Deferrrrrrrrred

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An installation examining meaning deferred in time and relationship as a method of experiencing Derrida’s Difference and Bergson’s Multiplicity and Duration.


Source on GitHub

Background

The original concept for the piece came from Derrida’s concept of Difference, which I was introduced through a review of the Ford F-150 by Regular Car Reviews. In it, the narrator suggests that the F-150’s importance is derived through its textual meaning of a blue-collared honest American; that is: the car’s meaning is deferred to an idealistic image, just as the meaning of words are always deferred to other words/ideas and can never be resolved fully—i.e. différance.

In the essay “Différance” Derrida indicates that différance gestures at a number of heterogeneous features that govern the production of textual meaning. The first (relating to deferral) is the notion that words and signs can never fully summon forth what they mean, but can only be defined through appeal to additional words, from which they differ. Thus, meaning is forever “deferred” or postponed through an endless chain of signifiers. The second (relating to difference, sometimes referred to as espacement or “spacing”) concerns the force that differentiates elements from one another and, in so doing, engenders binary oppositions and hierarchies that underpin meaning itself. —Wikipedia

Note that Différance itself plays on the French word différer, which simultaneously means to defer and to differ. Derrida deliberately misspells the world and replaces an ‘e’ with an ‘a’, creating a homophone and thus subverting the true meaning of the word in speech by hiding its written form. In the same vein, Deferrrrrrrrred plays with the word “deferred” by introducing more ‘r’s which results in the word itself being deferred.

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Research

Disclaimer: I am not a philosopher, and if I misunderstood or mis-explained, please let me know!

I was very interested in the concept of ideas being defined by other ideas—a continual deferral of meanings. Ideas do not lie in a vacuum, but rather entrenched in a nebulae of them. This is incredibly relevant in art, where the acceptance of a work is largely a result of the context in which it is viewed. One need only look at the tribulations of Modern Art to see this: e.g. the rejection of Monet’s Sunrise which would eventually found Impressionism, or Manet’s The Luncheon on the Grass which would go on to inspire many more seminal works such as Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and Cezanne’s. Largely, the experience of art is deferred from its physical experience to a cerebral one.

Münchhausen Trilemma

Différance also in a way defers with the impossibility of getting to the core of a meaning since infinite deferral is a problem of infinite regress. Naturally, this leads to the philosophies of epistemology; specifically: the Münchhausen Trilemma. This trilemma suggests that it is impossible to prove any truth since all truths are derived from proofs, but those proofs are limited, hitting one of three walls (Wikipedia):

  • The circular argument, in which theory and proof support each other (i.e. we repeat ourselves at some point)
  • The regressive argument, in which each proof requires a further proof, ad infinitum (i.e. we just keep giving proofs, presumably forever)
  • The axiomatic argument, which rests on accepted precepts (i.e. we reach some bedrock assumption or certainty)

The problem with breaking down a problem is that it always results in a rabbit hole. In a way, the trilemma is similar to différance since it points to this infinite pointing.

The a of différance also recalls that spacing is temporization, the detour and postponement by means of which intuition, perception, consummation – in a word, the relationship to the present, the reference to a present reality, to a being – are always deferred.

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Henri Bergson

The infinite pointing suggested by Différance and the trillema points to temporality and relativity. Discussing with Rebeca Méndez my idea, she referred me to Bergson’s idea of Duration and Multiplicity.

Duration deals with the fact that within a context, it is impossible to grasp the whole context: “Duration is ineffable and can only be shown indirectly through images that can never reveal a complete picture. It can only be grasped through a simple intuition of the imagination.” (Wikipedia).

Multiplicity deals with the fact that distinguishing between “the one” and “the multiple” (one-many dialectic) is not enough to explain “the real.” One must take into account multiplicity: “the one” can belong to multiples and thus form a system which results in “the real.” One can read more at this PhilosophyExchange about Multiplicity, with consideration to Deleuze.

Bergson’s concepts are interesting as he similarly deals with temporaneity. That is: things become relational (multiplicity) in context of time (duration). For example he notes that: “One moment is added onto the old ones, and thus, when the next moment occurs, it is added onto all the other old ones plus the one that came immediately before”.

Moreover, since we are human we do not have a pure perception of time and therefore: “feelings are continuous with one another; they interpenetrate one another, and there is even an opposition between inferior needs and superior needs.”

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Randomness

A large part of what we are dealing with is then about meaning (information and data) and its experience (time). At this time, by mere happenstance, Veritasium published a video on the topic of “random,” which, surprisingly, deals with the aforementioned.

In his video, Veritasium suggests that randomness is pure information. If data are discrete orders and patterns are orders of discrete orders, then one can compress data which contain patterns by removing its repetition. However, if we create something that is incompressible and is purely of one discrete order, that is, for all intents and purposes, pure randomness: something that has discrete order and no repetition.

Obviously, however, we do not derive any meaning from pure randomness. Therefore, meaning is actually a happy medium between repetition (order) and randomness (unordered).

