Alchemy of Image
(The Space-Time, A Team Supercluster)
This is a paper excerpt. Download the entire paper here.
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 hypertextuality4 of information allows we contemporary artists to mix style, medium and influence on multiple levels, developing the privatized language Frederic Jameson feared5 out of a kind of “celestial jukebox” (Wasow), itself interconnected to the mythology of others.6 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 macro7 layers that echo multifarious networks and the constructed personal mythology8 we generate in our daily lives.
The 20th century saw tremendous interdisciplinary evolution (Gleick 9, 242-243).9 Theorist James Gleick argues 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 (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 and the study of information made digital technology possible. In my course of research, I discovered analyzing the information cascade, in all its manifest forms,10 is another way of accessing the interconnectivity (and generative nature) found in Eastern philosophy and physics that I worked with in the past.11 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 Rocks12 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.13 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.14 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.15 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 2), as well as models of internet connectivity (Figure 1) in data flow and hardware.
I pursued the levels of micro and macro information present in this “celestial jukebox” of data and media, and the fascinating, philosophically endless spiral of connections between each source. An abundance of information lead to the possibilities of hypertext, new ways of finding and expressing patterns, and new methods of art production. Enter Mr. T and The Cascade.
If you’ve ever caught The A-Team, Knight Rider, MASH, MacGyver, The Dukes of Hazzard or Star Trek, you’ve seen it: the color palette, the geographical relationships, the creosote bushes, Joshua trees, tilting rocks. You’ve seen the Mojave Desert of the 1960s – 1980s.16 The arid outlay of folded rock may even be familiar—from personal visits or the whirling, hypertext pool of Hollywood reference. Offset by urban density, the dry turn-outs and canyon highways are the geographic language of the region. Areas like the Vazquez Rocks have become a rhythmic, cultural motif, acting as referents to television, fictional narratives and life events, while also suggesting an unreal, imagined geographic space, a cultural recognition of their use. The rocks (and the Mojave) inhabit the very real, the imagined and the transient, iconographic of a collapsing space between personal history, geologic reality and cultural production.The fact that snippets of experience can be gleaned from the background of popular media implies other cultural connections contain trace landscapes17 from the interactions of others, from the geographic and cultural history of entire areas. Storied-details can overlay the real and the enacted as a kind of remix—and our entire experience is formed, like matter itself, from the possibilities of the void and the special combination (and recombination) of generative elements.
Form itself is malleable, shifting. Artist Cai Guo Qiang says of his work (which addresses an imagined Mexico, constructed of myth and memory): matter and consciousness are always in a state of flux (11)—just as information. This relationship speaks to the integration of public and private, digital and analog, cultural and personal.18 Someone watching Star Trek, for example, might have visual familiarity with the fictional “Arena” episode, may have also been on picnics at the Vazquez Rocks and may have a blended understanding of the popular and personal, the social and representational aspects, its original cast and crew, its place in American history, its reception and impact on the digital and physical world. These fractured overlays behave like artifacts, or layers, in visual art, stemming from the cascade of information that inhabits multiple levels of construction. Physical space and linear time become collapsed and reframed as they rush through data streams, allowing “digital media [to] transform physical form into conceptual structure” (Binkley 109).
The Cascade freezes a trace of this physicality in an instant, settings once removed from their location (and time) by the original filming and again removed by the act of capturing a temporary instance. The project makes use of three 1980s TV shows I had multi-level responses to: The A Team, Knight Rider, and MacGyver.19 The transitory landscape found in these rapid videos elude focus, as action tends to preclude wide, sweeping vistas. Yet, landscape is integral to these television adventures.
Moments are snapped in real time with a cell phone, during viewing. Characters and commerciality are de-emphasized in favor of transitional spaces (time depicted in the narrative) and regional collisions (shifting camera views). I then use traditional media to interpret each of the screen captures—exploring surface and the representation of space and time on a 2D plane. The next phase remixes the two, digitally layering the original screen caps with new caps and drawings. The result is an ongoing series that exists in a virtual gallery, where the user is empowered by navigation and interaction. They may choose to comment, share, save the image, click randomly and otherwise invert the traditional, linear reception of work. The endless connections between medium, content, context, digitization and viewer participation can allow the project to behave as a network within a network: as a supercluster.20
This is a paper excerpt! To read the entire paper, with works cited, visit my Papers page.
1 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). 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). 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).