Thoughts

January 2017
Par Condicio: a creative urban network, hunting designers, refugees and children
Solve CoLab competition
Laura Ferrarello with Aran Dasan, Robert Pulley and Hamed.

Summary

The proposal is to provide creative workshops and education for migrant communities. The aim is to develop entrepreneurial skills that enable migrant children and their families to make a positive contribution to the local economy in collaboration with professional practitioners through design innovation and making.

parcondicio will be an enterprise hub where dynamic creative workshops will be led by creative practitioner-mentors, by migrants and by researchers. The creative practitioners will, in turn, be mentored by teachers from local schools and universities to achieve bespoke qualifications for teaching students for whom English is a second language. Participants will form a self-enhancing group of innovators in which migrants get to meet local teachers and entrepreneurs in ‘an empathetic space’ constructed to develop new methods of cultural synthesis driven by co-design innovation. The aim is to pilot and prototype migrant enterprises that may be scaled to create a palimpsest of different parcondicio studios across London.

Participation

  1. Migrant/refugee scenario: once a migrant or refugee has arrived and registers in a new territory, they access the UN website where they provide their information (own skills, a proposal for a teaching workshop, workshop materials). The proposal is submitted and then selected by a commission board. Once selected, the migrant/refugee gets contacted and mentored until the workshop day. The board is in contact with a network of artist studios. The artist that leases the studio agrees to open workshops during the weekend or weekdays.
  2. Workshops based on these proposals are held in the studios. The activities can be for children and families, or for professionals.
  3. Schools participate in the system, introducing workshop activities into the curriculum.
  4. Residencies and grants will be based on curating the workshop materials and selecting workshops. The resident artists are part of the commission board
October 2016
Hero72_ACADIA.jpg
Abstract

This paper describes the latest progress of the design platform, Digital Impressionism (DI), created by staff and students in the Information Experience Design programme at the Royal College of Art in London. DI aims to bridge human creative thinking with machine computation, under the theoretical method/concept of oxymoron tectonic. Oxymoron tectonic describes the process under which hybrid materiality, that is the materiality created between the digital and the physical, takes form in human-machine creative interactions. The methodology intends to employ multimaterial 3D printers in combination with: data manipulation (a process that gives data physical substance), pointclouds, and the influence of intangible environmental data (like sound and wind) to model physical forms by interfacing digital and physical making. In DI, modeling is a hybrid set of actions taking place at the boundary of the physical and digital. Through this interactive platform, design is experienced as a complex, hybrid process, which we call a digital tectonic; forms are constructed via a creative feedback loop of human engagement with nonhuman agents, to form a creative network of sustainable and interactive design and fabrication. By developing a mutual understanding of design, machines and humans work together in the process of design and making.


September 2016

Abstract

This paper describes the urban design platform Limes, which uses data interaction and data manipulation as design techniques to build systems of responsive infrastructure. The platform is a current research that the authors, tutor and student, are developing at the Royal College of Art. In this paper we illustrate early stage simulations that intend to show the possibilities the platform can offer on the topic of responsive cities via engaged citizens. By employing voxels as information placeholders, we describe a series of simulation models that, on the base of Transport for London data, interact and create response. The platform addresses the necessity to include local information in global networks and proposes methodologies that combine them together in a flexible and adaptive territory of informational exchange, which, for us, is urban space. We, indeed, use the resilient aspect of each territory as core information the voxel uses to interact with its neighbourhood. Nonetheless the platform is drawn upon the aspects of human creativity and interaction with technology to envision design opportunities for the urban environment. How can space react, facilitate and respond to the flux of information between humans and the environment? Through simulations this paper intends to design responsive spaces, in which interactions constitute the network of responsive cities.

Full Paper


July 2016
24-28 July 2016, Anaheim CA
example_poster_template_horizontal

July 2014
Paper for “Theatre and Stratification”. Performance and Public Place Workgroup

 

IRT/IFTR World Congress University of Warwick

Political Stages.

Performance as political language for design.  

“Il Teatro non può morire”

Forma della vita stessa, tutti ne siamo attori; e aboliti o abbandonati i teatri, il teatro seguiterebbe nella vita, insopprimibile; e sarebbe sempre spettacolo la natura stessa delle cose[1].

According to Pirandello, theatre – intended as performance of everyday life – is a pivotal aspect for society for its capability of mirroring people’s vices and virtues; theatre can’t die thereof, as it depicts, criticises and analyses the daily and dynamic play of social interaction. Nevertheless performance is also a strategic element for the Fascist political agenda for the entertainment value capable of interfacing politics and the masses: Mussolini’s public speeches were proper acting performances in the arena of Italian piazze. Are Pirandello and Fascism’s “performances” alike? How does theatre behave in these two conditions, in terms of body and space? Although enquiring the same form of concept, Pirandello and Mussolini assigned a contrasting rule: the playwright flips the meaning of performance through staging no-performances, i.e. empty spaces in rehearsal (Sei Personaggi in Cerca di Autore for instance) that makes audience wonder by mystifying it. The totalitarian leader employs stage, i.e. public squares, where his audience can meet to participate the mystic ‘play’ of Fascism. Similarly to Pirandello metaphysical painter Giorgio De Chirico portrays the ‘paradox of performance’ by representing it through empty, lonely and alienated Italian piazze, which are indeed similar to Pirandello’s absence of space and contrasts Mussolini’s crowded one, whose architecture and urbanism fuels Fascist demagogy by giving it presence and content.

What is the relation between these contrasting interpretations and, if any, what is the nature of such paradox? In other words, how does space perform in political or artistic performances?

This paper intends to analyse and investigate space in light of artistic and political performances. By looking, at first, at its presence/absence in the cultural scenario of totalitarian regimes I would like to point out how the ‘play of public space’ becomes crucial for social interactions for its unacknowledged system of delivering ideas that shape individual identities. Nonetheless such relations become design guidelines of 60s and 70s avant-garde where art and architecture are thought as social performance (1971 Superstudio Vita Morte e Miracoli dell’Architettura in Florence or 1971 Mario Fiorentino social housing building, Corviale, in South Rome). Carlo Quartucci, Carmelo Bene and Renzo Ricci’s plays focus on the role of actors’ body language, which becomes means to deliver ‘form’; in their view space is considered a flexible ‘envelope’ designed around the movements of the human body. 60s- 70s interior design mimics as well this particular condition to the extent that geometry, or aesthetic, disappears for a scenario that hosts human body performance, by which space becomes a form of spatial transcription designed by body’s experience. Furthermore Belgian political theorist Chantal Mouffe advocates the return of performance in contemporary art and architecture in order to claim the return of public space. Does current public performance embody a similar role to Pirandello, Quartucci, Bene and Ricci’s insights, or is it a tool in the solely hands of politics? Can performing contemporary space become a form of political engagement that claims people’s ownership of the public space?

[1] Theatre can’t die; as it gives life shape, we are all actors of its play. If abandoned, theatre will perform in everyday life, where Mother Nature will be always staging for us the nature of things”. Luigi Pirandello, “Il Teatro non può morire”, in “Quadrante”, n.18, October 1934, p. 26


 

July 2015
with Michael Pecirno and Kelly Spanou
Abstract
 In the most recent years we have been witnessing the increasing overlap of the  physical and digital world, to the extent that we perceive reality as a hybrid domain of the digital and the physical conveyed by data. What if environmental and ambient data can be part of the actual 3D modeling process? Data can engage digital modeling by affecting the formal decision making in real time. “Digital Impressionism” is a modelling platform that creates a responsive and interactive architectural design process, which is capable of combining real information – like material properties in relation to light and temperature conditions – with the flexibility of digital modeling. Material properties (toughness, flexibility, etc) and ambient conditions (light, temperature, etc) become modeling information tools that make forms. Through an infrared scanner, Rhino and Zbrush, “Digital Impressionism” enhances the actual digital design process by transforming data into meshes. “Digital Impressionism” would like to create a composite thinking approach, from digital modeling to construction, which also takes the opportunity offered by multi-material 3D printers, as an elemental  part of the design process rather than simply the outcome.

May 2015
with William Fairbrother
Abstract 
Yet the nature of all these things must of course be physical since otherwise they could not impress our senses Ñfor impression means touch, and touch means the touch of bodies. Lucrezio, “De Rerum Natura”The materiality of things represents the connection between our bodies and the physical world. However, in recent years, with the overlay of a new digital reality onto the existing physical one, materiality has extended its domain of existence into the virtual world through haptic technologies. The sense of touch is no longer restricted to a physical contact with any kind of “thing” existing in our world, but accessed through perception of it. By means of neurocognitive processes, which reproduce the sense of touch by stimulating particular areas of our brain, touch lost its direct and instinctive connection with the physical world to rely more on mnemonic processes of virtual perception that construct hybrid knowledge based on digital rather than physical stimula. This paper investigates what the human relationship with things is in the age of human sense simulation. Also, what kind of sensuous relationship is established with our surroundings when the main territory of material investigation has shifted to the virtual, understood as “real”?This paper will attend to human-object/thing relationships via the concept of the “material oxymoron”. An oxymoron is a Þgure of speech that juxtaposes elements that appear to be contradictory. The “material oxymoron” Þnds its hybrid materiality by means of the humanÕs perception of, and engagement, with things. By embracing the hybrid context (between the digital and the physical) in which we dwell, we would like to deÞne a new kind of relationship between humans and objects/things using Malafouris’ theory of Òmaterial engagementÓ. We will articulate the process through which material oxymorons are constructed, and consider the role of material engagement theory in explaining it.In the material oxymoron, the surface quality is no longer deÞned a priori in reference to information stored in the human brain, i.e. what we expect, but emerges from the process through which material oxymorons are created. We will therefore treat materials as mutable things, continually transformed by humans and material actants, rather than treating them as objects existing ad inÞnitum. By means of material oxymoron we aim to challenge a sensuous discovery of the physical whose outcome creates composite matter, i.e. a materiality that fosters human perception and engagement with the physical world.

Books about Town

June 2014

Recently, Londoners and visitors might have found themselves sitting on concrete benches, which resemble half open books. Benches not only look like a book, they are fully dressed up by different depictions that resemble and celebrate the literary heritage of London. For the Summer 2014 the National Literary Trust and Wild in Art are the promoters of the project Books about Town whose purpose isn’t just limited to the celebration of the rich literary background that London offers, as it aims to engage the public through the joy of reading, via art.

If the urban space of any city in the world has been one of the most influential sources of inspiration for narrative, its London. Books about Town inverts such relationship: books become vehicle to experience the space of the city by inviting its dwellers to walk around and find the different locations around London where the benches are. Traditional novel characters take shape to the viewer through the wondering and the experience of streets and alleys that engage the reader by connecting personal memories of places and mixing them with the character’s ones.

Such interwoven experiences create the thrill that unwraps one’s imagination; nevertheless Books about Town makes London the visual scenario of different and overlapping stories through inviting book lovers to read and literally sit on top of their favourite book. Hence the city becomes a collage of 50 tales, which have been represented by local artists and professional illustrators, thanks to the funding received by London Schools Excellence Fund which involved more than a hundred children from schools around London via a project linked to the Book about Town.

Providing an alternative city tour, the literary benches include works: Mary Poppins1984, Bridget Jones’s DiaryElmer the Elephant and Hercule Poirot and the Greenshore Folly from among 50 tales that all use different techniques of representation all the way from painting to mosaics.

One such mosaic is Elmer the Elephant, situated on the Greenwich Trail in the mid of the colourful hill path of Greenwich Park. Its creation involved artist Giles Boardman and David McKee, who designed the illustration based on the story aiming to promote and support diversity. Elmer is an elephant whose skin is a patchwork making him different from the others and follows his attempts to camouflage this difference though once his real colour is revealed Elmer learns how his friends like him for his particular characteristic rather than exclude him. The bench is indeed one of the most colourful on the trail, and represents Elmer through a pixelated mosaic with an overlaping elephant silhouette. Embracing the concept of diversity, it is a positive message regarding accepting and enjoying one’s true colours. Next to each bench there is a QR code, which gives more information about the project.

Until the 15 September the benches will be on display in different areas of London and at the end of the summer they will be collected and auctioned at Southbank Centre on 7 October with all proceeds going to the National Literacy Trust, a charity dedicated to raising the literacy levels of disadvantaged children and young people across the UK.

Books about Town, London. Until 15 September. For more information please visit www.booksabouttown.org.uk

Laura Ferrarello

http://www.aestheticamagazine.com/blog/national-literary-trust-wild-art-books-town-london/


 

Commodities

Commodities

Amazon’s release of Fire Phone, the “smart phone” manufactured by the online store based in Seattle, pointed out the current direction of the economy in the 2.0 society in relation to customers. Smart phones are far from being gadgets designed to play games, checking emails, facebook, what’s up, twitter, linkedin, news or making calls. Smart phones and tablets are becoming individual IDs, which describe and code our habits in relation to the surrounding. Nevertheless Amazon’s Fire Phone app, “Firefly”, redefines reality by allowing the phone to “scan” objects from the Real, which of course can be purchased in Amazon. According to this model of marketing business looses location, as merchandise can be anywhere, not necessarily in any shop window. It might appear that the real word is becoming a gigantic warehouse of commodities, which will be delivered to your place. Nevertheless by flipping the interpretation of such phenomenon and looking at it from another point of view, I would rather argue that we are, actually, the real commodity. Whether Marxist capitalism bases its fundamentals on the surplus value of commodity, i.e. the value that any object defines compared with the amount of work that labour requires for producing it, the economy of the 2.0 world diverts its attention to the world of data. Data are indeed an index, which can replace the GDP of each country. As data records and reports people’s general interests, they can customise the market according to individual daily decisions. Indeed each individual tap on displays becomes a very important source to activate new market routes, to the extent that business trends can easily adapt their production according to individual requests. What does it means?

