Transmission in Motion

Seminar Blogs

“Serendipity and Kairos in Humans and Machines” – Daniël Everts

The most recent Transmission in Motion seminar was somewhat different from the previous seminars. Really, it actually was not a seminar at all, but rather an online field trip to an online museum exhibition titled “Designing for Serendipity” (Domen et al. 2021), created by members of SILT (Subjects in Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching). The museum dealt with the seemingly paradoxical nature of ‘serendipity – an unforeseen, unsought, accidental, albeit fortunate, discovery (Oxford English Dictionary, n.d.) – were one already needs quite extensive knowledge in order to realize that such an accidental discovery is at hand (Transmission in Motion 2021).

The museum
The museum consisted of a digital space, which we could navigate from the comfort of our own homes – at least as long as our connection to the Internet was stable enough. The digital space was divided into four different quadrants, distinguished by color. During most of the seminar session, we were asked to navigate through the museum, explore its exhibits and discuss in color-coded online breakout rooms that corresponded with the quadrant of the museum you were in.

Serendipity in the work of Karel Appel
One of the first exhibits in this museum I encountered was a video of a famous expressionistic Dutch painter, in which he (at least seemingly) at random put down paint on a canvas. The video sparked a discussion amongst those in the ‘green room’ where the video was exhibited; could we really speak of serendipity here? Was Appel truly painting at random, or was he actually applying some technique he had developed previously? I thought that, maybe, his work had more to do with his intuition as a painter. In that sense, if serendipity is understood as a fortunate, accidental discovery, then maybe his work was truly serendipitous. After all, if he was working on instinct rather than on conscious thought, all his choices might in a way be understood as ‘happy accidents’ – not the first time such a term has been applied to painting (Bob Ross 2016).

Algorithmic serendipity
When I turned my digital body around, I found myself looking at a hyperlinked pop-up to, a website that randomly selects a previously unheard – ‘unstreamed’ – musical track from Spotify and plays it to the listener (Jordan 2014). To me and my fellow green room visitors, this then raised the question: is this more or less serendipitous than the work of Karel Appel? Surely, I said, this would be more serendipitous, since the algorithm (allegedly) selects songs at random (3FM Nieuws 2017). One of my fellow visitors then mentioned that this algorithm was in fact created by humans to (probably) follow exact instructions and as such might not be as random as I thought. Fair, I thought.

By happy happenstance, I then turned a corner and found a plate on the wall with the Greek word ‘Kairos’ on it, meaning so much as the capacity to act, precisely at ‘the right, critical or opportune moment’ (“Kairos” 2021). It was then I realized that, maybe, we had forgotten one crucial aspect of the term ‘serendipity’: in order to discover, one actually has to act. Perhaps it does not really matter how ‘random’ a situation truly is – in a sense Karel Appel’s work, as well as the functionality of Forgotify, are both in some way random and in some way not so random at all. What does matter is that the emerging of opportune moments is nothing different than the emerging of the potential of serendipity and that one thus only requires the ability to recognize such moments in order to act on them and make them truly serendipitous, be they created through machines and algorithms, or through good old human intuition.


  • 3FM Nieuws. 2017. “FORGOTIFY: EEN RONDLEIDING DOOR DE DONKERE KROCHTEN VAN SPOTIFY.” National Radio Website. 2017.          krochten-van-spotify.
  • Bob Ross. 2016. “Bob Ross – Happy Accident (Season 11 Episode 13).” YouTube video. YouTube. April 24, 2016.
  • Domen, Ilona, Merel van Goch, Anne Kustritz, Rianne van Lambalgen, Toine Minnaert, Florentine Sterk, Iris van der Tuin, and Roosmarijn van Woerden. 2021. “Transmission in Motion – Designing for Serendipity.” Artsteps.Com. 2021.         SILTSerendipity.
  • Jordan, Lane. 2014. “Forgotify Player.” Music Archive. Forgotify.Com. 2014.
  • “Kairos.” 2021. Online encyclopedia. Wikipedia. April 7, 2021.
  • Oxford English Dictionary. n.d. “Serendipity, n.” Oxford University Press. https://oed-
  • Transmission in Motion. 2021. “Transmission in Motion Seminar (2020-2021): ‘Designing for Serendipity’ – Ilona Domen, Merel van Goch, Anastasia Hacopian, Anne Kustritz, Rianne van        Lambalgen, Toine Minnaert, Florentine Sterk, Iris van Der Tuin and Roosmarijn van Woerden (Utrecht University).” University Website. Transmission in Motion. 2021.  mbalgen-toine-minnaert-florenti/.