My practice is a failure

Software studies has a long tradition of seeing the value of practice. Lev Manovich says: “it helps to practice what one writes about” (2008: 8). Matthew Fuller as editor of the Software Studies Lexicon makes clear that “one rule of thumb for the production of this book is that the contributors had to be involved in some way in the production of software as well as being engaged in thinking about it in wider terms” (2008: 10). Noah Wardrip-Fruin and  Nick Montfort say: “for deep understanding, actually creating new media projects is essential to grasping their workings and poetics” (2003: xii). Geert Lovink lauds “the artists and critics featured in this book [as] working with the technology itself” (2002: 4). The work celebrated in these accounts are practice artworks such as I/O/D 4:The Web Stalker  (Fuller 2003) or Google-Will-Eat-Itself (Parikka 2010), interventions by code-artist-analysts. Digital objects that deconstruct or at least critique media ecologies and assemblages. They need not be finished or complete – benign viruses such as the (Parikka 2009) are never complete, finished or even stable – the object is its working, but its critical power arises from its work(ing).

My practice on the other hand is a failure. Mine is a practice-research PhD. For me, practice-research is an emergent phenomenon where the “mess” of social realities, assemblages and media ecologies, the complex interrelationships of alliances and the topographical foldings and unfoldings of multidimensional actants appear as the black boxes, the transparent objects under investigation are forced open. This cannot happen just through research. To simply study protocol  – as my experiments show – is simply to study its traces, to chase its presence. To look at protocol through a particular theoretical lens is to stabilise an object that derives its power, position and work from motion, movement and relations. To apply a research paradigm is to choose to analyse light as a wave or a particle when its nature is to be both. The transparent, everyday, seemingly innocuous but very powerful objects are best forced open by pushing them until they break.

It is my failure to separate the jpeg protocol from the JPEG/JFIF image; my failure to build a mashup that mashes jpeg not images; my failure to prise jpeg from its home in software packages; my failure to hold jpeg outside its alliances that highlights its object-actant status, its enfolding in alliances, its topographical infolding, the importance of its instantiations. It is only by failing to see it, to practice it, that its black box begins to crack and the alliances and foldings come to view.

My practice is not photographic nor is it coding. Although I have images and code experiments these are just the traces of the experiments – the laboratory notebooks as it were. The actual practice is the process of chasing protocol that fails and leaves just these photographic, code and mashup traces behind.

  • Fuller, M., 2003, A Means of Mutation: Notes on I/O/D 4: The Web Stalker, in Behind The Blip : Essays On The Culture Of Software, Autonomedia, Brooklyn, NY, USA, pp. 51-68.
  • Fuller, M., 2008, Software Studies : a Lexicon, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass..
  • Lovink, G., 2002, Uncanny Networks : Dialogues With The Virtual Intelligentsia, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass..
  • Manovich, L., 2008, Software Takes Command. unpublished ms., 2008, unpublished ed. .
  • Parikka 2009, Archives of Software: Malicious Code and the Aesthesis of Media Accidents , in Parikka & Sampson (eds), The Spam Book: On Viruses, Porn, And Other Anomalies From The Dark Side Of Digital Culture, Hampton Press, Cresskill, N.J., pp. 105-23.
  • Parikka 2010, Ethologies of Software Art: What Can a Digital Body of Code Do? in Zepke & O’Sullivan (eds), Deleuze and Contemporary Art, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, pp. 116-32.
  • Wardrip-Fruin, N. & Montfort, N., 2003, The NewMediaReader, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass..