— Editor's Introduction —

The Pursuit of Multiplicity

Mads Haahr
Department of Computer Science
Trinity College, Dublin

I myself feel more committed the more diverse and multiplied my interests and actions become.

John Cage, Indeterminacy: New Aspect of Form in Instrumental and Electronic Music [1].

For a number of years now, there has been a perceived convergence between the arts and sciences and an increased interaction between art and technology. This is a trend that has received a substantial amount of attention from the media and also been a controversial topic of discussion amongst scholars from the arts and sciences alike. The concerns are many and valid: Is there really a convergence and, if so, is it worthwhile? Will blending not merely pollute the purity achieved over many years in the individual fields? Or is the separation merely a relatively recent – and quite artificial – phenomenon, and the convergence really a return to a previous state? And is it possible for scholars and practitioners to be truly committed to more than one field at the same time?

Although John Cage in the above quote may not answer the question about the legitimacy of the arts/sciences convergence (this is too big a question to have such a simple answer), it does offer an answer to the question about multiple commitments. Multiplicity fosters curiousity, and curiousity is perhaps the most important prerequisite for fascination and enthusiasm, the driving forces behind most worthwhile achievements. Perhaps this is what Cage means by commitment; the commitment to life and to the pursuit of a better understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

In fact, this leads us to one common baseline for all the arts and sciences: the pursuit of knowledge and understanding that is characteristic of philosophical enquiry. This philosophical angle defines the editorial space that Crossings will occupy. While the journal's scope is multidisciplinary and the discourse multifaceted (spanning axes such as creative-critical, practical-theoretical, etc.), the editorial baseline will be geared towards achieving an overall reflective focus. We would like the lines drawn in this journal to teach us something about ourselves and the world, not only today and tomorrow but also in fifty years or more. Editorially, this is an ambitious goal (especially in the fast-paced age of the Internet) and not one that can be achieved in merely a few issues but one that we hope to approximate as time goes on.

About the present issue, I am pleased with the constellation of papers and commentaries we have been able to assemble. Many interesting themes are raised in the papers, and they intersect in often delightfully surprising ways. Mick Wilson sets the scene with his exploration of how we should speak about ‘art’ and ‘technology’ in a meaningful, non-reductive way and concludes that the philosophical arena is indeed one where art and technology may meet. (I trust this bodes well for our editorial angle.)

Another theme is time and the influence that technology has on our management and use of it. Where Sher Doruff's commentary and my own paper generally have some reservations about the technology-related acceleration of contemporary life, Pierre Lévy is enthusiastic about the idea of an accelerated process of evolution driven by communication-enabling technologies, such as the Internet. Lévy's vision is a type of technologised Gaia – the apotheosis of human culture taking the form of a global brain in which we will all be neurons, ascending together towards artistic grace.

Although that vision of the future is admittedly radical, the art/life convergence hailed by Lévy is another theme raised in several papers. In his commentary, Joel Chadabe observes that a paradigm shift has been taking place in which music and art are moving closer to life. In the context of the visual arts, my own paper examines the challenges faced by contemporary artists as their works take on more and more characteristics from organic life. Thematically, the art/life convergence is covered from both angles: where Chadabe and I observe that art is becoming more like life (though not necessarily lifelike), Lévy predicts that human life in the future will become more like art.

Underlying the theme of the art/life convergence is that of interactivity. Interactivity is of course related to time in its own right, more specifically to the ever-diminishing delay between action and reaction. Aside from being a basic characteristic of organic life, interactivity continues to play an increasing role in technology-based art. Examples of actual interactive artworks appear in this issue in the form of the virtual environments described by Michael Heim and Florent Aziosmanoff, and in my own discussion of an installation by two French artists. Ed Tan also raises the theme of interaction in his top-down charting of traditional and digital modes of cultural transfer. Tan lists a number of well-known ideals of access to culture (preservation, performance, etc.) and discusses their traditional and modern (often Internet-based) implementations. The latter are characterised particularly by an increased degree of interactivity compared to their predecessors.

Heim's and Aziosmanoff's papers take the discussion of interactivity a step further. Heim discusses the role of ‘flow’ (as considered in feng shui) in virtual environments and how awareness of flow can result in more satisfying, more immersive virtual reality experiences. Aziosmanoff presents an educational virtual world, based on the Silk Road, in which visitors can interact with the environment in a more seamless manner than with traditional educational software. Common to both papers is that they identify the ongoing relationship between entities (users and objects) as important to achieving a more natural mode of interaction than the highly cognitive user/tool mode known from traditional user interfaces. Heim elegantly parallels this shift with the breakdown of the subject-object relationship in early twentieth-century philosophy. At that time, philosophers such as Heidegger and Whitehead developed ideas of ‘world’ and ‘process’ that are now being applied in the context of virtual environments. The shift in focus from the art object to the art process is a separate (although related) theme extending far beyond virtual worlds, and is raised also by Doruff in the context of performance art and Chadabe in the context of music.

The collection of papers in this issue of Crossings is hence characterised by a great variety of topics and a complex constellation of interrelated themes. To ‘sum up’ such a diverse body of work presents a challenge, but it is hoped that the resonances struck and connections formed here will challenge our implicit categorisation of human thoughts, activities and endeavours. In a way, the path of multiplicity is like the borderline between order and chaos – it is an exciting place where many things happen and where things change easily – but the pursuit of it is also demanding and takes a good deal of commitment. When you have read the present issue, I hope you will not only have enjoyed the constellation of themes but also appreciated the multiplicity of angles. Welcome to Crossings; I trust you fill find it enjoyable and thought-provoking reading.


Since its conception in October 2000, a substantial amount of effort has gone into the creation of this journal. I would like to thank everybody who has given their time and intellectual input, most notably my brilliant colleagues Mícheál Mac an Airchinnigh who conceived of the idea and Elizabeth Drew without whom it would have remained an idea. We are all extremely grateful to the authors – Florent Aziosmanoff, Joel Chadabe, Sher Doruff, Michael Heim, Pierre Lévy, Ed Tan and Mick Wilson – as well as the translators – Colin Bell and Jeanne Disdero – who have put so much work and so many ideas into making this issue as engaging as it is.

Also indispensable have been those of the editorial board members I have not yet mentioned – Matthew Causey, David Scott and Yvonne Scott – who have provided our authors with valuable feedback on their papers and Elizabeth Drew and myself with guidance, support and a general sense of direction. It has been a great pleasure to work with you.

I would also like to thank our advisory board – Brian Foley, John Scattergood, Antony Tatlow, Dermot Furlong and Catherine Marshall – for their encouragement and guidance. Also many thanks to John Byrne and Vinny Cahill of the Department of Computer Science, Trinity College for hosting us (physically as well as virtually), to Daniel McGowan of the Trinity Foundation for relentless pursuit of external funding and to Trinity College for initial funding via my lecturer's startup grant.


Cage, John. ‘Indeterminacy, 138.’ in Indeterminacy: New Aspect of Form in Instrumental and Electronic Music. Ninety Stories by John Cage, with Music. John Cage, reading; David Tudor, music. Folkways FT 3704, 1959. Reissued as Smithsonian/Folkways CD DF 40804/5, 1992.

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