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Xárene Eskandar
Los Angeles, US
Immortal since Apr 4, 2007
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    Epiphanies
    A series of rambles by SpaceCollective members sharing sudden insights and moments of clarity. Rambling is a time-proven way of thinking out loud,...

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    How to stay in touch with our biological origins in a world devoid of nature? The majestic nature that once inspired poets, painters and...

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    In the 1970s space colonies were considered to be a viable alternative to a life restricted to planet Earth. The design of cylindrical space...
    Now playing SpaceCollective
    Where forward thinking terrestrials share ideas and information about the state of the species, their planet and the universe, living the lives of science fiction. Introduction
    Featuring Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames, based on an idea by Kees Boeke.
    make something which experiences, reacts to its environment, changes, is non-stable...
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    Hans Haacke, Cologne, 1965
    Thu, Apr 12, 2007  Permanent link
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    We look out into space. We look upon space. We look over an expanse of space. In the vastness and boundless space, we find ourselves equally vast. Whereas in place, our gaze shifts to the here and now: what we are doing, who we are with, what surrounds us. Even if the place is a small square meter that we occupy in a vast space, we feel grounded and belonging, as opposed to lost and seeking.

    Place is space in scale and familiarity. Looking into the vastness of Space, it shrinks by identifying and familiarizing ourselves with its parts. And so our distance suddenly shrinks: Pluto which was a bright speck among trillions of bright specks, became a planet, became a high-resolution poster of wonder. It became a place we can imagine and visualize. We see it; we imagine it; we imagine what it's like and so we can imagine both its potentials as well as our own potentials.

    In space we dream. We stare into it and drift off. In place, we realize the dream. We take a piece of that space and make it our own. Space charges us with the excitement of the dreams, place grounds us to live those dreams. Every space is an amalgamation of places not yet realized. As each place holds potential, so does the space as it is the vessel of all the places of potential.

    In an expansive space we walk. Our gaze walks by panning the land, our mind goes along in studying it, and our curiosity walks the land to explore it. Eventually we need rest and seek out ‘a place to rest’—this can be the cool shade of a tree, a smooth boulder warmed by the sun, a mound of plush moss. The act of marking a spot in space by identifying an object, a deformation, or a difference from its surrounding space is an act of demarcating, or measuring—measuring the quality and use of that spot. It gives value to a particular point in space, and therefore makes it a significant place.

    The shade, the rock, or the mound is that interstitial object between free-form space and marked place. By nature of activating the object through our interactions with it—sitting on it, sleeping wrapped in it, resting on its folds—it becomes the place. It shrinks the world to our size: the boundless desert becomes a site.

    Now it’s not that the nomads had no place and drifted. They had many places—many places with attractions that though temporal, were firm. They knew that season after season they could go back to these places: a cool watering hole shared with desert animals, a small grove of doum palms for a desert treat, armed shrubs of acacia for grazing. The nomads didn’t wait in one place for what they needed to be delivered to them; they would take on the adventure of finding what was necessary to their livelihood. It is in that spirit that the modern nomad exists.
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    in-progress / comments welcome.

    1. Architecture as a metaphor for the body

    As a life-long student of Bauhaus architecture and Swiss design, my travels have always fulfilled related aesthetic fascinations and curiosities. In June 2013, however, I did not take a trip to Switzerland to experience architectural monuments, but was on a quest for an experience to sort out my mind and soul in the bourgie tradition of recovering at a spa in the Swiss Alps.

    The work of Swiss architect Peter Zumthor invokes experiences with deep meaning, and so as it happens for my sake in a last-minute escape to a spa, that I find myself at Therme Vals where Zumthor's philosophy of space exceeded my mental and physical needs. Therefore, a long-weekend trip was ensued by three weeks on an unplanned road trip through Switzerland where I find myself closer to an answer concerning the problem of being: How does Los Angeles affect the human condition? How can architecture respond to this problem?

    Zumthor’s architecture is an envelope for experience and perception—every space, surface and procession designed for a ritual towards drawing the maximum from all senses. The body is also an envelope and an interface for experience and perception. How do architecture and the body converge in the perceptual and natural landscapes to heighten our experience of the self? Can the body dissipate into the landscape of the experience?

