Towards a process philosophy for digital aesthetics

Barker, T. (2009) Towards a process philosophy for digital aesthetics. In: 15th International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA), Belfast, UK, 23 Aug - 1 Sept 2009,

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Digital media seem to be marked by process. The digital image itself is produced by software processes and the constant flux of code. Further this, interaction with digital systems involves a constant process by which a so-called 'user' comes into contact with various machinic occasions. It seems that in light of these processes it is impossible to maintain an aesthetic or media theory that pictures a self-contained and psychologised subject interacting with a static and inert object. How then can we begin to think about digital aesthetics through a process philosophy rather than the traditional and reductive subject/object distinction found in so much aesthetic theory? This paper seeks to address this problem by enacting Alfred Whitehead's process philosophy, informed by Gilles Deleuze, Isabelle Stengers and Steve Shaviro and work it through several examples of recent manifestations of interactive media art, including work by Martin Wattenberg, Dennis Del Favero, Jeffrey Shaw and Peter Weibel. I work Whitehead's process philosophy through these artworks to illustrate the performative nature of software processes and the manner in which these processes affect the aesthetics of interaction. I also use these works to illustrate a concept of interaction that privileges process and events rather than a concept that focuses upon an individual human user. In this paper I propose to view the 'user' as a set of occasions – as a particular condition that is produced by various user-initiated actions – rather than an enduring subject that is able to distance herself from the object of aesthetic contemplation. By doing this I move toward a theory in which user-occasions, machine-occasions and their interpenetration actualise the aesthetics of media art. Whitehead allows me to think outside of the binary oppositions that divide the world into knower/known or subject/object relationships. Throughout the argument I unpack Whiteheadian concepts such as actual entities, the unison of immediate becoming and, in general, the primacy of the event, bringing these concepts to bear on individual case studies of interactive media art. Whitehead's general thesis is that materiality and permanence are created by a continual process. Viewing the digital encounter through this theoretical framework I position the aesthetic experience of interaction as that which emerges from the fluctuations of process. The event of interaction is a necessarily hybrid process in which human occasions become supplemented by technology and the aesthetic event becomes innately coupled to the processes of the machine. In this paper I am not interested in any notion of consciousness or a psychologised human 'user', rather I am interested in a particular condition that takes place as user-initiated processes work with machine-initiated processes. This is because, for Whitehead, process comes before consciousness; it is the process of actual entities that prompt the consciousness into being. In this paper I thus propose interaction with digital systems as the commingling of contemporary actual occasions, shifting emphasis from a conscious human user and instead focusing on the process of the encounter that precedes this conscious experience.

Item Type:Conference Proceedings
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Barker, Professor Timothy
Authors: Barker, T.
Subjects:B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
College/School:College of Arts & Humanities > School of Culture and Creative Arts > Theatre Film and TV Studies

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