Posts Tagged ‘utopia’
I had to re-blog this post from Colossal. This is a mockumentary by German digital artist Till Nowak about impossible theme park rides built as centrifugal experiments to maximize human intelligence. The architectural renderings are simply mind-blowing – and treated with a hilarious retro 80s filter. I can imagine another life for these designs in some immersive stereoscopic game.
I always have a soft spot in my heart for virtuosity that doesn’t take itself seriously. In the words of the disturbed narrator, “these machines provide total freedom, cutting you off from all connections to the world you live in: communication…responsibility…weight. Everything is on hold while you are being centrifuged.” Well said.
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!
The obscure Renaissance scholar Athanasius Kircher’s fabulous system of magnetic divination: “The World is Tied with Secret Knots”
Hidden in sun-drenched Culver City, The Museum of Jurassic Technology is a hoax, an art installation of intimate and metaphysical magnitude, a labyrinth for the scholastic imagination and anything else you can dream of or wish for. Founded by the enigmatic David Hildebrand Wilson in 1989, susbequent recipient of a Mac Arthur “Genius” Grant in 2001 for this puzzling and original endeavour, the Museum is a cabinet of curiosities that tantalizingly frames tidbits of historical minutiae in a fabulous context, very much in the spirit of Mark Z. Danielewski’s legendary House of Leaves, also an ironic mise en abime of scholarly critique folded into an impossible (alhough imaginary) geometric space. Minuscule steroscopic projections visible through copper-articulated glass plates, documentary films with convoluted mystical narratives, whimsically lit diaoramas and glowing orbs: such is that place of perfect delight and incomprehension, the Museum of Jurassic Technology
The micromosaics of Harald Henry Dalton, visible only through a microscope
from the exhibit Lives of Perfect Creatures: Dogs of the Soviet Space Program
from the exhibit Garden of Eden on Wheels: Collections from Los Angeles Areas Mobile Parks
from the exhibit Rotten Luck: The Decaying Dice of Ricky Jay
Torus is a bouncing castle, an inflatable tunnel, a crawl space to rest and socialize, and a novel. After enjoying the buoyant properties of the platform at the center of the structure, revelers enter the darkly glowing, semi-translucent tunnel that circles the ring. Comfortably wide, and yet not large enough to allow you to stand up straight, the tunnel is a tautological maze that amusingly, gently disorients. Its elastic, squeaky walls have the consistency of a balloon and make for interesting reclining, lounging, splaying and contortion of limbs. Strangers meet as they crawl or wiggle through the tunnel: talk, experimentally intertwine, explore the space together. A system of fans keeps the air of the labyrinth adequately fresh and oxygenated.
The secret of Torus is in the speakers embedded in its walls: the tunnel is divided into four quadrants. Each quadrant broadcasts a section of a short novel narrated by the novel’s protagonist. Like in one of Borges’ fantastical stories, the novel has neither beginning nor end – it is literally a circle!
The torus itself is a geometrical object with fascinating psychological properties…sound travels elliptically through it, allowing visitors to experience the ambiance rather than the letter of the novel.
Inflatacookbook: 1970s alternative media/architecture collective Ant Farm’s instruction manual on how to create weirdly inhabitable inflatable structures
In the late 60’s and 70’s, the San Francisco hippie art and architecture collective known as Ant Farm were creating buildings out of giant inflatable plastic bags. Their 1969 work, 50×50′ Pillow for the Whole Earth Catalog led to the commission to build the medical tent–or as Ant Farmer Chip Lord called it, “the Bad Trip Pavilion”–at Altamont.
Ant Farm also created uncannily prescient work about things like the all-consuming, TV-driven, pop media culture and the American fetishization of cars. [They’re the ones who buried that row of Cadillacs nosefirst in the Texas desert.]
from Make Magazine:
“I had the pleasure of meeting and becoming friends with Ant Farm co-founder Doug Michels in the early ’90s. He was as delightfully crazy as ever, drawing up designs for spheres of water floating through space filled with dolphins, a Japanese sex theme park, a giant couch, called the National Sofa, in the park across from the White House, where people could come and interact with the First Family via the National TV set. This was definitely not a guy who liked to paint inside the lines. Sadly, Doug died in a freak climbing accident in 2003.”
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.