    Having seen Zumthor in conversation with Michael Govan at LACMA only a couple days prior to my trip, his words were still fresh as I drove through the Canton of Graubünden. "I love big horizons." he had said. Zumthor was specifically referring to Los Angeles, where he has been invited by Govan to design the new LACMA campus. On a road trip through Death Valley, a Swiss friend struck with the awe of the vast landscape commented on the distance of the valleys, that they looked familiar but the scale was different: a Swiss valley can be traversed in quarter of an hour on foot, while an American valley can take hours to drive across. Space in Switzerland is constricted. California is roughly 10 times bigger than Switzerland; Los Angeles County can hold a few cantons; you can drive from Basel to Zurich in less time than it takes to get from West LA to East LA. The massive geographic horizon of Los Angeles, and its expansive urban horizon have no counter point in Switzerland. This is where Zumthor's fascination is rooted.

    2. Landscape as a metaphor for perception

    In deeper thought during my drive through Graubünden, I focused on Zumthor's enthusiastic comment and wondered how the geography of Los Angeles affects me. Are we a perfect match where my restlessness is fed by keeping me going until I calm down, or are we a mismatch where my restlessness is fed and never stops until I break down? When feeling melancholic, I drive to the nearby deserts. I also take advantage of living near the Pacific Ocean and use the drive up the coast and the endless horizon of the Pacific as a time to meditate, think clearly, and solve problems. This time, I felt the grounding draw of these landscapes were exhausted.

    But why am I so reliant on landscape? How does landscape affect us? Does the big horizon of Los Angeles, and Southern California in general, subconsciously lead one to seek answers outside of oneself, in others or other places? Does it make it easy to look elsewhere and use the curiosity of the far beyond to draw one out in search of answers? In contrast, do the horizonless valleys of Switzerland force one to become introspective and find the answer here in space and time, and within? If the gaze is not escaping, are we forced to focus the mind on the moment?

    3. Contextualizing perception

    Zumthor's works is regionally contextualized. It draws from the cultural and geological historic past of the location of his buildings. They are situated in the spatial and temporal moment, but ever-moving forward with the moment while carrying memory for that very reason of localized, historical contextualization.

    Context, whether for words, objects or buildings, builds a significant part of the meaning. Zumthor's work as seen in isolation through images is no doubt beautiful and thoughtful. What the image leaves out is the experience of the context of where Zumthor comes from and where the buildings are sited. Zumthor lives and works in Haldenstein and has a number of modest projects in the canton of Graubünden, and it wasn't until the end of my trip that I decided to go in search of Zumthor's work in the region. Having spent a good week up until this point zig-zagging through the mountains and valleys of Graubünden, Uri, Jura, Lucerne, Bern and many more cantons, I became familiar enough with the materiality and craftsmanship of Swiss vernacular architecture so that when I came upon the Saint Benedict Chapel in Sumtvig, it all made sense; not just Zumthor as an architect, but how to tackle the problem of architecture in Los Angeles. Keeping in mind the social, psychological and perceptual layers of Los Angeles as building material as opposed to solely its geological characteristics, what is the Los Angeles vernacular if we were to work in the manner of Zumthor’s sensibilities in relation to his context? How do we become grounded within Los Angeles through its perceptual landscapes manifested in architecture?

    4. Contextualizing memory

    Context builds memory and vice-versa. Los Angeles is a city with questionable memory: short term memory for native Angelenos, and no memory for transplanted Angelenos. In a city famed for fictitious narratives and characters, a city out-famed by its metonym, a city where one comes to build a new decontextualized narrative, memories come and go as liberally as the latest blockbuster or waiter-actor combo. Again, the technical image that captures the fiction also happens to have captured what would have become real memories if given the chance. We romanticize these alternate histories of Los Angeles through images from USC's archives and in a strange way in movies, where Thom Anderson has a captivating breakdown in Los Angeles Plays Itself. In a city where everyone belongs to elsewhere, a city that everyone loves to hate, what happens to the individual seeking a context for belonging and memory-making? How does this sense of place materialize? Is it this lack of context and belonging that forces me out and into the natural landscapes and vast deserts around Los Angeles? Is it a displacement of context and belonging that fueled my breakdown?

    5. The condition of Los Angeles

    The Swiss have a word for the deep-rooted sense of origin and belonging: Heimat. Socially and experientially, a sense of belonging is attributed to a place—the natural landscape one enjoys, the home one grew up in, the family who still live down the street, and so forth. Its rootedness comes from being able to share memories and common experiences across generations, as well as assigning durational significance to places.

