Posts Tagged ‘cyborg’
original concept art for Disney’s Tomorrowland
Scott Bukatman’s argument about Disneyland’s cyborg relationship to technology echoes Ndalianis’ discussion of the (neo)baroque aesthetic of spatial interaction, in the sense that both join in a phenomenological regime where the subject fuses with an exterior, with an object – whether the animatronic interface of Disneyland or a painted bas-relief that tricks the viewer into seeing it as an extruded surface – in a overflow of “kinetic, sensory pleasure” (Bukatman).
the Grand Opening of Fantasyland, 1955
Both the baroque object/ornament and the theme park (which might be thought of as a baroque effect multiplied by technology) allow “the body (to) penetrate impossible spaces” (Bukatman), or in Ndalianis’ words, to create “co-extensive space – a space that illusionistically connects with and infinitely extends from our own”. This process of fusion between the internal space of the subject and the inanimate exteriority of the technological or architectural apparatus is read by both Bukatman and Ndalianis as a kind of sensual and affective jouissance, a pleasure that derives from the subject exceeding the boundaries of the “normal” body to find a new kind of virtual embodiment in a multiplicity of outside spaces. In a movement that molds itself to the machinery of the baroque aesthetic, the baroque subject is transformed, disarticulated and dispersed alongside forking paths of attention and absorption, the sense of self “becoming a system of a labyrinth, which, by means of mobile synthesis, stretches itself out in a realm of glittering movement and color” (to re-contextualize Focillon’s beautiful phrase).
Blade Runner…a cyberpunk icon
It is interesting that this same effect proper to the baroque also seems to apply to Bukatman’s interpretation of cyberpunk as an ocular regime governed by a sense of ambiguity as to whether the eye is subjective or objective/inanimate/machine. Not surprisingly, the intimate pervasiveness characteristic of cyberpunk technology (and of our own contemporary technological experience) can be witnessed to correspond with a resurgence in a taste for and consumption of the baroque, if one is to judge by the popularity of theme parks and themed urbanity – the baroque might be the missing puzzle piece in understanding contemporary audiences relationship to technology and the (ongoing?) process of cyborgification whereby individuality or consciousness becomes transmediated across different platforms.
18th century artist Giovanni Piranesi’s baroque rendition of Rome...
This liquification of the self into a riot of sensation, to go back to Focillon’s analysis of the baroque, also arguably applies to our experience of the attraction (and the amusement parks from which Disneyland is descended). Though it is common to think about attractions in terms of theme parks, and of seeing Disneyland as a kind of terminal incarnation of the principle of the attraction, Disneyland’s totalizing space and monolithically integrated design actually differs significantly from other historical experiences of attractions, such as amusement parks, pleasure gardens, fairs, etc…In which case Margaret King’s idealistic description of the theme park as a “stage based on architectural symbols for stylized, romanticized human interaction” might be read proscriptively or nostalgically…
and more virtuoso inventiveness using Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 as a theme park 3D modeling environment!
In an empty loft space, somewhere deep in the bowels of the Brewery Arts District, Eric Gradman, Brent Bushnell and Doug Campbell are plotting the future of Los Angeles night life. These tech- and culture-savvy guys are thoroughly bored with L.A.’s bar scene, and they are scheming to bring interactive art, real-time games and dynamic technology to your next cocktail hour, where new ideas flow as liberally as the alcohol. They are, in fact, already manifesting this future social scene — and they call it Mindshare.
Every third Thursday of the month, Gradman, Bushnell and Campbell play host to a forward-thinking cultural salon that’s part tech-geek meet-and-greet and part playground of cutting-edge interactive art — all with an open bar. Started in 2006 by Doug Campbell and Adam Medford, the idea of Mindshare came out of their shared experience at the annual TED Conference. “We came back totally inspired,” says Campbell. “At the same time, we were really unimpressed with the typical bar-and-club-related social scene, and we thought, we’ve got a great network of people involved in science, technology, arts — let’s bring them together.”
But Mindshare is not just a boozed-up networking event. The evening starts out with a series of presentations that cover social robotics, apocalyptic survival cognitive neuroscience and even pole dancing. After all guests are thoroughly overstimulated, Mindsharians are let loose to mingle, drink and play with the “toys” made by the Mindshare Labs collective, a recently formed right arm to the Mindshare event. Gradman and Bushnell (among others) head up Mindshare Labs, and have been coming out with creations almost each month since last November. Somewhere between game, gadget and art installation, these innovative, cheeky inventions encourage people to lower their social inhibitions. Because, while we give a lot of credence to social networking on the Internet, geeks want to be social creatures in real life too.
After the jump: some of Mindshare’s latest inventions.
