Adapting a Model of Duration

The Multitemporality of T_Visionarium II

How to Cite

Barker, T. (2007). Adapting a Model of Duration: The Multitemporality of T_Visionarium II. M/C Journal, 10(2).
Vol. 10 No. 2 (2007): 'adapt'
Published 2007-05-01

This paper is concerned with time. Specifically, this paper is concerned with the way in which a human-centered model of time can be shifted, as a result of the digital encounter, toward a conception of a highly differentiated and thickening model of duration. I propose that this thickening of duration, or multitemporality, comes about through the intersection of the differentiated structures of narrative and database. My central concern is therefore to provide a description and explanation of the way in which an anthropocentric model of duration, in other words, a model of time that privileges the human experience, can be challenged by theorising the intersection of the non-linear temporality of the database and the linear temporality of narrative.

My paper will work this proposed theory of multitemporality through a case study of the 2007 interactive work T_Visionarium II (see for images). This work was produced by the iCinema Centre for Interactive Cinema Research at the University of New South Wales. The project was co-directed by Dennis Del Favero, Jeffrey Shaw, Peter Weibel and Neil Brown. Through the investigation of the concept of multitemporality, I propose a concept of thickening duration within T_Visionarium II as actual duration comes into contact with virtual duration and as the linear structure of narrative comes into contact with the nonlinear structure of the database. Being concerned with time, I am also concerned with the processes of the aesthetic event of new media. Events, as they occur in time, link together in order to form a process. This process, following A. N. Whitehead, leads to various levels of adaptation that are primarily brought about through interconnections and concrescence. Through my extrapolation of Whitehead’s process philosophy, which I present in the later sections of this paper, I am able to grapple with questions of process. Specifically, I use Whitehead to present the ecology of occasions throughout the duration of the digital encounter and also to indicate the way in which we may begin to conceptualise the interconnection of the differentiated structures of narrative and database.

T_Visionarium II has recordings taken from over thirty hours of Australian television, encoded by a content recognition algorithm, and stored in its database (Del Favero, 1). These media images are made visible on the machine’s substrate and are subject to the viewer-user’s navigation. Once the viewer-user selects a particular moving image from those displayed, the surrounding clips cluster around this image, due to the tag ascribed to them by the content recognition algorithm, in a hierarchy of relationality; those with the strongest relationship to the thematic and visual characteristics of the selected media clip cluster around the clip while those with weaker relationships shift away from this clip, behind the viewer. After the reassembly of the audio and visual information is completed, the clips either loop in a short repetitious duration, based on the temporal length of the specific shot, or can be played in a linear fashion. Also, windows may be dragged on top of one another, which causes the television clips from each window to be combined into one window and played back to back. This function allows the viewer-user to select and create a linear narrative.

The viewer-user thus navigates through the moving images—in doing so, navigating through the time of the images, and forming lines of relations between images and times where perhaps none existed before. In this way, a type of ecology of the various media images and an ecology of temporality is produced in which the interrelationship between media images, temporalities and also that of the viewer-user to the environment is brought to the fore.

T_Visionarium II presents a time that is out of joint. Its presentation of multiple durations of televisual information fractures the medium’s imaging of the world into multiple, largely incoherent, durations. The televisual images within each “window” are quite obviously from different historical periods in time. For instance, images from re-runs of soap operas may be actualised, as well as historical documentary footage, along with a near current news story or a relatively recent Hollywood blockbuster. These media images, from different time periods, when presented and recombined within the immersive environment—a purpose built structure that the iCinema artists and technicians call the Advanced Visualisation and Interaction Environment—allow the viewer to re-experience the actual time of these events as a simultaneity of out-of-joint durations.

Here, I propose that the digital encounter within the immersive environment has prompted an adaptation to the way the viewer-user experiences time vis-à-vis the machine. This adaptation is brought about as the viewer-user experiences multitemporal actual durations through the multiple durations displayed in the windows of T_Visionarium II. The model of multitemporality presented here is a result of the viewer-user’s ability to access video streams from different time periods simultaneously.

The time of T_Visionarium II also seems out of joint as the particular duration of a particular window tends toward rendering the episode incoherent. This is due to the way the television segments are edited. On average each television clip is four and a half seconds long. Each image is edited in terms of individual shots; any particular image has its start and end point when the original television image changes shot. This may occur in mid narrative stream, or may only capture a small movement, which is deprived of its link with the movement of the next shot. In this way the time of the duration of each shot seems to be flowing toward its extension in the next intended shot. However, the arrangement of the television images into discrete shots disallows this flow. The resulting temporal loop makes time seem trapped in the short four and a half second duration of each shot. In this way, linear television time has been adapted into an experience that is quite different.