“Commodities” wants to be a provocative display of the commodification of our identities, which are now the new shop window features. 2.0 society moved the majority of social interactions to the digital world, which records each single tap or click through “Likes” or cookies. In order words data scan our online activity to transform it into valuable marketing source. For each piece of history we leave in the internet our online profile takes shape, which is not what we actual enter in any subscription form, but an unacknowledged series of actions we process online, which place us in specific pre labelled box defined by the market. In other words our life, with its dreams, hopes, desires and wishes, is on the shop window ready to be scanned, like Fire Phone’s “Firefly” does with objects.

My work would like to open such a debate to let viewers know that the digital sovereignty of the few, who interact with us by offering smart technologies and smart services, has a high prize in terms of our life quality. It is not a debate that looks at concept of privacy; the debate I would like to challenge looks “deeper” at the process by which any identity takes shape. Whether we should acknowledge our “being” through contrasting the Real, in the 2.0 society there is no longer such contrast for the customization of what surround us, orchestrated by an oligarch sovereignty. My work would like to open up the debate of the “commodification” of identities, which is delivering a kind of Fascist oligarchic hybrid reality, which appears free when in reality it is an orchestrated apparatus of customised and pre packaged wishes.

 


 

30 May 2014

 Paper for “The Digital in Depth” an Interdisciplinary Symposium on Depth in Digital Media

Hosted by the Institute of Advanced Study

and the Department of Film and Television Studies

Millburn House, University of Warwick, CV4 7HS

The Illusion of Truth in the Latent Flatness Age

Dr. Laura Ferrarello, Warwick University, 30 May 2014

 

Abstract

You cannot directly go at truth.

In order to arrive at truth, you have to go to the end through the illusion.

Slavoj Žižek, in “A Conversation with Slavoj Žižek”, “The Idealist” March 2014

[..] the instrument of knowledge can only by the movement of

the whole soul be turned from the world of becoming into the world of being […] .

Plato, “The Allegory of the Cave”, in “The Republic“, Book VII

Contemporary lives are described by the relentless interaction with images, which are projected to us by different kinds of displays, whether they fit our hands, or reach the scale of a building. Nevertheless human being ontological knowledge and understanding surroundings pass through the world of images, as described by many philosophers of the present and the past in conjunction with Plato’s Theory of Forms. Images indeed are bold vehicles for experiencing and dwelling the real because they allow our identity to take a particular “shape” by reifying the surrounding.

Such particular mechanism is also adopted for dwelling 2.0 digital reality, to the extent that we equally assign the same physical properties, like those perceived by touch and smell – besides sight – to objects from the real and the digital. Nevertheless such binary and mutual conditions, as perceived by our sense, make us dwell the digital as undisclosed, relentless and as a producer of (the illusion of) truth (our truth, of course), which is accessed by the apparent depth that any digital image possesses in the 2.0 world. Indeed the illusion of depth gives the digital physical matter and creates the condition of relegating the real to a particular image generated by the digital. Such inversion occurs because we sense our virtual reality by means of those desires (or illusions) that give it its form; nevertheless desires are triggers that feed one’s ontological need of truth, which is purveyed by the illusion of digital image’s depth. Because of such a loop digital reality appears at our eyes more real that the Real, as it is made of the same matter but shaped according to our own identity. Do we still need the real? In the hybrid-real, halfway between the digital and the real, we dwell by means of the illusion of depth that opens up questions about the shape of one’s identity, which normally takes form by contrast with the Real rather than association, as described by Slavoj Žižek in many of his books. Hence this paper would like to address the formation of individual identity via the latent flatness of images and to discuss the modified perception of space in the coming age of wearable technology, where the digital and Real merge at our eyes, but not for our sense. Where is the real in the age of latent flatness?

 

 

Googling |apple|

Google Project Tango: smart phone sensors can scan the surrounding environment

 

Project Tango” is a telephone application research project from Google, which provides a 3D reading of the surrounding by means of sensors that project in space infrared lights that give detailed depth maps of the immediate environment. In other words, through a mobile phone, or tablet, it is possible to reproduce, and display, 3D images of the Real: folds, cracks, roughness or smoothness, any sensorial and physical object’s property is transferred to virtual reality by sensors, which displays for us the digital versions of the familiar scenario we are accustomed to “dwelling” in everyday.

Google Project Tango: mapped surrounding environment

 

As recently reported by “BBC News”[1], “Wired”[2], “The Wall Street Journal”[3] and many other tech and business oriented news magazines, in Google there is a particular effort to achieve the reproduction of objects from the real, as different kinds of research in this area are pointing out. To what particular extent drives such specific interests?

Nevertheless the Palo Alto Company is not the only one superseding the Real for the digital. Facebook’s recent expensive purchase of Oculus VR[4], the immersive virtual reality interface mainly employed for video games, gives a further hunch of the current break line of digital research, when interaction between the Real and digital is at stake. According to what has been described so far, it is reasonable to wonder which is the challenge of virtual reality, when “thick images” trespass the realm of the Real to enter the digital, intended as a composite form of reality. Whether business research looks more “concerned” with unfolding new possible territories available to “us” – users of new technologies- for understanding and shaping the 2.0 form of the Real, via the uncanny and hyperreal form of digital tech, what are the consequences of our individual approach when confronting hybrid real? According to the French philosopher Jacques Lacan, what supports the form of ‘our Real’ is driven by the fantastic world we create by means of the visual structure of our mind, which helps to reify the unknown that surrounds us, i.e. the Real itself[5]. Such a simple, but complex, behavioural code describes how we grasp, and escape reality and how we build the basics of anybody’s identity when exposed to a social environment.

Thick Images

Nonetheless, how does it work the labile construction of the self in a context where the Real is reproduced by devices displaying images, whose intent is to manifest “our interests”? The 2.0 display of the Real works through data displayed by “thick images”, which are organised according to algorithms that help on gathering information about ourselves and direct anyone’s perception of the Real at the same time. Which kinds of self-awareness are we able to define? Which kind of environment do we perceive?

 

The Kickstarter start-up Consumer Physics[6] designed SciO, a mini scanner, interfaced with any kind of mobile smart technology, which is capable of 3D scanning any object from the realm of the Real. In other words, with a search engine such as Google, “normally” google the word “apple”. With SciO we google the image I apple I, which means that we can collect through algorithms and data any image of the real world to which it can be associated any other kind of information. For instance when looking at a “real” apple we google/scan it: an image “apple” will turn up to tell us the amount of calories, nutrient values, recipes, and so on. The image I apple I,associated to the layer of information concerning “apple”, defines the domain of hybrid images, i.e. images which belong to the realm of the real and virtual altogether. Such a combination describes “thick images”, intended as thresholds of human knowledge which define, and carry with it, the sensorial world of the Real, i.e. through ‘thick images’ any kind of human sense will be somehow reproduced by looking at the image itself. According to Slavoj Žižek:

A somewhat analogous effect of the real occurs at the beginning of Sergio Leone’s ‘Once Upon a Time in America’: a phone goes on ringing endlessly; when, finally, a hand picks up the receiver, it continues to ring. The first sound belongs to ‘reality’, whereas the ringing that goes on after the receiver is picked up comes out of the non- specified void of the Real.

Through Sergio Leone’s movie, Once Upon a Time in America, Žižek describes how our mind builds bridges between elements of the Real and fantasies of our own, which in anyway contain physical properties of reality. Such behaviour occurs to compensate what he calls the void of reality, which is the gap between the Real as it appears and the real as we understand it; the ‘virtual’ ring of the telephone describes such an ontological condition. Within the 2.0 society what happens when we read Reality through the virtual properties of the digital, which, to some extent, are already void of the Real? Which is the kind of knowledge process that we establish with the Real? The difference between engaging with reality or with the ‘mirrored’ virtual image of it defines the network where latent ‘thick images’ are thresholds among parts. By displaying ‘latent deepness’, i.e. a kind of depth which is merely a flat representation, we read ‘thick images’ as real, i.e. equal to those we experience in the real world – with the same properties such as taste, smell, and anything that our senses can grasp – to the extent that the latent ½apple½ is equal to the “apple”. Nevertheless ‘latent thick images’ are connected through an invisible mesh, whose structure is made by data that contain any kind of information concerning “apple”.

During the past few years we learned to become familiar with the Cloud, i.e. a virtual storage system of our data, whose ubiquitous and deceptive service is offered by different kinds of hi-tech enterprises with the intent for us to access our stored content anytime and anywhere in the real world. It is also well known that the daily production of data is exponentially huge and that the current focus of hi-tech companies is to assign ‘value’ to any kind of spatial configuration that data might come up with, either in terms of meaning that in terms of usability. According to Benjamin Bratton:

The Nomos of the Cloud, which both is and is not Modern, the model spatial exception is the enclave: the discontiguous sovereign body that interpenetrates and interweaves a thickened landscape of territorial claims. That thickened, landscape, that dense verticalization of the geometry of political geography is, I argue, less an accumulation of absorbable remainders, of geopolitical parts maudites, than the architecture of another nomos, called The Stack.[7]

There is a specific system, or spatial model, which collects information from the Internet, whose value and leadership rely on the virtual and topographical arrangement of digital networks, to the extent that the topography of data, i.e. the spatial configuration previously mentioned, creates the 2.0 geometry of political geography. Such geography is called “Stack”, which Bratton defines as the entity that gives hierarchy to any kind of information we produce everyday on the web, whose ‘form’ gives shape to topographical territories, whose value is political. By further describing what a Stack is, Bratton’s concerns diverts to the freedom of any individual intellect within the mesh of social networks[8]; if the Stack can be imagined as a vertical section, as a topographic model of layers and protocols[9], it is also:

..composed equally of social, human and “analog” layers (chthonic energy sources, gestures, affects, user-actants, interfaces, cities and streets, rooms and buildings, organic and inorganic envelopes) and informational, non-human computational and “digital” layers (multiplexed fiber optic cables, data centers, databases, data standards and protocols, urban-scale networks, embedded systems, universal addressing tables).[10]

 Spatial Configurations

The Stack then constitutes the infrastructure of hybrid-real, i.e. a kind of real halfway between reality and digital. To support such a system, there is the Internet of Things, i.e. a system of ‘talking’ objects which populates the infrastructure of the Internet,the Stack, to engage us with virtual space via the 2.0 new possibilities of approaching the Real. As a matter of principle, the Internet of Things allows us to control reality by means of mobile smart devices, whose sensors and apps record data from space to make them available in our hands. Hence latent, virtual and thick are elements to be questioned, as it occurs an inversion by which objects of the Real become objects from the virtual, via the Stack, i.e. the digital order of territorial claim. Hence the geopolitical claim of digital territory becomes even clearer in this case. According to Geert Lovink:

If objects are produced and consumed in an already existing map of power across space, then the rise of the Internet of Things requires that we consider how projects capable of connection facilitate different layers of integrated activity around labour or sometimes fail it[11]

It appears that the role of ‘latent images’ doesn’t simply claim the desire of ordering any kind of object of the Real, in order to ‘merely’ provide information from the spatial composition of virtual reality. Images are nonetheless thresholds to different kinds of dimensions, which are ruled by territorial claims whose primary trigger is related to economical, then political, interests. In a recent article published in “Wired”, the problem of marketing wearable technologies is addressed; because their current ‘image’ is largely associated to geek culture, foreigner to the big public and, above all, mass production; the article wonders about the possible image wearables should clad on themselves in order to make them ‘understandable’ to the eye of the masses. Google, somehow, already explores this strategy when it lends its products to selected developers in order to trigger the virus of consumption by means of usage. In other words Google provides the Stack and let people play around with its content to find individual ways of experiencing it, then find meaning[12]. Changing the View of Wearable Tech is the motto used to direct the user’s perception towards a familiar approach, by picking up seeds of individual experience hacked by digital devices. According to the author of the article:

Take a look at gel nail polish. It’s a seemingly simple product. But, in fact, gel polish is a high-tech polymer that works because of a free-radical reaction between the monomers and oligomers, which allows the photo initiative in the resin to interact with a specific wavelength of the LED lamp.

From a chemical perspective, gel nail polish is a breakthrough. But chemical engineers aren’t the primary target market for a modern manicure.

Instead of focusing on the science, gel nail polish ads feature women in the salon putting on their shoes or holding their car keys. The key marketing points are that gel polish is hard, fast, and shiny — everything a pricey new mani/pedi moment should be[13].

The familiar image of manicure, easy to be understood by many, is what Žižek describes as a system to fill the gap between scientific scenarios, i.e. the Real, and everyday experience and fantasy, so that the product’s marketing strategy doesn’t require an explanation of any specifics. Nevertheless, it is enough to clarify that you can hold keys and wash your hands anytime you want without any scratches on your glossy nails. Such captivating images, which mould and define anybody’s life style, claim and fill the gap of unfamiliar products towards familiar routes of experience; the latter is indeed pivotal for increasing the number of consumers of the 2.0 market. Because of the realm of ‘latent thick images’ there is no need to promote a kind of system that works behind it, as the experience, i.e. ‘latent thick image’ of anybody’s life, is enough for engagement purposes. “Engaging” becomes then key word of the 2.0 reality, as it establishes an active way of experiencing life’s events and makes them part of anybody’s cultural background, then to create experience which constitutes one’s identity. According to what has been described so far, images are a vehicle and means of experience-as Žižek described through the example of Sergio Leone’s movie,images fill the gap between the Real and our own real. Nonetheless ‘latent thick images’ are somehow our fantasy of the Real from which we gain experience of reality by overlapping, not interweaving, layers of ‘latent thick images’. For instance Blippar[14], a user experience commercial design firm that deploys Augmented Reality to create individual scenarios of a familiar experience, makes the most of ‘latent thick images’.

