Bill Seaman
Source: Bill Seaman

Bill Seaman

T-wo.gen , ongoing
  • T-wo.gen
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The text from The World Generator / The Engine of Desire was printed out and put into a physical installation. The spoken text was presented in the space.

The Illusive Nature of Context: The Negotiation of the Thoughtbody

Bill Seaman
The World Generator / The Engine of Desire (p0es1s text Version)

How is it that we come to know an ever changing world that conflates both computer
environments with other physical environments? An ongoing stream of perceptions forms a body
of knowledge over time, informing the larger context of our individual thought. Each instance of
media use has a meaning force that delicately shapes understanding through an ongoing set of
environmental perceptions… the current process — thought. “Current” is a pun here, thought
being an ongoing physical electro-chemical process. Yet the shape of this thought is also
informed by past perceptual activity. The subtle nature of the forming of this thoughtbody is
extremely illusive. I use the term thoughtbody as a unity, avoiding any idea of a mind / body split.
In particular I want to discuss a work entitled The World Generator / The Engine of Desire , a
collaboration with the artist/programmer Gideon May that has been exhibited in Europe, the
United States and Japan. I have also extended this work through the publication of the text from
the work in an alternate form and context within the exhibition “p0es1s”. The World Generator
promotes a form of active looking/listening/interacting/understanding. Through interaction with
this virtual world generator, text potentially qualifies differing emotive aspects of the current
computer-based emergent context. Media elements also inform the understanding of the text. All
of the media-elements present meaning forces that operate on each other. Different interactions
and “negotiations” of the space promote an ongoing meaning summing.

The version of the text that is to be presented in the “p0es1s” exhibition as decontextualized from
the World Generator and recontextualised, qualifies the surroundings of the exhibition space of
p0es1s, in a related way to how the texts operates within the World Generator . In terms of this
form of participatory “negotiation” of space, Varela, Thompson and Rosch in The Embodied Mind ,
speaking about Buddhist mindfulness awareness suggest:

Its purpose is to become mindful, to experience what one’s mind is doing as it does it, to
be present with one’s mind. What relevance does this have to cognitive science? We
believe that if cognitive science is to include human experience, it must have some
method of exploring and knowing what human experience is. (Varela, Thompson, and
Rosch, 1996, p.23)

The body is the analogue medium that contains this electro-chemical process/ground – the space
of mindful awareness. Embodied events enable a physics to operate through an electrochemical
vehicle of exchange to alter the subtle shape of the thoughtbody. The mutability and operative
nature of computer-based environments compounds the complexity of this process. The
computer is just one meaning-force-exchange-mechanism in the landscape of living exchanges,
albeit an extremely pervasive one. The accretive nature of context suggests that any past context
can inform a future context, even if the content of that context has been displaced or
recontextualised — i.e. shifted from a computer–based context to a different form of physical
context or media (as it has been here).

A set of mutable and operational media-elements and processes are potentially perceived via the
computer, shifting the very nature of how meaning forces can be organized and transmitted. The
thoughtbody is in a continuous state of subtle change and the computer now augments the speed
and quality of this change. In fact, as the computer unlocks our ability to restructure nature via
nanotechnological processes we enter yet another profound era of technological transformation.
Every computer-based exploration of meaning subtly shifts the form of the thoughtbody which in
turn exists, from time to time, away from the computer.

Could one make a technology to point at the subtle nature of meaning change over time? This
question formed the driving problem which led to the authorship the project The World
Generator / The Engine of Desire and led to my concept of Recombinant Poetics. A
Recombinant Poetic work presents a mechanism in which a viewer/user/participant can act upon
and explore varying juxtapositions of computer-based media-elements to examine environmental
meaning within a mutable generative electronic environment. The generative component is
essential to Recombinant Poetics and differentiates it from other fixed virtual environments. I am
also interested in states of media. Thus a generative virtual environment can also be qualified by
repositioning text gleened from that space and further explored in a re-contextualised physical
environment. The World Generator enables participants to construct virtual worlds in real time
and then navigate and operate on/in that virtual world. Participants could (in some instantiations
of the work) also enter networked virtual spaces, linking, for example, Tokyo to Karlesrue among
other connectivities.

