As I was tidying up today, I came across a paper and presentation I wrote for Semiosalong back in 2014. The paper is a collection of interviews from people who have shared their thoughts on failure and error. Click here to hear and see more.
"Semiosalong is an ongoing biweekly salon style afterhours semiotic meetingplace. Semiosalong on Eesti Semiootika Seltsi egiidi all tegutsev mitteformaalne seminarisari, kus rakendatakse semiootilist analüüsimeetodit erinevatele maailma nähtustele ning tähistatakse seda, kui äge on semiootika." semiootika.ee/uritused/semiosalongid/semiosalong-2011-2015/
The book Sõbralik semiootika (editors Piret Karro and Kristin Orav) contains the texts of twenty-two Semiosalong lecturers, which are divided into three topics: art, culture and literature, and error, the latter according to special seminars on ERROR held in Tallinn in 2014. The collection includes articles from lecturers from the very first season in 2011 as well as from all the intermediate ones until this year, when regular and extraordinary seminars took place in Tartu and Tallinn. To purchase this book, click here.
Excerpt from my chapter:
The difference between an error and failure can be seen playfully. Generally, in games we first lose points before we lose the game. In this sense, errors are a sum of the whole. Sometimes they can be viewed as tiny setbacks or if you’re lucky as a free pass. These mistakes count just as much as any other loss and tally up depending on the point system, but the damage depends on the players and rules of the game.
What is an error?
Christian Graupner (Artist): An error is when something went wrong. Failure sounds more absolute, dead-end like. An error is a part of the creative process.
Therese Bogan (Therapist): I feel an error is small and it’s really an opportunity for adjustment.
Giorgio Convertito (Dancer and Dance maker): Most dance choreography is success-based: the movements, the spatial organization and the timing are often so precise that the possibility for error is very high. Basically, dancers are set-up for failure. On top of that there are technical errors always looming, in the form of music or light cue not being executed at the right time.
Setting yourself up for failure and being open to errors relieves the pressure for perfection or even mild success, for that matter. But I can’t help but think why are we going through all this trouble? Who’s being failed? I suppose we can fail ourselves, our audience, and what we think we have failed from the public’s perspective. If it’s all from subjective view then what if they didn’t know we made a mistake? Like a mask, we hide our errors and hope that nobody notices. Mishaps and boo-boos are bound to happen. Yes, they may have disappointed you, but on the other hand that’s how the cookie crumbled. The advantage is that no one will know it’s a mistake because you are the creator of your world. So why not befriend the enemy and incorporate errors into the plan?
From this angle, it looks ok:
Wambui Njuguna (Ashtanga Yoga teacher): Well, anytime someone needs a 'prop' to get into the pose. For example, in the first pose of the second series, pasasana, some people cannot put their heels to the floor due to stiffness, age or body type. So they put a rolled up mat or towel under the heels in order to balance in the pose. Is this failure or an ongoing error?
Anu: Laughter Yoga is based on the fact that fake laughter is just as good as real laughter so therefore I can't really think of laughter as failure nor error.
If failure is understood and gauged by a set of criteria for success and its parameters then perhaps we should try to inch our way towards not having any expectations. Another option would be to create a pre-emptive strike and set our selves up for failure. Here is a suggested guideline for that:
1. Think of what would be the ideal situation for whatever you are trying to achieve or are going through at the moment.
2. Point out major and minor elements of the story.
3. Now exchange those parts with what you think would be the opposite of the ideal. I recommend playing around with how wretched and horrifying you imagine your nightmare to be.
I wonder how I would approach failure and error these days, but I know that what I did back then got me here, which I'm quite happy at this very moment. With that said, I continue to welcome and be grateful all the mistakes and hiccups that I have made along the way.
Arlene Tucker is an artist, diversity agent, and educator currently based in Joutsa, Finland.