“Engage with your consumers for longer

Attract, retain and engage with consumers through an immersive experience. Through one app, Blippar becomes the lens through which the real world can be spontaneously ‘unlocked’ and converted into content-rich, interactive experiences.

Reach out to your customers everywhere

Blippar brings the static, physical world to life – whether at home, in-store or on the go[15].

As displayed in many of their commercial campaigns, the recurrent riddle of narrative reverberates through their engaging packages, which creates an individual experience via ‘latent thick images’. Such engagement feeds our imagination, i.e. our ideological status and social position. Images are the system we use to reify the real, as Jacques Lacan argues, because they directly reach individual perceptions, hence imagination of the Real. When the Stack produces its own order, we find ourselves dependent from it, as the form of our identity is related to the order the Stack produces via data: such process makes us the 2.0 commodities to the extent that what it is at stake is our individual sense of criticality, which appears to be orchestrated by invisible entities displayed by the latent form of the Real, i.e. images. According to what has just been described, the interaction with Reality occurs through individual imagination, because, as Jacques Lacan argues, it is how we understand the Real: by escaping it[16]. Hence if our imagination plays a crucial role, we can understand why we lose the sense of criticality, because our experience and perception of the Real is manoeuvred by invisible entities. In an article recently published by “The Guardian”, it is argued that the Face Recognition[17] technology improved it to the extent that any face can be recognised by cameras, even if there is not enough light. In other words our position in the real space will be more and more acknowledged, to the extent that individual desires and interests can be anytime caught for advertising individual ads, such as in “Minority Report” where Tom Cruise moves around projected images of custom advertisements, or like the targeted commercials that appear to cab customer in New York taxis, thanks to an app designed to catch human profiles[18].

Emoticon is capable of catching up any kind of facial expression, even if sublte [19]

Capital 2.0

If ‘latent thick images’ are vehicle to understand the real and give form to the 2.0 identity, how does such attitude reflect on the perception of the self? Because of the Capitalism need to find new routes for triggering exchange and value, which came under crisis in the last years because of the obsolete rules governing the exchange market – if compared to the Third Industrial Revolution, as stated by the Economist – a new type of commodity appeared: “ourselves” with our wishes and desires that replaced the old object exchange market, which defined the fundamental relationship between labour and surplus value. Indeed the new technologies of the Third Industrial Revolution claimed new rules in new market in order to save capitalism itself. Data retained and embodied value is now currency of the new capitalism, i.e. capitalism is transforming our desires and wishes, i.e. our identity, into commodities to be used for its own survival. Nevertheless in order to make the whole process work, it is important to engage the user to keep alive the system by engaging him/her via a narrative, which is a kind of ‘latent thick image’ for its property of reflecting a certain quality of the Real that our fantasy fills with any kind of personal background. Therefore latent flatness becomes pivotal for the whole system, as it behaves as luring device for opening new market possibilities; hence the ambiguity embedded within the Stack, as it leaves one’s imagination open to the gap of the Real, as René Magritte represents in “La Lunette D’approache[20].

Furthermore, according to Žižek, the role of symbols represented by specific images, is to let the user identify with a specific event; for instance Žižek uses Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, “The Rear Window” to explain such a phenomenon. In the movie Reality is built through elements of intuitions, which are, nevertheless, products of our fantasy[21]. 2.0 commodities are readings of human behaviour, whose trigger is the sense of gratification that enables fantasy and pleasure. Nonetheless the form of commodity creates meaning, hence its related image. Such process of making 2.0 commodities is somehow the riddle of the wearable’s image where its specific representation of the Real works as an engagement tool to trigger people’s enjoyment and pleasure[22].

The reproduction of capital gives form to society[23]; in order to feed the process we are the 2.0 commodities by means of the free labour given out by navigating, and liking, the Internet kingdom, i.e. the realm of ‘latent thick images’.

Conclusion

According to what has been argued so far it appears that ‘latent thick images’ embody the base of our social 2.0 structural system. Nevertheless the current crisis of capitalism is triggering new form of labour – social structure whose vehicle is individual experiences of the Real accessed through ‘latent thick images’. As argued also by Žižek[24], experience is the new form of currency whose commodities are our identities shaped by the connection created by the Stack, as described by Benjamin Bratton: our wishes, desires, interests are the current exchange value for keeping the market alive according to the rules of the Stack. A London restaurant[25] offers free meals if food pics are uploaded on the social network Instagram, accompanied by the correct hashtag. Of course we are the new labour and we participate in an invisible game, a body of current market exchange[26]. What is it at stake? If the perception of the real is orchestrated through the latent deepness of images, which are nonetheless hot spots for data collection and gathering to be used for allowing the market to survive, the sense of individual perception of the Real, hence the critical approach to reality, is lost. There is no longer a detached approach to the surrounding because of the vortex of information in which we dwell that, on one hand, offers choices and, on the other, it fails any possible criticality as any next step, is an orchestrated decision. Within this scenario reality is embedded in our ‘individual perception of truth, ideals and real’. Fantasy helps us on reifying the Real by means of the ‘symbolic meaning’ we give the surrounding. However it looks that we still need the Real, i.e. that kind of entitywhere the physical matter of the body finds its own space. Nevertheless the question is how claiming space?How do we claim our individual moment of self-reflection when the system works on the opposite side? Such a question should be matter of collective discussion, not only in the public domain, but also within institutions that organize society, such as politics. According to Professor Manuel Castells[27] the route to take is by claiming the configuration of space. This paper aimed to describe how certain high-tech enterprises give order to our space according to the rule of 2.0 society and 2.0 market. On the other hand recent events showed us how space, in particular public space, has been claimed by people, as desire to stop any undisclosed digital, and Real, invasions. Whether in Istanbul, where physical barricades circumscribed space to define what belongs to people, to Edward Snowden who claimed back space by leaking, or occupying, the Stack spatial configuration, there is a discontinuous flow of attempts that look at inverting the general and unquestioned rules of 2.0 market, which accesses individual space by ‘latent thick images’. Engaging with 2.0 reality by means of self consciousness develops digital intricacy that might trace a different route that inverts also the role of ‘latent thick images’. According to Jacques Ranciere[28], art represents the diversion of the Real, which triggers an uncanny feeling that mystifies the viewer. Hence 2.0 ‘latent thick images’ can be solid artistic interfaces for social communication, as stated also by political theorist Chantal Mouffe[29],where art is intended as collective social labour, i.e. public performance activity of engaging social life.

 

 

[1]Google ‘Poised to Produce 3D Imaging Tablet'”, in “BBC News Technology”, 23 May 2014, in http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-27538491 (accessed on May 2014)

[2]Issie Lapowsky, “The Next Big Thing You Missed: One Day, You’ll Google the Physical World with a Scanner Like This”, in “Wired”, 13 May 2014, in http://www.wired.com/2014/05/scio/?mbid=social_fb (accessed on May 2014)

[3]Lorraine Luke and Rolfe Winkler, “Google Developing Tablet with Advanced Vision Capability”, in “The Wall Street Journal”, 22 May 2014, in http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303749904579578833557306544 (accessed on May 2014)

[4] Oculus VR, in http://www.oculusvr.com

[5]According to Jacques Lacan: “Reality is a fantasy-construction, which enable us to mask the Real of our desire” in Slavoj Žižek, “Mapping Ideology“, in London New York: Verso 1994, p. 1478

[6] “SCIO: Your Sixth Sense” in http://www.consumerphysics.com (accessed on May 2014)

[7] Benjamin Bratton, “On the Nomos of the Cloud: The Stack, Deep Address, Integral Geography”, in http://www.bratton.info/projects/talks/on-the-nomos-of-the-cloud-the-stack-deep-address-integral-geography/(accessed on May 2014)

[8] Ibidem

[9] Ibidem

[10] Ibidem

[11]Geert Lovink. The Society of the Query and the Googlization of Our Lives: A Tribute to Joseph Weizenbaum.” in: Eurozone September 5, 2008.

[12]Such discussion is raised by “The Wall Street Journal” journalists in relation to the release of the Google Tablet capable of 3D scanning objects from the Real. On this see note n 3

[13]Lisa Calhoun, “How to Fix Wearable Tech’s Bad Image Problem“, in “Wired” 13 May 2014, in http://www.wired.com/2014/05/how-to-fix-wearable-techs-bad-image-problem/( accessed on May 2014)

[14]Blippar’s mission is to engage ‘consumers’ through immersive experience. ‘Latent images’ are proper threshold to interwoven worlds. In https://blippar.com/en/about (accessed on May 2014)

[15] Ibidem

[16]On the threat of the Real, which can’t be grasped, then it’s filled with our imagination Slavoy Žižek offers a telling example of  René Magritte’s “La Lunette d’approche”: “The translation of this painting into Lacanese goes by itself: the frame of the window pane is the fantasy frame that constitutes reality, whereas through the crack we get an insight into the ‘impossible’ Real, the Thing-in-itself. Slavoj Žižek,” Interrogating the Real“, Rex Butler and Scott Stephens (eds), New York: Continuum 2005, p. 150.

[17]Luke Dormel, “Facial recognition: is the technology taking away your identity?“, in “The Guardian”, 4 May 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/may/04/facial-recognition-technology-identity-tesco-ethical-issues. (accessed May 2014)

[18]A Sicilian start up designed an app, which targets customers for user based commercial.”From Sicily, A Success Story that brings Hope”, in “Italy Magazine”, 5 March 2014, http://www.italymagazine.com/news/sicily-success-story-brings-hope (accessed on May 2014). Further information about the company can be found at http://www.edisonweb.com/en/

[19]http://www.emotient.com/ (accessed on May 2014)

[20] On this see also note 16

[21]” In the last decade or so there has been a shift in the accent of marketing, a new stage of commodification that the economic theorist Jeremy Rifkin designated “cultural capitalism”. We buy a product – an organic apple, say – because it represents the image of a healthy lifestyle. As this example indicates, the very ecological protest against the ruthless capitalist exploitation of natural resources is already caught in the commodification of experiences: although ecology perceives itself as the protest against the virtualisation of our daily lives and advocates a return to the direct experience of sensual material reality, ecology itself is branded as a new lifestyle. What we are effectively buying when we are buying “organic food” etc is already a certain cultural experience, the experience of a “healthy ecological lifestyle”. Slavoy Žižek, “Fat-free Chocolate and Absolutely no Smoking: Why our Guilty about Consumption is All-Consuming“, in “The Guardian”, 21 May 2014, in http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/may/21/prix-pictet-photography-prize-consumption-slavoj-zizek (accessed on May 2014)

[22]According to Žižek “The secret of the form not the secret behind the form”. Slavoj Žižek, “Mapping Ideology“, p. 1482

[23] Frederick Jamenson in Slavoj Žižek, Mapping Ideology“, p. 1486

[24] What we are witnessing today is the direct commodification of our experiences themselves what we are buying on the market is fewer and fewer products (material objects) that we want to own, and more and more life experiences – experiences of sex, eating, communicating, cultural consumption, participating in a lifestyle” .Slavoy Žižek, “Fat-free Chocolate and Absolutely no Smoking: Why our Guilty about Consumption is All-Consuming“, in “The Guardian”

[25] Victoria Woollaston, “Now You Can Pay for Dinners Using Instagram: Pop-up Restaurants Let Diners Settle the Bill by Uploading Photos”,in http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2627144/Now-pay-dinner-using-INSTAGRAM-Pop-restaurant-lets-diners-settle-bill-uploading-photos.html

[26]My research looks at the dichotomy between Real and digital, by taking the Real as point of departure and return, via the digital realm of virtual reality. Such dichotomy works in close contact with individual fantasies and desires, which appear to be exploited for other kinds of purposes. I explain such complex mechanism in the article “Back to Reality. Architecture in the World of Fantasy“, in “Ultima Thule. The Journal of Architectural Fantasy, Vol1 n1, 2011, in http://www.ultimathule.com.au/index.php/ultima/article/view/13 (accessed on May 2014)

[27]Manuel Castells, “The Space of Autonomy: Cyberspace and Urban Space in Networked Social Movements“, in Harvard GSD Lecture, http://www.gsd.harvard.edu/#/media/lecture-manuel-castells-the-space-of-autonomy-cyberspace-and.html (accessed on March 2014)

[28] “There is an interplay of operations that produces what we call art: or precisely an alteration of resemblance. This alteration can take a myriad of forms [..] a turn of language that accentuates the expression of a feeling or renders the perception of an idea more complex” Jacques Ranciere, “The Future of the Images” p. 6

[29] On this see Chantal Mouffe, “Agonistics”, London New York:Verso, 2013

April 2012

Paper for “Theoretical Currents 2”, University of Lincoln April 2012

Contemporary Kingdoms

The “Twitter Wikipedia Maps” 

Abstract

In 1798 the Pope commissioned Giambattista Nolli the design of “La Grande Mappa di Roma” (The Great Map of Rome). Although Nolli’s map is considered one of the first and best examples that established some of the codified language of modern cartography, the context where it was created extends beyond ‘codified representation’. By filling the buildings with solid black hatches – i.e. pope’ properties – and leaving blank the remaining public space, “La Grande Mappa di Roma” becomes code for the political control of urban space. The sequence of triangles used to translate urban space into cartographic representation offered the pope the dimension of his Roman kingdom. Nevertheless with its unique value in the history of geography, Nolli’s map embodies and reflects political interests for the control of public space. In other words Nolli’s map is not merely representation of space but language that defines spatial dominium.

