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design

I’ve been writing some words for our book about to be published by Shopwork. In my chapter, I’m trying to unpack the ideas around photography, image production and consumption, politics and social media found within the Green=Boom project.

One of the main ideas in the piece is how the act of image production operates as a means to construct a form of social reality. By composing, capturing and sharing our lives photographically we ‘art direct’ how others view us, and therefore how we view the world.

With all this talk of a New Aesthetic, it’s made me reflect on the mechanics of seeing and being seen, the politics and power relationships of visuality and the boundaries of identity in the capture and representation of the world around us. This takes me back to some old and much loved art history – in particular Vision and Visuality edited by Hal Foster. A fantastic book, well worth a read (I think there’s a longer post/paper on how the NA is part of what Martin Jay describes as a (post)modern ‘scopic regime’). In Vision and Visuality there is a conceptual split between vision – the mechanics (or biology) of seeing and visuality – the socially constructed gaze. This split, although problematic at times, gives us an interesting way to look at the objects that allow us to see differently. From drones to webcams, satellites to hasselblads, we can start to look at the philosophical and political potential of our visual prostheses.

On a slight tangent, my all time favorite use of a visual prothetic within cinema is in Hitchcock’s Rear Window – here is a wonderful project by Jeff Desom where he expands the view to recreate a cinematic landscape:

To ground this somewhat theoretical discussion, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about lenses recently. I’ve been working out the correct FOV for our latest installation: MIlan = Boom (part of Hacked Milan), the decisions are both practical (minium focal distance and speed) and aesthetic – in terms of cinematic  FOV / screen ratio reference:

or specific cinematic moment:

We have to think about the FOV as a reality distortion field, we can manipulate the images we construct to make the audience work harder. Or as David English describes 35mm; ‘It’s more powerful because the perspective skirts along the outer edges of reality’. It is this formation and manipulation of reality through cinematic and photographic devices that I find so fascinating. More from English:

“Because a 35mm lens slightly enhances what we normally see, it invites a more subtle interpretation of everyday events. A 50mm lens suggests that this is what you could have seen for yourself, had you been there. It’s reality as we know it. A 24mm or 28mm suggests a somewhat curved reality — a reality that appears to be in flux with a frame of reference that seems reluctant to settle in place. A 35mm perspective holds a special position in between. It seems to hold time still, as though the scene is carefully balanced between life as it is and life as it could be. Think of it as the subtlest of focal lengths, because it enhances the perspective so gently that you don’t realize it without careful study.” David English, Stillness in Time

What is important here, is that all viewing devices (all optics) help us construct the way we see our world. All devices are wrapped up in messy political complexities that need to be unravelled in order to gain a level of mastery. What we’re witnessing at the moment is not the shift in vision, but also a continual shift in visuality. One where our social reality is made up my both man and machine, but who holds the power in our robot readable world and how is life distorted by our optical manipulations?

Timo Arnall, Robot Readable World

The Kony 2012 campaign and video has been discussed a lot. This is inevitable after a video has received over a 100 million views. Thoughtful and intelligent analysis has highlighted some of its geo-political over-simplifications and Invisible Children has had its fair share of critics. The hospitalisation of Jason Russell highlighted the overwhelming nature, impact and popularity of the message.

What I’d like to focus on is how perfect a contemporary ‘media artefact’ the video is. I believe it’s an important point in our visual history and I’d argue that it typifies (or maybe expands) James Bridle‘s concept of the New Aesthetic.

What we see with Kony 2012 is the visual, organisational and philosophic language of the network being used in both form and message. The video is made for the internet and is constructed for the facebook generation. Every cut, faux click and zoom utilizes the visual and aesthetic language of our familar digital lives. We watch ‘the internet’ animate before our eyes, with a message that is produced to a point of sentimental perfection.

The facebook timeline becomes the structural device to move us through history, zipping through time we pause at different points in Russell’s life and enter his atemporal reality. We stop, gaze voyeuristically and move on to another vignette.

Google maps is another device used to move us through the space of the narrative. At one point we descend from heaven, into the heart of Africa in a move that reminds me of Charles and Ray Eames’ Powers of Ten.

In many ways this typifies James’ idea of digital ‘ways of seeing’, but it is the collision of both the aesthetic and the political that gives Kony2012 its power. It is using the aesthetic language of the network to mobilise its masses, it’s harnessing the structural formation of digital telecommunications to highlight and change the realities it supports. It is the product and producer of a digital age.

I’ve had the unfortunate experience of visiting a few care homes recently. My dad has vascular dementia and has needed respite care in a secure unit of a dementia home to recover from an operation.

Beyond the deeply upsetting nature of the homes, I’m fascinated by the architecture and design of the spaces. Here is the home that my dad is currently in:

The building is designed as a loop: internally it feels circular, it allows for a continual semi-cognisant drift. There is something profoundly tragic and almost cruel in allowing people to travel without ever reaching their intended (or impossible) destinations.

It reminded me of Loop Geography and Trap Rooms, the construction of an architecture to pacify and contain, forget and hide. They’ve built a psychological treadmill to allow for constant movement without interruption and restriction.

How are these structures designed? Do they come from an architectural consultation with Dementia experts?

An alternative, is Dementiaville. A dutch care village that constructs a different form of care. Instead of trapping the residents in an immovable now, they transport them to a fictional past. The ethics of this is complicated, but I know one thing, the now is not that great for these people. I wish my Dad was in Dementiaville.