The work enables one to examine differing fields of meaning as well as meaning forces as they
are explored by an interacting participant. One can experientially witness subtle meaning shifts
through this interaction. I write about mutable fields of meaning force in my dissertation. Ideas
surrounding the production of the World Generator are contained in my PH.D. from CAiiA (the
Centre For Advanced Inquiry in The Interactive Arts, University of Wales), led by Roy Ascott. The
title of the dissertation was Recombinant Poetics: Emergent Meaning as Examined and
Explored Within a Specific Generative Virtual Environment, available for download in PDF
format from the Langlois Foundation. The Ph.D. was completed in 1999.

I have for many years been interested in what we might call differing states of media. In a similar
way to the differing states of matter, media elements can be decontexualized to varying degrees.
Many different forms of analogue and digital media can be carriers of abstractions of the initial
meaning forces that can be encountered and explored through interaction in particular
environments be they virtual or other. The thoughtbody is in a continuous flow of becoming. It is
potentially informed by differing states of media over time. Deleuze and Guattari describe this
quality of unfixity as a "flow" functioning as part of a larger conceptual assemblage. They relate
this concept to the book form in A Thousand Plateaus :

In a book, as in all things, there are lines of articulation or segmentarity, strata and
territories; but also lines of flight, movements of deterritorialization and destratification.
Comparative rates of flow on these lines produce phenomena of relative slowness and
viscosity, or, on the contrary, of acceleration and rupture. All this, lines and measurable
speeds, constitutes an assemblage. (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, p.4)

The “lines of flight” spread outward from the initial context of the computer-based work the World
Generator. All instances of use that the thoughtbody perceives, inform the thoughtbody’s
understanding of the work. There is no fixed static meaning. The shape of the thoughtbody is
always is a state of ongoing change from the interactive experience of differing meaning forces —
different contexts of use and embodiment, each with their own individual nature. The functionality
of this artwork as well as the displacement of media elements from the artwork, its quality of nonclosure,
manifests an ongoing "plateau" of change. Deleuze and Guattari speak about the origin
of their use of the term "plateau":

A plateau is always in the middle, not at the beginning or the end. A rhizome is made of
plateaus. Gregory Bateson uses the word "plateau" to designate something very special:
a continuous, self-vibrating region of intensities whose development avoids any
orientation toward a culmination point or external end. (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, p.22)
Computer-based environments fall in relation to the thoughtbody as do the alternate contexts
housing decontextualised media-elements derived from the initial context. This is the premise
behind my work in this show. By repositioning and making physical the text from The World
Generator / The Engine of Desire , I extend through physical decontextualisation the
implications that I sought to point at through the initial mutable computer-based experience. I also
add multiple fields of new implications.

The concept of the rhizome as developed by Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus is
highly relevant to a discussion of a shifting configurations and contextualization of media elements,
as well as a conflation of language-vehicles falling within the continuum between the
physical and the digital. The authors relate this definition:

Let us summarise the principal characteristics of a rhizome: unlike trees or their roots, the
rhizome connects any point to any other point and its traits are not necessarily linked to
traits of the same nature; it brings into play very different regimes of signs and even
nonsign states. The rhizome is reducible to neither the One or the multiple. It is not the
One that becomes Two or even directly three, four, five etc. It is not a multiple derived
from the one, or to which one is added (n+1). It is comprised not of units but of
dimensions, or rather directions in motion. It has neither beginning nor end, but always a
middle (milieu) from which it grows and which it overspills. It constitutes linear
multiplicities with n dimensions having neither subject nor object, which can be laid out on
a plane of consistency and from which the one is always subtracted (n-1). When a
multiplicity of this kind changes dimension, it necessarily changes in nature as well,
undergoes a metamorphosis. Unlike a structure, which is defined by a set of points and
positions, the rhizome is made only of lines; lines of segmentarity and stratification as its
dimensions and the line of flight or deterritorialization as the maximum dimension after
which the multiplicity undergoes metamorphosis, changes in nature. These lines, or
ligaments, should not be confused with lineages of the aborescent type, which are merely
localizable linkages between points and positions... Unlike the graphic arts, drawing or
photography, unlike tracings, the rhizome pertains to a map that must be produced,
constructed, a map that is always detachable, connectable, reversible, modifiable and
has multiple entranceways and exits and its own lines of flight. (Deleuze and Guattari,
1987, p.21)