Within this extent, whether in the past geography played the rule of representing empires and nations, how do politicians and communities currently understand geography? What kind of domain doesgeography define in contemporary society? What is the extent within which it operates in the age of virtual realities?

This paper analyses the current virtual extent of geography as tool for making space. Whiletraditional geography concerned the description of space, currently it seems that it establishes territories by means of representation that is capable of interfacing and involving different users. Nations, as understood by the Westphalian treaty, seem to lose borders in place of a virtual sovereignty capable of establishing ‘free’ membership communities. Once members recognise and participate in such virtual territories, a process is triggered that imposes its own sovereignty. This creates new territories. Communication, therefore, becomes the structure that allows this process, whereas social networks are the platform where this process takes shape. Within this extent Twitter becomes a new territory as domain capable of establishing territorial boundaries by means of communication. Twitter, indeed, can reach people independently from geographical location. Is this geography modifying our understanding of territory intended as a system made of social and political landmarks? Is this new geography the beginning of the new concept of nation?

 

 

 

Landmarks

land·mark

noun

a prominent or conspicuous object on land that serves as a guide, especially to ships at sea or to travelers on a road; a distinguishing landscape feature marking a site or location: The post office served as a landmark for locating the street to turn down.

something used to mark the boundary of land.

a building or other place that is of outstanding historical, aesthetic, or cultural importance, often declared as such and given a special status (landmark designation),  ordaining its preservation, by some authorizing organization.

 

Figure 1. Life 360, Trails and My Map Editor. This image represents the screens of these three apps designed for iPhone and Android. These apps allow the user to customise maps by adding locations, routes and pins that mark landmarks according to one’s personal interests. (source BBC Business, www.bbc.co.uk,)

 

Life360 Family Locator, Trails and My Map Editor are applications for iPhone and Android that customise maps according to people’s wishes and desires. If for instance you wish to visit the Guggenheim Museum in New York or the Taj Mahal in India you just need to pin your map. If you are in New York or Agra your pin will be your guide.

Androids and iPhones are a lost traveller’s best friend, thanks to their capacity to pinpoint a user’s location on a GPS-powered map and outline directions via car, foot or public transport.

But your smart phone can also help you plan ahead for your trips, by plotting a custom map of landmarks you’d like to see, and help you look back at a trip, by mapping your route as you go.[1]

The BBC article describes these apps as “landmark” displays. What is a landmark then? According to the dictionary the noun “landmark” has three different ‘declinations’ that offer three different extents of the same word. Landmark is a guide, a boundary marker and a place featured by outstanding qualities. In other words “landmark” is the mediator between the individual’s understanding of places and the understanding given by somebody else. Within urban territories this mediator role is a key concept if, furthermore, it is required to represent physical spaces by means of languages that anyone acknowledges. For instance the Lebanese company “Zawarib Maps” designed an app that represents a particular map of Beirut. In this map the old Beirut’s landmarks are superimposed to street nomenclature, as given by the government[2]. Beirut is a city destroyed by the war of the 1980s. Although thecity’s buildings and streets have been numbered in the 1930s and 40s, the war made them disappear with the destruction of buildings. Therefore in order to understand what is located where, after the war the postal service reintroduced a new system of numbers. Nevertheless Beirut citizens didn’t acknowledge it. On the other hand landmarks, as represented in the old map of Beirut designed by a Danish cartographer in 1876, continued to govern Beirut cartography. By combining this double system, the institutional and the citizens’ one, “Zawarib Maps”’ made the city legible. By means of smart phones, citizens can navigate Beirut by using this double map.

Figure 2. Zawarib Map. This image represents the cover of the printed version of Zawarib Map. This map of Beirut uses the old system of landmarks overlapped to the current street nomenclature so that citizens can navigate the city according to an official and ‘unofficial’ system. (Source surface2air.posterous.com)

 

 

“Zawarib Maps” and “Map Maker” work by means of the same system. They both make crowds acknowledge their territory according to spatial entities they are familiar with so that people themselves are involved in the design of new territories. In other words, these two GIS maps work by interfacing public and personal domains. These maps establish a common language of communication given by the intersection of the public and private. Indeed the territorial customised representation is the common ground where these two different domains confront one another and it is a key element capable of establishing individual relationships between the reader and the object of representation. As argued by Slavoj Žižek, when he describes the work of the French philosopher Jacques Lacan, individuals learn external reality as a process of both self-recognition and opposition to the real itself[3]. According to Slavoj Žižek: “Through virtual realities the real reality clashes toward the fantastic imaginary to such an extent that the real becomes a reflection of our imaginary[4].

Therefore we think of the ‘outside space’ as a system that extends our ‘interior’ space, i.e. our knowledge and experience. By means of the relationship we establish with the real, that happens through its represented image, we acquire reality as part of ourselves, in other words the real becomes a different self. Therefore the variety of images coming out of our brain, which are juxtaposed to the real, is a phenomenon of this relationship. Hence reality is individually and differently mapped.

Why does this self-recognition play a key role in contemporary geographical domains? Why does the individual’s recognition of the real projected to the real play a specific part in contemporary interactive geographic representation?

“Twitter Wikipedia” Maps

Figure 3. Martyrs’ Square Tripoli. On 21- 22 August 2011 the Libyan rebels took control of Tripoli. In order to establish the new sovereignty the rebels changed the name of Green Square – a symbol of Colonel Gheddafi’s domain – with Martyr Square in honour of those who died for the revolution. Google acknowledged the event by applying the new name to Maps. (Source http://www.telegraph.co.uk)

 

The Arab Spring events became an example of the plethora of realities depicted by maps. In Libya, once rebels took Tripoli, Google Maps ‘displayed’ the event by changing Green Square, a symbol of Colonel Gheddafi’s regime, into Martyr Square, a symbol of the revolution. The ‘represented’ virtual map stated the change of sovereignty. Currently Syria has been living a civil war. The current situation of the country has been updated in the virtual reality of the Internet. In Google Maps one of the main streets of Damascus – named after Hafez al-Hassad, father of the current Assad – has been changed to Ibrahim al-Kashod, a martyr who died in July 2011[5].

Google Maps, major Damascus thoroughfares named after the Assad family have appeared renamed after heroes of the uprising. The Arab Spring has form in this regard.

Figure 4.Ibrahim al-Kashod Street. Maps are currently supporting the Syrian revolution by changing the name of Damascus main streets with memories and symbols of the event. Despite the new names are not approved by the authority, maps are rendering a different territory which updates the ‘real’ political and social situation of the country. (Source ogleearth.com)

 

According to these recent events it appears that a maps’ representation – names and symbols – doesn’t merely ‘represent’ a given territory. A Maps’ representation unveils social, political and economical statements. Nevertheless since Google Maps changed maps’ perception because of interactivity, maps became intertwined with user’s multiform realities. One can define his/her map by entering data. Data are shared so that further information, added by another user, can complete and modify the current one. To some extent it seems that the “Twitter Wikipedia Map” is established which is a map defined by real time updates entered by users according to social events. Crowds are therefore those who make single and shared representations of the world by means of data. According to Denis Wood:

Presentation, as the end and the beginning of the map, closes the loop of its design. It makes the map whole and, in doing so, prepares it for a role that begins where its avowed attention to symbolism, geodesic accuracy, visual priority, and graphic organization leaves off. It injects the map into its culture.[6]

What I would like to stress by means of this quotation is that even though maps are considered a meta-representation of the real, representation is the reality of any given territory according to one’s perception. Presentation is the door for the ‘otherness’. Presentation corresponds to the individual understanding of the real, as previously described by Žižek’s quotation. Maps are our form of the real. Maps convey multiform narratives. Maps translate data into form and this form is a shared vehicle of communication. How does communication work in the “Twitter Wikipedia Map”?

Figure 6.Wilshire Landmarks. The Los Angeles Department of Transportation recently commissioned an artist to design the map of Wilshire Boulevard. Wilshire connects Downtown Los Angeles with Santa Monica. Its route passes through the most important landmarks of Los Angeles. According to the artist this map reveals that Wilshire is a crossover of cultures connected together. This map renders these connections. (Source la.curbed.com)

 

Denis Wood argues that presentation, i.e. how a map is represented, doesn’t express the content of the map per se but the content of its audience. I argue that presentation is a way to make the audience believe the content of the map, which is believed to be true if, furthermore, one participates in the map making. By combining the user’s ‘self-imposition’ to the real – as described by Žižek which is a manifestation of one’s identity – to the “Twitter Wikipedia Map” the audience challenges new kinds of representation and realities based on participants. This establishes a new shared and ‘participated’ territory. Those entities called landmarks become the common symbols capable of bridging and connecting different levels of understanding, from traditional maps, to data and one’s experience. This processes delivers maps that represent the aesthetic image of the shared narrative. Hence maps become language and image[7]. According to Wood, maps have embedded a twofold quality: intransignification and extrasignification. Intrasignification consists of an array of sign functions indigenous to the map and which, taken jointly, constitute the map, …., extrasignification appropriates the complete map and deploys it.[8] Therefore intrasignification values – landmarks, names, etc – when interfacedwith users’ cultural background become charged with a different value, as they turn into narratives. This dichotomy points out that maps are not detached from cultural and social backgrounds, maps are social construction. [….] Maps provide their viewer and image of the world, of states, and of other territories within it that is infused with political choices, revealing, at the very gaze the cartographer’s conscious or unconscious manipulation of the world[9]. When a relationship is established between users and maps it happens a complex collage of experiences and knowledge which bring to the map, working with the map to create an intersubjective experience of the represented world[10]. If I use “Map Maker” I make my map that expresses my interests and cultural background by means of my pinpoints. This map conveys narratives about myself that I decide somehow to share. I am giving off data that somebody else will use by means of the “Twitter Wikipedia Maps”. Maps are therefore a partial view of the world, which is portrayed by specific perspectives. Maps are displays of different interpretations of the real, challenging and limiting at the same time. According to Piers Fotodis:

Political maps which depict borders, for example, contribute to dominant discourses of the state, in that their emphasis on the state borders exhibits an understanding of the world based on the Westphalian concepts of territorial sovereignty and a state system. However, maps can only work if combined with historical or normative narratives outside the map[11].

It is clear how maps convey narratives that may be detached from ‘real’ conditions. Indeed Fotodis offers the John Baylis and Steve Smith’s map example represented in “Globalization of World Politics: An Introduction to International Relations”[12]. Here Cyprus is depicted as a single nations and Kosovo is not represented. Maps can be ‘distorted’ views of external realities that we however take for granted. According to Susan Fiske and Shelley Taylor’s cognitive method: the brain attempts to economize on its cognitive operations by creating belief sets, and information received is in turn ordered according to the make-up of these beliefs[13]. These beliefs constitute the coordinate by which we experience the external reality. According to Jutta Weldes:

Social construction becomes common sense when they have successfully defined the relationship of particular representations to reality as one of correspondence. […] They are treated as if they naturally or transparently reflected reality. In this way, social construction are reified or naturalized and their particular origins are obscured.[14]

Furthermore it is interesting to point out that certain contemporary economic domains, such as the European community, are the result of a ‘representation’ that tries to challenge ‘national identities’. Nevertheless, in the European case, Anders Breivik’s slaughter in Norway is the example of the limit and the instability of such labile belief, as Slavoj Žižek points out.[15] Nevertheless Europe, as political domain, is clearly shown in maps, Euro currency, web sites, etc. On the other hand Europe, as cultural domain, is still a work in progress. European identity is a narrative bred by politicians. European maps represent the claim that Europe, as a territorial nation, exists. Cartography was primarily a form of political discourse concerned with the acquisition and maintenance of power[16].

According to what has been argued so far it appears that the riddle of Geography lies in the dichotomy between representation and territorial sovereignty. Geography per se is a representational system. On the other hand geography translates a declaration of domain. Any map’s purpose goes beyond representation. Indeed when Giambattista Nolli designed the “Grande Mappa di Roma”, technical methodologies and the graphic design of black and white hatches were used to render public and private areas. Representation, as drawing, was a statement of power. Nolli’s map was the display of the Church kingdom.

