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Gabriel Shalom
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    < object type = “obscure” name=“desire” >< / object >
    Project: Polytopia

    Illustration by Charles Glaubitz

    The object as product. The time of the product as merely the output of industrial production is over. Today individuals are re-entering into the discourse of products using the same physical language of fabrication and prototyping as industrial manufacturing. Our facility with techniques such as laser cutting, CNC milling, 3D printing and vacuum forming — processes which used to be the elite language of twentieth century industrial manufacturing — are now starting to become the common vernacular of craft.

    This physical literacy of products is an emergent tendency which is changing communication. We can communicate ideas physically; for instance, as visions for future products in the form of functional prototypes. The individual can express a greater degree of his or her own vision. See also the capacity to use a laptop computer to independently produce, edit, distribute, and market video content all via the same device. The DIY and FabLab movements — and what they represent for manufacturing — is a parallel process; the implosion of that which was formerly stratified across the hierarchy of industrial production into one workshop.

    The object as commodity. While we are now conversant in this industrial product language, we simultaneously experience the compulsion to commodify (objectify) our work. This happens most clearly at the level of branding, insofar as the contemporary creative producer is painfully aware that the standard practice for gaining recognition in the product discourse is through brand narrative. Yet the auric peculiarity of the handmade or limited edition clashes with the anonymity and standardization implied by the dogma of industrial branding.

    This commodification (objectification) extends beyond consumerism to sexuality, politics, and public space. User-generated amateur pornography objectifies sexuality to such an extent that it alters our sexual identity as our objectified flesh is reflected back to us in the Internet. Political figures are commodified and become brands, giving us the Obamafication of an election, the Merkelization of an economy, or the Bushification of a war. In the face of this political impotency comes the privitization of public space, with entire new urban ecosystems coming into existence under corporate stewardship.

    The object as node. The semantic {object}{/object} (curly brackets used because code brackets get parsed). The object as the ideal modular component of a total system, defined unambiguously and therefore allowing portability across platforms via open standards. This model, originated in software, is having greater and greater relevance in the physical world; especially as we continue along a path towards interacting with the physical world using a digital interface.

    This language of objects from the world of programming has a value system. Which is to say that many of today’s programming languages are “object-oriented.” The value of an object is its ability to have a unique ID. In the physical world this value is reflected in the case of biometric identification embedded in passports. Each person becomes an object in a database; an aggregate of personal data. Tags in the cloud.

    Trends in augmented reality suggest that every product, every place, every person, every context may eventually be a semantic object, which is to say it may be a discrete node in a system with a unique ID, and therefore something which can be digitally identified, located, and manipulated. The vision of an Internet of things is contingent on each particle of physical existence having a unique digital identity or aura. The exploration of these digital auras using some sort of aura recognition interface poses a design challenge that will determine quite a bit of what it is like to be a human in a twenty-first-century urban space.

    The architecture of space becomes subjugated to the architecture of information. Certain architectural spaces which made sense in the twentieth century will make no sense in the twenty-first century. Witness the office building as a relic; as something which could transform into a coworking space, hinted at by the trend of Internet cafes becoming hubs for freelance knowledge workers. Work has become nomadic and therefore object-oriented through its connection to the mobile Internet workstation. The entire concept of “going to work” as per the industrial era is open to redefinition. The physical world of work begins to reflect the logic of the database instead of the cubicle.

    The object as sprite. Our contemporary moving image media of video games, computer interfaces, and the Internet proposes an aesthetics completely contingent on an object-oriented image field. Graphic illusions of depth or four dimensionality point to a future volumetric moving image medium. The aesthetics of these media pre-figure the larger aesthetics of the built and virtual worlds we’re likely to see in the future. The objects in video games become increasingly important culturally and economically. We witness the industrial appropriation of virtual object production with Chinese World of Warcraft gold farming sweatshops. Meanwhile we see the behavioral modification of an entire generation of children and young adults who’ve spent countless hours playing video games, interfacing with an object-oriented environment that programs both our behavioral and also aesthetic expectations.

    My generation of artists was raised on video games yet trained to work in classical digital media such as video. We are faced with a dilemma: as many of us are non-programmers, how do we represent an object-oriented moving image world in a flat, frame-based medium? The answer to this question begets hypercubist aesthetics, as the illusion of multiple timelines in the same frame reflects our struggle to reconcile an aesthetic ontology of 4D objects within a flat medium.