My investigation of emergent meaning can be seen in the light of the concept of the rhizome.
The following observations are attributed to Heraclitus from the 6th century B.C., with
commentary by Philip Wheelwright.

Everything flows and nothing abides; everything gives way and nothing stays fixed.
You cannot step twice into the same river, for other waters are continually flowing on.
It is in changing that things find repose. (Wheelwright, 1968, p.29)
Wheelwright muses:

Permanence is but a relative term, his [Heraclitus’, emphasis Seaman] philosophy
declares; and what we call permanent is simply an example of change in slow motion. All
structures, if you observe them patiently enough and project your imagination far enough,
are dissolving slowly; everything, as the Greeks put it, is in a process of coming-to-be
and passing-away. (Wheelwright, 1968, p.29)

It is interesting that Wheelwright uses a technological metaphor to discuss Heraclitus — slow
motion. Yet it is this same kind of slow motion – the accretive thoughtmotion of a thoughtbody
that I seek in part to point at. The techno-poetic mechanism (The World Generator / The Engine
of Desire) seeks to illuminate processes of change — configurations of media-elements "comingto-
be" and "passing away" within an advanced technological environment. Within that
technological environment, a world of potential poetic understanding undergoes change —
meaning here enables an ogoing reflection related to the nature of accretive processes. In my
dissertation on Recombinant Poetics I examine language-vehicle use. I argue that context is
central to the generation of meaning. I show that meaning can be seen as ambiguous, indefinite
and constantly in flux. This is particularly relevant to mutable, computer-based environments and
to the nature of the recombinant sign. Reconfigurable contexts are continually entertained in the
negotiation of meaning. This punning reading of the term negotiation is both spatial and

Thus meaning is experienced through sensual interaction in a virtual environment as it is in any
environment. Yet, meaning is no longer simply conveyed through chains of words. It is now
circulated through the negotiation of virtual volumetric flows of media elements and processes,
through probabilities and potentialities as well as across physical volumes of space —
environmental interaction facilitates this process. These flows are polyvalent and ambiguous
within the use of the device (as well as in this exterior context), seeing these characteristics as
central to poetic approaches to the contemporary production of meaning.
Such flows qualify our future reading both of media elements from within the work as well as
across other environments… My texts often include puns functioning to bridge multiple
perspectives, where appropriate, i.e., the word negotiation is used above. The exhibition of the
text from The World Generator , within the auspices of the p0es1s and/or other contexts extends
the accretive process of meaning production related to the work. For those viewer/participants
that have experienced the original digital work this extends the texts meaning. The physical
distribution of the text creates a new form of negotiation for people who have not seen it in
relation to its original context. Thus the two media states fall in relation to each other in a dynamic
manner as experienced from a timedistance, each opening out different evocative layers of
meaning. The thoughtbody navigates and negotiates the continuum between the physical and the
virtual, the past and the present.

DELEUZE, G. and GUATTARI, F. 1993. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia .
Translation: B. MASSUMI. Minneapolis/London: University of Minnesota Press.
VARELA, F., THOMPSON, E. and ROSCH, E. 1991. The Embodied Mind, Cognitive Science and
Human Experience. Cambridge/London: MIT Press.
WHEELWRIGHT, P. 1968. Heraclitus. 2nd edn. New York: Athene
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