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nettime: Space
Thomas Hobbs on Tue, 22 Oct 96 15:11 MET


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nettime: Space



This a piece of writing, done purely to excercise my thoughts as I 
approach a new piece work for presentation to my fellow students in a 
theorical seminar. I would appreciate any response, but please bare in 
mind it is pretty rough still......

Tom Hobbs

Discussion of my Investigation Space

My work in the last few years has concentrated on a concept of ‘space’ in 
way that defines it as environment, architecture, aesthetic and 
conversation (between its components). This has all been relative to an 
individual entering that space, passive to these policies and its 
construction, therefore reacting as an ‘outsider’ and adding to it as a 
small component within the space, it remaining the dominating influence. 
This means the work has wholly questioned how space constructs us and not 
how we construct space.

The question of space in terms of a ‘communication’ environment, or more 
specifically the Internet or the World Wide Web, seems to turn this point 
of investigation on its head. The philosophy of the Internet still 
revolves round a concept of democracy and that its ‘users’ create there 
identity, image, place, history and sense of time. This means it is 
individuals (or its components) that create and construct  the space that 
the Internet inhabits- there being no dominating influence, as it shifts 
all the time relative to the individual’s time, position and subjective 
reaction. They enter its space as subjective influences, presenting 
themselves perhaps more consciously than they walk around the ‘real 
world’. The Internet’s philosophy of interaction through positive 
engagement means its users are aware of there presence or lack of it. My 
experience demonstrates that a person entering the environment of the 
Internet, will get nothing from unless they have very specific ideas 
about what they want to do with it.

The ‘real world’ is still constructed from components that form a whole, 
as I have described with the Internet, but a general influence of a 
global whole or identity created by media, fashion and a general 
saturation of images and influences is always far larger than anyone 
given individual point of few. It is far more a process of accepting or 
rejecting with very little conscious realisation that they are doing so. 
It is a position of hierarchical domination which is is explained in no 
greater depth than popularity based on a philosophy of consumption and 
marketing. This means that relationships between the components 
[individuals] that make up the space [real world] are very difficult to 
determine beyond one being subordinate to another, but of course it is 
not as simple as that.

The question of objectivity and subjectivity, and what determines each 
has been a major concern in the investigation of space. What is 
objective/subjective investigation? What is objective/subjective 
presentation? and so on. The main concern causing  these questions to 
arise, was due to an attempt not to produce work that was preaching, 
alienating, very ‘black and white’ or from a position that suggested that 
(we) as artist’s were in some way intellectually superior. The 
investigation has taken into consideration question regarding things like 
random production/construction of artworks and more importantly 
collaboration. I have highlighted these two areas as I believe (at this 
present time) the they are the two major considerations in producing work 
that on the outset is objective and does/is none of the things I have 
mentioned above. I mention the question of random, as this seems to be 
something that is constantly mention, but not necessarily in that term, 
in reference to the objective- random covering areas which are often 
describe in terms of chaos theory or plurality.
This notion that components will come together to form a whole, somehow 
beautiful just in the fact they are there and have reacted together. Bill 
Viola for instance talks of his methods of practice in “feeling the basis 
of [his] my work to be unknowing, in doubt, in being lost, in question 
and not answers”, which can be adapted to fit nicely into a process of 
‘random’ production. But when Viola’s practice is actually considered it 
is far from random,  more wholly subjective and so is the work he 
produces, consider there Nantes Triptych, but I would suggest that the 
questions that Viola raises are objective. I  can simply explain what I 
mean by this in terms of experiments with random painting- consider a 
room full of tins of paint, all the colours in the world, there are no 
limits on the amount of tins/colours that can be chosen and they are 
chosen by blindfold so no (subjective) decision can be made in the 
selection. The tins of paint are then dropped, poured or whatever from a 
high point onto an area/canvas to create a supposed ‘objective’ picture. 
No rational subjective decisions have been made in the construction of 
the picture about anything from colour and form to mark to size of the 
actual painting. This relates to Viola’s statement and produces something 
that is often placed to a context of pure objective abstraction, 
therefore pure form and representation. But is the finished piece of work 
objective? I would suggest not, because once it is finished it will be 
viewed purely subjectively. The viewer will see it in the context of a 
painting as they understand painting, therefore viewing subjectively. 
Reacting to the colours relative to there experience, creating or seeing 
a form based again on there experiences and viewing it in the context of 
its present surroundings and therefore the method in which it was 
produced becomes purely irrelevant.

This brings me to the question of collaboration. Simple laws of logic 
would suggest therefore, that putting the processes I have describe above 
into practice in reverse would create something that is perhaps more 
objective. By this I mean the artist controls the colours that can be 
used, how the marks can be made, on what size canvas and where it housed 
and so on and so forth. This purely subjective on the artist part, but 
the artist does not control what is put on the canvas or even who puts 
there, therefore the viewer becomes the creator and the artist creation 
has become a purely objective exercise. This is a very simplistic example 
(and of course is far from flawless) but does go along way to explaining 
the basic principles of interactivity and collaboration, the potential to 
create what I would describe as objective artworks and the principles of 
space and how they are constructed. 