Laser Maze: Want to add some “Mission: Impossible” to your mixer? Bushnell’s game challenges partygoers to jump and duck through a room filled with angled laser beams. Using 3A lasers, Arduino circuits, Python and Linux programming plus a 1,200-watt fog machine, the Laser Maze is soon to be part of a multi-person game.
Cloud Mirror: Step in front of Gradman’s specially programmed video camera and projector at your own risk. Thanks to facial-recognition technology and what he calls “gentle data scraping” from social networking sites, tidbits of personal information appear above the projected person’s face in a cartoon-like “thought cloud.” Didn’t want the whole room to know your Facebook relationship status? Surprise! Too late.
ShadowSmoke: Imagine visuals that look like a digitally produced lava lamp projected on an entire wall of a club. Add Gradman’s computer-programming magic and suddenly whoever sashays in front of the screen can manipulate the swirls of colorful, virtual liquid-smoke with the movement of shadows. Wallflowers, beware: This project is meant to lure the dance-bashful out into the limelight.
Game Table: Bushnell has turned an ordinary dining table into a six-person video game platform that can play a number of classic games like Tron and Pong. Why six? Bushnell explains, “I think six is kind of an unstable number. People usually socialize in groups of two or four, so the Game Table encourages you to go invite others — maybe people you don’t know — into your circle to play. It’s a way less awkward way to flirt than the whole ‘Can I buy you a drink?’ thing.”
— Ramie Becker
Top photo: Eric Gradman stands before his interactive fluid simulation, “ShadowSmoke.” Credit: Josh Reiss
A Photo Comic of my installation film: production stills from the shoot of Everything Can and Shall Be Cut
Some stills from the shoot of one of the videos for my new installation “Almost Everything Can and Shall Be Cut”
1. a balloon animal in a helpless position
2. the balloon animal in distress
3. a wig is powerless to keep the scissors at bay
4. the fate of the wig: stuffed in a blender
5. wig, ravaged , posing with its instrument of death
6. the slow decomposition of jello
7. the ice-cubes are handpicked for oblivion
8. a cube of polystyrene foam is tortured with a needle
9. green goo oozes from polystyrene’s wounds
10. a steak is posthumously fed with intraveinous liquid
11. a circuit board fears for its transistors
12. circuit board yields its last colorful breath
13. a pillow besides its own stuffing
14. exposing pillow’s inner flesh
15. the pink heart of pillow’s insides
As a child, I spent hours with my Sega Genesis or (Sega Megadrive, as it was marketed in Europe) developing digital motor reflexes meant to ensure my survival in a colorful 8-bit world. Rolling up in a little ball to zoom through transparent tubes or accelerate and fall in not-quite-Earth-gravity parabolas became second nature. Sonic introduced me to the delights of a sacharine electronic soundtrack that made the hard primary colors of Sonic world’s shimmer and subliminally controlled my minute pushing and pulling of the tiny joystick. Sonic is a masterpiece in synesthetic design: visual, aural and kinetic mesh together to create a re-embodied experience, more akin to telepresence than manipulating an avatar.
Carnival Night Zone
Apparently, other fans who still have dreams of pinballing through Sonic levels and have developped an automatic jump and bounce response to hearing repetitive synth melodies have posted these walkthroughs of Sonic 1 and 2…a nostalgic flashback to an archaic utopia.
note to self: when thinking about video art and projection techniques, think SMALL
Is it candy, jewels, or blood? Skin, froth, mother of pearl, or cream? eyes deadened by narcotics, faces decomposing and yet fluffy with sweet, fresh flesh. Michael Hussar puts the texture back in the visual art, using impressionist techniques to create nauseating and irresistible allegories of desire, decay and sugar. Lovably tactile: sticky, soft, smooth, liquid, ticklish,and with the occasionally sharp claw or tooth to remind us of pain.
from David Rokeby’s article The Construction of Experience: Interface as Content (1998):
In a similar vein, it’s important to understand the difference between “fractal” complexity and the complexity of life experience. Fractals are fascinating because a rich variety of forms are generated by a single, often simple algorithm. The endless and endlessly different structures of the Mandelbrot set are generated by a single equation addressed in an unusual way. This relationship between the infinite detail of the fractal and its terse mathematical representation is an extreme example of compression. The compression of images, sound and video into much smaller encoded representations is one of the keys of the current multimedia explosion.
Opposed to the incredibly compressible “complexity” of fractals is the complexity of true randomness. Something can be said to be random if it cannot be expressed by anything less than itself… that is to say, it’s incompressible. This rather philosophical notion can be observed in our everyday on-line communication. To move data around quickly and efficiently, we compress it, then send it through a modem that compresses it further. What is left is the incompressible core of the information. As you can hear through your modem when you dial up your internet service provider, the result sounds close to random noise.
