MachineMachine /stream - tagged with object en-us LifePress <![CDATA[Artistry and Agency in a World of Vibrant Matter]]>

Hosted by the Vera List Center for Art and Politics

Jane Bennett - Powers of the Hoard: Artistry and Agency in a World of Vibrant Matter

How can objects sometimes be vibrant things with an effective presence independent of the words, images, and feelings they may provoke in humans? This question is posed by Political theorist Jane Bennett delivers the inaugural lecture as the Vera List Center for Art and Politics embarks on a two-year exploration of "Thingness," the nature of matter. In the face of virtual realities, social media and disembodied existences, the center's programs will focus on the material conditions of our lives.

Jane Bennet is a professor of Political Science at the Johns Hopkins University. In her latest book Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Duke, 2010), she asks how our politics might approach public concerns were we to seriously consider not just our human experience of things but the things themselves. How is it that things can elide their status as possessions, tools, or aesthetic objects and manifest traces of independence and vitality? Following the tangled threads that link vibrant materialities, human selves, and the "agentic assemblages" they form, Bennett examines what hoarders, people who are preternaturally attuned to "things," can teach us about the agency, causality, and artistry in a world overflowing with stuff. Professor Bennet is a founding member of the journal Theory & Event, and is currently working on a project on over-consumption, new ecologies, and Walt Whitman's materialism.

*Location:Theresa Lang Community and Student Center, Arnhold Hall, 55 West 13th Street, 2nd floor Tuesday, September 13, 2011 6:30 p.m.

Wed, 18 Feb 2015 13:31:32 -0800
<![CDATA[Takeshi Murata Made An Animated Sculpture That Melts Into Itself | The Creators Project]]>

This past weekend, digital-art impresario Takeshi Murata premiered new work at gallery Ratio 3's space at the Frieze art fair.

Wed, 21 May 2014 13:29:43 -0700
<![CDATA[Google’s Earth]]>

“I ACTUALLY think most people don’t want Google to answer their questions,” said the search giant’s chief executive, Eric Schmidt, in a recent and controversial interview. “They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next.” Do we really desire Google to tell us what we should be doing next? I believe that we do, though with some rather complicated qualifiers.

Science fiction never imagined Google, but it certainly imagined computers that would advise us what to do. HAL 9000, in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” will forever come to mind, his advice, we assume, eminently reliable — before his malfunction. But HAL was a discrete entity, a genie in a bottle, something we imagined owning or being assigned. Google is a distributed entity, a two-way membrane, a game-changing tool on the order of the equally handy flint hand ax, with which we chop our way through the very densest thickets of information. Google is all of those things, and a very large and powerful corporation to boot.

We have yet to take Google’s measure. We’ve seen nothing like it before, and we already perceive much of our world through it. We would all very much like to be sagely and reliably advised by our own private genie; we would like the genie to make the world more transparent, more easily navigable. Google does that for us: it makes everything in the world accessible to everyone, and everyone accessible to the world. But we see everyone looking in, and blame Google.

Google is not ours. Which feels confusing, because we are its unpaid content-providers, in one way or another. We generate product for Google, our every search a minuscule contribution. Google is made of us, a sort of coral reef of human minds and their products. And still we balk at Mr. Schmidt’s claim that we want Google to tell us what to do next. Is he saying that when we search for dinner recommendations, Google might recommend a movie instead? If our genie recommended the movie, I imagine we’d go, intrigued. If Google did that, I imagine, we’d bridle, then begin our next search.

We never imagined that artificial intelligence would be like this. We imagined discrete entities. Genies. We also seldom imagined (in spite of ample evidence) that emergent technologies would leave legislation in the dust, yet they do. In a world characterized by technologically driven change, we necessarily legislate after the fact, perpetually scrambling to catch up, while the core architectures of the future, increasingly, are erected by entities like Google.

Cyberspace, not so long ago, was a specific elsewhere, one we visited periodically, peering into it from the familiar physical world. Now cyberspace has everted. Turned itself inside out. Colonized the physical. Making Google a central and evolving structural unit not only of the architecture of cyberspace, but of the world. This is the sort of thing that empires and nation-states did, before. But empires and nation-states weren’t organs of global human perception. They had their many eyes, certainly, but they didn’t constitute a single multiplex eye for the entire human species.

Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon prison design is a perennial metaphor in discussions of digital surveillance and data mining, but it doesn’t really suit an entity like Google. Bentham’s all-seeing eye looks down from a central viewpoint, the gaze of a Victorian warder. In Google, we are at once the surveilled and the individual retinal cells of the surveillant, however many millions of us, constantly if unconsciously participatory. We are part of a post-geographical, post-national super-state, one that handily says no to China. Or yes, depending on profit considerations and strategy. But we do not participate in Google on that level. We’re citizens, but without rights.

Much of the discussion of Mr. Schmidt’s interview centered on another comment: his suggestion that young people who catastrophically expose their private lives via social networking sites might need to be granted a name change and a fresh identity as adults. This, interestingly, is a matter of Google letting societal chips fall where they may, to be tidied by lawmakers and legislation as best they can, while the erection of new world architecture continues apace.

If Google were sufficiently concerned about this, perhaps the company should issue children with free “training wheels” identities at birth, terminating at the age of majority. One could then either opt to connect one’s adult identity to one’s childhood identity, or not. Childhoodlessness, being obviously suspect on a résumé, would give birth to an industry providing faux adolescences, expensively retro-inserted, the creation of which would gainfully employ a great many writers of fiction. So there would be a silver lining of sorts.

To be sure, I don’t find this a very realistic idea, however much the prospect of millions of people living out their lives in individual witness protection programs, prisoners of their own youthful folly, appeals to my novelistic Kafka glands. Nor do I take much comfort in the thought that Google itself would have to be trusted never to link one’s sober adulthood to one’s wild youth, which surely the search engine, wielding as yet unimagined tools of transparency, eventually could and would do.

I imagine that those who are indiscreet on the Web will continue to have to make the best of it, while sharper cookies, pocketing nyms and proxy cascades (as sharper cookies already do), slouch toward an ever more Googleable future, one in which Google, to some even greater extent than it does now, helps us decide what we’ll do next.

William Gibson is the author of the forthcoming novel “Zero History.”

Sat, 09 Nov 2013 04:02:33 -0800
<![CDATA[New Sculpt]]>

I wrote an essay released in tandem with New Sculpt: LaTurbo Avedon‘s first solo exhibition, held at Transfer Gallery, New York – July 20 through August 10, 2013 Excerpt ::: In the past three decades the term “cyberspace” has come to define a social, rather than a geometric common environment. The term still conjures up images of posthuman projections and vast parallax branes, their cross-hatched surfaces woven at right angles by virtual motorcycles. We hear “cyberspace” and we think of terminals, of cables and an ocean of information, yet the most important means by which cyberspace is produced — namely human social and economic relations — barely registers a flicker. The objects of New Sculpt play between these contradictions.

Wed, 24 Jul 2013 05:32:56 -0700
<![CDATA[Why OOO?]]>

In my view, Continental theory and philosophy has been overly dominated by a focus on text and the lived experience of human beings, ignoring the role played by nonhuman entities in social assemblages. This, at least, was the conclusion I had reached by the end of my graduate education at Loyola University of Chicago. My courses were dominated Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Levinas, as well as Derrida, Deleuze, Foucault, Gadamer, Lacan, and Zizek. There was also a strong ground in the history of philosophy focused on Kant, Hegel, and Nietzsche. Some of my classmates would joke that I was permanently living in the “transcendental epoche” bubble, as I was, after an obsession with Heidegger, intoxicated by the thought of Husserl. Later that obsession shifted to Derrida, Lacan and Hegel, and I spent a tremendous amount of time exploring the French structuralist semioticians as well as the semiotics of Charles Sanders Pierce (the latter, much to the dismay of my Continental col

Wed, 14 Nov 2012 04:38:00 -0800
<![CDATA[Kipple and Things II: The Subject of Digital Detritus]]>

This text is a work in progress; a segment ripped from my thesis. To better ingest some of the ideas I throw around here, you might want to read these texts first: - Kipple and Things: How to Hoard and Why Not To Mean - Digital Autonomy

