>> Syntax Error


>> About the Project

Syntax Error explores technical error messages and the subconscious translation necessary to understand them. The work points to the mental adjustments and training required of programmers in order build for inflexible systems, and emphasizes the steep learning curve required of humans in order to become fluent, or even simply familiar, with how machines operate.

Novice programmers often point to the deciphering of error messages as one of the most difficult aspects of learning how to use technical systems. This video installation draws from error messages that I have frequently encountered in my own art practice, and was created by automatically running these phrases through a synonym database, one word at a time, in a futile effort to translate these phrases into something that is more immediately legible to a non-programmer. While the phrases quickly become nonsensical and incoherent, the viewer is at times able to draw personal meaning from unusual juxtapositions of language, based on social context and their own experience. The project also points to the fact that, contrary to the belief that the error messages are coming from the “computer”, other people are responsible for developing these languages and error messages–so what does it say that these messages are written in such an impenetrable way?

The installation is scored with the sounds of hard drives, some of which are failing, and some of which are operating normally. The difficulty in distinguishing between the two demonstrates the gap between the seamlessness with which we expect technology to operate, and the material reality of mechanical processes.