    The object as prop. The prop as that which is neither character nor set piece. The prop as a property of a story, somewhere along a continuum between a functionally interchangeable McGuffin and an irreplaceable touchstone of dramatic symbolism. As the boundaries blur between the physical and virtual we experience the first tremors of a wave of future shock that is capable of overwhelming our senses, attention spans and — yes — perhaps even our sanity.

    Yet despite the novelty of the technologically-driven evolutionary delta which humanity faces, it will be with one of our oldest and most sacred human traditions that we will survive this information inundation: namely, by engaging in storytelling. Stories are our time-tested cultural defense to cope with that which overwhelms the rational mind. We engage the arbitrary structures of narrative to serve as a needed filter, parsing the dataflow into digestible chains of meaning.

    Whatever narratives we choose, those narratives will need characters, sets, and props. The more that the digital and the physical merge, the more that every object in our lives will function not only for its physical properties, but also for its social properties and therefore its narrative value.

    We’ve always been in a narrative space. The transcendence of the prop out of the frame and into the world reinforces our role as actors in the lived hyperreal space of urban narrative. As actors — and as nodes in a network — we will increasingly find ourselves confronted with our lack of uniqueness; we may find ourselves (arche)type-cast, and at times struggle with the cheapness of the roles that have been written for us. We may long for a more heroic disposition or a more epic journey. And as a result of those obscure desires we may embrace a cosmopolitan tribalism with its own urban mythology.

    This essay first appeared in:

    Case 2. Have Balls [Eccentric]
    The Anxious Prop, First Edition — July 29, 2010
    SPLACE, Alexanderplatz Pavillon — Berlin, Germany

    Author's note: I am currently co-authoring a hypercubist manifesto and looking for collaborators.

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    shiftctrlesc     Sun, Aug 1, 2010  Permanent link
    Mike Figgis's Timecode is an interesting cubist experiment: an improvised, one take, feature-length movie shot with four simultaneous cameras that start in different locations and then frequently intersect over the course of the film. The final movie is presented as a four-quadrant grid of videos with sound from each of the cameras being mixed in and out. For the original screening, Figgis sat in the projection booth mixing the sound from the cameras in real time.



    The rough outline of the narrative couldn't be captured in the typical screenplay format - which isn't designed to handle multiple simultaneous perspectives. So Figgis ended up resorting to a kind of musical notation to write the film: Each camera was an instrument in the score, and the narrative became a composition of actors moving between the cameras.
    Gabriel Shalom     Sun, Aug 1, 2010  Permanent link
    Timecode is a brilliant example of a hypercubist work.
    shiftctrlesc     Sun, Aug 1, 2010  Permanent link
    Corpus Hypercubus. Many of Dali's paintings were experiments in trying to convey a fourth dimension within a 2 dimensional canvas.
    Ilparone     Wed, Aug 25, 2010  Permanent link
    Gabriel, thanks for an inspiring post.

    A couple of thoughts emerged: 1) How the time of a product as an industrial output can be over when we are aware that the continuously increasing industrial mass production has been relocated in the massive factories and sweatshop outside of the western world (also when it comes to non-material, virtual mass production as you mention yourself)? The objects produced in these assembly lines are still mere industrial output (naturally depending on the observer, e.g. the assembly line worker). How do you see that?

    2) Objects are part of narratives and thus the objects themselves can be seen as discourses and the bearers of values/parts of value systems. Accordingly, the "value" and the values that the object contain are always negotiated and re-negotiated in a given context (e.g. the assembly line worker/the buyer). How do you see this affecting the object as a part of a narrative (object being part of multiple and multilinear narrative networks that might not be part of the same discourse e.g. the assembly line worker/the buyer)?
    Gabriel Shalom     Thu, Aug 26, 2010  Permanent link
    1) While one era of industrial manufacturing may be "over" it can still "continue" insofar as time as we know it is not one continuum but rather multiple simultaneous layers, patches and zones of time.

    "The future is already here - it is just unevenly distributed."
    – William Gibson

    "He used to write me from Africa. He contrasted African time to European time, and also to Asian time. He said that in the 19th century mankind had come to terms with space, and that the great question of the 20th was the coexistence of different concepts of time."
    – Chris Marker, Sans Soleil

    2) The social object that serves as a mutable carrier of values will seem more and more magical. In the case, for instance, of a smartphone, it will become increasingly multipurpose and therefore transformable by the person controlling it. As this German video about a new smartphone model clearly demonstrates:

     
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