Captured in celluloid under the title Blade Runner, (Scott 1982) Philip K. Dick’s vision of kipple abounds in a world where mankind lives alongside shimmering, partly superior, artificial humans. The limited lifespan built into the Nexus 6 replicants  [i] is echoed in the human character J.F. Sebastian,[ii]whose own degenerative disorder lends his body a kipple-like quality, even if the mind it enables sparkles so finely. This association with replication and its apparent failure chimes for both the commodity fetish and an appeal to digitisation. In Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility, mechanisation and mass production begin at the ‘original’, and work to distance the commodity from the form captured by each iteration. Not only does the aura of the original stay intact as copies of it are reproduced on the production line, that aura is actually heightened in the system of commoditisation. As Frederic Jameson has noted, Dick’s work ‘renders our present historical by turning it into the past of a fantasized future’ (Jameson 2005, 345). Kipple piles up at the periphery of our culture, as if Dick is teasing us to look upon our own time from a future anterior in which commodity reification will have been: It hadn’t upset him that much, seeing the half-abandoned gardens and fully abandoned equipment, the great heaps of rotting supplies. He knew from the edu-tapes that the frontier was always like that, even on Earth. (Dick 2011, 143) Kipple figures the era of the commodity as an Empire, its borders slowly expanding away from the subjects yearning for Biltong replicas, seeded with mistakes. Kipple is a death of subjects, haunted by objects, but kipple is also a renewal, a rebirth. The future anterior is a frontier, one from which it might just be possible to look back upon the human without nostalgia. Qualify the human subject with the android built in its image; the object with the entropic degradation that it must endure if its form is to be perpetuated, and you necessarily approach an ontology of garbage, junk and detritus: a glimmer of hope for the remnants of decay to assert their own identity. Commodities operate through the binary logic of fetishisation and obsolescence, in which the subject’s desire to obtain the shiny new object promotes the propagation of its form through an endless cycle of kippleisation. Kipple is an entropy of forms, ideals long since removed from their Platonic realm by the march of mimesis, and kippleisation an endless, unstoppable encounter between subjectness and thingness. Eschewing Martin Heidegger’s definition of a thing, in which objects are brought out of the background of existence through human use, (Bogost 2012, 24) Bill Brown marks the emergence of things through the encounter: As they circulate through our lives… we look through objects because there are codes by which our interpretive attention makes them meaningful, because there is a discourse of objectivity that allows us to use them as facts. A thing, in contrast, can hardly function as a window. We begin to confront the thingness of objects when they stop working for us… (Brown 2001, 4) This confrontation with the ‘being’ of the object occurs by chance when, as Brown describes, a patch of dirt on the surface of the window captures us for a moment, ‘when the drill breaks, when the car stalls… when their flow within the circuits of production and distribution, consumption and exhibition, has been arrested, however momentarily’. (Brown 2001, 4) We no longer see through the window-object (literally or metaphorically), but are brought into conflict with its own particular discrete being by the encounter with its filthy surface. A being previously submersed in the continuous background of world as experience, need not necessarily be untangled by an act of human-centric use. The encounter carries the effect of a mirror, for as experience stutters at the being of a thing, so the entity invested in that experience is made aware of their own quality as a thing – if only for a fleeting moment. Brown’s fascination with ‘how inanimate objects constitute human subjects’ (Brown 2001, 7) appears to instate the subject as the centre of worldly relations. But Bill Brown has spun a realist [iii] web in which to ensnare us. The object is not phenomenal, because its being exists independent of any culpability we may wish to claim. Instead a capture of object and human, of thing qua thing, occurs in mutual encounter, bringing us closer to a flat ontology ‘where humans are no longer monarchs of being but are instead among beings, entangled in beings, and implicated in other beings.’ (Bryant 2011, 40)

