Short Circuited Diaries
The aesthetics of error in creative application
Masterthesis project




Digital media often presents itself in hyper-clean, high-polished perfection. This does not exclude the occurance of error or malfunction. In daily digital routine we are occasionally confronted with these artefacts . Pixelated videostreams, browserglitches, corrupted data-uploads are annoying phenomenons for most of us.
But besides that, these artifacts of malfunction may also have an aesthetic value.
Working on my masterthesis project at the HAWK University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Hildesheim, I began researching techniques to intentionally provoke digital error.
I concentrated manipulations of digital cameras and scanners. Both use the same technology to transform analogue information into digital data. A CCD-Sensor transforms Light into electric information which is converted to digital data.
If the electrical information is altered by short-circuiting the devices the result is a kind of electrical tsunami which is translated into data. The devices are misused to create corrupted images. But these images are not only corrupted, they are beautiful in their own aesthetic.
All experimental manipulations resulted in over 3000 images displaying error and malfunction. I tried to sort this flood of images into categories like linear, noisy, blurry, fragmented, repititive and hybrid in order to find patterns.

As all images are produced with devices which translate analogue into digital, my intention was to reverse this process to bring the patterns back from the virtual to the physical world. This dialogue between digital and analogue exchange was important for me. It is about translating the cool, immaterial digital image onto warm, soft, touchable materials.
Also it is about fixing digital images, which are somehow detached from time and space to static rooms again.
Carpet was one suitable material for this translation. It is a soft material, but also stable because mostly it is fixed to the ground. We stand on carpet-grounded floors, we are grounded.
During the whole process errors transformed to error-patterns transformed to applied patterns.
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As introduction I'd like to outline some data manipulation techniques I researched and tried by myself in order to find out more about sources of error, malfunction and the aethetics of these.
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Data-bending experiments
The same image was saved in different file formats and corrupted
by altering the code in a hex–editor.
It is interesting to see that different file formats show different aesthetics of error and corruption. This can give us feedback on how schematics of coding and compression work.




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Data-moshing experiments
Video compression uses so called i-frames and p-frames to reduce file sizes. The i-frames contain all relevant data to describe a still image, while p-frames just describe changes between one i-frame and the next. The insertation of p-frames reduces the file size. If you manipulate compressed video data by removing all i-frames except the first one, all following p-frames use the this first i-frames as reference and the video begins to deconstruct itself in a way.
The pictures below are screenshots of a video sequence I did using this manipulation technique.



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Circuit-bending experiments
Circuit-bending is a technique with which electrical circuit are forced to fail or collaps. Altering voltage or provoking short-circuits may result in phenomenons of error.
This technique has it's roots in experimental electronic music. Circuits of electronic instruments are bended to provoke unexpected sounds.
I translated this technique onto digital cameras and scanners.



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How digital cameras and scanners work
For a better understanding of what happens if a Camera or a scanner is forced to fail I outlined the function of these devices in the images below.



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Provoking malfunction
As the CCD–sensor translates light into voltage, changes of voltage information or the provocation of short circuits may result in corrupted images. It is like producing an electrical Tsunami which is translated to digital data. Basically the device still works like it should because the voltage information is still interpreted but it is not the information it should be.



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Some exemplary results
The following images show some results of manipulated cameras and scanners displaying the beauty of misinformation and error. During the experimental process I collected over 3000 corrupted images



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Screentprint series – Architecture or error
Some 1bit black and white scans showed characteristics of buildings and are displaying the architecure of error. I used them as collage elements for these screenprints.
The prints are sized 95 x 65 cm



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Bring it back to physical
Besides the process this is the most important part for me.
As all images are produced with devices which translate analogue into digital, my intention was to reverse this process to bring the patterns back from the virtual to the physical world. This dialogue between digital and analogue exchange was important for me. It is about translating the cool, immaterial digital image onto warm, soft, touchable materials.
Also it is about fixing digital images, which are somehow detached from time and space to static rooms again.
Carpet was one suitable material for this translation. It is a soft material, but also stable because mostly it is fixed to the ground.
The Images below show 3 designs of error-patterns which where printed on carpet. I was very glad about the sponsoring and support I was given by the german carpet manufacturer "Vorwerk".


Carpet No.1
3x4 meter
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Carpet No.2 & 3
2x3 meter each
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Further applications
I chose one scan which was suitable as repititive pattern to create a Wallpaper design. Even something which originates from cool digitality can create a warm and cozy atmosphere.



Three images where printed on leggings connecting digital error with our skin


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Finally the thesis concept and a selection of 120 error patterns were bundled
in the "Short Circuited Diaries Box"



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There are some people I'd like to thank for their support and inspiration.
My Professors Barbara Kotte and Paul Kunofski,
Rosa Menkman, Iman Moradi, Ant Scott, Phillip Stearns and Nik Briz. Last but not least my flatsharing Community for their patience and help.