    In many parts of the world we see new building additions built on top of or immediately adjacent to an existing old structure, for example Zumthor's Gugalun House in Versam, or generations living in the same home, while in the United States we see entire landscapes transformed, for example, through mountain top mining where in a couple of decades a mountain disappears, or we demolish older homes in favor of new, homogenized condos. What happens then, when a landscape changes or architecture is razed multiple times before the span of a generation, thus not allowing the formation of shared experiences say between parent and child, let alone grandparent and grandchild, or disappearances of places where one would tell stories of memories within their space? What do the denizens of a city without 'heimat' do to develop in a socially and architecturally healthy way? Do we suffer from a lack of care for a place, or do we learn to become fluid in accepting the whole over the particulars, the inverse of heimat?

    6. Anxious Landscapes

    In Anxious Landscapes, Antoine Picon asks, “How is it that, turning our back on several centuries of tradition that generally associated the contemplation of landscape with the idea of a certain peace of mind, we are so often disconcerted, indeed even anxiety-ridden, by landscapes of this type [referring to Manhattan]?” In response, he positions the technological landscape against the traditional landscape. The technological landscape of not just factories and machinery but cables and digital infrastructure, roads and continuous rest-stops, attached suburbs and over-grown towns, absorb the countryside, blurring the boundaries of where the city stops and where the natural landscape begins. This absence of a delineation of the limit of a city, and our movement in this new landscape being relative to these unclear boundaries are two main characteristics of anxiousness induced by the city.

    The dichotomy of the anxiety is curiously bizarre: it can be positive, in terms of discovering the edge of the boundaries and then their beyond; or be negative which again is the restlessness of constantly moving in and out of, and pushing beyond the boundaries. The psychological term of dissociation further explains this anxiety, where to reduce it one seeks to physically and emotionally detach from the situation, perhaps driving out and away from it. However at some point, does this therapy and meditation of driving away (self-expansion) become a form of temporary escapism (self-suppression)?
    Thu, Feb 12, 2015  Permanent link
    Categories: architecture, landscape
    Sent to project: Epiphanies
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    Staring at the night sky one August, anticipating the Perseids, I realized two things: first, that while facing westward, I was tumbling backward through Space at 860 miles per hour; and second that we have a fundamental existential problem by living under an opaque sky.

    Not long after, a news blip on NPR induced uncontrollable laughs when the reporter read something to the effect of 'the United States positioning itself as the World Leader'. Let's take a moment and think about the absurdity of this position and of these power games, and all games for that matter, from the personal to global. With naked eyes alone one can see the depth of Space and begin to grasp the immensity of its scale. We can immediately understand how inconsequentially small we are, how in the scale of space and time our existence is as insignificantly temporal as a momentary air bubble in the ocean... or a mote of dust.



    What does it mean to be a World Leader on Earth when Earth exists within a Universal scale where it doesn't matter if we implode today or keep on going another billion years? We fight and war and steal and lie and cheat and kill, because we don't realize the real scale of our existence as a direct result of living under the Opaque Blue Ceiling.

    What if, instead of the opaque blue ceiling, under which the majority of humans spend the majority of their waking hours, we lived under the Transparent Night Sky? What if we could see, for most of our waking hours together, that not only are we insignificant in the scale of the Universe, but as far as we know, we are alone and that we only have each other. The view of Space changes our attitude. The awe of this realization is empathic. In the basic familial and social units, we seek each other's company when we feel alone. Seeking company is not a cultural, racial or class thing; it's a human thing. But our World Leaders separate us through differentiation and discrimination—and compared to what? To each other, in this blip of a scale that we occupy in all of Space?

    In Orion Magazine, William L. Fox tackles this question of how we see ourselves and how it affects us from another point of view—losing the view of the whole from Space. Both views teach us about ourselves and while I also mourn the inability to see Earth from space and angry that our Leaders have robbed us of the View, the scale is difficult to grasp and the image has become too familiar. Lying under the ever-changing night sky, the scale envelopes us, becoming cognitively and emotionally accessible. The bare night sky, under-experienced because of light pollution, is under-utilized as a space of learning about humanity and humility, and the basic principle of equality.

    Drop everything and go camping this week. The Perseids are back 11-13 August. Go far away from the city and the light of your smartphone screen. Grab a telescope or just take fresh eyes, and do not use any star-gazing apps. Take a kid, a friend or just yourself, but instead of naming constellations, look for Us within and as the Whole.