Brown’s appraisal of things flirts with the splendour of kipple. Think of the landfill, an engorged river of kipple, or the salvage yard, a veritable shrine to thingness. Tattered edges and featureless forms leak into one another in unsavoury shades of tea-stain brown and cobweb grey splashed from the horizon to your toes. Masses of broken, unremarkable remnants in plastic, glass and cardboard brimming over the edge of every shiny suburban enclave. The most astonishing thing about the turmoil of these places is how any order can be perceived in them at all. But thing aphasia does diminish, and it does so almost immediately. As the essential human instinct for order kicks in, things come to resemble objects. Classes of use, representation and resemblance neatly arising to cut through the pudding; to make the continuous universe discrete once again. You note a tricycle wheel there, underneath what looks like the shattered circumference of an Edwardian lamp. You almost trip over a bin bag full of carrot tops and potato peel before becoming transfixed by a pile of soap-opera magazines. Things, in Brown’s definition, are unreachable by human caprice. Things cannot be grasped, because their thingnessslips back into recognition as soon as it is encountered: When such a being is named, then, it is also changed. It is assimilated into the terms of the human subject at the same time that it is opposed to it as object, an opposition that is indeed necessary for the subject’s separation and definition. (Schwenger 2004, 137) The city of Hull, the phrase ‘I will’, the surface of an ice cube and an image compression algorithm are entities each sustained by the same nominative disclosure: a paradox of things that seem to flow into one another with liquid potential, but things, nonetheless limited by their constant, necessary re-iteration in language. There is no thing more contradictory in this regard than the human subject itself, a figure Roland Barthes’ tried to paradoxically side-step in his playful autobiography. Replenishing each worn-out piece of its glimmering hull, one by one, the day arrives when the entire ship of Argo has been displaced – each of its parts now distinct from those of the ‘original’ vessel. For Barthes, this myth exposes two modest activities: - Substitution (one part replaces another, as in a paradigm) – Nomination (the name is in no way linked to the stability of the parts) (Barthes 1994, 46) Like the ship of Argo, human experience has exchangeable parts, but at its core, such was Barthes’ intention, ‘the subject, unreconciled, demands that language represent the continuity of desire.’ (Eakin 1992, 16) In order that the subject remain continuous, it is the messy world that we must isolate into classes and taxonomies. We collate, aggregate and collect not merely because we desire, but because without these nominative acts the pivot of desire – the illusionary subject – could not be sustained. If the powerful stance produced in Dick’s future anterior is to be sustained, the distinction between subjects aggregating objects, and objects coagulating the subject, needs flattening. [iv] Bill Brown’s appeal to the ‘flow within the circuits of production and distribution, consumption and exhibition’ (Brown 2001, 4) partially echoes Dick’s concern with the purity of the thing. Although Dick’s Biltong were probably more of a comment on the Xerox machine than the computer, the problem of the distribution of form, as it relates to commodity fetishism, enables ‘printing’ as a neat paradigm of the contemporary network-based economy. Digital things, seeming to proliferate independent from the sinuous optical cables and super-cooled server banks that disseminate them, are absolutelyreliant on the process of copying. Copying is a fundamental component of the digital network where, unlike the material commodity, things are not passed along. The digital thing is always a copy, is always copied, and is always copying: Copying the product (mechanical reproduction technologies of modernity) evolves into copying the instructions for manufacturing (computer programs as such recipes of production). In other words, not only copying copies, but more fundamentally copying copying itself. (Parikka 2008, 72) Abstracted from its material context, copying is ‘a universal principle’ (Parikka 2008, 72) of digital things, less flowing ‘within the circuits’ (Brown 2001, 4) as being that circuitry flow in and of itself. The entire network is a ship of Argo, capable, perhaps for the first time, [v]to Substitute and Nominate its own parts, or, as the character J.F. Isidore exclaims upon showing an android around his kippleised apartment: When nobody’s around, kipple reproduces itself. [my emphasis] (Dick 1968, 53) Kipple is not garbage, nor litter, for both these forms are decided upon by humans. In a recent pamphlet distributed to businesses throughout the UK, the Keep Britain Tidy Campaign made a useful distinction: Litter can be as small as a sweet wrapper, as large as a bag of rubbish, or it can mean lots of items scattered about. ENCAMS describes litter as “Waste in the wrong place caused by human agency”. In other words, it is only people that make litter. (Keep Britain Tidy Campaign, 3) Garbage is a decisive, collaborative form, humans choose to destroy or discard. A notion of detritus that enhances the autonomy, the supposed mastery of the subject in its network. Digital networks feature their own litter in the form of copied data packets that have served their purpose, or been deemed erroneous by algorithms designed to seed out errors. These processes, according to W. Daniel Hillis, define, ‘the essence of digital technology, which restores signal to near perfection at every stage’. (Hillis 1999, 18) Maintenance of the network and the routines of error management are of primary economic and ontological concern: control the networks and the immaterial products will manage themselves; control the tendency of errors to reproduce, and we maintain a vision of ourselves as masters over, what Michel Serres has termed, ‘the abundance of the Creation’. (Serres 2007, 47) Seeming to sever their dependency on the physical processes that underlie them, digital technologies, ‘incorporate hyper-redundant error-checking routines that serve to sustain an illusion of immateriality by detecting error and correcting it’. (Kirschenbaum 2008, 12) The alleviation of error and noise, is then, an implicit feature of digital materiality. Expressed at the status of the digital image it is the visual glitch, the coding artifact, [vi]that signifies the potential of the digital object to loosen its shackles; to assert its own being. In a parody of Arthur C. Clarke’s infamous utopian appraisal of technology, another science fiction author, Bruce Sterling, delivers a neat sound bite for the digital civilisation, so that: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic (Clarke 1977, 36) …becomes… Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from [its] garbage. (Sterling 2012)  