Figure 5.La Grande Mappa di Roma. In 1798 Giambattista Nolli designed the map of Rome by using a specific code for representing public and private areas. Indeed Nolli contoured buildings with solid black hatches whereas he left black the remaining space. The result is an accurate display of Pope’s kingdom for the city of Rome. (Source en.wikipedia.org)

 

 

Logistic Representations

 

Nolli was a technician who received the commission from the Pope in 1748. There was a ‘declared’ intent. Within the “Twitter Wikipedia Map” are individuals participating in the formation of ‘public’ domain? Is there a service given to the community? How is this phenomenon connected to the political claim of land? In order to succeed “Zawarib Maps” needs the participation of private experiences but as part of the community, as citizens’ personal knowledge of their land is overlapped with the political system[17]. This new representation makes virtual territories real, involves communities in their territory and offers institutions the control of no border spaces because of the process of combining private and public data. There is an exchange of information that works without hierarchy and is capable of creating territory when a new map is entered in the network. Contemporary society is featured by the absorption of space because of social networks[18], people share data and virtual territories, thus making new ones. Despite data constituting territory, territory per se vanishes[19]. If virtual spaces are somehow controlled by authorities by means of ‘shared’ feedbacks, sovereignty is established once again as the authority becomes thesource of data. There is a reorganization of institutional domain given by citizen’s data. Nevertheless we can’t perceive the image, or form, of this process. Indeed maps help as “Data Visualization” which ‘focuses on methods that reveal patterns hidden inside the dataset”[20]. As data don’t have any given form, maps can offer one by processing information. Maps are the current system that helps to give shape to the enormous quantity of data produced everyday. What makes the system work is what Benjamin Bratton calls the “Stack”. The “Stack” is the structure. “The Stack,” is that vast software/hardware formation, a proto-megastructure of both bits and atoms, literally circumscribing the planet, which, as said, not only perforates and distorts Westphalian models of State territory, it also produces new spaces in its own image: clouds, networks, zones, social graphs. In other words the “Stack” allows information to travel indiscriminately from and to different parts and, by doing so, establishes new territories. The Stack is standardized as a vertical section. […] territorialising and deterritorialising the same element. The Stack makes territory appear and disappears according to clusters of data. There is no fixed domain, it changes according to data. The “Stack” operates by means of the Cloud which is defined by Bratton as the discontiguous sovereign body that interpenetrates and interweaves a thickened landscape of territorial claims. The flexibility embedded in this system makes ‘lands’ by means of changing narrative and form continuously. Representation is still the vehicle of communication but for establishing connections through the Cloud. Representation becomes the personal aesthetic of the entered data. Territory per se doesn’t need any form and image, as it already exists in the “Stack” domain. On the other hand data needs shape to communicate with users, so that public and private domains come to be intertwined in an amalgam that takes shape only when it reaches the terminals. According to Bratton:

The Cloud’s nomos is the proto-sovereign network geography. And it is at this level of the stack that the Modern sovereignty of the State (which would produce one sort of public) and the aggregate urbanism of information, energy and concrete that interpolates another come into direct conflict, overlapping and interweaving one another without universal jurisdiction or resolution.

What Bratton offers is the emergence of a new geography: a state sovereignty that would dominate and determine the network sovereignty of information and energy flows versus a network/information sovereignty that would, by assembling users into another real network and imagined community come to in essence escape the final sovereignty of the State, to determine another polity in its image. For instance, according to Bratton the dispute between China and Google is a problem of sovereignty[21].

Conclusion

If in Nolli’s time it was important to create universal representation in order to define sovereignty, contemporary geography exploits individual representation to trigger new kinds of territories. Geo-graph(y), in terms of representation, becomes an effect rather than a means. Geography, in terms of communication, happens when information is shared, thus territory created. In order to establish territories it is necessary to control such communication. Therefore political and economical attention is focused on the structure of data rather than its image. Contemporary geography is leaving behind its charming representational value of delivering narratives. Contemporary geography is related to the logistic, or the geography, of data. It concerns structure rather than image.

Currently humanity’s approach to everyday reality is interfaced by displays and interactive maps. We create our geographies by means of shared data that enrich and portray our image of the ‘outside’. On the other hand maps are organising the structure of our life rather than representing it. It is this structure that establishes sovereignty. The current challenge is to process the best communicative system – apps for instance – to interface with the most possible users. Geography’s interest is to involve users to participate in the “Twitter Wikipedia Maps” in order to feed the system. This loop is the domain that establishes territory and sovereignty. Geography doesn’t represent contemporary kingdoms, geography makes kingdoms. Representation displays its organization rather than forms of given territories. Contemporary nations are therefore basing their territorial organization according to the “Twitter Wikipedia Map”. Are we living in the new ‘Westphalian’ age where nations are defined by clusters of ‘free’ membership communities?

 

Figure 7. The Value of Friendship. This image published in the Economist as comment to Facebook’s plan to open a public offering (IPO). Since the social network has been founded it virally extended its influence in the social, economic and political ground. Within Facebook you can also exchange info and money. Can Facebook be the beginning of a new concept of nation? (Source The Economist).

 

[1]Sean O’Neill, ‘Map your Adventures with Mobile Apps, in BBC Travel http://www.bbc.com/travel/blog/20120202-map-your-adventures-with-mobile-apps (January 2012)

[2] Howard Johnson, ‘Business finds new way to Map Beirut’ in BBC Business, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-17079277 (January 2012)

[3] So-called ‘external reality’ itself is already over determined by the symbolic framework which structures our perception of reality”. Slavoj Zizek, Interrogating the Real’, New York London: Continuum Press 2005, p. 191.

[4] Slavoj Zizek, p. 150.

[5]http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/shortcuts/2012/feb/15/syria-rename-streets-google-maps (January 2012)

[6] Denis Wood, The Power of Maps, New York: Guilford Press 1992, p. 142

[7] Wood, p.123

[8] Wood, p. 117. Wood makes his reference to Roland Barthes’ concept of myth. According to Barthes the myth is that element that is naturally understood by the audience. The myth overlaps map narratives, which pursue to communicate with its audience thereof. On its turn narratives have to be understood innocently through familiar embedded in representation. According to Wood : “The map is the product of a spectrum of codes that materialize its representations, orient these in space and time, and bind it them together in some acceptable form. The actions of these codes are, if not entirely independent, reasonably distinct.”

[9] Piers Fotoadis, “The Strange Power of Maps: How Maps work Politically and Influence our Understanding of the World”, School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies, University of Bristol, Working Paper n. 06 ‘ 09 2008 – 2009, p. 4, in spais/research/workingpapers/wpspaisfiles/fotiadis0609.pdf (February 2012)

[10] Ibid.

[11] Fotoadis, p. 6.

[12] John Baylis and Steve Smith, The Globalization of World Politics: An Introduction to International Relations, 3rd Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006, in Pier Fotadis.

[13] Susan Friske and Shelly Taylor, Social Cognition, New York: McGraw – Hill, 1984, p. 15, in Fotoadis, p. 15

[14] Jutta Weldes, ‘Constructing National Interests’, European Journal of International Relations, vol 2, n. 3, 1996, pp. 275-318, in Fotoadis, p. 16.

[15] Slavoj Žižek, ‘A Vile Logic to Andres Breivik’s Choice of Target’, in The Guardian, 8 August 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/aug/08/anders-behring-breivik-pim-fortuyn (September 2011)

[16] Brian Harley, “Silence and Secrecy: The Hidden Agenda of Cartography in Early Modern Europe” paper read at the XII Internaional Conference on the History of Cartography, Paris September 1987, in Denis Wood

[17]One participates in the universal dimension of the ‘public’ sphere precisely as singular individual extracted from or even opposed to one’s substantial communal identification”. Slavoj Zizek, Interrogating the Real, p. 10

[18] Benjamin Bratton, ‘Deep Address, The Could, “The Stack”’, Lecture at the Berlage Institute, November 2011, in http://bratton.info/projects/talks/on-the-nomos-of-the-cloud-the-stack-deep-address-integral-geography/ (February 2012)

[19] Ibid

[20] Andrew Vande Moere, ‘Aesthetic Data Visualization as a Resource for Educating Creative Design, International Conference on Computer-Aided Architectural Design (CAADfutures’07), Springer, p. 4, in http://web.arch.usyd.edu.au/~andrew/ (January 2012)

[21] Benjamin Bratton, ‘Deep Address, The Could, “The Stack”’

 

February 2014

Political Stages.

Performance as political language for design.

 

Performance and Public Place Workgroup.

Theatre and Stratification, FIRT – IFTR World congress, University of Warwick

 

Il Teatro non può morire

Forma della vita stessa, tutti ne siamo attori; e aboliti o abbandonati i teatri, il teatro seguiterebbe nella vita, insopprimibile; e sarebbe sempre spettacolo la natura stessa delle cose[1].

According to Pirandello theatre, intended as performance of everyday life, is pivotal aspect for society for its capability of mirroring people’s vices and virtues; theatre can’t die thereof, as it depicts, criticise and analyse the performance of social interaction. Nevertheless performance is also strategic element for Fascist political agenda for the entertain value capable of interfacing politics and the masses: Mussolini’s public speeches were proper acting performances in the arena of Italian squares. Is Pirandello and Fascism’s performance alike? How does it behave in these two conditions, in terms of body and space? Although enquiring the same concept, Pirandello and Mussolini made of performance two opposite media: the playwright flips the meaning through staging no-performances, i.e. empty spaces in rehearsal (Sei Personaggi in Cerca di Autore for instance) that make audience wonder by means of mystification. The totalitarian leader employs stage, i.e. public squares, where his audience can meet to participate the mystic ‘play’ of Fascism. Metaphysical painter Giorgio De Chirico portrays the ‘paradox of performance’ through empty, lonely and alienated Italian squares, which sounds like Pirandello’s absence of space and contrasts Mussolini’s crowded one, whose architecture and urbanism fuels Fascist demagogy by giving it presence and content.

Which is the relation between these performances and, if any, which is the nature of such paradox? How does space perform in political or artistic performances?

This paper would like to analyse and investigate space under the light of artistic and political performances; by looking first at its presence/absence in the cultural scenario of totalitarian regimes, I would like to point out how the ‘play of public space’ becomes crucial for social interactions for its unacknowledged system of delivering ideas that shape individual identities. Nevertheless such relation becomes design guideline of 60s and 70s avant-gardes where architecture is thought equal to performance (1971 Superstudio Vita Morte e Miracoli dell’Architettura in Florence or 1971 Mario Fiorentino social housing building, Corviale, in South Rome). From Carlo Quartucci to Carmelo Bene’s works performance, which focuses on the role of actor’s body language, is reference for design as means to deliver ‘form’. Space, indeed, is considered flexible ‘envelope’ designed around the movements of human body, as rendered by 60s- 70s interior design; there is no geometry or aesthetic but a scenario that hosts performances, by which it becomes a form of spatial transcription designed by body’s experience. Furthermore French political theorist Chantal Mouffe advocates the return of performance in contemporary art and architecture to claim the return of public space. Conversely to Pirandello’s and Quartucci’s insights, is currently performance a tool in the single hands of politics? Can performing contemporary architecture become a form of political engagement that claims people’s ownership of the public?

 

[1] Theatre can’t die; as it gives life shape, we are all actors of its play. If abandoned, theatre will perform in everyday life, where Mother Nature will be always staging for us the nature of things”. Luigi Pirandello, “Il Teatro non può morire”, in “Quadrante”, n.18, October 1934, p. 26

 

June 2011

New Vehicles for the rise of Italian Modernism. Architects and magazines in the propaganda age.

 

Pietro Maria Bardi, Tavolo degli Orrori, in  ‘Quadrante’ n. 12, 1934

In 1925, on his way back from Paris where he visited the Expo, the art critic and musician Carlo Belli brought his friend Gino Pollini a present. This was a book called Towards a New Architecture, written by a contemporary architect named Le Corbusier. Gino Pollini was a young student of architecture who was about to graduate in Architecture in the Polytechnic of Milan.

On December 1926 an article published in “Rassegna Italiana” defined the ʻofficialʼ beginning of the Italian Rationalism. The authors of this article were a group of young architects from the Polytechnic of Milan, named Gruppo 7, whose members were Gino Pollini, Giuseppe Terragni, Enrico Rava, Luigi Figini, Sebastiano Larco, Ubando Castagnoli. These young architects were capable of making their own voice among European Modernism by means of articles and books, employed both as output and input. Gruppo 7ʼs target was to define the image of the Italian Modernism, as autonomous branch among the other European instances. As reflection of their political regime, i.e. Fascism, Gruppo 7 established written connections with architects such as Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier and Sigfried Giedion to find their own identity, and the Italian one, within a foreigner public. Their work became the basic step for introducing Modernism in the Nation. Indeed Gruppo 7 had its reserved seat in the most important international events, such as CIAM, through their intellectual work, rather than designed. In which extent their strategy can be considered an effect of their social, political and technological age? Although architecture is by definition a visual art, for which reason these young architects thought that writing was the best tool to employ in order to find their space in the European and Italian context?

This paper would like to present the rise of Italian Modernist Architecture, in Italy and abroad, by means of the relationship architects established with magazines, in the age of the Fascist propaganda. At that time, because of the social and political context, magazines became the way for importing and exporting Modernism in the Nation. Giuseppe Paganoʼs ʻCasabellaʼ, which came to the architectural scene in that period, and the Pietro Maria Bardiʼs ʻQuadranteʼ, an independent architectural magazine, are the best examples of early Italian Modernism and the best vehicle of ideas in that time, aboard and in Italy.

March 2012

The “Networked Cities”. Platforms for City Dwellers                                                      

 We’re entering a new era. Technology has enabled us to interact, innovate and share knowledge in whole new ways – creating a dynamic shift in mindset. People are empowered, business is liberated and society is more connected than ever[1].

The “Networked Society” video offers 15 minutes snapshot of the present and future conditions of cities. Data are rendering that cities are growing faster, their size is dramatically increasing and citizens’ number is daily expanding. This phenomenon is even clearer in countries like China, Brazil and India where countryside are left behind in place of metropolis. This phenomenon is therefore raising questions about new possible urban environments capable of containing huge number of people. At the present the network society is one of the most interesting social phenomenon that is offering new scenarios not only in terms of political or economical systems but also for urban planners and stakeholders. The network society is indeed changing urban organization from the community’s point of view. Networks work without hierarchy. They are flexible systems that adapt according to given conditions. Networks are based on the community participation, which is what feeds the system. Can cities become “Networked Cities”? Cities like Boston and New York are experimenting systems of apps that behave as interfaces between citizens and public administration. In Boston, for instance, it is possible to report information directly to the City Hall[2].