    Fri, Aug 9, 2013  Permanent link
    Categories: realization, space, rant, earth
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    In June 2009 I mapped the protests in Iran with fervor and anxiety. It is possibly the largest collection of public video and images tracking the protests almost minute-by-minute. They are all on Hypercities, a mapping platform developed by Dr. Todd Presner and his research group at UCLA Digital Humanities.

    The Arab Spring prompted me to revisit the Hypercities collection and I realized many of the YouTube videos have been removed or accounts hosting them have been closed rendering portions of my narrative mapping obsolete. I noticed the same problem on SpaceCollective. Many of us here believe what we put on the World Wide Web is there for prosperity and forget that some of the media is actually reliant on others who may not see the space of the web as we do.

    Therefore I'd like to propose to the SpaceCollective community to archive the work we post, meaning that we download videos and images we are linking in our posts, to our own servers–better if it is all on the SC servers–so that we don't end up with posts like Spaceweaver's Are We Real?. Of course we are still obligated to keep the content and the reliability/responsibility element is still there, but we are at least on the same page in this community and more likely to keep our media live.

    There are a few sources out there, one that I've used is KeepVid. Feel free to use the comments to suggest alternatives, options and recommendations.
    Mon, Aug 1, 2011  Permanent link

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    I've been teaching non-art/design undergrads for a few years and the one question I get every single year, innocently, is "What is art?" My responses have been philosophical and abstract, probably leaving them as baffled as before they asked the fateful question. In a way, I avoided answering the Question. This year, I've found an answer: Sergei Parajanov's The Color of Pomegranates (1968). The film is sublime. It is the perfection of poetry, composition, form, texture, and color. Most importantly, as a response to the Question, it is tangible because it is sensual, and it is politically contextualized, which makes it profoundly emotional (a bit more difficult for younger generations to grasp, but dramatic nonetheless).

    Parajanov paid for his films with his life. Read this again. Parajanov paid for his films with his life. What is art but that which is lived? Who is an artist but one who commits to his/her vision in face of imprisonment, torture and death? Who is an artist but one who makes the ultimate sacrifice to say and make what needs to be said and made? I am crying. No, weeping. Is it for the loss of artists like Parajanov? Is it that we live in a world that violently, both makes and kills beauty? Maybe it's for myself because if Sayat Nova and its becoming art are what art is, I don't have the guts to make art.

    Comments welcome on how you have responded to this question.
    Wed, Jun 22, 2011  Permanent link
    Categories: rant art Parajanov
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    In-progress–feedback welcomed.

    The Fold
    By using three keywords that Marcos Novak's concept of Transvergence is situated upon—ontology, immanence and allo–I begIn questioning what is to find the response this is. What is being? What is becoming? What is other? I follow this with "What if?". "What if?" is the question of the speculative; it is what transforms the philosopher's "What is?" to the scientist's "This is." This work, therefore, should not be mistaken for a utopia only latent with "What ifs"; it is the process of 'tomorrow' becoming 'now'. In this quest I have honed in on the fold and its potential for developing new possibilities for modes of existence and occupation of space, in the form of architectural organs–origami-like extensions of our body; an actual organ of skin. Where are fold (n.) and folding (v.) positioned as responses to these questions and speculations of change? Why a fold? What is a fold anyway?

    To fold is to hide; to unfold is to reveal; a fold therefore, holds both opposite actions (hiding and revealing) within one dimension of the fold line. Spatially, the area where my interest lies in, the one dimensionality of the line reveals and hides the capability of two-dimensional planes becoming a three-dimensional form. A fold is a multiple of potentials waiting to be realized. Therefore, a fold, a Deleuzian being-as-becoming, the line-as-plane-as-form, exists on a plane of immanence, latent with possibilities. The key to existing on this plane is desire.

 Folding is the act of including and excluding, of containing both the inside and the outside, this and that. One desires to fold and unfold, or in other words, to pursue potentials. Italo Calvino’s city of Chloé best illustrates the desire of the potential, what Rosetta Di Pace-Jordan explains as the “dynamism latent in all matter”, and in Chloé, the dynamism latent in all relationships. Chloé both includes thousands of possible relationships between its inhabitants, as well as excluding them—the well being of the city based on the exclusion, or folding-in and leaving out, rather than un-folding and playing out. 



