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NEW-MEDIA-CURATING  March 2014

NEW-MEDIA-CURATING March 2014

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Subject:

Re: Performativity of Code - Alex's cyclic time

From:

"Lattanzi, Barbara K" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Lattanzi, Barbara K

Date:

Sat, 8 Mar 2014 18:31:45 +0000

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Hi Everyone.

I want to go back to Alex McLean's first post.  Two statements (he posted here from his previously published essay) stand out...

"When computer programmers finally give up on the future, we could rethink programming around the idea of cyclic time."

and

"You can 'backport' critical bugfixes, but not twist a branch round to connect the future with the past."

----

I am struck by this image of a branch twisted round to actualize cyclic time.

Cycles of time seems paradoxical in relation to Victoria's question about the performativity of code and also in relation to TopLap live-coding performance.  In other words, Alex's point seems to raise questions (and suggest anxieties) regarding just what temporality is being enacted by code's performativity.  If it is not present tense, what is it? As signal of that anxiety, Alex seems to ask: what kinds of experience of presence - "becomings" - are available to us in the pursuit of what is already encoded as past for some future?

The question becomes whether our relationship to time could be fundamentally shifted through this experience of code's performativity.  This shift (and question) is not reducible to speech act theory.  Nor does it sit comfortably in a lineage with James Joyce, Sol Lewitt, Yoko Ono.  The framing of Bush and Englebart "versus" Licklider and Kurzweil - a "human versus machine" argument - is maybe not so useful here either.

A turning point in my way of thinking through code and computability occurred only recently.  For philosopher Manuel DeLanda (as I derive from his writings and lectures), coding algorithms affords us visceral experiences of process. It sharpens our perceptual know-how as we test the limits and constraints of systems we construct or matter/energy entities that we "meet halfway".  Scientists already derive knowledge from hybrid approaches based on computer simulations (including mathematical models) and laboratory experiment.  So my question, why not the artist?

The scientist, Christopher Langton's research in the 1980s and 1990s was involved with the area of artificial life, using new formal methods to understand emergence of life.  His essay, "Life at the Edge of Chaos" (published 1991), discusses the computational activity  of matter (and how life emerges from matter). Basically, when constraints are applied to matter, a critical threshold may be reached in which a fundamental change in its properties will occur (e.g., through the application of heat, liquid water changes to a gas at 100-degrees centigrade).  But what about the moment when matter (e.g., water) approaches the threshold of its change of state ("critical phase transition")? What is happening at that critical threshold?

Matter, approaching a critical threshold, has a problem to solve.  Matter in disequilibrium due to application of constraints - or even any system, whether physical or social - has a problem to solve.  And matter's creative solution is nonlinear, spontaneous behavior at the critical threshold of a phase transition.  "A material near its critical transition point between liquid and gas states must, in effect, come to a global decision about whether it will settle down to a liquid or a gas...such systems [are] effectively _ computing _ their way to a minimum energy state".  Langton continues by stating that this computing can be an arbitrarily long duration.  In fact, the system slows down as it reaches the critical transition point!

So, history (temporality) AND computation can have a place in any consideration of emergent states of becoming.  As Langton writes, there is "a fundamental connection between computation and phase transitions".  Can we coders translate this to say that there is a fundamental connection among computation, the performativity of code, and historical temporality (not just clock-time!)?

----

In one series of software works of mine, under the collective title of "Optical De-dramatization Engine" (the ODEs), I code long durations to stretch out the fragments from archival films.  The ODEs dynamically change across multi-hour cycles (40 hours in the longest one).  Not only duration stretches, but also the bitmapped representations drastically rescale and thus continually disintegrate and reform.  

Here is a fragment from my description (on Vimeo) for one of the ODEs...

"The O.D.E.'s fractal patterns began as historical imprints. The patterns were mapped to a material substrate during the period [circa 1912] when the actual filmmaking process took place. During the following decades, the film was reproduced according to institutional needs, until the patterns were folded into a digital encoding process that imprinted its own unique markings. The O.D.E. hacks this occult dimension of the film ("occult" in the sense of needing a special key, in this case an algorithm) to unlock the film's capacity for patterned movement, its expressive order."

---

Alex, maybe the  ODE software is an example of your speculative and provocative idea...
code that performs in order to "twist a branch round to connect the future with the past."



For anyone with a flash player you can view one example from the series at my website...
www.wildernesspuppets.net/invaders

Video documentation of this and other more recent projects of mine can be found at...
vimeo.com/idiomorphics/videos

Barbara

-----------------------
Barbara Lattanzi
Associate Professor of Interactive Arts
School of Art and Design
NYSCC at Alfred University
2 Pine Street
Alfred, NY 14802
EMAIL: [log in to unmask]

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