This body of work explores the disintegration of context by abrogating memory for the use of virtual space to cache or ‘save’ information. This information can only be retrieved by having reference to agreed and eclectic marks. Juxtaposed is the way we extract historical knowledge. This knowledge is authenticated by institutions of recognised belief, legitimised by the label ‘truth’ and obtained by us using controlled systems of entry or circumscribed rites of passage. We retrieve it by making reference to physical relics which are presented here alongside the Judaeo-Christian ethos which underpins contemporary Western culture. ‘Relic’ includes found objects, signs or recordings which recall and transmit information. To entice a consideration of artificial memory or 'memoria technica', these book-relics are used to unsettle and disorientate the viewer within an installation. This project is an exploration of our subjectivity to the past and the way we recycle the past through mediums that serve to recollect for us.
A WINDOW - and the “Pearly Gates of Cyberspace”
The prevailing concept and manifesting aesthetic is inspired by the 1968 around-the-world English sailing competitor Donald Crowhurst who, after failure in isolation, due to a disfunctional chronometre to gauge his orientation, fed an attentive world with false radio reports about his progress. This work combines perceptions of truth with mechanisms for memory. Systems of technology adopt marks to interface with alien matrices, establishing a collection of arcane codes acceptable to most although few hold keys to translation.
“A window into cyberspace, a world constructed and mediated, and described by some as ‘pan-mnemistic docuverse’ - is one which offers a premise of all knowledge available to the individual via corporeal eye, via monitor, via the software etc. is a diffused presentation of data, whose incompleteness stimulates us to act on hunches and intuitions, creating a feeling of spatial freedom. The limited frame of a window, monitor, lens, spectacle, viewfinder creates the peephole; it feeds the voyeuristic fantasy that there is still something infinitely more thrilling to discover than what is immediately before one’s eye”.1 The use of the familiar generates a sense of inclusion while complete access is denied. The software icon of Gates’ ‘Microsoft Windows’ is a transparent window framed by a celestial blue which encourages a panoptic vision toward an information storehouse. Text/graphic operations are illuminated by the monitor’s omnipresent flicker, encouraging one to focus and to seek information of this light source. This requirement echoes the effect of stained glass windows. The rose window of a religious house specifically, works to create an ambience of heaven on earth, underpinning the metaphor of God’s scrutinising eye fixed on a worshipper whose eyes are fixed on him alike, though in supplication. “The light of the body is the eye; if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light” Mathew 6:22”
“I can feel myself under the gaze of someone whose eyes I don’t even see, not even discern. All that is necessary is for something to signify to me that there maybe others there. The window if it gets a bit dark and if I have reasons for thinking that there is some one behind it, is straightaway a gaze. For the moment this gaze exists, I am already other, in that I feel myself becoming an object for the gaze of others. But in this position, which is a reciprocal one, others know that I am an object who knows himself to be seen.” (Jacques Lacan, Book 1, “Freud’s Paper on Technique”)
In this installation I explore the locus of interface or the passage between the virtual and real, and the potential for manipulation within these modes of transfer. Paul Virilio discusses image perceptions and their re-presentations through history: the discovery of optical instruments and the use of light to record/transcribe images for control and distortion within the screen’s visual field. “One can only see instantaneous sections seized by the Cyclops eye of the lens. Vision once substantial, becomes accidental.”2 Virilio’s commentary is supported by Foucault’s notions on the mechanisms of discipline and punishment inherent in the ‘docile body’; a regime of panoptic surveillance. To evoke these experiences, a ‘blind’ operates in paradox. Rather than offering privacy to the space inside, it projects the outside inwards. The screen has become a ‘vision machine’, invading and scanning a private sphere.3
TO WHAT DO WE ‘SUBMIT’
and WHAT LIES BEYOND THE WINDOW FRAME?
“Images cannot escape a rhetorical bias. Selection, framing, size, value or colour balance all direct the viewer to pay attention to something, implying that other acts, objects or events are less important, unimportant or even non-existent. Technology is not neutral” (A review on Computer and City as organised space, Visual Language, Vol. 31, 1997 p.231.)