Footnotes [i] A label appropriated by Ridley Scott for the film Blade Runner, and not by Philip K. Dick in the original novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, who preferred the more archaic, general term, android. Throughout the novel characters refer to the artificial humans as ‘andys,’ portraying a casual ease with which to shrug off these shimmering subjects as mere objects. [ii] A translated version of the character, J.F. Isidore, from the original novel. [iii] Recent attempts to disable appeals to the subject, attempts by writers such as Graham Harman, Levi R. Bryant, Bill Brown and Ian Bogost, have sought to devise, in line with Bruno Latour, an ontology in which ‘Nothing can be reduced to anything else, nothing can be deduced from anything else, everything may be allied to everything else;’ (Latour 1993, 163) one in which a discussion of the being of a chilli pepper or a wrist watch may rank alongside a similar debate about the being of a human or a dolphin. An object-oriented, flat ontology (Bryant 2011) premised on the niggling sentiment that ‘all things equally exist, yet they do not exist equally.’ (Bogost 2012, 19) Unlike Graham Harman, who uses the terms interchangeably, (Bogost 2012, 24) Bill Brown’s Thing Theory approaches the problem by strongly asserting a difference between objects and things. [iv] I have carefully avoided using the term ‘posthuman,’ but I hope its resonance remains. [v] The resonance here with a biological imperative is intentional, although it is perhaps in this work alone that I wish to completely avoid such digital/biological metonyms. Boris Groys’ text From Image to Image File – And Back: Art in the Age of Digitisation, functions neatly to bridge this work with previous ones when he states: The biological metaphor says it all: not only life, which is notorious in this respect, but also technology, which supposedly opposes nature, has become the medium of non-identical reproduction.

[vi] I have very consciously chosen to spell ‘artifact’ with an ‘i’, widely known as the American spelling of the term. This spelling of the word aligns it with computer/programming terminology (i.e.’compression artifact’), leaving the ‘e’ spelling free to echo its archaeological heritage. In any case, multiple meanings for the word can be read in each instance.

Bibliography Barthes, Roland. 1994. Roland Barthes. University of California Press. Bogost, Ian. 2012. Alien Phenomenology, Or What It’s Like to Be a Thing. University of Minnesota Press. Brown, Bill. 2001. “Thing Theory.” Critical Inquiry 28 (1) (October 1): 1–22. Bryant, Levi R. 2011. The Democracy of Objects. Clarke, Arthur C. 1977. “Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination.” In Profiles of the future?: an inquiry into the limits of the possible. New York: Popular Library. Dick, Philip K. 1968. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Random House Publishing Group, 2008. ———. 2011. The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Eakin, Paul John. 1992. Touching the World: Reference in Autobiography. Princeton University Press. Hillis, W. 1999. The Pattern on the Stone?: the Simple Ideas That Make Computers Work. 1st paperback ed. New York: Basic Books. Jameson, Fredric. 2005. Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions. Verso. Keep Britain Tidy Campaign, Environmental Campaigns (ENCAMS). YOUR RUBBISH AND THE LAW a Guide for Businesses. Kirschenbaum, Matthew G. 2008. Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination. MIT Press. Latour, Bruno. 1993. The Pasteurization of France. Harvard University Press. Parikka, Jussi. 2008. “Copy.” In Software Studies?: a Lexicon, ed. Matthew Fuller, 70–78. Cambridge  Mass.: MIT Press. Schwenger, Peter. 2004. “Words and the Murder of the Thing.” In Things, 135 – 150. University of Chicago Press Journals. Scott, Ridley. 1982. Blade Runner. Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller. Serres, Michel. 2007. The Parasite. 1st University of Minnesota Press ed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Sterling, Bruce. 2012. “Design Fiction: Sascha Pohflepp & Daisy Ginsberg, ‘Growth Assembly’.” Wired Magazine: Beyond The Beyond.

