— Commentary —

The Seductive Power of the Binary

Sher Doruff
Sensing Presence Department
Society for Old and New Media, Amsterdam
The Netherlands

When I was a child I learned that it's dangerous to ‘assume’ things. I've recently felt the rumble of realizations regarding my susceptibilty to assumptions about the future of technological practice in the arts. Assumptions that provoke questions in hindsight. As the wireless, connected, global interface as dynamic canvas is up and running, who's driving?

I currently work on a software development project, Keystroke, that promises optimal realtime synthesis of all media in a shared collaborative environment. It's a study in the expansion of our sensorium in networked space/time, pushing the envelope of synchronous interaction. I've been an evangelist for ‘process over product’ for most of my career, and trends in performative arts involving realtime interaction, authorless collaboration and global participation are fuel for this genre of work. Gertrude Stein expressed our time, this time, more accurately than her own early twentieth century when she said:

The composition is the thing seen by everyone living in the living they are doing, they are the composing of the composition that at the time they are living is the composition of the time in which they are living [1].

This resonates for me and is why I've chosen to work with emerging, unstable technologies. The immediate, dynamic composing of time living. I experience the thrills and catastrophes of life on the bleeding edge enough to have a healthy fear of the seductive power of the binary even as I plug in and boot up. On good days I like to think that, as artists, we're initiating, stimulating and forging a distinctive path. On bad days I feel lemming-like and chained to my LCD screen.

So lately I question my assumptions that the possibilities afforded by technological whiz-bang wizardry is a foregone conclusion of the post-postmodern sensibility. Even as I race to keep pace with evolving hardware, software, standards, protocols, bandwidths, not to mention information ingestion and correspondence, I find myself longing for a quiet, unmediated breath. The vanishing ‘still point.’ This is a conundrum – this disparate agitation between the evolution of enabling tools and techniques and a conceptual tentativity towards the ‘everything always at once’ possibilities these tools engender.

Yet, as artists, theoreticians and observers we are of our time and our time is fundamentally facilitated by clever combinations of 1's and 0's – the pigment and piano wire of our compositions. Elastic and pervasive. Cold and calculated. Transformative? ‘Is there a question, is there anything in question?’ -Gertrude Stein.


Stein, Gertrude. ‘Composition as Explanation.’ In Selected Writings of Gertrude Stein. Edited by Carl van Vechten. New York: Vintage Books, 1972.

About the Author

Sher Doruff is a media artist who has collaborated with many dance/theater/music companies since 1986, creating sound, sets, projections and imagery. She works with real time interactive performance technologies for the theater and the Internet. She is currently project director of KeyStroke/KeyWorx and co-artistic director of the Sensing Presence Department of the Society for Old and New Media in Amsterdam.

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