Jordan Crandall on Wed, 27 Nov 96 15:50 MET

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nettime: convertible vehicles

The body is ensconced at the control board of a vehicle, its
range of movements restricted by molded parts that contour
it, trace its parameters, and subject it to highly
disciplinary regiments.  It might be travelling in a
convertible, lodged behind a dashboard and windshield, or it
might be travelling in a process of convertibility, lodged 
behind a keyboard and monitor.  In each case small semi-
automatic motions generate enormous changes in an outside
world that configures on the glass.  The patterns and
trajectories that appear on this window are registered as
motion, while the body is suspended in a bubble--a here and
now of immediate presence.[1]  Leaving the vehicle to
venture out into the exterior world beyond, it is equipped
with an array of access modes and a drive to be continually
plugged in through them.  In this sense it does not really
leave the vehicle but moves from one vehicle to another in
the places where they overlap.  The vehicle helps to mold
the body and its behaviors, as it is molded through its
adjacency to the body and its value and utility to it.   

Controlled by small, repetitive, and sometimes imperceptible
bodily motions while the spaces across which it transports
and the systems that bind it are gigantic in scale, the
vehicle materializes this incommensurability between the
small and the colossal.  As Sulan Kolatan and William
MacDonald suggest, the miniature vehicle and the gigantic
spatial structure do not connect to each other in terms of a
container/contained relationship, but are programmatically
connected through artificially constructed protocols.  Their
relationship is not one of size, but of scale.  While size
denotes a quantitative material presence, scale is
established by various correspondences to the familiar, and
as such always changes relative to a context.[2]  As
Katherine Hayles might note, this difference is marked in
the shift from a dialectic of presence/absence to one of
pattern/randomness, where the operative moment is not one of
radical separation and difference, but of mutation.  This
change is manifest not only in the material substrate, but
in the codes of representation.  Rather than interpreting
Freud's "fort/da," Hayles suggests, contemporary theorists
might look instead to David Cronenberg's "The Fly,"
particularly the point when the protagonist's penis falls
off and he hardly registers it in the context of the larger
metamorphosis he is undergoing.[3]  The relation between the
interior and exterior of the vehicle, then, is not one of
either/or, but a mutating space in which both are
implicated.  In this sense perhaps one might look instead to
Cronenberg's more recent film "Crash," where the mutational
moment is glimpsed in the crashing of the vehicle, the
moment when interior and exterior space interpenetrate and
the car becomes something radically other.  This mutation is
registered not only in the changing materiality of the
vehicle or body--which, after its injury, is fitted with
corrective devices that resemble car parts, which seem to
render the vehicle's disciplinary functions visible and its
freedoms illusory--but in the ways that its signification is
constructed as it is increasingly intertwined with technical
structure, like the twisting of surface gloss and interior
hardware, metal and flesh, in the knotted car wreckage.  In
the auto collision one might find the moment when
signification and materiality, body and code, conjoin in an
eruption, a mutational moment that illustrates their
inextricable interdependency.  

Perhaps the scar carries the trace of this moment as
signification.  In speaking about the prosthetics he
developed for "Crash," designer Stephan Dupuis not only had
to replicate the authenticity of the scar's appearance, but
its healing process relative to the time stages of the
characters.  This began with initial cuts and bruises, to
swelling and stitching, to the final scar tissues.  It
required molds of actor's faces and gelatins that matched
their true skin, corresponded to the various stages of
injury required by the script, and instituted according to
the demands of the shooting schedule, whose economy requires
that the story be chopped into non-sequential fragments. 
This was framed between two realities--the forensic medical
photographs that were used as source material and the
authentic appearance of the final film.  The result, as
Dupuis remarks, is that one cannot tell where the scar ends
and the actor's real skin begins.[4]  As discussions of
techniques for generating such special effects animate the
news media, however, one increasingly can tell, and this
knowledge is built into one's perception of the film.  As
the means of production become more widely available, those
who have access to new technologies are increasingly able to
produce these effects locally, developing and distributing
personal productions.  To spend time developing Web pages or
hypertextual narratives is to realize how inextricably
structure has become intertwined with signification as one
flips back and forth between artist and technologist and the
screen flickers between surface and depth, gloss and
hardware.  Signification penetrates deep into the screen,
traversing it and immersing its audience within its
extended, multilayered space.  Through telecommunications,
viewing trajectories splinter off into mobile viewpoints
within and across the body of the screen, opening it up into
a hall of mirrors and transforming it into a social field,
as if part of an apparatus of vision.  To be held spellbound
before the screen in a vehicular apparatus is to watch the
deep, multileveled dance of signification visible on its
surface--where signification was once constructed in a one-
to-one correspondence--and to engage bodily with its
contours, demands, and transportation modes.  At the same
time, it is to participate in the shaping of the vehicle
itself as a mutational form--a twisting configuration of
flesh, machinery, and code.  The vehicle is therefore both a
determinant and an after-effect:  it provides the conditions
for relations between interior and exterior, representation
and reality, to occur, while at the same time it is the
result of how these relations are situated--a mobile,
mutating bubble to be pulled into service as needed, in
order to hold dissolution at bay and shore up the self,
generating an interior to which one can lay claim.  In a
sense it is an architecture, but one that spatial metaphors
fail to contain:  vehicles are driven, and they require
these relations to be made in motion, as products and
producers of motion.