IMG :Citizen Connect, City of Boston

IMG: Carlo Ratti, Map rendering the Singapore’s mobile phone penetration

Through an app you can type messages that eliminate bureaucracy and make citizens actively involved in the public administration and planning[3]. In network societies there is no longer a center opposed to suburbs, but knots equally belonging to the same network. Hence the traditional urban concept that distinguishes center and suburbs become obsolete from an administrative point of view. Within the “Networked Cities” urban quality is qualified according to infrastructures. For instance the President Obama’s Chief Information Officer, Vivien Kundra, is currently organizing American urban infrastructure upon demand[4]. Facilities like electricity, gas and water will be no longer provided according to gross consumes but citizens’ requests, which can be recorded by specific social networks. This system can avoid waste of resources and energies and create the ‘Talking Cities’, i.e. cities that can report data and dynamically behave accordingly[5]. Urban infrastructure can learn from networks by establishing platforms rather than obsolete plans, which provide services rather than images. To what extent “Networked Cities” can delivery services that are really capable of establishing urban spaces? For years the riddle of suburban life has been the lack of spatial quality that produced alienate spaces whose effects have been visible on August 2011 when riots of crowds transformed the street of London in battlefields. Suburbs have been famous to produce segregation from the city either in the positive and negative extent. The different cities coexisting in Los Angeles are example of such dual condition, as ghettos are not only the poor but also the rich areas. Therefore can “Networked Cities” be a new ‘event’ in urban planning that can make the concept of suburb disappear? As networks take place by means of community’s posts, the “Networked Cites” may witness a new collaboration between administrations, designers and citizens that, bounded within the same ‘space’, will define cities based on citizens’ needs transformed into urban spaces.

IMG: TED, “TheCity2.0”, a community projected promoted by TAD to think about the Networked Cities in http://thecity2.org/splash.php (March 2012)


[1] Ericsson, “The Networked Society. A Connected work is just beginning”, in http://www.ericsson.com/networkedsociety (February 2012)

[3] Ibid

[4] Vivek Kundra, ‘An Interview with Vivek Kundra’, in ‘The Ideas Economy’, The Economist, http://ideas.economist.com/presentation/ interview-vivek-kundra ( September 2011)

[5] Carlo Ratti, ‘Telling Cities’ in “The Networked Society. A Connected work is just beginning” http://www.ericsson.com/networkedsociety (February 2012)

[5] Ibid

October 2012

Reality Beyond the Real.

The subject of representation in Italian Modernism 

Chiudere gli occhi, dimenticare il mondo splendidamente relativo alla menzogna dei nostri sensi, per ascendere alla verità. (Close your eyes, forget the charming world of lies embed in your senses in order to lift your soul to the truth)[1]

For artists representing is an act whereby the known and established are forgotten. Nevertheless representation is a kind of invention to the extent that any depicted idea is new form of the real, which doesn’t mimic the world as it normally appears to human eyes. In other words reality needs to be forgotten for being redesigned. For Modernist artists and architects the act of ‘forgetting’ the object of the real was, indeed, the poiesis of art to such an extent that during Italian Modernism the intent of representation became benchmark for the role of art and architecture in society. In the past the artist’s role in society concerned the depiction of the real. With the Industrial Revolution this role had been displaced, thus artists moved towards the metaphysical with the intent of defining the new harmonic order of the real in order to re-establish the relationship between men and Nature. In other words art became instrument to investigate the real beyond the real, namely to unveil the unknown aspects of reality.

In 1935 the Italian art critic Carlo Belli writes “Kn”, a book that for its content became the bible of Italian Abstract Art. What is the artist’s role in society? How the object of the real should be represented? “Kn” analyses and investigates these open riddles by looking at the object of representation in relation to the represented subject. According to Belli the art of representing cannot merely be picture of the existing.  Reality must be looked mystically, i.e. through the inner part of one’s soul, not through the eyes. According to the Greek etymology the word mystic means to look deeper within oneself. If artists look mystically at reality appearance is stepped over for its substance. Hence representation is vehicle to investigate the spirit.

This paper would like to describe and analyse the development of Italian Modernist aesthetic by means of the poiesis of representation. During Modernism art was intended as spiritual guide, which is then the Modernists’ reality? Metaphysical painters as Giorgio De Chirico and Carlo Carrà reveal in their work instances of time and space that, although resembling the familiar, develop synaesthesia elements that make the gap with reality. In De Chirico’s “Piazze d’Italia” the urban scenario loses any kind of relation with the real even though it is somehow literally represented. Hence, at the artist’s eye, reality is no longer ‘real’, reality happens somewhere else and needs a new vehicle of expression to be represented. Which is this vehicle?


[1] Carlo Belli, “Kn”, Milano: All’insegna del pesce d’Oro 1988, p. 125.

September 2012

The Art of Creating the Real.
Drawings as artifact of the real
.

IT has become fashionable in many architectural circles to declare the death of drawing. What has happened to our
profession, and our art, to cause the supposed end of our most powerful means of conceptualizing and representing
architecture?
The computer, of course. With its tremendous ability to organize and present data, the computer is transforming every
aspect of how architects work, from sketching their first impressions of an idea to creating complex construction
documents for contractors. For centuries, the noun “digit” (from the Latin “digitus”) has been defined as “finger,” but now
its adjectival form, “digital,” relates to data. Are our hands becoming obsolete as creative tools? Are they being replaced
by machines? And where does that leave the architectural creative process? 

Michael Graves opens his article, “Architecture and the Lost Art of Drawings” with a Romantic description concerning the value of drawings in the process of modelling, designing and producing architecture. Indeed Graves argues that in contemporary digital modelling the value of free hand drawings should be as much important as it was in the pre-digital age. According to Graves drawings are means for creative processes where ideas take shape and become architecture. Nevertheless the value Graves assigns to architectural drawings is associated to the traditional design process, which consists on ideas taking shapes through the act of tracing the paper. In other words the role of drawings, as intended by Graves, belongs to the fundamental artistic debate of Platoʼs world of Forms for the representation of the real where images are substance of the metaphysical world of Forms. For Plato images are shadows of Forms, hence they canʼt mimic other ʻrealʼ images but just entities without substance. When Futurism embedded in one action process, representation and image at the beginning of the XX century, they reinvented the common idea of artistic representation by means of an unconventional use of images; none of these is autonomous fragment, they are all product of a single intertwined process. In other words Marinettiʼs sostantivo doppio (double noun) concept bounds process and representation with the intent of creating new form of the real, whose noumenal aspect is delivered by the process of producing a work of art. Images are active components for yielding the real, not passive vehicles of representation that give shape to a metaphysical preformatted world. Art is machine for producing the real. Nevertheless the domain of images concerns a twofold aspect. On one hand images are supposed to represent and give form to immaterial entities so that they can be widely understood, hence images become communication vehicles. On the other hand, that is consequence of the previous, images create illusionistic worlds, i.e. worlds that donʼt exist yet, whose intent is challenging pre-established orders or flipping common preconceptions. Where is located the digital contemporary process of producing images? The contemporary perception of the real is intertwined with its digital version to such an extent that the common definition of real and digital became somehow synonymous; the image linked to the process of communication/representation of the real is then a shared territory equally experienced by everyday life. Within these terms the process of digital modelling is not detached from our daily life, as it is feedback of the real. This feedback is also called data. The formation of data, which comes into shape through digital representation, transforms the virtual domain into a different version of the real; hence digital image production becomes process of forming reality. If Graves argues that drawings are vehicles for rendering the real, within digital/real domain drawings are the real.

Data Visualization is a contemporary artistic discipline that focuses on the representation of data, which per se do not have any particular form. Nevertheless data are entities collected from the real; they are formless matter produced by people. According to what has been described so far, are data becoming the new Platoʼs Forms? By looking at the degree of importance that images achieved in contemporary communication, I argue that digital images give form to the real, which becomes a collective reality made of individual experiences, i.e. data. Images are vehicle for rendering data, thus the real, by means of creating a plethora of social individual environments that is our ʻrealʼ. To some extent this ʻworld of Imagesʼ is the new ʻworld of Formsʼ; images are trigger for new realities, not only substance. If Modernists defined the ʻrepresented realʼ by means of the abstract rules of geometry, which employed grids as system to visualise and establish order to the real, digital images are the real; there is no longer any ʻrepresentationʼ indented as act of resembling. Images do not need any metaphor or philosophical reference because they donʼt refer to something else; they are matter of the real. If for Modernists the order of grids embodied human harmony with Nature, contemporary design makes its own nature, which is hybrid of real and digital melted in one entity. By means of data visualization the real is dissembled and reassembled via images. In this paper I would like to focus on the analysis of the emergent hybrid Nature. Hybrid because it is made of real/virtual images capable of defining material sensations and depth qualities through 2D ʻspacesʼ. Even though we are experiencing a more and more 3D world, actually the world itself is becoming more and more flat, as bounded to the illusion of virtual reality. Images constitute the illusion of a 3D world, which is a world that exists in the threshold of the real and the virtual. I would like to argue that this specific time frame of our present is somehow a reversed Postmodernity, as images are no longer iconic container for meanings but triggers of realities. In other words images do not have meaning, they are vehicle for making hybrids worlds.

Within this extent digital design process doesnʼt produce images but new realities by dwelling in the virtual and by moulding the real according to the rendered depiction. Is design conscious of this new Postmodern era in the act of producing images? When the real becomes product of collective experiences turned into form through images, is design still concerned of depicting what we know exists or is it focus on moving forward the threshold of common perception? The real time experience of reality is keystone for different artistic disciplines, as capable of connecting the digital with the real, is design employing it as well or are architectural drawings experiencing a rhetoric melancholic stage, as described by Michel Gravesʼs article, which is reaction of this new condition?

The memory of collective space.

A view of one of the vertical passage of Enna, Sicily

A view of one of the vertical passage of Enna, Sicily

It often happens that the sight of an ordinary object projects our body and soul to an event of the past. The bridge that our mind is capable of establishing with that object, which itself becomes a living memory of our life, makes us travel in a past dimension, as if we are, once again, experiencing the memory linked to that object. Suddenly sounds and smells return to our sense and appear to be real. For seconds we can’t discern any longer reality and imagination.
The relation we establish with real objects is key aspect for shaping our identity. From the beginning of our life we irrationally use these items as symbol of our fear, love, hate, passion, and so on, to such an extent that they are capable of revoking the ‘stored’ feeling every time they come to our eyes.

The detachment of the self that we experience every time we travel through memories becomes the system to consolidate our own identity, which is then result of collecting past experiences. Hence one’s perception of ordinary things is vehicle of ordinary existence and the never ending detachment from ourselves is the mechanism by which we acknowledge the reality of the present. In other words the constant schizophrenia of looking ourselves at the mirror – i.e. looking at that object and seeing in it the reflected image of ourselves as if it doesn’t belong to us – it’s the ordinary equilibrium we need to live a balanced life. Memories are key of such equilibrium because they psychologically support our self ‘acknowledgment of detachment’; it is then important to remember because it is the system we need to define the self.

The mystification of memories has been one of the most common strategies of totalitarian regimes. When cities are used as political and economical scenarios and shared memory are replaced with their distorted version, it occurs a disalignment that alters the course of forming personal ethic, in accordance with community’s value. It is important to understand how politics uses hopes and images to turn them into illusions. It is important to be in charge of our dreams, understand when they are just illusions and not let somebody else take over it.

Nevertheless those involved in the process of making and fulfilling dreams should pursue an ethic of representation, which should not be driven by budget but by social responsibility. In particular the definition of a place, which can be named public, is a space whose main intent is interaction. In a civilised society that grows and makes progress by debating ideas the value of such a place is priceless. On the other hand to recall a specific image as icon of a certain value of the past, like the Italian piazza is be for certain contemporary developers, and use the same image as aspect of a ‘public’ space is mystifying. To walk in a space designed for making myself puppet of global economy distorts once again the quality I associate with that space. The beauty of sitting in a table in a Venetian campo and bouncing up with somebody, or the hilarious experience of seeing a drank person talking nice nonsense in a British pub is nothing that any developers can really achieve by means of aesthetic; culture is the element that sustains urban spaces, not aesthetic. The singularity of a public or private space is as such because of the specific culture that makes that space unique. What we apparently think it’s the aesthetic in reality is a more complex mechanism that gives spaces a ‘magic’ sensation; indeed the orchestra of sounds, smells and colors paints for us the feeling of that specific place. Hence it comes that value with which we commonly label successful urban spaces.

http://on.aol.com/video/salvaging-photographs-damaged-by-sandy-517663193

A Picture is not just a picture.

Deckard: Tyrell really did a good job on Rachael. Right down to a snapshot of a mother she never had, a daughter she never was. Replicants weren’t supposed to have feelings. Neither Blade Runners. What the hell was happening to me? Leon’s pictures had to be as phony as Rachel’s. I didn’t know why a replicant would collectr photos. Maybe they were like Rachael. They needed memories.

Blade Runner script.

It often happens that after big natural calamities media’s attention revolves around lost objects shattered in pieces in the rubbles of what was a civilised place. In particular there is a meticulous interest on photos, witnesses of any people’s stories, now orphans of their owners. Both in the 2011 Japanese Tsunami or, recently, in Sandy Hurricane in the United States, people organised task forces to give pictures back to their owners in the best possible condition. Why is there such particular attention and, above all, respect for these lost items? In Blade Runner, the movie directed by Ridley Scott in 1982, the distinction between humans and robots emerges being in pictures; as they capture events, pictures become proof of any past; lives are indeed recorded since the birth throughout the years. In other words pictures witness memories that build up one’s identity.