Our corporeal existence lodges recognised signs by which we organise memory and knowledge. Guilo Camillo (1480-1544) conceived a universal storage and retrieval system or ‘Memory Theatre’. He designed image codes of knowledge types and positioned them alongside information bearing caches spread fanwise through an auditorium. Visitors accessed information by making reference to those coded signs. Camillo believed it possible to reproduce each imaginable micro and macrocosmic relationship within one’s own memory by using visual clues and then combinations of these to spark associated links (Peter Matussek, The Renaissance of the Theatre of Memory). Camillo’s ambition is now manifest by cyberspace which uses hyper-text to explore links. And that exploratory premise is further realised by our ability to navigate passages to a destination using search engines. But cyberspace, unlike the intimate immediacy of Camillo’s ‘Memory Theatre’, is an exclusive, eclectic, reclusive, self-serving medium.4
This installation explores beyond the ‘window’. Operative constructs are reflected in the military language and architecture (Boot-up, Command, Delete, Submit) derived from systems of power which control, survey and map our personal realms when we ‘connect’.
The operation language has become transparent, and this mutation next loses its origin by that shift in context and is vulnerable to redefinition by new systems. Cyberspace search engines ‘Netscape Navigator’ and ‘Explorer’ use evocative icons which recall romance in exploration and reflect Virilio’s description...
‘...the gaze of the West ...once also the gaze of the ancient mariner fleeing the non-refractive and non-directional surface of geometry for the open sea, in quest of the unknown optical surfaces, of the sight-vane environments of uneven transparency, sea and sky apparently without limits.’ (The Vision Machine, pp.28-29 ).
“The density of events over the last few decades threatens to rob all meaning”.5 Mutated by new memory mechanisms, information is presented at accelerated pace, distorting our perception of time and of space. By preferring to live in the ‘now’ contemporary westerners relegate information about the past to inferior levels. This reduced status is underpinned by accelerated ‘news’ deliveries which force recipients to ignore the neglected or ‘superfluous’. Having demoted the value of our past we naturally rescind an interest with the result that agreed history is stored then abandoned as de-contextualised caches in cyberspace. PC technology now possesses power beyond its original design which was to purvey amongst ourselves our quotidian informations. Presented to us in a relatively homogenous setting are materials of fiction and non-fiction. Foucault notes in a statement about image recording “as effective means ...of reprogramming popular memory ...people are shown not what they were but what they must remember having been ...Since memory is a very important factor in struggle ...if one control’s people’s memory, one controls their dynamism.”6 Set in traffic with a density of events, collective and personal memories can be warped by manipulated transmission. Anton Kaes pinpoints concern in his study “West German film making - from Hitler to Heimat: The Return of History as Film”; “A memory preserved in filmed images does not vanish, but the sheer mass of historical images transmitted by today’s media weakens the link between public memory and personal experience. The past is in danger of becoming a rapidly expanding collection of images, easily retrievable but isolated from time and space, available in an eternal present by pushing a button on the remote control. History thus, returns forever - as film.”7
Within this installation video footage is designed to invoke a platform of religious belief. That is, viewers may adopt confidence in a higher order to see a passage/pattern through the chaos. The videos are edited then looped to absorb the viewer. “When you stare at the Gorgon, the sparkle in her eyes dispossesses you, makes you lose your own sight, condemns you to immobility”. (J-P. Vernant, “La Mort dan Les Yeux” sited in Virilio, “The Vision Machine”, p.41). But repetition does not offer disclosure. The juxtaposition of sight with sound confuses the viewers sense of ‘real time’ footage and implies that a source of sound/action lies beyond the screen. This is an exploration into paradoxical logic, where a real-time image dominates a re-presented image “...real time subsequently prevailing over real space, virtuality dominating actuality and turning the very concept of reality on its head”. Sound and image recordings re-presented through video footage present “a paradoxical presence, the long distance tele-presence of the object which provides their very existence here and now”.8
SITES/SIGHTS - LOCATION & NAVIGATION - FROM MIND TO MATTER
Presence by proxy is the acceptable normal in contemporary culture. Distinctions have broken down between knowledge given directly versus that received through a third party, and one’s actual proximity to real events seems unimportant as technology sweeps before it, landmarks in the common ‘real’. Memory gives coherency to one’s origin and arrival. Early lapidary monuments initiate a split between mind and objects which operate as external devices for denoting one’s place in time. The shift between referencing external rather than internal signifiers creates fracture. Walking in the mountains I am comforted by the sight/site of these stacks. I know I am on route and can let my mind wander. I ‘dislocate’, understanding that these marks navigate a passage to shelter, absolving me of responsibility for tracking my own physical progress through the land. But the price of disburdening responsibility is an internal memory vacuum, increasing exponentially with use of the virtual world.