For those interested in interactivity not only as an art or industry practice but as a way of life and social experiment, Burning Man remains a visionary site where specifically space, in Lefevrian fashion treated as a shaper of social and cultural context rather than background, is radically explored and expressed. Taking its cue from the Situationists and their idea of a playful “psychogeographic” city, Burning Man is fun fair, ginormous art installation, multimedia playground, slum-mushroom, Fourrierian commune where the consequences of extremely minimal legislation (including a prohibition against the use of money) allow you to live the anarchist American dream.
If you could do exactly what you wanted to invest your time in, and give it some kind of physical form, what would you chose to do? This is the question answered by Burners…often giving rise to habitats, zones, and contraptions that you would only see in the virtual realms of computer games or from the sets of fantasy and science fictions movies. Loose in time, without any schedule (divorced from leisure and encouraged to participate), revelers spend it being in and feeling the weirdness and possibilities of space. From this radical redefinition of these basic parameters, sociality starts to mutate beyond recognition…
The theme for 2010 is METROPOLIS. I would think unavoidable research for anyone interested in dreams of future cities! “Every year a dense metropolis arises in the Black Rock Desert; every year it disappears without a trace. Tumult and change, churning cycles of invention and destruction – these forces generate the pulse of urban life. Great cities are organic, spontaneous, heterogeneous, and untidy. They are, like Burning Man, magnetic hubs of social interaction. This year’s theme will function as a micro and a macro-scope, an instrument through which we will inspect the daily course of city life and the future prospect of what we call civilization.”
“Do as you wish”: the message on the back of Auryn, the amulet of the Childlike Empress is also the motto of Rabelais’ 16th century utopia,l’Abbaye de Thélème…
Using Benedict Anderson’s concept of imagined communities as virtual loci that gather individuals into a common cultural space,Susan Douglas (Listening In) reads radio in terms of its capacity, as a social practice, to uniquely constitute (American) subjectivity. Radio’s most obvious affordance is that it allows people separated in space to listen simultaneously, “to experience that very moment of (their) lives in exactly the same way” (p.24). Douglas argues the new medium gave rise to an unprecedented kind of intersubjective intimacy – a linking of inner worlds that occurred not through a meeting of the minds (radio listeners remain anonymous to each other) but by sharing a common (cultural, technological) platform for fantasy.
Radio listeners are bonded by a specific practice of self: as thousands tune in to the same Top 40 song, they cross over together and for a moment into a temporality different from their distracted, fragmented present and experience time as a (musical) signature, as an embodied flow. For the duration of a song, radio holds out the possibility to a fragmented collectivity to perceive themselves as a unique, flavorful being – the kind of communion achieved is not one that can gather a community (radio listeners are experiencing themselves, very closely, rather than experiencing others) but that produces similar and separated subjectivities. Radio-listening Americans live apart but dream together.
Here Douglas’ concept of “dimensional” listening, as radio’s purported affordance that encourages listeners to generate their own powerful imagery to compensate for the absence of a visual world, enters into play. If other media like cinema, where worlds are “given” to the audience for consumption, constitute a vault of imaginary material, then radio trains the subject in the practice of a specific type of imagination, setting up the scaffolding for an inner space that we can freely populate. To “develop an ear for radio” means to gain access to “a repertoire of listening styles and emotional responses”, to be attuned to different inner worlds that we can switch on or off (in this sense, prefiguring the advent of portable music players as mood-regulating devices). In the 20s before regular programming this might mean tuning in to imagine a ionospheric topology projected from the disparate stations the ham could reel in; in the 30s it could mean regularly conjuring the presence of an entire cast of fictional characters from a soap drama. Douglas argues that in exploring the “spaces” of sound – by promenading our consciousness through the rippling folds of rhythm or timbre in music, by stalking the unfolding story of a voice – we are really spelunking in our own depths.