Memories constitute our identity; they are statements of the self in any community. Hence to lose a picture is like loosing a piece of ourselves. Why is there such an emotional bond between humans and their depicted memories? To some extent pictures act both as mirrors, where we reflect a different self, and gates to another reality that makes us travel in a different time and space to experience our individual story via imagination. Nevertheless the depiction of our memory gives the event new life because of our imagination, which is, indeed, the most bewitching element as it allows our fantasy to travel throughout the past and form the memory itself. Within these extents memories are then the result of the combination between real events and imagination, whose value resides on fulfilling the persona we are in the present. Through photos memories become fantasies of our past experience. Formless smells, sounds and colors are given physical shape by means of the picture. Our dear beloveds come back with us, even though they passed away. The visual form of communication that pictures establish between ‘ourselves’ in the past and ‘ourselves’ in the present grants us the future. In other words pictures become vehicle to shape our identity, as we acknowledge it.
Our knowledge, behave and habit in this world are driven by what happens to us; we do need this kind of database to exists. The file folder of such database is the picture. When found dead by mistake Mattia Pascal, Luigi Pirandello’s character for the same name novel written in 1924, needs to invent a story of his past in order to give himself a new present. Even though he seems to invent the past for making himself believable to the others, the first that needs those stories is Mattia himself. Indeed, when his fake past lacks of reality, Mattia decides to kill Adriano Meis, i.e. Mattia’s imaginary new self.

The present is possible through the past, which makes the future. The past makes us improve and learn. Memories are then our interpretation of the surrounding which are crucial for acknowledging our identity – i.e. our way of existing in this world. We cannot find any reference system otherwise; we cannot think, act and feel without the memory of our past.

Just a short not on Ai Wei Wei exhibition at the Washington Hirshhorn Museum.

© Washington Hirshhorn Museum

© Washington Hirshhorn Museum

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/112218/ai-wei-wei-wonderful-dissident-terrible-artist

In the article “Il Teatro non può morire”, published in 1934 in the magazine “Quadrante”, Luigi Pirandello describes art as an interpretation of the real, to which is given a specific time and space. By means of this interpretative act, art takes on its own formal independence and becomes vehicle of communication, hence universal language to be interpreted by the public. Of course art gives a spontaneous reading of the real whose public is asked to experience its piece of familiarity according to anyone’s background.

What can be called art?

The scholastic definition of art, according to what the public may expect to watch once paid the ticket, becomes a very restricted part of an undefined threshold discipline. Art is a part of society whose ‘role’ is giving space for questions. Whether it takes shape by means of specific forms, images, words or audio, or it is executed via the most refined techniques, art remains a vehicle the author uses to delivery thoughts and messages. Indeed there is a close connection between the employed technique and the background where the author wants to place his/her work, whether by contrast or harmony.

Since the medieval Italy of independent towns and corporations the qualification of craft production was ruled by specific regulations so that the final product would reflect the “ad opera d’arte” degree of quality. ‘As work of art’ was indeed an expression that intended to establish the grade A of standard production. Nevertheless crafted product’s quality was a standard that defined how something should be properly done, i.e. a common recognised social requirement example of excellence and capable of representing the quality of production of that specific time in history. The “ad opera d’arte” quality was something to be proud to handle to the future, as shared experience of beauty that unfolds pleasure when looking at it. In other words the ‘ad opera d’arte’ objects represent witness of current time that society wants to forward to the future. It is a kind of ‘message’ directed to the immediate and future generations for the appreciation of beauty in human activities.

Is then Ai Wei Wei’s X Ray entitled of being exhibited at the Washington Art Museum?

As open-ended discipline art may open questions concerning the eligibility of exhibiting certain works that commonly don’t fall in the category of art, as we have been taught in school by looking at the pictures in art books. Nevertheless the fact that the question is asked gives eligibility; in other words the controversy surrounding the presence of Wei Wei’s X Ray in the same space occupied by other widely and scholarly recognised authors awards it to be there. Indeed its ‘out of space’ condition, as far as the main public may understand it, defines the artistic value of the plastic black and white paper as much as it was for Duchamp’s urinal when first exhibited in the sacred temple of art. By mystifying his public Wei Wei makes his statement, which is contained in the public’s disappointment of seeing X Ray rather than Xth century painting. How can a political dissident communicate with his public when living in restricted conditions? The X Ray may speak for him as it can talk louder than any articulated speech, because of the mystified viewer who asks why an X Ray or a list of names can be called art and be in such prestigious place.

As Walter Benjamin writes in his essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” the concept of displaying was defined once artists won their social independence and worked for themselves, no longer at leaders’ courts. The necessity to ‘advertise’ their work created specific spaces for exhibition. Galleries have been known since as a space for interaction where artists meet the public by means of the exhibited work. Accordingly art doesn’t any longer act in favour of any leader, it becomes a visual system of social communication. Currently we may forget the intention of such spaces and the didactic – not scholastic – extent that art per se exerts towards society. There is not art without a message to convey. Art should not please the public; art should mystify them via forms and representation. Art is not alien to our life as it belongs to us.

René Magritte, La lunette d’approche, 1963

René Magritte, La lunette d’approche, 1963

Article published in Ultima Thule: Journal of Architectural Imagination, Vol 1, No 1 (2011)
http://www.ultimathule.com.au/index.php/ultima/article/view/13

Back to Reality

Architecture and the World of Fantasy

Laura Ferrarello

For many years now (although it’s if it began yesterday) an efficient housemaid takes care of my art.

She is called Fantasy
.

Sometimes she teases and mocks me. If she likes wearing black, no one will argue that isoften quite odd, and no one will believe that she always acts seriously and in her own way. She puts her hands in her pockets. She takes a cap with bells. She wears it and, red as a rooster crest, runs away. Today she is here. Tomorrow she will be there. She has fun on bringing me home, so that I can write novels, fictions, comedies about the most discontent people in the world. Men, women teenagers wrapped in the oddest stories where they can’t find their way out. These people are unsatisfied with their plans. They are cheated from their hopes. These are people with whom it is quite often painful to deal with.1

The Nobel Prize playwright Luigi Pirandello introduces his 1921 play, Six Characters in Search of an Author, by describing who triggers his ideas: fantasy. Fantasy is, indeed, depicted as an efficient housemaid that cannot be controlled. Not only does she2 make jokes at the expense of Pirandello himself, but contrives to situate the playwright in odd situations, that become effective catalysts for creating the characters in his stories. According to Pirandello fantasy is the trigger that, by making jokes of the author, provokes, at the same time, new stories because of the odd situations she is capable of ‘making up’. You cannot foretell her behaviour, you have to simply follow her way.

In the extent that Pirandello describes fantasy, it emerges as a continuous element capable of joining the author himself with the characters of his novels. This continuous element is reality, whereas fantasy is the translator of realities. Fantasy plays the role of interface. She is the medium whereby the author can see unforeseen scenarios and project them towards his public. Fantasy can switch the point of view of both viewers, who experiences these new scenarios, and authors, who think, write or design these scenarios. When considered from this point of view, fantasy becomes one of the most important and powerful elements in the world of ideas. Thinkers employ her to challenge new territories. Within the domain of the real, which is kept by the author as reference, fantasy is capable of coordinating, by means of her ungraspable and unforeseen role, realities that become inventions for authors themselves.

Make it new is the motto Sci-arc director Eric Owen Moss encourages his students to employ on thinking architecture. Architecture is, therefore, looked at, thought about and invented under the supervision of fantasy, enabling surroundings to be observed by different and unexpected perspectives, keeping as a target the ‘making’ of new urban scenarios by the agency of architecture itself. Within this field, architecture can modify our surrounding reality, either considered from the designers’ perspective – at first – or by that of the viewer – later on. This ‘two-step process’ can happen when fantasy is used as a continuous vehicle. Designers’ create narratives to be told. Clients, or viewers, experience these narratives in their own individual and collective perspective. Although architecture is the same object from an aesthetic point of view, the way it is experienced changes according to the interpreter. Fantasy is not a stable reference in the realm of design however. Nevertheless, whether her presence is (dis)continuous and difficult to grasp, fantasy is in any case a necessary, dynamic, transitory and chameleon-like entity within the design process and its mode of public communication.

© Naureen Meyer, Sci-Arc

Image 1: Naureen Meyer, The Cosmetic Limit, SCI-Arc Graduate Thesis 2010, Supervisor Andrew Zago

Given her elusive disposition, how can fantasy be so powerful in the process of design? What is the nature of the relationship that links architecture and fantasy, when architecture itself consistently seeks rigorous organisational processes in the delivery of ideas? How can this dichotomy exist above all in contemporary society, which fosters the research of new systems, based on new technologies, capable of controlling the process of production in accordance with contemporary standards? Within this scenario the unforeseen impetus of fantasy seems out of the place. Ungraspable and irrepressible fantasy seems a foreigner in an ordered society, which seeks out structure so that a single, globalised, community can unfold. Nevertheless fantasy is increasingly present in our everyday life, more-so than before. To some extent fantasy is becoming the way we experience our alter realities that are a reflection of real ‘realities’ themselves. Ungraspable fantasy has turned out to be the everyday habit for dwelling in our cities. How is this contemporary phenomenon related to the domain of ideas that characterise architecture?

Gaming everyday life

According to research firm Gartner, 50% of companies that manage innovation and research will use gamification – the use of game-play mechanics for practical applications – by 20153.

By examining the way we live, we work, we spend our spare time, we can identify a system that creates what I shall call the ‘hyperlink society’. The ‘hyperlink society’ is based upon the interactive way we experience the ‘real world’ by means of interfaces such as iPhone, Android, GPS, Twitter, Facebook and Ping. In other words we experience our surroundings by means of hyperlinks that we copy and paste from one device to another in order to deliver specific tasks. These hyperlinks are, to some extent, roads, or better, infrastructure, whereby we move and interact with other people. Accordingly, as a consequence of ‘hyperlink culture’, society has developed a more performative method for creating scenarios. Virtual realties, such as video games, social networks, augmented reality and 3D movies, are making us part of everyday life by using as interfaces our expectations and fantasies. To some extent we are currently capable of constructing a customised reality, one that is defined by our own fantasy. On the other hand fantasy has not changed her ungraspable condition, as the ungraspable per se becomes the way we measure our activities. Real time is, of course, the temporal condition that we employ for the majority of our everyday activities. Yet it is also the time measure created by the dynamic and unforeseen domain of fantasy. Paradoxically however Fantasy is free of time and space, it occurs without control. But as our economic system is currently focussed towards satisfying people’s personal fantasies, in order to be capable of selling and producing new products, there is the necessity to capture through fabricating, 3d printing and virtually creating brand new fantasies as they emerge from the imagination.

At the end of the day, we all like to have fun – and in our digital and increasingly mobile world, gamification is proving to be just the right tool to guide that fun down the right channels4.

This ability to bring life to an inanimate image is what so excites in marketing and advertising5. Video game ‘realities’ are becoming the system to connect, and disconnect at the same time, our minds with the real world. Our ideas are data for the market to be collected and employed in order to feed the cycle of these virtual realities, i.e. to make them ‘real’. Of course the market’s intent is directed towards finding new sources and real time understanding of individuals’ desires and fantasies to be transformed into products. Playing and challenging real time fantasies is the system society is employing for challenging, in its turn, new economic processes. This is the ‘hyperlink society’ of desires. Business is looking more and more at ‘augmented reality’ technology in order to trigger new desires and fantasies6. For example, by interacting with computer screens there is the possibility to ‘try-on’ sunglasses or new dresses in order to check how one looks. Screens become real time dressing rooms located in the no-space and no-time of the Internet. You can then access these products on your mobile phone and find their location address via a GPS system. This system creates new desires and, therefore, it drives people towards more purchases.7

© Microtask Digitalkoot

Image 2: Microtask’s Digitalkoot game helps weed mistakes out of the Finnish National Library’s e-archives, in BBC 20 June 2011

Architecture as collective fantasy

What happens then in this ‘hyperlink-culture’ to the ‘real brick built’ architecture, which in the past socially played the role of making people dream as a single community? During the Gothic period (13th – 14th century AD), churches were the visual tool people experienced for imagining Paradise. Indeed Gothic churches, with their massive interior spaces, were the method the Church used to make people believe that God existed, so that Paradise was thought of as a real and eternal world. Churches were the visual interface for making real the fantasy of Paradise. Considering this strategy from a political and economic perspective, in a time when religion was the demagogic tool to conquer people from any nation, the Church used architecture to convince the medieval population that by participating in its dogma one could achieve his/her promised land. Consequently architects were pushed by the Church towards experimentation in order to make this fantasy real. Thereby fantasy was the trigger of Gothic architecture and of its challenging structural system. Accordingly during the twentieth century totalitarian political regimes, like Fascism and Nazism, architecture played the role of conquering and entertaining the masses. For Fascism, in particular, architecture became the visual tool whereby Italians were inspired to believe they were the heirs of the ancient Roman Empire. Mussolini used the fantasies of the Roman Empire and of the Nation to mould Italians8. Architecture was the visual myth, and urban scenario, where the main actor, Mussolini, performed his play. Fascist architects, as part of this community, believed in this collective myth and contributed through their own work to fantasise and build the Fascist Roman Empire9. Architecture was the ‘frame’ that portrayed the hero, i.e. the leader, in order to give him a mythical position.

the masses

Image3: Mussolini’s speech in Bologna in 1924.