Randomness and noise are usually things we avoid, but in the purely logical space of the computer, randomness and noise have proven to be welcome and necessary to break the deadly predictability. But random number generators, used so often to add “human” spice to computer games and computer-generated graphics are not “random” at all. They merely repeats over a fairly long period?a sterile simulation of the real thing.
…In designing environments for experience, we must remain humble in the face of the power of irresolvable, non-fractal complexity. The computer is an almost pure vacuum, devoid of unpredictability. Computer bugs, while annoying, are never actually unpredictable unless this “vacuum” fails, as when the hardware itself overheats or is otherwise physically damaged. This vacuum is extremely useful, but it’s no place to live.
When I started working with interactive systems I saw the “vacuum” of the computer as the biggest challenge. I developed “Very Nervous System” as an attempt to draw as much of the universe’s complexity into the computer as possible. The result is not very useful in the classical sense, but it creates the possibility of experiences which in themselves are useful and thought-provoking, particularly by making directly tangible that what is lost in over-simplification.
Noise II: “…a wiry noise, with single barbs projecting, sharp edges running along it and submerging again and clear notes splintering off – flying and scattering”.
Peter Bailey in Breaking the Sound barrier quotes Robert Musil on the ‘sonic shrapnel’ produced by the motor car: “…a wiry noise, with single barbs projecting, sharp edges running along it and submerging again and clear notes splintering off – flying and scattering”. Two synesthetic attributes stand out in this remarkable description. First, there are haptic qualities to the noise, translated in terms of texture: how the sound would feel (“wiry”) if you could probe / test it with your fingers, in effect uncovering an auditory topology by using the body as contact surface with the sound (“sharp edges running along it”). Then, Musil recognizes the noise’s kinetic attributes: the sound is in a continuous process of shattering, “flying and scattering”, throwing its components into the world (into the ear) like so many projectiles.
As Bailey notes, sound is vibration (“palpable”) – a series of minute but tangible displacements of matter. Unlike light with its strictly scopic / analytic affordances, the flow of sound modifies physical reality, rearranges the world. As such, the haptic domain – texture – already contains the possibility of sound; noise starts to exist when it can extend itself kinetically, across a spatial and temporal axis, when it becomes a conductor for change and entropy. Musil’s rapprochement between hearing and touch alerts us to the fact that sound unfolds in space concomitantly with its unfolding in time: it travels, working on the body as much as on consciousness.
Consequently, Noise (meaning sound in its raw form, an amalgamation and meshing of vibrations not synched into discrete units of order) seems to have an intimate relationship with affect that expresses itself in the body, namely (Bailey argues) laughter and terror / the instinct to flee-fight. Both of these proto-emotions (or simply motions) are brought together to powerful effect in the tradition Bailey calls “rough music”: “rough music was excessive, repetitive and sustained noise, combining high spirits with a sadistic edge”. Participating equally in a Bakhtinian culture of carnival and a history of institutionalized insanity (Bailey disarticulates the etymology of “bedlam” as the hubbub of the Bedlam inmates), rough music is produced for social purposes of ritual or regulation. Interestingly, Attali links music to the sacrifice of noise and its appendage of violence on the altar of (social, scientific) order. From there, one realizes that to listen to “rough music” is to witness noise coagulating into music or inversely, music decaying into noise – an exhilarating experience of liminality, teetering between forgetfulness (chaos) and culture.
Rough music has many splendid contemporary descendants (Noise, the more distorted forms of techno), thanks to the industrial revolution and the musical avant-garde that sought to rehabilitate or take control over the kind of sonic environment produced by the accelerated motion/collisions of more bodies and machines. The “future sound” that John Cage celebrates highlights the same attributes that Robert Musil discovered in sounds of technology: texture and kinetic force. Cage discusses these as “overtone structure” and “percussion music”, respectively.
“The special function of electrical instruments will be to provide complete control of the overtone structure of tones and to make these tones available in any frequency, amplitude and duration”: overtones are what gives each instrument its particular timbre i.e. the sonic texture that differentiates a violin from a piano; certainly electronic and digital music take advantage of the fact that they can give voice to an infinity of imaginary instruments, in effect to an uncategorizable cacophony of overtones. Allied to the emphasis on “percussion” (“a contemporary transition from keyboard-influenced music to the all-sound music of the future”), Cage’s future sound heralds key components of contemporary rough music in this evocation of tonal din and “repetitive noise” (repetition being primarily structured by beats/percussion). Compared to its 18th century manifestation, Noise engages the confused ear in the gears of a machine in order to better manufacture its violent/euphoric interface with the body.
These texts and clips had me thinking about the relationship between the modernist concern with contingency (starting with the ubiquitous presence of photographic arts from the early 20th century onwards) and the movement of situationism as it flourished in the late 50s and 60s – I see another line or relationship between the flaneur, the nomad, the cyborg and the situationist as precursors of immersive arts/installations practitioners…immersion is basically the design of playful space.