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Ideation

A Generative Clock

In the beginning what stood out the most to me is this continual derivation and pointing to, and how such practice is largely concerned with time (step 1 leads to step 2 leads to step 3…). The second thing that stood out is this idea of relationship with the present and with time. On one hand ideas are in a relationship with its nebulae—that is: every idea is pointed to and pointing to other ideas (multiplicity, circular argument, différance)—and time—that is: every idea is understood in concern within a context that is dynamic (duration, art).

The first idea was to build a clock that whose markers are continually generated in relationship to its context. Time is interesting in not only that it relates to the above, but that its use is continually deferred. Clocks are a way to defer action to a discrete point in the future. Creating a clock whose markers are continually generated, rather than fixed (e.g. fractions of a circle, numbers, etc.) would relate time much more closely to its existence, than a predetermined context (clock for fashion, clock for military, clock for the bedroom).

I set out to use the Microsoft Kinect in order to collect information about the clock’s context since it obtains a lot of information of its surrounding, not only imagery, but spatial data—it encompasses the relationship it is within in 4 dimensions.

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A Generative Temporal Relational Art

Professor Méndez suggested that I should be careful about focusing on the nature of a clock. Since a clock is a tool, it immediately connotes functionality. A clock which is generative, however, is in opposition to its functionality since the users would not be able to easily frame their experience within their past ones.

Nevertheless, the idea of generative temporal art still intrigued me. Professor Méndez noted that the problem with interactive art that utilizes the body is that viewers often end up just flailing their arm since they do not know what they are doing. It is much more interesting to pose the viewers in certain ways as to engage them in their viewership, taking them outside their own identity.

I began thinking about different poses that viewers could easily attain that are meaningful to the subject. I realized that these poses could be put into a context, thus forcing the viewer to not only change their identity, but how their personhood relates to its context. Moreover, interactions can expand beyond one person.

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I wrote a story in two parts, which are two sides of the same coin. On one set, the story is given in a monotonic instructional way; on the other, it is given in a poetic way. Simultaneously, the two sides tells the same story. Each parts of the story engages the reader to act a certain way as in a play. The story is designed to be read out loud by two viewers, one reading to the other their set.

The participant on the left should then move away from the screen, while the participant on the right move towards the screen.

Each piece separate and whole; a world neither two, nor one.

In telling the story, the viewers enter a relationship with each other—since their experience becomes interwoven as each half reads. At the same time, they enter a relationship with the art, since the resulting image on the screen is a result of their interpretation of the story. Finally, they enter a relationship with me, the artist, since they are interpreting what I imagined.

This is further exacerbated by the fact that the story is about two nodes or people engaging in a relationship. Check out the story in this two PDF.

At every stage, meanings get deferred. What I mean by the piece is deferred to the context of it (viewers and space). How the generated works appear is deferred to the interaction by the participants. What each viewer does is deferred to the other viewer. We become engaged in an experience that is deferred, in meaning and in time.

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Telling the story

I originally designed the story to be read in two books. What was interesting is that when I first acted the piece and used the books in reality—that is outside of my head and outside of the computer—I discovered that the movements themselves had opinions about its relationship with the book. The movements were in opposition with the story platform since because it was a book, it required the viewer to disengage with the story every time they turned the page.

Professor Méndez and I thought about different formats in which to present the story. For example, writing each page on a side of a box would allow the viewer to see the next step with one hand by simply turning the box. We thought about objects which by the end of the story can be combined together to reveal a new meaning. Given that the story is about context and relationship, I ended up going with geolocated instructions. Each page of the book is separated into the location in which it would be read if the viewers followed the instruction. In this way, in order to consume the piece, the viewer must engage—at least to some degree—with my instructions. They must relate themselves to the context of the piece.

A Deferred Temporal Relational Art

When I began to install the piece, the space and context had opinions as well. Originally, I wanted to emphasize the Kinect’s ability to detect spatially. I wanted to use the spatial relationship between each of the two viewers as inputs. As one moves forward and the other back, it would rotate the camera’s perspective. However, as I implemented the function it became clear that it is more fidgety than would be appropriate—especially in an uncontrolled gallery space where people are constantly moving about—entering and leaving a piece.

I thought about how in a museum space, the viewing and leaving of a piece is essential, since there are so many art pieces that a viewer is in a way forced to check out the next one and the next one, and so forth. Moreover, since it is a social space, people like to crowd around pieces with many viewers. As such, there is a high degree of social relationship in this setting.

During implementation, I decided to gear the piece toward this context. That the piece behave differently depending on the context of viewership it is in. Each different number of viewership counts would convey a certain way human relationship works.