In order to think the connection between the narrative images of T_Visionarium II we must avoid thinking of these images as compartmentalised sets. If we think of each media image as an event within duration, rather than a compartmentalised image, we are able to see that each actual occasion of interaction contains a trace of the past and future media images. Moments are contemporaneous with those “just-past” and those which are “just-future”. Here, the traces of “just-past” and “just-future” are imbued within the conscious present so as to become meaningful. Also, these interrelationships are made visible on the substrate of T_Visionarium II. The past video clips linger upon the projection screen and affect the narrativity of every other clip. The television images become like a montage, with every clip transferring signification to the others. In this way, the television images of T_Visionarium II are to be read as pregnant with the trace of images past and future; the duration of a particular television image forms a nexus with the duration of the images “just-past” and “just-future”. Also, the television images contain a trace of the temporality of the database. Each television image is potentially linked to every other image archived within the database.

Through this link to the potentiality of the database, each media image links to the virtual. The virtual realm that I am discussing here is not the perceived “virtuality” of “cyberspace” or “virtual reality”. I use the term “virtual” as Henri Bergson does and as Gilles Deleuze furthers this usage; that is, to signify the incorporeal structures of the potential of the future and the traces of the past that direct the actualisation of the present moment (Bergson, 196; Deleuze, 45). For the purposes of my argument, we may say that the virtual exists as an ontological but incorporeal structure that contains potential events. In this way, the virtual contains events that await actualisation. Deleuze’s virtual also contains past events that may be made actual as memory-images.

As Dorothea Olkowski points out, the past and future can no longer be thought of as successive points on a time line; they rather exist as virtual structures that are contemporary with the actual present (Olkowski, 163). The virtual structures may be called upon by the actual present based on their usefulness, and, because of this, may direct the route of actualisation (Olkowski, 110). Each image of T_Visionarium II links to the virtual in that any selection may trigger various other narrative directions. If we think of each virtual narrative instance, that is each potential narrative instance and every past narrative instance, as existing on separate planes of potential, then we may say that each of T_Visionarium II’s television images contains traces of various planes of the virtual, of which one will be actualised. The duration of any one television image is thus made thick with the traces of the potential images that it may trigger. The duration of the narrative event of any television image is contemporaneous with the duration of the database. As a result, any particular narrative instance may be understood to contain sections of the duration of past and future television images. The moving image of the narrative links to the potential of the database and also links to the potential of the virtual. As a consequence, the experience of time that emerges from the narrative of the moving image is one which is imbued with the multiple levels of duration that may be triggered from the database and displayed on the substrate of T_Visionarium II. The duration of any moving image is thus imbued with those narrative instances that came before it, those that could potentially come after it, and those that are simultaneous with it.

In addition to the model of multitemporality that is presented by the simultaneously distributed video streams of T_Visionarium II, a further model of duration may be cited when we consider the mesh of database and narrative. The highly differentiated durative passages of the digital encounter are constituted on one side by the temporality of T_Visionarium II’s database and on the other by the narrative image of the machine’s substrate. The latter opens itself to experience as anthropocentric lived time, while the former does not open itself to actual human experience, other than our imaginings. The database, as an actual entity, occupies a different section of duration, but it is also present in those narrative durations that it relates to; thus forming a concrescence between the narrative sections of duration and the database sections of duration. This constitutes a multitemporal duration between anthropocentric time and machine time; the duration of the actual occasion thickens so as to include both the lived time of the subject and the machine time of the database. The outcome of this is a differentiated duration that is experienced as the convergence of machine time and lived time.

It is as if, following Manuel DeLanda’s work on manifolds and degrees of freedom, each level of duration exists on a different manifold of duration (DeLanda, 27). The particular direction that the passage of the narrative of interaction takes is directed by the degrees of freedom of each manifold. If we think of duration as thick, and, as argued above, each moment pregnant with instances “just-past” and potentialities of “just-future”, we can gain a picture of these different manifolds of duration. We can picture past actual occasions and future potential occasions, following on from Deleuze’s and Brian Massumi’s concepts of the virtual, existing as a cloud of the virtual that surrounds the present actual occasion (Deleuze and Parnet; Massumi). In other words, the manifold of any particular present actual occasion is surrounded on all sides by manifolds of virtual occasions. These structures can be understood to intermingle and adapt to one another in such a way that they provide the potential for new experiences within the digital encounter. Duration has thus thickened from a concept that only includes the manifold of actual occasions to one that includes the manifolds of the virtual.

As well as the structures of the virtual, the duration of the non-linear database can be conceptualised as existing on separate manifolds of duration that surround the actual narrative event. Both narrative duration and database duration must be theorised as separate and, at the same time, in constant collision with one another. These two conceptions of duration are contemporaneous; they exist side by side without either one being wholly contained by the other.

