Calin Dan on Wed, 30 Apr 1997 05:40:48 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> 4 ZKP4, something about flatness

This is the section 9 of a text called >art in the nettimes. some
mess-media common places. statement for a flat interactivity<, and
deligvered in the context of the recent debate on >net art<.

9. *Statement for a flat interactivity*. The (new-) screen mentality
developing in the track of the www adds some extra confirmation to evidence
accumulated during the short but by now tormented history of the moving
image. Precisely to the facts that: a) cinema was not a plug in for the
Renaissance optical cube; and b) the moving images did not increase the
meaning of tri-dimensionality. From film to TV to computer, the visual
language didn't mark an "evolution", but spiraled back towards a
(meta/pre)historic flatness.

The shocking window opened by the Lumière brothers' first movie projection
in the wall of a cabaret theater was already containing the prophecy of
flatness: light, movement and prospective cannot change a steaming engine
or a traveling happy bourgeois family into something different. What
maintained active for decades the hypnotic force of cinema is the revival
of an old theatrical recipe: how to install a ritual atmosphere by working
the illusion of depth with the help of controlled light and multi-layered
flatness. That was actually how the medieval "misterium mysticum"
performances were staged; that is the way theaters were build from the
baroque times until the 19 century - with layers of flat decorum propelled
with invisible cranes, wheels and ropes, in a scenario of interactivity
where the button could be a word, a gesture, the sound of an instrument.
All under the supreme rule of light control.

What ruined the hypnosis and revealed the flatness of the procedure was the
interference of uncontrolled light. (Dominant light is actually one of the
embarrassments of modernism, introduced by Copernicus with his perception
of the universe. The ecumenism of electricity, defined otherwise as >the
4th dimension<, is another one.) The installation of more casual moving
image devices in our domestic decorum abolished the miracle of light
effects, but enhanced flatness as an obvious quality of information.

TV broadcast, video games, web pages with hyper-text structures prove
precisely the opposite of what is commonly assumed at this moment. We are
definitely not in the way to capture the 3d in the box of our display
monitors, or to build an electronic/digital equivalent of the theatrical
vision (from light cube to light tube, if I may; here has to be mentioned
another embarrassing heresy of modernism - the optical prospective as
settled in the 15 century by L. B. Alberti). But we might be close to
achieve the goal underlining the image making process for millennia: a
synthesis of the meaningful flatness of representation with the symbolic
depth of movement.
We might also have an opportunity to finally acknowledge a consistent
although remote fascination for the flatness of the images, even when
Flatness is a dangerous component of reality, as far as it is not assumed
as such. Art history can be red as a history of failures due to the
oppression of flatness. Let's say.

The Magdalenian hunters scribbling the walls of the European caves, or the
nomads painting the rocks at Tassili have an understanding for the
emergencies of mental perception and a knowledge of the ways to fulfill
them. In times of magic relation with the environment, a flattened
representation is both an instrument of control and a carrier of superior
powers. By flattening the essential aspects of his surrounding (animals to
hunt, enemies to defeat), the "pre-historic" painter doesn't operate a
reduction, since by that way he can capture a spiritual dynamic via a
frozen movement.
The eye does not perceive the movement of the buffalo. The drawing does.
And by that it makes obvious another level of the real, the hidden faces of
a world otherwise perceived boldly, like a container filled with hostile
events. Mapping that container pushes in view the movements and the vectors
which give sense to this world. In other words, the world is eventually
flat, and dynamic. And therefore meaningful.

3d is predictable, therefore oppressive and limiting. 3d is like
censorship. While flatness is comprehensive in a way which gives room to
the imagination for building other dimensions too.

Later on in time, the refinement of representation still keeps for a while
the dialectic approach to flatness. Where the Egyptian painting gives a
prospective, it does so precisely in order to capture the movement, to
suggest the vibration of the monumental form, and not in order to play with
illusions of volume and masses. In those times, human and animal are still
homologue categories - floating shapes in a shamanic flux which unifies the
energies of cosmos.

Flatness was magic - 3d is ideology. When sculpture became a public
entertainment, allowing the pedestrians to turn around carved figures, the
bond to the domain of magic understanding was displaced by the veil of
misunderstandings, instrumental for the political power to keep a grip on
reality. This process begun roughly in the Roman times, and it had a simple
mechanics: making the real look unreal if compared to the powerful illusion
of prospective. Before that, the sculptures were confined to the
architecture of the temple, altar, mountain. Sometimes they were even
impossible to be viewed. They were concepts. And concepts move in the thin
air of flatness.

The taking off point for any good interactive situation is to assume the
flatness of the screen as an evidence that cannot be transcended just by
illusionist procedures; like the flatness of the Earth cannot be denied
just by satellite photography technologies. As far as our daily trade
proves, we live on a flat planet and we look at flat surfaces where flat
shapes happen to move. Interactivity cannot and does not have to go further
than the flatness of data which allows information to achieve beyond-the-3d
performances. Two dimensions + movement = Multi-dimensional content. The
formal aspects of such a process are undefinable, but the requirements are
there - on the net: the poverty of the tools, the emphasize on
transmission, the fluidity of the connections. A return to older visions
might be possible via net art. Or not.

The true virtual reality is the one which goes further than the third
dimension, keeping at the same time a flat vision, which is the vision of
(f)light . The VR we know now is just the cyber equivalent of the bourgeois
realism, a fascinating kitsch defined by basic similarities, effective and
addictive because it cuts down any chance for the uncontrolled to burst in
our hyper controlled environments. VR and 3d are the sedatives who keep the
undisturbed life consumers from becoming life critics.

Therefore, we must be cautious with a theoretical heritage who states that
"escaping [...] flatland is the essential task of envisioning
information"[1], and look into more obsolete experiences like the history
of the collage [2], or the stage writings of Schlemmer [3]. Envisioning
information means precisely capturing its essence - which is flat speed.

 Happy Doomsday! Calin Dan

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