Sat, 25 Aug 2012 10:00:00 -0700
<![CDATA["The perfect – complete, clear, and distinct – knowledge that the subject has of the object is..."]]>

“The perfect – complete, clear, and distinct – knowledge that the subject has of the object is entirely external; it results from manufacture; I know what the object I have made is; I can make another one like it, but I would not be able to make another being like me in the way that a watchmaker makes a watch (or that a man in the “age of the reindeer” made a blade of sharp stone), and as a matter of fact I don’t know what the being is that I am, nor do I know what the world is and I would not be able to produce another one by any means.” - Georges Bataille, Theory of Religion

Wed, 25 Apr 2012 16:24:52 -0700
<![CDATA[quote from High Techne - Rutsky]]>

The position of human beings in relation to this techno-cultural un-conscious cannot, therefore, be that of the analyst (or theorist) who, standing outside this space, presumes to know or control it.It must in-stead be a relation of connection to, of interaction with, that which has been seen as “other,” including the unsettling processes oftechno-culture itself. To accept this relation is to let go of part ofwhat it has meant to be human,to be a human subject,and to allow ourselves to change,to mutate, to become alien, cyborg, posthuman. This mutant, posthuman status is not a matter of armoring the body, adding robotic prostheses, or technologically transferring consciousness from the body; it is not, in other words, a matter of fortifying the boundaries of the subject, of securing identity as a fixed entity. It is rather a matter of unsecuring the subject, of acknowledging the relations and mutational processes that constitute it. A posthuman subject position would, in other words, acknowledge the otherness that is part of us. It would involve opening the boundaries of individual and collective identity, changing the relations that have distinguished between subject and object, self and other, us and them.

Fri, 06 Jan 2012 07:52:17 -0800
<![CDATA[The Cyberspace Real (Between Perversion and Trauma)]]>

Are the pessimistic cultural criticists (from Jean Baudrillard to Paul Virilio) justified in their claim that cyberspace ultimately generates a kind of proto-psychotic immersion into an imaginary universe of hallucinations, unconstrained by any symbolic Law or by any impossibility of some Real? If not, how are we to detect in cyberspace the contours of the other two dimensions of the Lacanian triad ISR, the Symbolic and the Real?

As to the symbolic dimension, the solution seems easy — it suffices to focus on the notion of authorship that fits the emerging domain of cyberspace narratives, that of the "procedural authorship": the author (say, of the interactive immersive environment in which we actively participate by role-playing) no longer writes detailed story-line, s/he merely provides the basic set of rules (the coordinates of the fictional universe in which we immerse ourselves, the limited set of actions we are allowed to accomplish within this virtual space, etc.)

Fri, 30 Sep 2011 07:33:41 -0700
<![CDATA[The Neolithic Age is over!]]>

Michel Serres: We are in the middle of an extraordinary human and environmental transformation, without really being aware of it, one that can only perhaps be compared with the Renaissance, the fifth century BC, and even the Neolithic age. For example, if there are no more peasants today, when did peasantry ­begin? In the Neolithic age. We can now say that in the year 2000, the Neolithic age is over. But who announced this in the news­papers? We didn’t read in any paper that “the Neolithic age is over”!

And we are equipped in our thinking for this change?

