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Time and the digital: whitehead, deleuze and the temporality of digital aesthetics

Barker, Timothy Scott, Art History & Art Education, College of Fine Arts, UNSW


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  • Title:
    Time and the digital: whitehead, deleuze and the temporality of digital aesthetics
  • Author/Creator/Curator: Barker, Timothy Scott, Art History & Art Education, College of Fine Arts, UNSW
  • Subjects: Interactivity; Media Art; Digital Aesthetics; Alfred Whitehead; Gilles Deleuze; Philosophy of Time
  • Resource type: Thesis
  • Type of thesis: Ph.D.
  • Date: 2009
  • Supervisor: Munster, Anna, Art History & Art Education, College of Fine Arts, UNSW; Del Favero, Dennis, iCinema Centre for Interactive Cinema Research, College of Fine Arts, UNSW
  • Language: English
  • Permissions: This work can be used in accordance with the Creative Commons BY-NC-ND license.
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  • Description: The aesthetics of digital art seem to be inextricable from time and process. Surprisingly though, interaction with digital systems has traditionally been marked by spatial concepts and metaphors, positioning the aesthetics of interaction as a convergence of spaces where data and agents 'meet'. This preoccupation with space has placed restrictions on aesthetic theories that seek to represent interaction with digital systems. Within this dissertation, I argue that questions of time and the more specific questions of the temporal and 'temporalising' nature of interaction have been neglected. Through a process-oriented investigation of interactive digital art works, produced by a range of artists such as George Legrady, Jeffrey Shaw, along with Dennis Del Favero, Peter Weibel and Neil Brown and Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau, I address this problem and propose a temporal aesthetic theory of interaction. I thus offer a specific understanding of digital aesthetics in which the process of interaction is foregrounded. I work towards this aesthetic theory of interaction by firstly enacting particular tenets of A. N. Whitehead's process philosophy and Gilles Deleuze's philosophy of time, informed by Brian Massumi, Manuel DeLanda and Michel Serres. These thinkers are used to develop a theoretical framework that centres on an understanding of time, process and the event. Directed by this framework, I firstly investigate several non-interactive works by David Claerbout, Bill Viola and the installations of Dan Graham. This investigation of non-interactive works provides the grounding from which I argue that the digital re-presentation of events produces a particular type of time. Thus, particular processes, such as the technological mediation of events, exemplified in the work of Claerbout, Viola and Graham, can be thought to produce their own type of time. From here I propose that, when the process of interaction is introduced into the aesthetic event, time is both produced by digital re-presentations and also encountered in interaction. As a user comes into contact with a database of information, they encounter a particular type of time. In this event, the database enacts a temporal aesthetic in the sense that it archives various sections of the past, and then these are made available again for the user in the present (or for other users in the future). A user is able to navigate through these sections of past, experiencing them simultaneously, or in a nonlinear fashion, or re-sorting them into a temporal order. Motivated by this Whiteheadian approach and by investigating a set of artworks that utilise archives, such as those of the Atlas Group, Armin Linke, George Legrady, Luc Courchesne and Masaki Fujihata, I develop a temporal aesthetic theory that accounts for the multiple modes of temporality immanent to digital interaction. My understanding of Whitehead's conception of time is modulated by Deleuze's philosophy of the virtual. Enlisting what Steven Shaviro would term Whitehead's "pursuit of univocity" or an object-oriented philosophy, I focus upon the event as a processual encounter. Using the paradigm established by Whitehead's panexperietialism, I view all the digital actants as processes. These processes ¬– software, archiving, visualisation or the physical processes of interaction ¬– all transpire over different scales of time, producing different temporal rhythms. Informed by Whitehead, Deleuze and supplemented by Serres, I thus propose a type of time that is scalar. Here, digital temporality can be seen to yield nonlinear and chaotic temporalities, produced by, and encountered in, interactive events. User-generated occasions are sequential, software occasions are asynchronous, and the temporality of the archive nests within it various levels of the past. The interactive event is the coming together of these occasions – an event in which we encounter multiple scales of the temporal; an event that I will describe as multi-temporal in nature.

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