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Exquisite Errors – When I Let Go of Everything, the Solution Came

My project ‘Exquisite Errors‘ is about the beauty of deviation. We live in a world where it has become customary to attach a label to a person who deviates from the norm. Since the American DSM, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, is also used in the Netherlands, Dutch adults and children who differ from the majority are labeled and classified as patients suffering from ADHD, PDD-NOS, Asperger’s, Borderline or Autism/ASD.

A few years ago I was sitting at my computer watching a digital movie. The film played and played and all of a sudden, in a split second, the image faltered. An error occurred. Then the playback continued. That error fascinated me. What had I just seen? I successfully started looking for ways to reproduce and capture this error. Thus I got the chance and the time to quietly observe this deviation. What I saw made my heart beat faster. I saw lines and colors in a color combination I couldn’t possibly create myself. I loved it! To me this was not an error, this was a digital abstract work of art.

007.01 Toothed Edge Component System (TECS)

From that moment on I started searching for more errors in the playback of digital films. The first day I found eight images. The next week I collected twenty errors. Fifty. One hundred. Any error I liked, any error that touched me or fascinated me I saved in a directory on my computer. In a while, I collected two hundred images. Five hundred. And after two years collecting maniacally, I saved one thousand errors on my computer, one thousand digital abstract works of art.

004.01 Codec Order—Not Otherwise Specified (CO–NOS)

In these images I was trying to capture wonder, fascination, beauty and oddity. Perhaps even more, but I can’t recall it. The media player is playing a film and suddenly does not know what to do. It generates a faulty image before continuing playback. That moment is captured by me. If you know all these images are errors, mistakes, you might feel the same fascination I did. When I captured the images I skipped hundreds for being not wonderful, fascinating, beautiful or odd enough.

This process was bumpy. Finding all those errors and capturing them was laborious, but meditative. Sheer escapism. The heavy part of the process began when I could not find a narrative. I had all these fascinating images, my codec errors, but I did not know what story I wanted to tell with them. I’m the kind of artist that wants to tell a story, I want to convey some sort of message. After one year collecting maniacally, I had no idea what to do with these images.

That frustrated me. A lot. And I got depressed. The depression that followed was hard. I felt that I was failing as an artist. I was failing at doing the only thing I thought I was good at. I worried about my future. I worried about my life. I worried about everything. When I finally let go of everything, the solution came.

004.01 Codec Order—Not Otherwise Specified (CO–NOS)

In my past I was often depressed, so I’m familiar with it. But this time, lying on the couch, I asked myself whether there is a relationship between my recurring depressions and my ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) diagnosis. I have been diagnosed with ADHD a long time ago, but for the first time in my life, I asked myself whether there’s a relationship between those two mental disorders. I went to the library to find out. There I stumbled upon a book called the DSM, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

The DSM is a psychiatric manual used for psychiatric diagnosis. The book contains criteria one must meet in order to be labeled as having, for instance ADHD, Borderline Personality Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorder. It’s all in there. One thousand and eighteen pages! And when I browsed through this thick book I was horrified. For any kind of different being, they “invented” a mental disorder. At least, that’s how I experienced it. Shocking. At the same time, this DSM became a huge inspiration, because of the way they had categorized the mental disorders.

002.01 Bipolar Codec Order (BCO)

Even though I no longer believe my brain is dysfunctional, there are still a lot of kids who are being drugged, with Ritalin because of their ADHD diagnosis . I do not believe they have a mental disorder. Yes, their brain functions differently, but that doesn’t mean they are mentally ill. They have different skills, just like myself. Luckily I managed to find out what I’m good at. But for all those kids and parents who are doubting their child’s diagnosis, I made this book. I want them to see that deviations can be exquisite indeed.

