Intersection + Intermedia

This posting is the transcript from a panel discussion I participated in as part of the Hybrid Book Conference in Philadelphia PA on June 6th, also participating were: Marlene MacCallum, David Morrish, William Snyder, Andrew Sallee and Tate Shaw. Michelle Wilson moderated the panel.

PART I (inter/section)

My first computing experience was in a programming course at university, the language was Fortran and we used cards with holes in them to communicate with computers. The cards needed to be kept in order by “binding” them with a paper tape similar to that used to bundle money. The “bound” stacks of cards were called: “books”. This intersecting experience informs my exploration of ways of knowing and making.

Intersection relies on a specific type of contact between various surfaces of knowledge and practice. In Gilles Deleuze’s conception, these surfaces are like membranes that are in constant flux and offer multiple points of contact with all the surfaces in their proximity. It is much like string theory in physics. The passive product of these intersections could be called, the hybrid.

Add to this, the notion of expansion/extension. These intersections inevitably result in a transfer of knowledge, essence, matter (whatever one may wish to call it) from one plateau to the other; thereby expanding/extending each. It is reasonable to assume that any creative action that brings together elements from varied sources will present an accumulation of data that can be implicit or explicit depending on the practitioner’s intent. My experience in the sillis research group has been to see how intersecting media serve to inform process much more actively than it does product. This brings me to question the very nature of intersection in terms of the hybrid object.

A hybrid form assumes that there can be a monadic form; a form that is purely independent and without reference or contact with other structures. The very nature of a cultural object and in this case, the artists’ book, makes this impossible, as it is conceptually hybrid.

For example:

These three simple concepts already suggest that the book is hybrid by definition.

The hybrid is the passive root of intersection, the intersection of methods, technologies and phenomenological expressions of experience. Hybridity expresses itself as a condition of being; intersection is a field of dynamic action and response. This is where the book as a form finds it’s full potential for the artist and the public. The technologies involved in the making of a book work will be as explicit as the maker wishes to show; the book finds its engagement in the sensory affect created in its viewing. Intersection is dynamic, its locus exists where the artist places it; it is an active call and response mechanism.

The work behind me is a book (this refers to a statico-dynamic image projected during the talk, seen at top of page. It is a sequence of elements placed within a specific viewing context, exists intimately with the viewer even in a public space such as this one. The photographs used (there is no actual video footage here) are used as if they were text, in a specific and intuitive grammatical organisation. Repetition and difference is their ontological compass. Duration, rather than time, is their medium as time is independent of our existence while we mark duration using chronometers.

There is an interesting connection of the hybrid (as defined) and the virtual found in Henri Bergson’s concept of différence. In the philosophy of difference, change (evolution) is guided by l’élan vital (vital impetus) where forward momentum happens with conscious activity; Deleuze’s reading of Bergson includes the sub-conscious. The virtual comes to represent potential through action while the hybrid represents possibility because of its more passive role in change.

In the second part of my talk, I will look more closely at hybridity defined through the conceptual framework of virtuality; at the intersection of digital and analogue processes.




PART II (inter/media)

The sillis project investigates the effect of digital processes on the production of book works. Three artists set out to produce experimental works exploring process and concept. Each with different levels of experience with computers, from basic to advanced. Works are made independently but some striking similarities are emerging.

The effects of the digital on the production of work are fairly obvious, they aid in the development of pictorial explorations, render feasible operations that would be so intricate as to be counter-productive, they allow the artist to visit a wide range of possibilities in a short span of time. Concentration can be centred on more conceptual factors.

What is less obvious and deserving of attention is the affect of digital processes on the production of work. Are thematic or conceptual choices within the originating thought processes influenced by digital technologies? Does digital technology represent a different sphere of intersection?

In our group, we all work with lens-based technologies; we understand that photographs fluctuate between the textual and the visual. They are the space of transformation and translation of information. Sequencing acts to shift paradigms. Photography’s hybrid nature is a given, it is a consequence of operational parameters. It is possibility. Our actions reveal the potential. Photography’s élan vital (vital impetus) is enacted through the artist rather than the technology. These distinctions are important when trying to untangle the folding and unfolding surfaces of the hybrid/digital and the integrated/virtual.

Let us think about the articulation of what we call “the digital”. Does it actually exist as such, or is it simply a framework on which to hang parts of a process, or a bit of both? In “Parables for the Virtual”, Brian Massumi explores how the digital, as an independent operational object, separate from the analogue, is improbable:

“…the paths of their (digital + analogue) co-operation- transformative integration, translation, and relay-are themselves analogue operations. There is always an excess of the analogue over the digital, because it perceptually fringes, synasthetically dopplers, umbilically backgrounds, and insensibly recedes to a virtual centre immanent at every point along the path-all in the same contortionist motion. It is most twisted. The analogue and the digital must be thought together, asymmetrically. Because the analogue is always a fold ahead. (MASSUMI p.143)”

For all intents and purposes, the digital only exists in the machine; any synasthetic representation of it will be analogue. Given the opposition drawn earlier between the hybrid and the virtual, I would like to propose a parallel opposition between the digital and intersection. Digital coding is a medium of possibility, like the hybrid it is a passive articulation of the possible and cannot express potential.

According to Bergson, the virtual is the space of difference, it qualifies and quantifies it and is a representation of its potential nuances, the key word being “potential” rather than “possible”. And it is an active process. We can then equate intersection with virtuality through their intentional expressions of potential, and hybrid with digital through their more passive expression of possibility. The possible is an engine of potentiality, but not a creative force on its own.

Virtuality is not exclusive to the digital, quoting Massumi again:

“If all emergent form brings its fringe of virtuality with it, then no particular medium of expression has monopoly over the virtual. Every medium, however “low” technologically, really produces its own virtuality (yes, even painting). “Digital Art” is in no way synonymous with “virtual reality”. What matters is the “how” of the expression, not the “what” of the medium, and especially not the simple abstractness of the elements that the medium allows to be combined. (MASSUMI p.175)”

In a culture dominated by text and image, the Internet being a representation of this; a properly articulated conception of inter-mediation is needed. Digital and hybrid forms offer the possibilities needed to make objects; but to give forms potential they must be made virtual and inter-mediated. The difference between the hybrid/digital and the intersecting/virtual is the difference between possibility and potential.


Massumi, Brian, Parables for the Virtual, Duke University Press, Durham & London, 2002