In this sense the special effects and animation industry
constitutes a particularly evocative crossroads, where body,
machinery, and code converge as a function of motion--indeed
where biological metaphors are inserted directly into the
structure of signification, even as those structures are
appropriated by a new empowered body, hooked up to the means
of their production.  Greg Lynn uses the same software
employed in this industry (used to generate mutations on
films such as Cronenberg's) to evolve architectures that
structurally engage this intersection.  Typically,
architecture exists as a static space waiting to be
activated by a mobile viewpoint, and animations that have
been employed in the field generally reinforce this
approach, as when they allow a walk-through of a virtual
structure.  Lynn utilizes the software to generate a
mutating structure that is a continual effect of patterns of
motion.  In the development process, his forms do not have
their own autonomous organization but are defined in terms
of the relationships between interior and exterior forces. 
They are effects of the parameters set by their author, who
chooses flexible, adaptable prototypes, and then selects the
external constraints and forces that act upon those
interiors.  These might involve simulations of wind,
gravity, turbulence, magnetism, pedestrian traffic patterns,
intensities of use, or automobile movements.  The Visitor
Center for OMV in Vienna, for example, was evolved partly
through traffic patterns of cars on the nearby highway
moving west in the morning and east at night.  These
patterns of movement acted upon on the interior prototype,
continually deforming it.  When it was in a sense maximized
through this activity, the process was halted.  This is an
arbitrary selection.  The final model was a site of impact,
where interior and exterior forces collided, leaving the
surface bent, twisted, scarred.  Preparing the model to be
built required that the form be adjusted or "repaired"
according to tectonic, aesthetic, and functional concerns,
and buffed to a finished sheen.  But as the building was
evolved in communication with external forces, it ideally
contains that dialogue within its finished appearance,
whether one might see that in terms of essence, attractors,
or recurrence-pattern.  The modalities of each are accounted
for, and implicated in, the other.  In this sense one
vehicle (Lynn's computer) meets another (the passing car) in
a physical form that marks the site of their impact and

Another form of modeling employed by Lynn involves the
interaction of fluid, blob-like forms.  The surfaces of
these forms might be surrounded by halos of relational
influence, defining zones of fusion or inflection.  When two
or more of these forms encounter each other, given the
appropriate proximity of these zones, they can either
mutually redefine their respective surfaces or they can fuse
into one contiguous surface.[5]  The modeling of the Korean
Presbyterian Church in Queens, New York, for example, began
with blob forms that were positioned in accordance with
potential seating capacities and orientations.  These forms
then began to influence each other within the conditions set
by Lynn.  Watching the animation, one sees that each group
of seats, as it faced the pulpit, was contained within its
own bubble, which shifted in accordance with exterior
influences, to the extent that inside/outside distinctions
ceased to have meaning.  These seating formations acted in
concert with the parameters of the building as each
codetermined the other.  The church and the chair solidified
simultaneously, each contoured to fit its inhabitant and
their mode of travel.  Ensconced within such a theater,
viewers might be watching a representation of a religious
miracle on the stage or a morphological miracle on the
screen, but in any case they go along for the ride.  

As Lynn writes, these organizations are neither singular nor
multiplicitous, neither internally contradictory nor
unified, but are characterized by complex incorporations and
becomings.  They are assemblages involving the fusion of
multiple and different systems, which behave like
singularities while being irreducible to them.[6]  What this
suggests is not only an architecture that is somehow unitary
while continually morphing into a multiplicity of diverging
forms, but an architecture whose very condition is that of
vehicularity--a realm that the body accesses, traverses, and
inhabits as a convertible space of interior/exterior
relation, which may or may not itself be mobile but which
transports nonetheless.  Its processes exist in terms of the
space of signification, wherein varied levels, codes, and
systems--whether representing exterior forces such as wind
or traffic patterns, or zones of fusion or inflection--are
allowed to influence each other, generating continually
mutating forms.  It also exists in the molding of the
vehicular apparatus itself.  This last is always something
less and something more than a building--an excess that
spills over its tectonic bounds and continually reshapes its
contours--as it is always less and more than a screen.   The
architecture of the image extends into space and time,
rendering it inhabitable, as buildings dissolve into
architectures of and in transmission.  Animation software
for generating mutations on screen in turn generates
inhabitable architectures.  The vehicle shuttles the body
back and forth, rendering itself and its inhabitant



1.  For a discussion of similar relationships between the
television and the automobile, see Margaret Morse, "An
Ontology of Everyday Distraction" in Patricia Mellencamp,
ed., _Logics of Television_ (Bloomington: Indiana University
Press, 1990), pp. 193-221.  

2.  Sulan Kolatan and William MacDonald, "the blast5

3.  N. Katherine Hayles, "Virtual Bodies and Flickering
Signifiers," _October_ 66, Fall 1993, pp. 78-79.

4.  Fine Line Features production notes for _Crash_.

5.  Greg Lynn, "Blobs," _ANY_, September 1996.

6.  Ibid. 

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