The term “training” characterizes the kind of self-building radio enables in the sense that listeners (according to Douglas) become emotionally attached to broadcast material, especially if they hear it repeatedly: “the more we listen to certain kinds of music, the more we learn to like it.” (p. 32) – in a quite neurological way, Top 40 songs imprint themselves on our mind, giving shape to our subjectivity. This emotional sculpting modifies the listener’s sense of time in significant ways. Radio creates privileged temporal moments for the listener, a more intense experience of the present that accompanies the listener’s exploration of their inner space. Over the course of a life, these privileged moments call to and ricochet off one another – mental states or moods jump across one’s temporality, seeding the self with fragments of past incarnations, reliquary fantasies. Douglas emphasizes that radio almost from the beginning was marked by nostalgia, by the longing for a disappeared moment that a broadcast song could briefly bring back into the present. In this sense dimensional listening is not dissociable from another term Douglas uses, “associational” listening, or the forging of correspondences between the flow of our lives and the soundtrack that accompanies it, meaning that daily routines – e.g. doing laundry while listening to a jazz tune on the radio – are dyed with the color of a sound that can make an initially undifferentiated slice of everydayness remarkable. This quality in radio emerges from its difference from the gramophone as a listening practice – the fact that radio temporally mapped out a listener’s day (starting with regular programming) with scheduled sound. As manufactured sound and especially music became ambient (as consequence of ubiquity) they started exercising an unprecedented level of influence on people’s lives.
Douglas also investigates the fascinating history of the beginnings of radio and the social significance accorded the new technology at its inception, particularly around the relationship between radio and a collective desire for the existence of a tangible spiritual dimension, a longing for the unchartered and unknown that characterized both radio’s marketing as a mechanical “medium” (a notion that interestingly recontextualizes media in terms of spiritism) and the practice of DXing. Radio uncannily symbolized, more than the phonograph which was an inscription device, the utopian possibilities of technology as interface between different ontological realms, as a transducer that could allow for communication between what was previously considered incommensurable: the living and the dead, humanity and the extraterrestrial, invisible world of the airwaves, two individuals separated by vast distances. Douglas points out that in endowing radio with this mystique Americans were engaging in a search for meaningful connection, a sense of existential and communal belonging that, at least in the collective Western imaginary, had been lost in the turn to mechanized, serialized, fragmented modern life. DXers, poetically dubbed “distance fiends”, developed a form of radio practice that engaged the technology not only as a commodity fetish but also as, literally, a medium, a means of accessing different possibilities of signification through the exploratory use of the technology’s affordances. Before the more commoditized modes of dimensional and associational listening, tuning in to the radio was also a game played across the virtual landscape of the airwaves as DXers would fish for the disembodied voices that stood in for real-world localities.
Douglas’ discussion of DXing as a poetic practice weaves into her general investigation of radio not only as a locus for a cultural imaginary but as a technology that crucially enables imagination – which raises questions as to how other sound technologies have been and might be imaginatively used. If the commodity-use of the record, the tape, the MP3 player have trained us to meaningfully experience sound in certain ways that have constituted our subjectivities according to certain common cultural (capitalist) patterns, then what other cultures (and other subjectivities) with potential to challenge or re-organize capitalism emerge as a result of exploratory, imaginative use? Radio leads us into a consideration of contemporary countercultural (but also massively embraced!) practices around sound technology, namely DJ and remix culture…
The Most A-Maze-ing Hypertext is not Electronic: House of Leaves, Dictionary of the Khazars, Derrida’s Glas
First Passage: The Religion of Flowers. In Phenomenology of the Spirit…. “And then the nightmares begin”. Exploration Z…”Even the hallways you’ve walked a hundred times will feel longer, much longer, and the shadows, any shadow at all, will seem deeper, much deeper”. They could read other people’s dreams, live and make themselves at home in them, and through the dreams hunt the game that was their prey – a human, an object or an animal.