No. What we see are many turning points – physical, environmental, agricul­tural, medical, demographic, etc. All these events are profoundly significant; they touch human life and human behavior, the space around us. In 1800, eight per cent of the population lived in cities, meaning that prior to that, the number was even smaller. Today, 50 to 70 percent of the population is urban. 

Tue, 12 Jul 2011 01:36:11 -0700
<![CDATA[On Seeing (an Imitation)]]>

by Daniel Rourke

“Mimesis here is not the representation of one thing by another, the relation of resemblance or of identification between two beings, the reproduction of a product of nature by a product of art. It is not the relation of two products but of two productions. And of two freedoms... 'True' mimesis is between two producing subjects and not between two produced things.”

Jacques Derrida, Economimesis

Enlarged pupil (an eye with iritis)
As the day drew closer to its end so I strained my eyes to compensate. A milieu of symbols littered my computer screen, each connected to a staccato breach between breath and tongue. And in conjunction, fused one to another in a series, these symbols formed words and concepts, visions and ideas to which I felt an obligation.

I was designing a book, turning a text into a form through the processes of a computer design interface. The semblance of a page confronted each turn of my wrist or tap of finger, until the virtual book lay splayed open, its central fissure dilating as the words grew bigger or shrank to barely perceptible pricks of black. By manipulating the interface I could expand letters until they inked out the screen, or, in turn, spiral to infinite distance, turning definite symbols into the pixels of a cloud.

This process of making occurred at a virtual distance to me and yet, as the nights rolled onwards, this work was limiting my ability to see.

The doctor examined my right eye. I had iritis, a strain of the pupil with no particular cause, except perhaps for its over-use: for one's over-reliance on its mechanical operation. Being that my right eye was the strongest of the two it had over-compensated at each dimming of the day, allowing my left eye to relax as the symbols of my book whirled on. The strain resulted in a blood-shot appearance accompanied by a searing, throbbing pain. It hurt to see, and even more so to look. It hurt because looking was its cause.

Standing at the base of the Southern tower I arced my neck back as far as I dare. As the horizon descended into my stomach I could just about perceive the towers' tallest corners, pinching at sky. How many coins did it take to build these things? And how many steps was I expected to ascend in order to get to the 'observation deck'?

In exchange for my tiny coin I fathomed a giant network called 'New York'. From up here everything was horizon: the imaginary boundary between earth and sky that moves in respect of one's position.

In 2001 the two towers tumbled. How profane their figures seem now. How could it be that these prisms, designed and built in the 1960s, opened and occupied in the 1970s, witness of boom in the 80s and bust in the 90s, would come to stand for all the tumult and turmoil, striving and hope of our newest century?

The precision of the prism – flat, grey surfaces observed in isometric space – will forever be bound to these charismatic towers built of steel, concrete and capital. That they now stand as symbols effaces their identity in time or in space. They will always be contemporary, so long as cities are built and planes soar the skies above them. Looking back at them it is now I that stand on the horizon. Yet, howsoever I alter my vision, the towers stay solid and fixed to their position, being at one and the same time the landscape, the illumination and the roving eye.

'Office Block With Twin' by Koizumi Meiro, 2006

Idiopathic is an adjective used primarily in medicine meaning arising spontaneously or from an obscure or unknown cause. From Greek ἴδιος, idios (one's own) + πάθος, pathos (suffering), it means approximately "a disease of its own kind."

extract from Wikipedia

In 2006 Koizumi Meiro tore pages from pornographic magazines. Over images composed of two erotically entwined women he painted tones of grey. The resulting collages speak of capture, of closure and the banal. They are severely a-erotic, displaying none of the titillation that their originary magazines wished upon their audience. The women's heads have been disembodied, or more precisely, have been relocated onto the bodies of twin prisms. Does Meiro's objectification of these women mirror the objectification they suffer under the guise of the erotic gaze? Perhaps. What draws me into the images though, and what emerges most strikingly as I look upon them, is a haunting sense of recognition. This simplified, perfect horizon, these strutting prisms of grey mirror the defining twin icons of our era. Captured, closed off and made banal to my mind by the passing of time, by their over admittance into the symbolic syntax of the new century.

My recognition is itself an imitation, such that seeing and looking are intertwined.

A focal point rushes to meet me, like a pupil contracting as the first band of sun breaches an ever distant imaginary line.