Turning from Bergson’s, Deleuze’s and Massumi’s concepts of the virtual and the actual to Whitehead’s notion of process, we can begin to think about the processes of adaptation that are brought about by this process of concrescence. Deleuze, Bergson and Massumi have provided a means to think about the virtual and the actual in duration, and here Whitehead provides a means to think about the process of adaptation as an interconnection of the enduring objects of the virtual and actual. We may think of database and narrative structures as similar to Whitehead’s concept of actual occasions. As Whitehead states, each actual occasion has its own distinct duration, but also each actual occasion lies in many durations (125). Following Whitehead, any one actual occasion may be present in several other actual occasions. For Whitehead, the essence of any actual entity is that each entity is a prehending thing; it has a definite connection with each item in the universe and that connection makes a positive contribution to the constitution of the event (109). In the case of narrative and database, both substances prehend the other, they form a definite bond, and this makes a positive contribution to the constitution of the narrative-database event. If we think of the material and machinic of the digital encounter as two distinct enduring objects, different in character but not contrary, it may then be said that both are able to qualify the same actual occasion.

I use the term “enduring object” in the Whiteheadian sense as a characteristic or stable pattern that is inherited in the historic route of actual occasions (199). In other words, an enduring object can be said to be an object, which may be either an atomic material body or an incorporeal structure that, through its intersection with other enduring objects, gives satisfaction to the presiding situation. Thus, the enduring object of the database and the enduring object of the pattern of actual experience intersect to satisfy the presiding occasion of the digital encounter.

The intermingling of the machinic duration and the actual narrative duration within T_Visionarium II is a fluid process that constitutes the particular nexus of actual occasions. The information from both enduring objects flows through their intersection. Whitehead, using a cup and saucer as metaphors for eternal objects, describes the way in which two enduring objects come together. He states, “it is as though the cup and saucer were at one instant identical and then, later on, resumed their distinct existence” (199).

If we think of database and narrative in such a fashion, we can begin to conceptualise the multitemporality of T_Visionarium II. In T_Visionarium II, data flows mutually from the actualised narrative of interaction to the database structure and from the database to the narrative. The nexus of actual occasions is thus constituted by the intermingling of the two eternal objects; they, in essence, become, or adapt into, one enduring object. On the other hand, both structures remain separate. The narrativity of the work is able to exist solely in the particular narrative regime, as the database is able to exist solely in its coded regime. The nexus of actual occasions, that is the temporal passage of interaction within T_Visionarium II, is brought to satisfaction by this assemblage and de-assemblage of narrative and database. The narrativity of the work exists in its own realm of duration, as its own eternal object, which is able to form a nexus of narrative actual occasions. Also, the database structure inhabits its own machinic duration, which is able to form a nexus of information flows. In this way, the database can be thought of as in time, as affected by the changing nature of process through time.

The time that has been described in this paper is a time of fibrous duration. In a culture of new media, time can no longer be thought of as a linear structure that houses human experience and memory. The structure of time has become thick and fibrous with the introduction of a machinic non-linear temporal logic. Deleuze has been used to show that each actual occasion of duration can be thought of as surrounded by virtual, potential occasions. In order to further this, Whitehead has been used to show that each of these occasions connects with every other event in duration. In this Whiteheadian and Deleuzian model, adaptation occurs as the events of duration, whether actual or virtual, interconnect, respond to one another and coalesce. The differentiated experiences of narrative duration and database duration mesh, in order that these two Whiteheadian enduring objects may adapt into another separate enduring object. This is the multitemporal experience of the digital encounter.

If we view the digital encounter with new media, such as T_Visionarium II, through a multitemporal paradigm, we are then provided with a particular method with which to conceptualise other processes of adaptation. If we view differentiated sections of duration as existing upon separate manifolds, but also, at the same time, as containing traces of their surrounding durations, we can see that each section of duration imposes something of itself upon those that surround it. Each section of duration, whether virtual or actual, is morphogenic; in other words, it may adapt in various ways. The parameters of this morphogenesis are set by the degrees of freedom found within any particular duration. As each section of duration imposes itself on others, it transfers its degrees of freedom. Following on from this, the passage of evolution, or adaptation, is directed by the degrees of freedom of every level of duration, whether actual or virtual. The database duration that surrounds the narrative duration of T_Visionarium II directs the passage of narrative evolution as it imposes degrees of freedom in respect of the possible narrative images that it may trigger. Adaptation occurs as the dynamic mesh between the differentiated structures of narrative duration and database duration.

Author Biography

Tim Barker