Old Skool – mid 90s
new iteration of happy
J-Pop: happy and breakbeats
Over the past six months I’ve been listening about 3 hours a day to happy hardcore, a sub-genre of “rave”, “techno”, “electronic” music considered a spin-off from early 90s U.K. hardcore techno (which also evolved into other kinds of hyper-fast specimens such as gabber/speedcore, like happy hardcore distinguished by its four to the floor beat but without the synthy melodies and jungle/drum n’ bass, whose syncopated fury is driven by breakbeats). Happy Hardcore is a product of rave culture, which approaches music from a decidedly anti-aesthetic point of view: this is not music meant to be listened to /considered/tasted (nothing is more contrary to the notion of taste than the dirty, praxis-based logic of musical fodder, meant to be digested by your dancing), but to kick you like a soccer ball into a parabolic trajectory, with usually a 7-hour interval between the going up and the coming down. Your body suffers through the DJ set of happy hardcore – crushing waves of relentless beats pound a machine rhythm into your feet while the perpetually shifting, morphing timbres of the synthesizer travel up and down your spine, stretch out your skull from the inside, creating a space (grimy and vast, like a warehouse) for the free play of endless sonic variations. Happy Hardcore is brutal in the sense that it locks you into a logic of acceleration – like driving a car with your foot spastically pressing down on the gas pedal – and that, at least within the context of a DJ set, it never stops. Not delivered in discrete packets of consumable “songs” but turned on like a tap – for a given period of time you swim in it, fight with it, ride with it, drown in it; it becomes your medium, a total texture for a parallel reality, a cognitive landscape apart. When they turn the music off and the night is over, it’s as if the air had gone out of the room – your ears, surreptitiously, have metaphorically started to function as lungs, allowing sound to bond to your bloodstream.
Why happy hardcore? If you look up happy hardcore on youtube, you’re likely to find tracks played to a still image that looks like a smiley face with angry eyebrows and a ferocious, toothy, grin – and that is exactly what it feels like. It can only be described as a mean joy, an apocalyptic celebration – the kind of happiness you would feel if you were being catapulted over a chasm, your feet treading air.
To precipitate the player into a daydreaming state – the goal of an immersive envitonment?
Bachelard, Poetics of Daydreaming: “daydreaming allows us to know language uncensored. In solitary daydreaming, we can say everything to ourselves. We still have a clear enough conscience to be certain that what we say to ourselves is for us and for us alone…To understand ourselves doubly as real and idealized beings we must listen to our daydreaming. We believe that our daydreaming can be the best school for a “psychology of the depths“.
“In our hours of happiness, our daydreaming nourrishes itself; it self-sustains the way life self-sustains.”
On alchemy: “The exaltation found in the names of substances is a preamble to experiments on certain “exalted” substances”.
un jadis a jamais disparu: a once upon a time forever dissapeared
l’ombre est alors un etre riche: the shadow is then a rich and splendid being
On loneliness and the condtional tense: “I am alone, therefore I dream of the being who healed my loneliness, who would have healed my loneliness”.
“What do we know about the other if we don’t imagine him/her?”
This film opens up a world, another level of “reality” that is more than the sum of its parts. Emerging out of a vision of other time – time mechanized, measured, dislocated, arrested, superimposed – is the vision of a other way of life, a life energized by the fullness of the juxtaposed moment, a society aligned with Vertov’s and the communist project’s ideal of a union of the activity of communal / industrial daily life and the vital élan, the joyful exercise of each individual’s humanity. The world invented / discovered by Vertov’s camera erases the division between labor and “one’s own time”, between citizens and the city, between the producers and the technological means of production, between products and their consumers. Every element that is captured by the apparatus meshes with a multiplicity of analogous moments or rather analogous vectors, snippets of temporal trajectories in which the world and all its inhabitants seem to freely throw themselves into each others’ paths.
Brecht-like, Vertov pulls down the wall between the screen and the audience, allowing the subjects-spectators possession of their photographed selves, assigning the camera (and the filmmaker) to be as much a participant in the buzz as its privileged observer. This move is incredibly satisfying and startling at the same time: I do not feel I am presented with an object, a result, a work out of or beyond actuality for me to consume but that the windows of actuality have been blasted open all around me and that I find myself almost on the same ontological plane as the (human, technological) population of the film. Rather than bringing the world to me, it brings me into the world – as a spectator I feel simultaneously transformed into an actor, an agent, part and parcel of the aliveness of the kino-eye. It’s the first time I’ve seen “Man with a Movie Camera” . I cannot remember having ever been so engaged (as opposed to engulfed, enchanted, immersed) by a work of art.
How is “Man with a Movie Camera” a documentary? Grierson’s “the creative treatment of actuality” seems too indeterminate a definition to characterize Vertov’s utopian project. Actuality here is certainly treated, openly, visibly mediated by a community of agents : by the apparatus (which eerily and comically becomes an animate character of its own)_ by the camera operator, the camera’s appendage or transport device whose main task seems to be to enable the camera’s heroic phenomenological agency_by the editor, who, in a sequence showing shots of frames on a film strip followed by shots of the same frames projected at their proper speed, finalizes the machine’s God-like powers to set time in motion. This candid mediation takes the sting out of “creative treatment of actuality”: we are informed as to the “how” and encouraged to jump into the project ourselves.