An artwork is relative entirely to space, time, history and the 
subjective understanding of the person who is looking at it. The term 
‘artwork’ has been relative to (and still pretty much) is relative to the 
idea of an object, tangible and solid. This means that this artwork or 
object has to be placed somewhere and from there forward is entirely 
relative to the sum total of its at any given point. This major 
consideration, as does the viewer in the creation of an objective 
artwork, seems to be totally ignored. James Lingwood points out in his 
essay Place - “For much of this century, and the whole of the modernist 
period, the question of place has been one of the least pressing of 
problems for the contemporary artist. In general, considerations of form 
or content have preceded and often precluded considerations of place or 
context.” It perhaps now obvious why I began to investigate the 
influences of particular space over an individual  as I described at the 
beginning of the essay, and the only successful way of doing so seems to 
be through collaboration. Collaboration automatically produces a 
discussion when dealing with any given space, it provides a plurality of 
opinion providing that random progression of ideas through different 
interpretation and experience. This immediately gives a more objective 
reaction to a space the any individual can even honestly give. This to me 
is the most important consideration of collaboration and includes all the 
other benefits such as a pooling of skills, talents and resources. This 
therefore means that, in theory, a directly proportional relationship is 
developed between all parts- the space, the persons in it, the things in 
it, the time and all there histories. There is never a permanent 
hierarchy as anyone position can become important at any given time- the 
question of the space, the people, its history, what is going to happen, 
what has happened and so on. It is a process of constant reevaluation, 
and this is what I believe Bill Viola means by “to be unknowing, in 
doubt, in being lost, in question and not answers”.

This brings me back round to the question of constructing space and what 
I began to talk about at the beginning. The Internet’s lack of determined 
and general accepted hierarchies, as the subjective value of any part of 
it is purely relative to the individual  and the whole and there position 
in space and time. This therefore destroys the notion of an artwork as a 
solid and tangible object, with a linear history that grows relative to 
one position or point of view, as anyone thing can be approach from any 
direction with there being no real sense of forward or backwards. This is 
not a new suggestion and it has provoked many discussions about the value 
of the individual, the idea of self and the notion we understand of 
privacy- as Linda Wallace (Photofile magazine) put in an article 
reviewing a multi-media exhibition ‘Burning The Interface’, “A 
characteristic of the virtual class is that it is autistic. It’s an 
absolute meltdown of human beings into these autistic, historically 
irresponsible positions, with a sexuality of juvenile boys being happy 
with machines. Shutting down mental horizon while communicating at a 
global level and preaching disappearance. And why not, because you’ve 
already disappeared yourself . . . . .”  This may all be true and fit 
nicely into my evolution of the influence of space over the individual, 
but it is not this that I wish to deal as it throws up a whole set of 
complex and perhaps indeterminate possibilities. It is the relative value 
of one component to another, and there attributes that change hierarchy, 
there influence and position relative to one another- then how all of 
this then creates [a] space. 

The ability of cinema to create space, time and movement redefined the 
general approach of the art world and its enquiries. The last real 
experiments of changing form and light through movement within painting 
and sculpture ended with the distribution and availability of the 
cinematic form. Sean Cubitt in his recent article ‘Footprints in the Air’ 
describes “if cinema is the art of movement, it is the oldest art of all: 
the art of the fire watcher, the sputtering of torches over the unfurling 
comic strips of Lascaux, the ancient abstract art of pyrotechnics, the 
watergardens of the baroque. Film celebrates that history of sheer 
pleasure in the upwellling of light in motion, the joy of perception 
which it seems is as old as perception itself”. It is all this that 
allows cinema/film to create a sense of space through distance in time, 
objects reacting to one another, changing colour, the description of 
sound and the relation of these properties to one another. It is in these 
terms that I wish to explore the constructed space of Internet, the 
relationship of those basic properties that film allowed us to explore, 
but from a perspective that has no beginning, an unplottable sequence of 
events throughout and determine outcome, if an out come at all. 

Taking all that has been all that has been mentioned into consideration, 
the intention is to begin with a creation of a space where circular 
objects exist relative to each to other. There properties based on size 
that determines mass, speed, trajectory, colour and sound- therefore they 
all have the potential to have the same properties, at the same time have 
the ability to be all totally different. This is intended not only to 
create metaphors/parallels with what I have explained, but also to object 
orientated programming dogma. An ability to create complete chaos or 
apparent order from the same subjective properties depending on how they 
are placed relative to each other. 

There many different ways in from this point onward that investigation of 
how that space can be interacted with. From the actual manipulation of 
the objects or the mouse pointer become an influencing factor to the 
actual presentation of the environment from whether you are viewing it on 
a small computer monitor to viewing it in a large installation. 

I see all this as a vague idea that has the potential to disperse off in 
a multitude of directions but also as firm platform from which to begin. 
But given the overuse of the word ‘interaction’, it is inevitably hard to 
phrase what such art might be. It perhaps relies less on the machinery 
than on the ability to interface old new technologies and ideas.

(oct 1996) 


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