“This will be a city uprooted to any definite spot of the surface of the earth, shaped by connectivity and bandwidth constraints rather than by accessibility and land values, largely asynchronous in its operations, and inhabited by disembodied and fragmented subjects who exist as collections of aliases and agents. Its places will be constructed virtually by software instead of physically from stones and timbers, and they will be connected by logical linkages rather than by doors, passageways and streets”.9
MANIFESTATIONS OF INSTALLATION
In this emersive series I explore conduits of memory which transmit information through altered states and disintegrating surfaces. These interfaces communicate periods, locations and bodily presence. The objects and electronic components - were intercepted on course for the dump. Now altered, the artifacts evoke reflection and reverence while vibrating among marks that signify replacement and redundancy. These objects - literally and metaphorically - capture, store and recall information. They are activated in space and reconfigured with video, lighting and movement to challenge their commonly accepted functions. I am interested in discussing ideas around the fetish, in both the collection of information and their redundant reliquaries. The response to an article in the Otago Daily Times is significant to the aesthetics and construction of portions in the installation. In this article the reporter describes an IT collection of over 1300 items which is ‘rusting away’ in the damp, draughty storage area of the Otago Settlers’ Museum while the collection’s guardians urgently seek funding to create and maintain an ‘ideal environment’ for these awkward monsters. (Otago Daily Times, April 16, 2002)
Parts of this installation bear a sense of the human predilection to classify, thus deferring information overload by lightening burdens to memory. With editing and reconstruction the objects have been made to loosen their ties to context and the world to which they have been ‘re-collected’. This work leads to further explorations of artificia memoria through early mediums - print for example - and those mediums which are evolving still. Recently we are enabled by GPS units to orientate ourselves, with regard to global agreement, exactly.
The installation ‘passages’ invite a precipitous view from the corridor with an option to enter each cell or cache. The viewer is challenged to negotiate the surface of the matrix beneath and around their feet. The vacuous space of the first cell provokes disorientation. A light scans stained walls and mutant ‘wallpaper’. The second cell manifests response to the first cell by bearing a sense of order. As the information matrix of bit streams fracture, fissures appear and the second cell begins to echo to the viewer, the obsessive legacy and discomforting experiences of the first. The installation endeavours to create a sense of vertigo undermining the orderly archive, questioning both access and excess of re-collection within.
1. Quote from Peter Matussek - The Renaissance of the Theatre of Memory. website: http://188.8.131.52/pm/Pub/Kul/The_Rena.html, sited 9/4/02
2. Paul Virilio, “The Vision Machine”, Indiana University Press, 1994, p.13
3. Paul Virilio, “The Vision Machine”. p.64. Discusses the Motivac, a new device for measuring Television audiences - not unlike the black box of an aircraft.
4. Albert Borgmann, “Holding onto Reality”, Chicago Press, 1999, pp.175-176
5. Marc Auge, (translated by John Howe), "Non-places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity" Verso, London & New York, 1995.pp.28-32
6. Foucault and Kaes sited in Anne Friedberg, “Window Shopping: Cinema and the Postmodern”, University of California Press, 199. pp.8-9
7. Foucault and Kaes sited in Anne Friedberg, “Window Shopping: Cinema and the Postmodern” pp.8-9
8. Paul Virilio, “The Vision Machine”, Indiana University Press, 1994, pp.62-65
9. William J. Mitchell, 'City of Bits: Space, Place and the Infobahn', Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995)
SITE, School of Art, Dunedin, 2002