Cargo Cult

In the 1940s the Southwest Pacific Ocean became of fundamental strategic importance for both the Japanese and American forces. After establishing bases on a range of Melanesian and Micronesian islands the US Military settled into the routines of war.

To the native peoples of these islands the military presence signified a complete over-turning of the natural order. Within a few months the beaches and grasslands were transformed into encampments and runways, and as the war effort ensued the skies above must have seemed filled with the buzz of alien craft. The native people came to know American society through the exchange of commodities and the gestures of an unknown tongue. As planes soared overhead and countless ships descended over the horizon the islands became saturated with cargo of all kinds, from cans of coca cola to livestock the likeness of which the islanders had never seen.

Much has been written of the so called 'Cargo Cults' which later emerged on these islands. Strange rituals still carried out today seem to hark back to those informative years when Western civilisation first imposed itself on the native Micronesians. Islanders build imitation planes and runways from straw and dirt; act out military processions with bamboo guns slung over their shoulders. In order to bring back the abundance of cargo that used to land on their islands the native people appear to be imitating the conditions under which its arrival used to occur.

Ritual obtains a value at the meeting point between the thing imitated and the imitation. Ritual is action, but it is also object. It is natural because it is always a copy; repeated whilst never attaining perfect resemblance; repeated to bring into order the miasma of our visions.

With work there is always consequence, both intended and in excess. For the tribal communities of the cargo islands the dividing lines between nature and ritual, between alien technology and the routines of war must have seemed identical. A resemblance, a dividing line, that was worthy of imitation whether it brought cargo or not.

We cannot know what they saw. We can only imitate an idea of their seeing by analogy with the kind of seeing we consider in ourselves.

Upon the arrival of the American Military in the Southwestern Pacific there was a lot more to see than had been seen before.

“Why should we be at all interested in perceiving the obscurity that emanates from the epoch? Is darkness not precisely an anonymous experience that is by definition impenetrable; something that is not directed at us and thus cannot concern us? On the contrary, the contemporary is the person who perceives the darkness of his time as something that concerns him. Darkness is something that – more than any light – turns directly and singularly toward him. The contemporary is the one whose eyes are struck by the beam of darkness that comes from his own time.”

Giorgio Agamben, What is The Contemporary?

The eye-drops soothed the burning pain, but they also gave me chronic photo-phobia, such that stepping out into daylight was excruciating. I needed to let my eye rest, and this meant shutting off its ability to work. Whether the light was dim or bright, whether the object of my attention was near or far, the muscles around my pupil lay dormant. I considered the world through a pupil locked at its fullest expanse. The light gushed in.

In place of depth, of shade and colour, there now existed a miasma which my left eye alone could not navigate. The physical frames of everyday life were impossible to attenuate. It was as if upon being freed from the shallow glare of the computer screen I had stumbled into a space between signified and signifier. Everything was flattened to the status of an interface, but an interface that lead nowhere and manipulated nothing.

My book had been printed and bound. I could hold it in my hands, flick through its pages. In real space I could consider it, scanning its lines and paragraphs with my working eye. Wearing a make-shift eye patch or a pair of sun glasses I was able to avoid headaches and spatial confusion. But upon holding the very object whose making had rendered my right eye useless I was overcome with a different kind of dislocation.

Was this the book I had designed on my computer? It bore a resemblance, there was even a sense that my fingers had observed it before, the memory of its movements surfacing as I turned it over in my hands. But this sense did not transfer to the content of the book, to the meaning that emerged when words were read in conjunction, and pages, phrases, paragraphs and footnotes came to meet each other in endless variation. I recognised the words themselves, but I did not recognise from where they had come. I saw the book's space, time and content, yet I could not see its work.

Between seeing and looking which paradigm was closest to this work: the roving eye or the mind engaged in making?

by Daniel Rourke

“To go beyond is to communicate with ideas, to understand. Does not the function of art lie in not understanding?... Art does not know a particular type of reality; it contrasts with knowledge. It is the very event of obscuring, a descent of the night, an invasion of shadow.”

Emmanuel Levinas, Reality and Its Shadow

Sun, 24 Jan 2010 21:04:00 -0800