From the discovery of the DSM on everything evolved in an interesting manner. At the time I was studying the DSM I had visions. The huge amount of images I collected came together in groups, based on the way they appeared: the images containing “lines” came together with other images containing “lines”, the images containing “waves” came together with other images containing “waves”, the chaotic ones with the chaotic ones, and so on. During that vision the groups were created. Later on I created labels, based on the way the group of images looked like. Naturally, I added corresponding acronyms and drafted comprehensive diagnostic criteria. I invented my own system of deviations which resulted in this beautifully designed book called Exquisite Errors. Inspired by the DSM I created, based on these codec errors, my own classification of “disorders”, by defining, categorizing and labeling them. However, always avoiding negative labels. Because is it wrong to deviate from the norm?

Book Preview: Diagnostic Criteria of DDSO–I

So in the end, I’m actually telling my own story with this project. For a long time I believed my brain was dysfunctional. I believed I was suffering from mental aberration. It took me a long time to realize my brain just functions differently. And that’s a good thing. The brain is not a ‘One Size Fits All’ organ. Trudy Dehue a tenure professor for History and Theory of Psychology wrote the foreword of my book. A quote from that article says it all:

“Why is there so much attention paid to individual deviation? And why does every deviation need to be treated? It should be normal again to be abnormal. Celebrate variation!”

009.01 Complex Extent Pattern—type I (CEP-I)

I decided to become an artist when I was 32 years old. My job was boring, I was depressed, and my four months old son needed heart surgery and therefore potential death of my firstborn came into my life. I always had a love-hate relationship with death, but this time I was asking grown-up questions. Do I want to be a father who regrets his life on his deathbed? Do I want to be a slave to money forever? What example do I give him if he survives? My life basically sucked at that time, so I decided things had to change. Drastically. I needed to. Hence, I started following my passion and no longer let anyone limit my dreams. A couple of weeks later I applied to the School of Fine Art and Design “AKV St. Joost” in The Netherlands. Best decision I made. Ever.

When I graduated, I didn’t get started as an artist yet. I first tried earning my money by working for commission. But to be honest, I thought it was boring. Had I really gone to this academy to become a production line videographer? This time it was me who was limiting my dreams. I decided to become a full-time artist. That way I could work on projects with the focus I needed. My book Exquisite Errors is the first large project I have finished since graduation in 2012.

Book Preview: Cover

My normal working day probably doesn’t look interesting at all. I wake up at seven o’clock. Then I make sure the kids are ready to go to school. Thereafter we hop on our bikes and I drop them off at school. When I get back home I usually go upstairs to my studio. There I enter a room full of chaos, but chaos is a friend of mine. On good days I get to work quite focused. On not so good days I get to work not so focused and waste time by learning a language on my phone, playing a useless game or accepting any form of distraction. Even though I listen to a lot of music, my life is less rock ’n’ roll than I imagined it. Sometimes I go to a museum or exhibition. Every month I meet with fellow artists (Jos Janssen, Peter Dekens and Mels van Zutphen) to talk about our work. We cross-examine each other’s projects and progress.

When I look at works of others I try to find new ways of looking at things. I try to figure out “what how they saw and how they saw it” and if I would be able to create what they made. Sometimes I realize interesting projects are closer than I thought.

Book Preview: Adjacent Diversified Stream Order—type II (ADSO–II)

The most difficult part of the whole creation process to me is the fact that I have a, what I call, reversed way of working. I assume that most artists start by researching a subject, topic or theme. At least, most artists I know work like that. I don’t. I usually start with a research question concerning matter, such as codecs, videotapes, analog film, vinyl or identical shots in digital movies. The experiments I do usually yield results, in the form of images, degeneracy or a grid. With those results, I start looking for content. Why have I been doing this experiment? What does it say about me? What narrative is there to tell? And that’s where the problems emerge because I do not always come to the point where content, topic, theme, concept or narrative arises. So yeah, I still have some results of experiments that require content.


Barry van der Rijt

Barry van der Rijt (1974) is a Dutch visual artist. He likes to scrutinize film related matter: videotapes, codecs, pixels, screens. With the results of his experiments he creates new meanings. His work was exhibited at Les Rencontres d'Arles 2016, screened on Dutch national television, in museums and at several international film festivals.

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