Alchemy of Image – The Space-Time, A-Team Supercluster

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Alchemy of Image
(The Space-Time, A-Team Supercluster)

This is a paper excerpt. To read the entire paper, download the PDF from the handy Papers page

Footnotes at bottom.

We live in an age of information—a socio-cultural climate that straddles the material and immaterial, our daily interactions taking place across physical and theoretical environments. The phrase “Information Age” itself endeavors to define an entire sphere of existence, production, interface and influence. Technology frames it. It proliferates across the arts and sciences, through economies and empires—and an ethereal, pervasive component, information itself, occupies the core, in place of steam and iron. Information is the philosophical spark of all matter and non-matter, all theory and concept, all communication and commodification.[1]  The Information Age is the heart of Postmodernism, the platform of Post Postmodernism,[2] hinging technology, digital visual culture and interdisciplinary thinking.  Within it, we have unprecedented access to data—all artistic styles, all points in history and geographic locations in a single click.[3]  Space and time collapse in the face of this new, digitally-driven landscape, redefined by delivery and access, shaped and re-oriented by the “Information Age” itself. As we encounter the data cascade, “each of us constructs our own personal mythology from bits and fragments of information extracted from the media flow… transformed into resources through which we make sense of our everyday lives” (Jenkins 3). This pronounced hypertextuality[4] of information allows we contemporary artists to mix style, medium and influence on multiple levels, developing the privatized, remixed language Frederic Jameson feared[5] out of a kind of celestial jukebox, itself interconnected to the mythology of others. Making use of this connectivity, information and new media have become vital to my visual art production. Several recent projects, like The Cascade, investigate this hypertextuality of time, space and matter, informed by information flow, across various mediums. The result is an alchemy of image that addresses the time collapse, integrating micro and macro[6] layers that echo multifarious networks and the constructed personal mythology[7] we generate in our daily lives.

The 20th century saw tremendous interdisciplinary evolution (Gleick 9, 242-243).[8] Theorist James Gleick (and physicist Fritjof Capra) argue that our awareness of information itself led to many 20th and 21st century breakthroughs, changing our understanding of everything from telephony to the network relationships traceable from star systems to DNA (Gleick 8-9) (Capra 35). Information was paradoxically understood as a pulse freed from semantics, as in Information Theory, and as heavily-laden language. Both physical and ethereal, it describes the transmission, replication and even biological order of all things. The study of information even made digital technology possible. In my course of research, I discovered that analyzing the information cascade, in all its manifest forms,[9] is another way of accessing the interconnectivity (and generative nature) found in Eastern philosophy and physics that I worked with in the past.[10] It also relates to the network of matter, social systems and data flow found in Fritjof Capra’s writings, equally important to my visual considerations.

While researching source material for previous work, I became fascinated by the process of digital research itself. I would sketch the Vazquez Rocks[11] from memory, then Google additional photos. What resulted was not a static spill, but a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style hypertext journey. It led from vacation shots at “Gorn Rock” to maps, street views, paintings, postcards, weather reports, TV stills and film caps, all from various eras, with varied intent, some of which referred to the pre-existence of other images in an endless feedback loop.[12] The search results are a hypertext “cloud” of concepts related, sometimes indirectly or tenuously, to the Vazquez Rocks. In this instance, snapshots taken in the 1950s occupy the same digital space as recent cell phone caps or Vine videos.  The cascade of images effectively reduces the Vazquez Rocks to a series of suggestive, webbed data streams that a viewer can explore in a non-linear, metanarrative fashion.[13]  It forms a virtual relationship between time, spatial location, regional influence and an alchemy of virtual geography. Add the storied detail of our own micro readings to the mix and this new kind of relativity allows time to lose linearity in deep digital space.[14] If you were to draw a map of the related links and remixes, the web-like clusters would uncannily resemble the very nature of our universe’s biggest galaxy networks: superclusters (Figure 1), as well as models of internet connectivity (Figure 2) in data flow and hardware.

This is a paper excerpt. To read the entire paper, download the PDF from the handy Papers page.

[1] Theoretical physicist John Archibald Wheeler manifestoed, “Information gives rise to ‘every it—every particle, every field of force, event he spacetime continuum itself’…” (Wheeler qtd. in Gleick 10). Theorist James Gleick himself claims “information is what our world runs on: the blood and the fuel, the vital principle,” where atoms are the basic units of matter, bits are the basic units of information, themselves describing the nature of the atom’s existence (9-10). Biophysicist Werner Lowenstein even articulated the transformation of the term “information” itself: “ The information circle becomes the unit of life… it connotes a cosmic principle of organization…” (Lowenstein qtd. in Gleick 9).

[2] Also dubbed “Pseudo-Modernism” and “Digimodernism” (Kirby).

[3] Theorist Alan Kirby identifies this kind of access as a fundamental paradigm shift, a rupture of existing cultural relationships: “Digimodernism identifies as the critical event in contemporary culture the profound and shattering encounter between computerization and the text. Its most recognizable form is a new kind of digitized textuality—onward, haphazard and evanescent—that disrupts traditional ideas about authorship and reading, and is found on Web 2.0, a range of applications…” I would argue that it explodes the broader concept of “text” itself, with things like the re-orientation of the idea of the original (Jarvis) and the strange collapse of all eras of information and all geographic locations into a binary-based, digitized space-time environment (or, deep digital space).