  • When there is 0 viewer, an art has no meaning, so the generated art stands still, leaving behind what last occurred since the last viewer.
  • When there is 1 viewer, the art is generating an abstracted version of the viewer, but receding away, as time passes away. A viewer imbues meaning into the piece, but at the same time it slowly disappears.
  • When there are 2 viewers, the camera changes perspectives as before, since two nodes are often in dialog and dialog changes perspectives.
  • When there are 3 viewers, the camera began to zoom in than receding, since a small group is likely aiming to progress towards one goal.
  • When there are 4 viewers, the canvas clears, and the process starts again, since with a larger group things behave differently and things often become surprising. In addition, it would be funny for the piece to disappear as people actually gets interested in it: “YOU BROKE IT!”

In thinking about different ways to convey these different contexts, I thought about propaganda posters. Propaganda posters are designed to change the way humans related to each other or with a country. In presenting the messages as propaganda, I am suggesting that the viewers change their relationship.

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Giving the Viewer Something in Return #Relationship

I thought about how a relationship is largely a dialog and when things are related, they are simultaneously interconnected. That is each ends receive something in their relationship. I thought about how I can give viewers a receipt of their time.

Professor Méndez suggested something about giving the viewers access to the stories (e.g. the book) as a take home piece of their part in the relationship. This was not ideal since the piece also required other moving parts such as the Kinect, the software, etc. Moreover, I thought about how the real relationship happens not in the beginning of the story—which is just an inciter, but in the resulting generative art.

Each generative art is a product of how four nodes are interweaved in time. I thought about how I can print a receipt and an image of the generated art. However this was technically challenging since it would require acquiring a printer, a large amount of ink, and paper, and an algorithm to decide when to print.

What I ended up doing is using Twitter as an online and digital printer. Each time an image is “printed”, it is timestamped and put into a permanent spot into an ever growing timeline. Moreover, this allows the piece to relate to a larger internet context. Interestingly, the online larger viewership enters a new node in their relationship since they can only consume and not affect.

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Results

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Discussion

Unforeseen Outcome as a Result of Relationships

It was interesting how the piece evolved on its own, as a result of the contexts in which it was discussed and the people involved. For example how the poses in the story suggested that books cannot be the platform for consuming, or how the museum space changes how the viewers would interact with the piece, or how the software had a say in what the piece could or could not do.

Another unforeseen outcome is that in a way, the Twitter feed and each image capture is a snapshot in a time-lapse of the pieces’ relationship with the museum. Stitching it into a video, we can see how people interact with the piece over time and how the museum changes in atmosphere—during set up, opening day, night, weekdays, etc.

Interestingly, the piece still worked wonderfully with the story, even though it was not designed for it. For example: when the viewer walks away from the screen suggesting the world collapsing without balance, the viewer would leave the view of the Kinect and as a result, in the generated image, there truly was only one viewer. Or, when the viewer holds hand suggesting the coming together of two, the generated art would similarly detect one since OpenCV would deter the interconnected blobs as one.

The Multiplicity of Consuming Interactive Art

An interesting realization with interactive museum pieces are how people never interact with a piece in intended ways. For example, I originally did not end up doing the geolocated instructions because it became incredibly messy to heavy so many pages of a book exploded into a floor. Save for a book format, we are not used to consuming large amount of information—especially not in public; so instead I created the propaganda posters to simplify instructions into shorter steps.

However, it seems that people do not engage with the posters since it was dwarfed by the art. Most still stood in front wondering what it is doing with their arms to the side. Which is interesting in itself, of course.

After a few days after the opening, I asked the question of how a different instruction set would impact the generative art. I implemented the floor instructions to see whether it would change interaction, or even bring interests to the poster as explanation for the texts on the floor.

To some degrees, I wonder whether interactive art was the correct platform for this piece. I wonder whether it would have been more interesting if the piece was enacted by actors, rather than by strangers.

It would be interesting to see how the generated images would influence the actors; something reminiscent of Reactor for Awareness in Motion (RAM) by Yoko Ando and YCAM, or Joachim Sauter’s The Jew of Malta.

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Relationship With the Self

For me, an interesting fact about the piece was that it merged with another idea I had brewing. I was thinking about museum art piece as a product to be designed: how can you create a piece that activates a viewer to stay longer or what attributes are within a piece that generates interest in a viewer.

I was thinking about how people are really interested in themselves, and how meanings of art is basically imposed on by art critics and viewers.

Of course, this ends up being part of Deferrrrrrrrred since the viewers image would become part of the piece, or at least for the next viewer. The meaning of the piece is deferred to the viewer and time and thus imposed by its context.

Conclusion

Developing Deferrrrrrrrred proved to be a relationship itself. It was as if the piece evolved itself, telling me what it wants, or how it should be experienced. I, as an artist, had my options and ideas, but when I implemented them and had dialog with others about it, it was then the piece came into its own. The irony of it all is, at the end of the day, all this background and thought behind Deferrrrrrrrred will never be what viewers will view it as. Just as the piece was about deferring meaning to time and context, I have to defer what the piece is about to those viewing it.

I am relegated to a viewer. I, as an artist, have no say.

Technical Information

Custom software written in C++ using OpenFrameworks and its Kinect library, as well as OpenCV. Source code is available here.

Special thanks to Rebeca Méndez.