The filmmaker does cease to be a conjuror and becomes an epistemologist – rather than doling out a spectacle (even a spectacle structured by an argumentative, informative or ideological purpose, on the non-fiction side like Grierson or on the fiction side like Eisenstein) the kino-glaz (a gaze that is simultaneously the filmmaker’s, the spectator’s and the camera’s) inscribes a map of actuality, in fact writing by the exercise of looking / scoping /projecting.
Argumentation becomes problematic at such a level of investigation into the actual, not least because we are placed in a realm beyond language or discourse into something that is purely cinematic – if we are mobilized politically it is on a poetic level, where social issues cannot be divorced from their embededness in an entirety of human meaning.
Another epistemologist – phenomenological camera in Chris Marker’s “Sans Soleil”. “Sans Soleil” also takes actuality as its material, but is it a documentary? When does not the poetic treatment of actuality but the poetic purposes of the filmmaker diverge from a “documentarian” purpose. “Sans Soleil” is about actuality, although a highly subjective one. Does it count? Or must a documentary necessarily address some form of consensus reality – must it necessarily inform in addition to express?
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
Tim Cresswell, Imagining the Nomad: Mobility and the Postmodern Primitive (from Space and Social Theory, Interpreting Modernity and Postmodernity, edited by George Benko and Ulf Strohmayer, Blackwell Publishers, 1997)
Edward Said, The World, the Text and the Critic (Harvard University Press, 1983)
Diana Fuss, Inside/Out (from Inside/Out, Lesbian Theories, Gay Theories, edited by Diana Fuss)
Tim Creswell, Edward Said and Dianna Fuss all seem to hone in on a key issue in the discussion of postmodern notions of spatiality (centering around the nomad, the tactician, the embodied self) and which Said specifically places at the heart of the theorist’s identity. To what extent do theorists, in making sense of their world, inevitably “reify” it, turn lived experience, and in this case, the experience of space/place into an abstraction, either by institutionalizing the theory and cutting it off from its social and historical context or by practicing theory “for theory’s sake”, as itself a form of literature?
Cresswell rightly points out that under the horizon of theorists’ successive attempts to either exalt or demonize the figure of the nomad, the nomad herself, as an embodied subject, remains unknown. Deleuze’s and Guattari’s nomadology subtracts the historical and economic substance of the nomad to extract an elegant and poetic ontology of postmodern society as a utopia structured by no-structure or freedom of movement. Lines of flight or trajectories through space replace a now intolerable fixity of points, of subjects rooted in place. In a revealing parallel with Lukacs, according to whom contemporary society has catastrophically abolished the historicity of subjects to better control them as empty objects circulating through empty space, Deleuze and Guattari’s metaphysics imply that the postmodern subject/nomad only acquires total mobility in space by becoming immobile in time, unmarked by the passage of time. “Unmarked by the traces of class, gender, ethnicity, sexuality and geography” – Cresswell argues that it is precisely those markers that give reality and substance to a subject, a reality that theoretical obsessions with the nomad clearly lack.
Contra theorists of Deleuze and Guattari’s ilk, Said asserts the following: “the work of the humanist critic is to materialize rather than spiritualize the culture in which we live”. This notion travels closely with Lukacs idea that the practice of theory engages on a fundamental level our awareness with the material conditions of the world and therefore serves as a basis for social action. But does “materializing” versus “spiritualizing” culture necessarily go hand in hand, like Lukacs, with reestablishing the theoretical primacy of place i.e. a lieu, or proper place to quote De Certeau and all the historical, economic, political specificity that attach themselves to place, over the attention also due to space, which in its own way, also carries with it definite political and economic implications.