Debord advised drifters to allow themselves to be guided by those features of the street neglected by most pedestrians, like “the sudden change of ambiance in a street within the space of a few meters” and the “path of least resistance which is automatically followed in aimless strolls (and which has no relation to the contour of the ground)”. the determinants of drift, apparently, were alternations in emotional and ambient intensity; “the appealing or repelling characters of certain places”; and the drifter’s tendency to “drain” along relatively unresistant paths, “the fissures in the urban network”. The Lettrist International even “envisaged a pinball machine arranged in such a way that the play of the lights and the more or less predictable trajectories of the balls” would represent the “thermal sensations and desires of people passing by the gates of the Cluny Museum around an hour after sunset in November,” as though drifters were like ball bearings, propelled through the city’s channels by the energized “pins” of the unities of ambiance.
Simon Sadler, The Situationist City
Anthony Vidler, The Architectural Uncanny
Giuliana Bruno, Atlas of Emotion: Journey in Art, Architecture and Film
Donna Haraway, A Cyborg Manifesto
Vidler uses the cyborg as a useful metaphor to map out the contemporary direction of the relation between the theory and practice of architecture. The issues Vidler addresses, specifically regarding the history of the question of how spaces are perceived as (and designed as) places of human habitation, and how this search is dogged by the irruption of modernism and its sense of the uncanny/the failure of a sense of “dwelling”, are pragmatic issues oriented towards the design/creation of space and therefore open up a point of view very different from Lefevre’s, De Certeau’s, and Harvey’s focus on the experience of the inhabitant/the consumer. Contra Lefevre’s and de Certeau’s understanding of “abstract” space (designed, top down space, planned space) as something that must be contested and re-imagined by the user, Vidler reveals a much more complex mechanism of how different spaces (concrete, as well as imagined/idealized) can produce different subjectivities/bodies.
In the process, he creates a historical mapping of a phenomenology of space, starting with the rise of a modernist “eye” and its bisection of space into a positivist space, regularized by routine, mapped with reference points, knowable, and a “repressed”, uncanny space that emerges out of the woodwork when we lay down our guard/our epistemological grid – a secret, elusive space characterized by the phantom presence of an “other”. Vidler argues that this “haunting” is generated by a sense of the loss of a more complete or satisfying “original” space, one that would constitute a more real or more proper dwelling for its human inhabitants – wherefore a common nostalgia for the topos of childhood, architectural attempts to recreate atavistic, womb-like environments, or, on the other extreme, to invent a new mode of transparent, frictionless habitation (le Corbusier). All these creative and theoretical responses to the haunting of the reified, given spaces of modernity speak to a desire to align the human body with a spatial body, human interiority with an exteriorized space of imagination. According to Vidler, the history of modernist architecture is a series of attempts to build better homes, spaces that can properly connect subjectivity with the world.
The cyborg, and postmodernity invert this utopian search for dwelling. The nature of the cyborg, the new inhabitant of the present-future is not to dwell in a place (or to yearn for a lost art of dwelling) but to build/reconfigure/tinker (bricolage)/invent a body for herself that can plug into the multiple valences of her environment. Rather than occupying a home, the cyborg consumes space, collecting/archiving the content of a conflated material/virtual realm, “establishing a host of half-completed, half-broken refracted lines between mechanical objects and organic subjects”. Giuliana Bruno’s discussion of the “eye-mouth” as an epistemic organ for the visualization/understanding/devouring of (material and cinematic) space is particularly relevant to Vidler’s discussion of the cyborg as a subjectivity that assimilates space and the world it contains within the hitherto (theoretically) inviolable boundaries of her own body, in the process metamorphosizing into a sort of human Aleph. As a site of multiplicity i.e. multiple spaces, the body of the cyborg represents the anti-fulfillment of the modernist search for a lost unity or wholeness, instead premising the uncanny, the fractured, the heterogeneous as that which is fundamentally familiar and “natural” (in the way Haraway understands nature as a total environment encompassing human and non-human). In this sense, the cyborg symbolizes the attempt to theorize away from the endless quests for reconciliation that characterize modernism, to mobilize our energies into living in/with contemporary space and time rather than remembering/anticipating a proper home for subjectivity, paradoxically by presenting us with a superhuman or hybrid, posthuman ideal/ideality.
This mystical embracing of the postmodern condition, and its rejection of the anxiety infecting the modernist project, finds an echo in Edward Soja’s notion of Thirdspace and his attempt to envision space as an (infinite) potentiality rather than the sum of its parts (the literal space systematically produced by capitalism). In both cases it seems necessary to tease out whether these concepts express something more concrete than simply the movement of flight from failed (modernist) constructs.