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In a vernacular sense, we may think of simplicity as minimalism or straightforwardness or easiness or ordinariness. Only a few years ago Edward de Bono launched a treatise on simplicity in which he claimed that simplicity is not only obvious in retrospect but that arriving at simplicity requires a great deal of creative thinking. In other words, simplicity is not as straightforward as it may seem or we may expect. Fundamentally, he argues, simplicity is very difficult to design.1 In Trish Adams’ application of the ‘kymograph’ in her interactive, multimedia installation, Temporal Intervals, elements of machinic and narrative simplicity are illusorily evident.
The kymograph was invented in 1846 by Carlo Matteucci and, according to Adams, used for measuring ‘oscillations and other small temporal intervals’. When measured against our current technological countenance, the kymograph is rather a simple machine—described in the catalogue essay as the ‘most basic mark-making device’—which Adams used to trigger a web of interactions between people and parts. The interactive and informational mode of the work is ostensibly simple, charting singular cause-and-effect movements through which data is input and recorded, or rather, bodily force is machinically mediated or translated into a mark on a scroll of paper. This mark is conjoined with marks left by other users in a seemingly continuous jagged line of encounter and interaction. The concurrence of mediation and translation is one of the more engaging tensions presented in Temporal Intervals through the collage of old and new technologies and data tropes.
Located in a stairwell and a foyer space of the Brisbane Powerhouse, the installation features a projected video which references themes of biotechnology, biology and the genetic ‘production line’. A web-cam beams ‘live’ images to an accompanying website [http://ti.dadabase.net] where users leave ‘real time traces’, interact and participate. As the viewer approaches the installation, a light sensor is activated and the viewer is thrust under the spotlight, as if about to perform or be performed (operated) upon. A didactic panel instructs the viewer how to use the kymograph through the input mechanism of a foot pump: it poses a paradox like that of the handheld mouse as input mechanism on a computer. One experiences these simplicities as artifice and mimicry—perhaps also as affectation and appropriation—in a prompt akin to Alfred North Whitehead’s urging. For Whitehead, simplicity is deceptive and he advises every thinker to ‘seek simplicity and distrust it’.
A colleague was recently musing about current ‘popular’ scientific discourse and observed that many scientific writings and science writers couch their work in relation to god, as if this new science somehow measures or translates the grandeur of godly and worldly creation. For her own sensibilities, this friend found that these testaments about science and its myriad laws and rules, its sometimes fanciful offerings, were couched in belief and translation. Among those laws of science is Ockham’s Razor—which has stuck in western thought since the 14th century—whereby it is alleged that the simplest or most obvious explanation of several competing explanations should be preferred until it is proven wrong. In other words, when faced with two theories which have the same predictions and the available data cannot distinguish between them, the Razor instructs us to study the simplest of those theories. It does not guarantee that the simplest theory will be correct, it merely establishes priorities.
It’s a confounding assertion because it raises an issue about the currency and enculturation of notions of simplicity and complexity in the realm of thought, creation and process. In turn, what does this perplexity mean for the suppositions and deductions of science which has competed with religion in the search for a ‘vital force’ or ‘life principle’? Incidentally, Ockham was also noted for his advocacy of and close attention to language as a tool for thought and observation as a tool for testing reality.
Temporal Intervals speculates about life and identity, shaping interactions between bodies, technologies and spaces. More importantly, it brings to the fore concerns about betweenness, ephemerality and process in a kind of processual aesthetics. Of such aesthetics, Ned Rossiter argues that they ‘enable things not usually associated with each other to be brought together into a system of relations’.2 Adams shows critical concern for the paradigm shifts which have characterised artistic, technological and scientific inquiry in the last century or so and interrogates notions and practices of authority and narrativity. Here, ‘the data never lies’ increasingly becomes a question as the foundations of empiricism are rocked.
1. Edward de Bono, Simplicity. Sydney: Viking. 1998. passim
2. Ned Rossiter, ‘Processual Media Theory’ in fineArt forum, Vol 17, Issue 8, http://www.fineartforum.org/Backissues/Vol_17/faf_v17_n08/reviews/rossit... Accessed 10 August 2003