After all, the ideal of spatial mobility, of transience, of boundary transgression is one that carries, not only for Deleuze and Guattari, but for De Certeau (who is concerned with the condition of the consumer) and for Fuss (who is concerned with the theoretical context of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender – and by extension, ‘heterosexual’ – experience of sexuality) the promise of a social space that is no longer delimited and limited by hierarchy, by top-down design, by notions of inclusion and exclusion. We are invited to consider the theoretical transfer from a (modernist) society in which everyone has a place or stays in their place to a (postmodernist) society in which no one is chained to/oppressed by a “proper noun” (De Certeau), but instead is a “poet of their own affairs”, slipping in and out of places according to a logic of the opportune moment. In this sense De Certeau, contra Deleuze and Guattari, does not abolish the “place” of time in the human experience, but argues for a different notion of time, one that is not structured by narratives about past and future but that seizes the story (of life) in the present, in the moment of experiencing the world.
Style frames feature the work of photographer Cassio Vasconcelos (depicting the uninhabited, alien feel of marginal urban landscapes, but also exploring the aesthetic pleasure of pure space), Rutt Blees Luxemberg, and breakcore/IDM music artist “Venetian Snares”.
This animated short explores the question of the ‘liveability’ and humanity of contemporary planned urban landscapes. The title is a play on the two meanings of utopia, as a place of designed perfection and function and as a ‘no-place’, a transient and indefinable place recalcitrant to human occupation.
The short presents segments of animated photography featuring spaces in the city whose ambiguous purpose or lack of identity evoke a sense of ‘psychological vertigo’, what I think of as a hypnotizing mixture of fascination and alienation. These spaces are tunnels, passageways, roadsides, bridges above freeways, abandoned buildings, unkempt infrastructure, closed strip-malls at night, streetlights, subway tracks (above ground), empty parking lots, apartment façades with closed/dark windows.
These spaces will alternate with live-action segments in which a person in a room ‘enacts’ the atmosphere, mood or “being” of the different places put on show, through the play of expression on their face or through gesture and bodily movement/posture. The actor will be as textureless and smooth as possible, preferably androgynous: thin, medium height, dressed in black pants and a long sleeve black T-shirt, bald, with large (‘frightened’) eyes. I want to keep my options open in terms of ‘the room’ that provides the environment for the actor. I want to shoot the actor with a green screen background that allows me to place the actor in a different room depending on the space he/she is enacting – this series of rooms will actually be one room that I get footage of and whose visual characteristics (brightness, hue, saturation, texture, patterns) I have modified to correspond to/evoke the visual characteristics of the urban space that the actor is enacting, hopefully strengthening for the viewer the bond between the urban landscapes/the actor. The framing/shot of the room will be the one invariant – three walls (the back wall a frontal surface, the left and right wall slightly longitudinal surfaces), all of equal or close to equal surface dimensions. However, in case the green screen option does not work out (technical difficulties, mistakes…) I also want to shoot the actor in a real room. The connection with the urban landscapes in this case will be emphasized by changes in the actor’s makeup/ facial paint (color, patterns). For example, if the space I have shown involves striking patterns of light and shadow, these patterns will be reproduced (in a stylized way) on the actor’s face, or if the space is drenched with a red light, the actor’s face will be painted red.
I would like to film the actor in two different kinds of light. The first scheme would involve a flat style of lighting, in which a bright, warm/orangish light evenly lights both the actor and the room. The second scheme would involve lighting the actor much more fully than the room, so that while the front of the actor is brightly lit, the back wall of the room, the far sides of the other walls and the corners are steeped in shadow. The actor’s choreography would then involve playing with this brightness gradient (stepping into the light, moving back into the shadows). I am unsure how to carry on the second lighting scheme in the green screen context i.e whether I need to shoot the screen as evenly and fully as the actor and then change the lighting with After Effects.