[4] “Hypertext” refers to the plastic referentiality of text (and information) made possible by electronic devices. There is a sense of immediacy and interconnectivity within non-linear space. Branching structures resemble trees, galaxy filaments or network superstructures. “Hypertextuality” allows one to “transcend the linearity of the written text by building an endless series of imagined connections” (Riffaterre qtd. on “The Torque”). “Hypertext” is also used to describe not only “imagined connections,” but literal, web-like relationships that can be accessed from any point.

[5] According to Jameson, pastiche is used in Postmodernism due to the erosion of the idea of a linguistic or cultural norm as a result of increased language privatization (130). Jameson was concerned about growing linguistic bubbles that would generate parallel, but separate, paths of interaction. With pluralism, the Modernist idea of a linguistic, cultural pinnacle goes right out the window. The “celestial jukebox” refers to a global bank of information and material that can be used and remixed cross-culturally and cross-technologically (Wasow). Contemporary artists can work across mediums, across the limitations of style, choosing the right components and context for projects in “remix” fashion. Style becomes a tool, not an end-game in itself, and importance is placed on context, arrangement and association (Jarvis) (Binkley 237-238). As such, no style, no medium is off-limits.

[6] Edward Tufte describes macro and micro readings in Envisioning Information. He uses a street view map of New York to illustrate the viewer-activated phenomena of generating “individual stories about the data” when viewing visual information (Tufte 37). Someone who lives in the city would have extended micro readings of the street view map, shops visited, favorite lunch spots, perhaps even identifying life-event locations like the place where they celebrated graduation, or suffered a break-up. The map contains layers of theoretical information applied by the viewer, which varies dramatically between individuals. A tourist who visited the same locations might also have micro readings of a macro map, as would someone familiar with the setting via movies or television. Someone who had never been there and knew nothing of the setting would have a broader macro understanding of the map as a piece of data, providing insight into a distant series of structures. This kind of extended context allows for what Tufte calls “storied detail,” and layered reactions connected to the “relationship between the measurements of its space and the events of its past” (38).

[7] Eli Pariser also refers to the “unique universe of information for each of us” (9), as we navigate and extrapolate information and experience from the filtered digital experience.

[8] Notably diverse fields like physics, mathematics, biology, electronics, telephony, code-breaking, linguistics and even psychology expanded and overlapped, corresponding to the rise of a new age—the rapid increase of movable data and technology (Capra 5).

[9]  My research included information theory, networking, digital culture, astrophysics, the internet, convergence culture, video games, spectacle and new media, which builds naturally on my previous research, allowing me to investigate 21st century concerns more directly than previous work.

[10] The body of work I completed in 2012 investigated the nature of emergence—matter and non-matter, the point at which being emerges from non-being. I explored the relationship between physics and Taoism, finding that the seemingly different language of philosophy and mathematics were intertwined, often describing identical conditions. Layering elements mimicked strata unearthed in archaeological digs and its resulting reveal of relative truth.  Pieces were two-dimensional, on paper, and combined printmaking with mixed media, emphasizing the interdisciplinary. Newer work is pushing the mixed media even farther and incorporating some of what Eli Pariser called “transmedia,” expanding my field into web-based, time-based and digital overlap.

[11] The Vazquez Rocks are a rock formation located in Agua Dulce, California (Mojave Desert), north of Los Angeles. They are part of a 745 acre county park, minutes away from Santa Clarita and Palmdale. Though the formations are millions of years old, they’re best known today for guest appearances in countless films, television and commercial productions (Digital-Desert).

[12] Of interest to the feedback loop of referentiality were shots of people reenacting fictional narratives, which occupied the same digital space as the “real” screen caps of the original Hollywood narratives. The intertextual reference of characters imitating characters at the site was especially prolific for Hollywood backlot sites like the Vazquez Rocks. For example, the cast of The Big Bang Theory dressed like Star Trek The Next Generation characters, stranded at the Vazquez Rocks—where the Next Generation episode they refer to via costume was itself originally a reference to the infamous Kirk vs. Gorn battle in the Star Trek episode, “Arena,”  itself a pastiche of older science fiction shorts recorded at the Vazquez Rocks. Choosing any side topic, such as the Kirk vs. Gorn fight itself, yields another spiral of fractured, referential (yet networked) results—everything from fan art and fan-reenactment to screen caps and contemporary parody.

[13] The de-centering of the traditional narrative is a primary component of Postmodernism, Post Postmodernism and digital visual culture (Darley 56). The “meta” progression intensifies in digital culture, where web pages, image searches and even web sites can be viewed in any order, accessed from varied sources and dispersed across unrelated platforms (Flickr photos curated on Pinterest, then shared on Twitter via Pinterest). The “proper” viewing order gets turned on its head and new, macro and micro, contextualization occurs. The feedback aspect of the image loop is also vital, as it indicates a recursive, almost organismic system.

[14] A Google search (or Picasa database) might span all times, eras, moments and progressions, allowing us to hop hypertextually (or intertextually) between moments, condensing them into the same instance of experience.

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