Virtual world, real fantasies

In contemporary society it appears that everyday tasks – such as reaching a location, going to a bar or restaurant, buying new clothes, accessories and so on – is based on the fantastic world developed by video game ‘realities’. This attitude entails experiencing everyday tasks in order to achieve scores10. Therefore reality becomes part of the domain of fantasy; there is no longer division between the two. Fantasy becomes the medium between ourselves and the real world. Accordingly, in this interface screen dimension between ourselves and the real, we need a ‘real’ reality in order to fantasise new realities. As described in the first paragraph, in this perspective fantasy plays the role of translator. It can be described as a code that changes variables so that we can think and define our surroundings by looking at them by means of different interpretations. In this possibility of thinking new realities fantasy, although unforeseen, plays a core role for contemporary architecture. Contemporary architecture, as urban scenario and virtual reality, plays a double role: a model for virtual realties but a follower of these at the same time. As designers and viewers inhabit the realm of fantasy without coming back to the real world, because of virtual realities, fantasy is the bond between them. Reflection upon the real world is diminished, as reality overlaps the virtual. By following fantasy’s roles of dynamism, improbability and unpredictability, designers and viewers change their mutual perspective in real time by keeping her as a common and continuous interface that deals with ‘reality’ as data. Reality is outside the domain of one’s existence, fantasy deals with it.

According to what has been argued so far, what has been modified from the past is the way the real is looked at. Whether for Pirandello the real was the final outcome and fantasy, the translator to make people think, nowadays the real is that data to be inputted into an algorithm and fantasy the dynamic element of exchange. Technology creates the conditions to cope with the unforeseen aspect of fantasy. Accordingly architecture is, firstly, modelled in terms of outside world. Within these extents it establishes a point of reference for communities to construct comprehensible systems. It is a visual and communicative tool that anybody can recognise. Then architecture becomes follower. Because of the transformations led by virtual realities in the ‘real’ world, designers camouflaged architecture accordingly. Technology changed the understanding of spaces.

In this paradigm from model to follower the key element that influences this process is society and its interpretation of space. Social interpretations of space are interwoven with reality and fantasy and as such it is important to clarify how this interpretation functions. Slavoj Žižek illustrates this complex with the following example, referring to the way we perceive reality by means of the conventions we associate with objects and situations. He describes the first sequence of the 1984 Sergio Leone’s movie Once Upon a Time in America as follows,

A somewhat analogous effect of the real occurs at the beginning of Sergio Leone’s ‘Once Upon a Time in America’: a phone goes on ringing endlessly; when, finally, a hand picks up the receiver, it continues to ring. The first sound belongs to ‘reality’, whereas the ringing that goes on after the receiver is picked up comes out of the non- specified void of the Real.11

By making fantasy the centre of contemporary living, it precipitates a general ‘follower effect’ and architecture becomes one of its exemplars. In other words we are designing realities according to the reflection arising from our fantasies. When reading the daily news, it is a recurrent idiom how reality per se appears foreign and difficult to understand begging the question whether our realm of ‘real’ fantasy is, for us, more comfortable. Social networks challenge this world of individual fantasy since they provide one with a full range of tools to ‘make it’, despite the system these networks Is based on is a rebranded interpretation of architecture, as space for gathering and making communities interact. Reality, it would seem, is an undesirable aspect of our life, the element we want to escape since we cannot control its course, desiring instead the fantastic dream world we can create by means of our fantasies. This is a customised world made for and by each of us.

On this condition Žižek employs another example, describing René Magritte’s painting La Lunette d’approche. Although the painting is from 1963, there is a similarity of content, whether we project the figuration12 of the painting towards our realities. Magritte’s painting portrays a half open window, where there is painted a blue sky and white clouds. Through the windowpane we can see the outside that is a solid black mass. Although in the window glass there is depicted a blue sky, the ‘real’ shows nothing. In this case the window, with its glass frame, is a screen that interfaces us with the outside reality. In this screen we fantasise a nice ‘outside world’. On the other hand the real beyond that screen is ungraspable, we cannot really understand it, therefore there is no real. According to Žižek, who refers to Lacan’s work:

The translation of this painting into Lacanese goes by itself: the frame of the window pane is the fantasy frame that constitutes reality, whereas through the crack we get an insight into the ‘impossible’ Real, the Thing-in-itself.13

René Magritte, La lunette d’approche, 1963

René Magritte, La lunette d’approche, 1963

Image 5: René Magritte, La Lunette d’approche, 1963 (Menil collection, Houston).

The point made by Žižek, by means of Magritte’s work is very important for understanding the way contemporary architecture is experienced and how this has changed as a result of our engagement in the world of fantasy. If one makes his/her own world, by means of virtual worlds, then architecture loses its collective role, i.e. that of collecting communities in the same space because of a collective dream. In place of this collective activity there is a very singular experience. Fantasies are unique, and so architecture has to be customised. We cannot grasp architecture in a unified manner, for within the same object there is a multiplicity embedded that makes architecture itself camouflaged according to the user. Hence it follows that the attention of contemporary architecture is directed towards satisfying personal desires and fantasies through customization. Within these extents architecture becomes more a product, a commodity, like an Armani dress. Algorithms enact this role, making architecture a feasible object for the ‘real time hyperlink society’. Hence the role played by technologies; devices for conveying dreams. They can yield fantasies. Within these extents there is no longer a defined line between fantastic worlds and realities but only a threshold where one clashes with the other. Contemporary technology increasingly blurs the threshold on making fantastic scenarios. Interactivity comes as an effect of a society based on the instant.

However there are architectural patterns that see fantasy from Pirandello’s perspective. Within this view fantasy is still the interface between designers and viewers that keeps reality as its outcome. In these patterns the narrative that architecture can produce is still central and, therefore, the poetic aspect of fantasy becomes the tool to convey ideas. Technology is not marginalised however. It plays a key role in making the reality real. To some extent these designers are returning to reality by passing through the digital world and not stopping in it. How can architecture grasp the ungraspable? How can spaces for living, working and relaxing inherit and translate this condition? For these designers interactivity entails being capable of reinventing realities; in other words, being capable of making real-time realities. The dynamic construction of space can be achieved by a dynamic perspective of the object per se or by robots that can interface the client with architecture. In this way dynamism comes to be part of reality rather that lying in the temporary and digital real. The ungraspable therefore becomes part of the way we dwell in spaces.

Back to reality

According to what has been argued so far, architecture is currently investigating different strategies that face and cope with communities’ fantasy and virtual realities. On one hand there is the parameter-driven architecture, mainly promoted by Patrick Schumacher14, wherein the parameters within a code can make and create a certain interactivity in the system that fabricates architecture. In this case the interactive part is embedded in the design process so that the final result is a perfect customised object for the client. In this way there is the possibility of establishing multiple scenarios by means of the process. On the other hand there is the architecture that works within (n)certainties15, and defines this specific scenario as domain for working. The uncertainty becomes the interface whereby architecture can grasp the ungraspable, the real by transforming the ungraspable into the system whereby architecture itself is located. Whether, as in the first strategy, fantasy is employed as data, i.e. as an element to be input into the system in order to convey products that can satisfy needs and desires by means of technology or, as in the second strategy, where fantasy is the trigger for the design process, fantasy creates that odd condition, described by Pirandello, that goes beyond conventions and unfolds unforeseen scenarios. These scenarios become grounds for creating architecture. These scenarios condition an environment, characterised by ‘flipped’ realities and ‘flipped’ social roles. This architecture uses social conventions and different realities as their domain of existence. These are entropic elements, a dissymmetry between the left and the right16, to be interpreted into alter17 scenarios that are the translation of multiform realities by means of fantasy itself. Within this perspective it is recognisable that individuality within a community can establish continuity among parts. In other words this kind of fantasy can unfold communication with the public by means of its ungraspable power. In this extent architecture is used as a vehicle for social communication.

©R&Sie(n)

Image 5: Olzweg, Paris, 2006, France, Architect: R&Sie(n)… Paris, Creative team: François Roche, Stephanie Lavaux, Jean Navarro, With partners : Pierre Huyghe, Artist, Mathieu Lehanneur, Furniture Designer, Stephan Henrich, Robotic Designer, Nicholas Green, Facade Engineer, Ami Barak, Museum Expert, Sibat, Basic Engineer, Julien Blervaque, Script Programmer & Alexander Römer, Agnes Vidal, Daniel Fernández Florez, Gaëtan Robillard


Conclusion

Fantasy is one of the most intense entities for thinkers since mankind started to create tools. Imagination drives them forward making and challenging new territories, in order to rethink the real. Although the physicality of the real is losing its own body, in place of virtual devices, in architecture there is a parallel system that looks at the virtual as topic for the real. Thereby my concern, argued throughout this article, is related to the interconnections among the real, virtual and fantasy, particularly in architecture. Whether the emergence of virtual realities records the decay of any hierarchical attempts for controlling up-bottom spaces, substituted by bottom-up systems, from a social point of view the emergence of ‘hyperlink-culture’ creates a parallel world more real than reality. This attitude transforms into commodity any real social need by creating systems that no longer deal with realities. However, at the same time, these digital devices make us acknowledge the real from alter perspectives, thus making systems more feasible for our times. In conclusion when fantasy is transformed into commodity, the process of thinking is reversed, just as the panopticon system makes us lose the freedom that defines human rights. By exploiting users’ trust, ‘users[themselves] are not just knowledge seeking individuals, but also social beings intensely connected to each other online and offline.’18

In her BBC article, Internet of things blurs the line between bits and atoms, Moskvitch describes how technology can help us interact with objects, which conversely have a mind of their own.

Imagine googling your home to find your child’s lost toy.

Or remotely turning on the tumble dryer for yet another cycle – after it has texted you that the clothes were still damp.

Or your plant tweeting you to be watered.

It might have been sci-fi just a decade ago, but with the internet forcing its way into every aspect of our lives, cyberspace is leaking out into the real world.19

Notes:
1 Luigi Pirandello, Sei personaggi in cerca d’autore, Biblioteca Nazionale Rizzoli, Milano 1993, p. 5.
2She is used according to Pirandello’s description of fantasy itself, as a real person with an independent identity. For Pirandello fantasy is provided of her own personality, to such an extent that he talks about her as someone existing in the real world.
3Katia Moskvitch, Gamification time: What if everything were just a game? , in BBC News Technology, 20 June 2011 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-13749897) June 2011.
4Ibid.
5Sharif Sakr, Augmented reality goes beyond gimmicks for business,in BBC News Technology, 2 May 2011, (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-13262407) June 2011.
6 On 5 March 2011 an angel appeared in London Victoria. It was not the ghost of an ancient traveler but a commercial for a perfume brand. The company registered an increase of purchases after the unusual commercial campaign. Lynx Excite Angel Ambush London Victoria, in http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFuUFeQIdpk (July 2011)
7Ibid.
8Italiani, un popolo di poeti, artisti, eroi, santi, pensatori, scienziati, navigatori e transmigratori (Italians, a nation of poets, artists, heroes, saints, thinkers, scientists, sailors and transmigrators). This sentence is engraved on the top of the Palazzo della Civiltà Romana in the supposed- to- be1942 Fascist Expo. This sentence depicts Italian Fascist propaganda. Its role was to inspire and make people believe they belonged to the myth of the Roman Empire, i.e. the ancient time when Italy conquered the ancient world.
9 On this see Emilio Gentile, Empty buildings, a remote mad dream – it is the celebration of a disaster. Emilio Gentile Fascismo di Pietra, Bari: La Terza, 2008 and Emilio Gentile, Il Culto del Littorio, La sacralizzazione della Politica nell’Italia Fascista, Bari: La Terza, 2009.
10″It’s fun and addictive as a game itself, just like many other mini-games online, but I don’t feel like I’m wasting my time because I know I’m doing something helpful,” says Mr Valtamo.
“At the university, I’ve noticed how useful e-archives are, so I can see the immediate advantage of the project.
“And I must admit that it’s always nice to see my name and face on the top score board.” In Katia Moskvitch, Gamification time: What if everything were just a game?. in BBC News Technology, 20 June 2011 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-13749897) June 2011.
11 Slavoj Žižek, Interrogating the Real, Rex Butler and Scott Stephens (eds), New York: Continuum 2005, p. 151.
12 In his Logic of Sense, Deleuze aims at displacing the opposition that defines the Platonic space, that of supra-sensible Idea and their sensible-material copies, into the opposition of substantial/opaque depth of the body and the pure surface of the Sense-Event. This surface depends on the emergence of the language: it is the non-substantial void that separates Things from Words.” Slavoj Žižek, p. 169.
13 Slavoj Žižek, p. 150
14 On this see Patrik Schumacher, Parametricism as Style – Parametricist Manifesto, Presented and discussed at the Dark Side Club , 11th Architecture Biennale, Venice 2008, http://www.patrikschumacher.com/Texts/Parametricism%20as%20Style.htm (June 2011). An extended discussion about Parametricism happened last March 2011 at the Architectural Association in London in the symposium organised by Schumacher himself, Debating Fundamentals: Probing the Autopoiesis of Architecture. AA Lecture Collection, http://www.aaschool.ac.uk/AALIFE/PHOTOLIBRARY/videoarchive.php?page=1&orderBy=speaker&order=asc (July 2011)
15(n)certanities is the title of the research Francois Roche/R&Sie(n) is pursuing through his practice and students at Columbia, USC and Angewante. On this see http://www.new-territories.com/blog/n1/ncertainties.wordpress.com/research/index.html (June 2011)
16 Rosalind Krauss, ‘Entropy’, in Rosalind Krauss Yve-Alain Bois (eds), Formless. A User’s book, New York: Zone Books, 1997, p.
73.
17Alter is the Latin word that stands for different. In Latin alter includes the Other. There is a recognised differentiation between two things.
18 Felix Stalder & Christine Mayer, ‘The Second Index. Search Engines, Personalization and Surveillance’, in Konrad Becker Felix Stalder (eds), Deep Search. The Politics of Search beyond Google, Innsbruck: StudienVerlag 2009, p. 103
19Katia Moskvitch, Internet of things blurs the line between bits and atoms, in BBC 2 June 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-13632206 (June 2011).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s