In terms of the actor’s choreography, I envision simple, ‘one-liner’ movements rather than complex ones. I want the actor’s physical movement to mirror the movement of feeling that occurs when one goes to/contemplates these different spaces – at this point I feel that dance-like movements would distract from the space imagery and introduce unnecessary signifiers. For example, if I show an empty office space with white walls and gray carpet, a corresponding choreography might involve the actor’s face distorting into a silent scream while he/she crouches down on the floor as if reacting to a bombing/air raid. An interesting option would be to modify all or some of the movements in post (speed up, slow down, reverse) to make them seem more inhuman, in order to emphasize the ‘unliveability’ and artificiality of the spaces shown. A lot can also be done to choreograph movements that express discomfort or un-naturaleness (arms bending the wrong way, a 3-part sequence of a-rhythmic movements)
celebrated mime Marcel Marceau using his body as a site of inarticulable tension
In terms of editing the urban space sequences, I want the spaces to come off as static (creating a ‘face to face with a blank wall’ sort of feeling), cryptic, even unapproachable. The experience I want to convey would ideally be similar to the experience described by Sartre in Nausea when he describes objects in the world, especially the nondescript, random elements one finds in urban landscapes as having “a type of small/petty meaning that taunts you with its indecipherability”. So far I’ve experimented with some options using scanned photographs: simple zooms and pans into/across the picture, in the mode of exploring the geometry and texture of the space (following the lines of structures with the camera), focusing on the ambiguous/incomprehensible space created by zooms and interspersing these extreme close-ups with flashes of the entire photograph to imitate the way one ‘takes in’ a scene and how one’s point of attention jumps from detail to detail and only occasionally embraces the whole picture. Other options that I would like to explore but haven’t really figured out include the question of whether to include some form of object movement in the animation of these spaces. The Dsrukt/Ronin piece was very useful in terms of thinking how movement can be more or less organically integrated into a still image – I can see the same sort of thing working in the case of a photograph of the band of grass and scruffy vegetation next to a highway, where everything would be still except for the leaves of a bush or grass moving in the wind. I can also imagine a form of animation that would imitate the staggering/non-fluid quality of (“bad”) stop-motion, where new elements keep appearing/disappearing in the photograph – for example, changing the color/brightness of the windows in a photograph of the façade of a building in order to create a surreal version of accelerated time. I’ve also thought of creating the illusion of moving objects simply through sound: for example, to create an atmosphere of damp coolness in a tunnel by slowly zooming into the tunnel while the sound of running, cavernous water grows louder and louder.
In terms of the soundtrack, I wish to establish a clear separation between the space sequences and the actor sequences. I see the actor sequences accompanied by nothing more than a droning sound, which simply varies in pitch depending on the sequence. Variety and complexity in the sound-scape is a property of the urban landscape. Theoretically, I am mostly interested in using atonal, dissonant sound mixed with sound effects, in the spirit of ‘noise music’ artists like John Cage and Throbbing Gristle, to create the atmosphere of discomfort I am looking for. I find that noise music creates a strange dual feeling both of detachment/alienation and of almost unwilling immersion or hypnotic engrossment in the viewer. However, I have experimented with editing certain sequences to still atonal and aggressive/distorted, but faster and less monotonous electronic music with some promising results. I find this kind of music introduces an element of the sublime/aesthetic pleasure that provides an interesting counterpoint to the dissonance/distress that it also embraces. The degree of abstraction in the music I end up using will depend on whether I ultimately feel that a sustained feeling of discomfort/alienation in the viewer becomes too monotonous, and whether I need to vary the range of emotional experiences for greater effect (touches of sublimity).
The question of whether to use a single screen or two screens is something I still have not settled upon. This depends I think on whether the correlation between the actor in the room and the urban landscape animation will be most clear and effective through single-screen editing (alternating one with the other, whether simply having a ‘space’ sequence followed by its ‘actor in room’ companion sequence or interweaving both in tighter, shorter edits) or by having one screen play the space sequences while another plays the ‘actor in room’ sequences. The effect of forcing the viewer to shift their attention erratically from one to the other could have either the effect of reinforcing the destabilizing effect I am after, or it could damagingly distract the viewer and inhibit the sense of hypnotic immersion I am also after. Perhaps a two-screen setup that could counteract this last effect would be to have the two screens placed at eye-level and leaning towards each other at a right angle, so that when the viewer steps into the triangular space created by the screens they find themselves ensconced in a sort of immersive head-space (where they don’t really need to move to shift their attention; their eyes just flicker from one screen to the other). According to this scenario the most effective sound set-up would perhaps involve headphones – the complex soundtrack for the ‘space’ sequences and the droning soundtrack for the ‘actor in room’ sequences would be separated in the right and left ear – such an installation could certainly be a step forward in terms of ‘kidnapping’ the viewer’s attention and putting them in a tight psychological spot, but it might also create a sense of aesthetic confusion or being too overwhelmed that would go against the goal of delivering a focused and precise/coherent experience.