this  
original model the sender encodes and transmits a message over a  
communication channel; as Manovich indicates, in the course of  
transmission the message is affected by any noise that is existent  
along the communication channel. The receiver then decodes the  
message. Here the message is susceptible to error in two ways. First,  
the noise that originates from the communication channel may alter  
the message, second, their may be discrepancies between the sender  
and receiver’s code (Manovich "Post-Media Aesthetics" 18).   
Manovich, in order to propose a post-digital consideration of  
transmission, has developed this model by including the sender's and  
receiver’s software. Post-digital cultural communication can now be  
(Manovich "Post-Media Aesthetics" 17-18). In this model the cultural  
significance of software is emphasised. The software, much more than  
the noise introduced by the communication channel, may change the  
message. Significantly, the software may introduce an error into the  
message. Following Deleuze, we may say that the software may  
articulate a link to the field of potential in order to generate  
unforeseen, and perhaps unwanted, information.

The cultural role that Manovich ascribes to software becomes  
elucidated in Dimtre Lima and Iman Morandi’s Glitchbrowser (http:// 
www.glitchbrowser.com). Glitchbrowser is an alternative to the  
traditional model of a web browser. This browser, rather than  
attempting to assist user navigation of the internet, creates errors  
when displaying the pages that it accesses. The images of any page  
accessed by Glitchbrowser are distorted or glitched through colour  
saturation and abstraction from their original composition. In this  
work, following Manovich’s cultural communication model, the  
software that intervenes between sender and receiver alters the  
content of the message. Thus in Glitchbrowser, the artists remind us  
that the information we receive is largely reconstituted by the  
system it travels through. In a sense the machine reveals itself,  
rather than creating the illusion of a transparent interface to  
information. In the application of Glitchbrowser the user witnesses  
the way that messages are transmitted and altered by the interface.  
The machine, at every instant of interaction, reminds the user of its  
existence (Manovich The Language of New Media 206).

There is a kind of Duchampian legacy, to borrow David Hopkin's term,  
emergent in the aesthetics of the error. Hopkins traces a legacy from  
Marcel Duchamp, through Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage, Jasper Johns  
and Ed Keinholz that positions art as a dematerialised concept that  
awaits actualisation by a spectator (Hopkins 41). To continue this  
pursuit we could situate the error or glitch aesthetic inside this  
paradigm. We can think of artworks that allow the potential for error  
as similar to those artists that Hopkins situates within the  
Duchampian paradigm. We can certainly think of the error in a system  
in the same manner as artists such as Jean Arp think of chance as a  
creative tool. Just as works such as Collage Arranged According to  
the Laws of Chance exploit the chance event as a creative force and  
hence move into the realm of the potential, works such as Jodi's,  
Scott's and Lima and Morandi's move into the unforeseen as errors  
direct the aesthetic. Also, we can see similarities between the art  
of the error and Rauschenberg’s White Paintings. These works,  
following Hopkins, are “passive receptors, awaiting events rather  
than prescribing sensations” (Hopkins 42). The works exist, not as  
art objects in themselves, but await an audience to initiate their  
transformation into art. The works exist as empty spaces that are to  
be filled by the audience and all those peripheral events that occur  
around them. Art is not inside the White Paintings, but rather  
outside them. Works such as Rauschenberg’s, or Cage's 4’33”,  
similarly to the art of the error, exists as open potentiality. In  
these works, both the artist and the audience find themselves in the  
field of the emergent. The artist must provide the condition for the  
emergent and unforeseen and the audience must bring this condition to  
satisfaction. The work is not just constituted by the machine and its  
substrate but also by the way the human responds to the immersive  
environment. The work no longer takes place in a time and space that  
is separate from the spectator. Rather the time and space of the  
spectator and the time and space of the machine are both implicit in  
the realisation of the work.

Reference List

Clark, Tim. "A Whiteheadian Chaosmos: Process Philosophy from a  
Deleuzian Perspective." Process Studies 28.3-4 (1999): 179-94.

DeLanda, Manuel. Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy.  
Transversals: New Directions in Philosophy. Ed. Keith Pearson.  
London: Continuum, 2002.

Deleuze, Gilles. The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque. Trans. Tom  
Conley. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota, 1993.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Claire Parnet. "The Actual and the Virtual."   
Dialogues 2. Ed. Eliot Ross Albert. London and New York: Continuum,  

Hopkins, David. After Modern Art 1945-2000. Oxford: Oxford University  
Press, 2000.

Hosinski, Thomas. Stubborn Fact and Creative Advance: An Introduction  
to the Metaphysics of Alfred North Whitehead. Lanham: Rowman &  
Littlefield, 1993.

Mackenzie, Adrian. Cutting Code: Software and Sociality. New York:  
Peter Lang Publishing, 2006.

Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. Cambridge: The MIT Press,  

------. "Post-Media Aesthetics."  (Dis)Locations. Ed. Astrid Sommer.  
Karlsruhe: ZKM, 2001.

Massumi, Brian. "Sensing the Virtual, Building the Insensible."  
Architectural Design 68.5/6 (1998): 16-24.

Patton, Paul. "The World Seen from Within: Deleuze and the Philosophy  
of Events " Theory & Event 1.1 (1997).

Prigogine, Ilya, and Isabelle Stengers. La Nouvelle Alliance. Paris:  
Gallimard, 1979.

Rodowick, D. N. Gilles Deleuze's Time Machine. Post-Contemporary  
Interventions. Eds. Stanley Fish and Fredric Jameson. Durham and  
London: Duke University Press, 1997.

Shaviro, Steven. "Deleuze's Encounter with Whitehead".  2007.  
Pinochio Theory.  (30th May 2008). <http://www.shaviro.com/Othertexts/ 

Stengers, Isabelle. "Entre Deleuze Et Whitehead."  Gilles Deleuze:  
Une Vie Philosophique. Ed. Eric Alliez. Paris: Les empecheurs de  
penser en rond, 1998. 325-32.

Whitehead, Alfred North. The Concept of Nature. 2007 ed. New York:  
Cosimo Classics, 1920.

---. Modes of Thought. London: The Syndics of The Cambridge  
University Press, 1956.

---. Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology. New York: The Free  
Press, 1978.

Williams, James. "Love in a Time of Events: Badiou, Deleuze and  
Whitehead on Chesil Beach." Event & Decision: A conference exploring  
ontology & politics in the philosophies of Alain Badiou, Gilles  
Deleuze, and Alfred North Whitehead. Claermont Graduate University,  

* Tim Barker is a PhD candidate at the College of Fine Arts,  
University of New South Wales. His research interests are in the  
aesthetics of interactive media, philosophies of time in relation to  
new media, and contemporary Australian media art . Tim is also a  
sessional academic at COFA and at the Australian Catholic University.

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