    A fold, or a ptychosis, as applied in medical English, is the behavior of becoming something other. A single becoming the double, becoming the multiple, exemplified in embryonic folding, where each fold yields another part to the single disk of the organism, multiplying its parts by continually folding over itself. This process is that of a machinic phylum, where folding of heterogeneous parts–ectoderm (outside) and endoderm (inside)–creates a new entity. In Origami, just as in embryonic folding, the combinations of transverse and longitudinal folds arrive at different forms. However, different from embryonic folding, origami has a homogenous base, which through a dynamic process ends in a static form. In Latin, fold (v.) and arrive (v.) are both plico, an active tense. Once a fold arrives at a point, that point should only become a departure point to another form.

    We are continuously experiencing series of arrivals and departures at and from points; our lives are broken into milestones and anniversaries. We are in a constant mode of unfolding and changing, our single body becoming multiples in the compounded unfolding of its future. Our body is therefore analogous to the fold. However, we go through this dynamic process with a static, homogenous base: our body. So the question now shifts from 'what is a fold?', to how can a folded form (our body departing and arriving at various points in space-time) continue embodying the dynamism that initially created it? How can our bodies become a machinic phylum for the realization of architectural organs? What are the heterogeneities that must be synthesized?

    “The machinic phylum is materiality, natural or artificial, and both simultaneously; it is matter in movement, in flux, in variation […]”
    –Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, "A Thousand Plateaus," p. 409.

    Here, the machinic will be the synthesis of the heterogeneities of the organic (human) and inorganic (literally, the machines of industrialization) into a new entity, a new human.

    Industrial Ecology to Social Ecology to Anarchic Ecology
    Through the emergence of machinic phyla, we are on-course for the realization of architectural organs. Over the last 150 years, our relationship with technology has shifted focus from production at any cost, to human-centered design, to environmentally conscious design. The final step is a shift to a fragmented and sustainable, autonomous design, a shift which has already begun.

    Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times is a seminal piece of the folding of the human into technology, the first machinic phylum of modern times. Filmed in 1936, it is the futuristic and extended vision of the events set off a century earlier with the second Industrial Revolution and the introduction of factory modernization to the domestic realm. This is a period when the technology takes precedence over the human, where production came at any cost to the environment; child labor was rampant, and worker rights were unheard of. The deep red sky and smoke stacks of Monet's paintings are not romantic reminiscing of the city, but factual impressions of the coal grime across the landscape and lives of citizens. Like Chaplin's film, Fritz Lange's Metropolis (1927) is created at the height of Scientific Management: The machinic efficiency of the human body, not for the benefit of the human, but for the production of profit–the "economic efficiency" of Taylorism, or better put, the efficient production of an economy of profit at the expense of the human worker. Christine Fredrick's Scientific Management of the Home (1919), by introducing the concept of efficiency for the female worker in her duties of housework, completes the cycle of profit production, with profit consumption.

    There is a contrarian shift within the same time-period, of efficiency becoming more human centered. Frank and Lilian Gilbreth, inspired by Taylor's work, focus on the production of efficiency towards the production of the welfare of the worker: a folding of the human onto technology. In their scenario, the human is still part of the machine, but the process of production is not at the cost of the human. This shift of focus hastens through the mid-century as more human elements are folded onto the technology, arriving at the second machinic phylum and Henry Dreyfus' Designing for Humans (1955) which sets the standards for the study of human factors: the sensibility and attention to the human element of technology, where humans are not the heterogeneous parts of a factory, but as in Marshall McLuhan's terms, the mechanical technology becomes an extension of the human body.

    This folding and re-folding of the human and technology has unfolded itself to a flat sheet of creases, ready to be re-folded with new terms: The environment. Once resolving the relationship of the mechanic modernization with the human, our focus shifted to the well-being of the human environment, Earth. We realize we have enveloped her in the same archaic ways as when we were enveloped by the machines of industrialization. In Ecology and Revolutionary Thought (1965), Murray Bookchin points out that the dysfunctional relationship between human and nature stems from the dysfunctional relationship between humans, “To state this thought more precisely: the imbalances man has produced in the natural world are caused by the imbalances he has produced in the social world."

    The point of view of this essay is completely Western. In China, unfortunately, factory citizens are the inhabitants of corporate cities, perhaps, one can say, true folding of human into machine. Therefore, it is naive to say that our shift in focus to the environment means we have resolved the social imbalances; it only acknowledges them. We exist on two parallel dimensions: one where we still exist within the first machinic phylum, the other where with much struggle we pretend to have moved out of it but in reality we have not, because we consume it.

    As we continue to fold in and out of the creases of the past to find new folds for our future, we have come upon the third machinic phylum, the folding of technology onto the human. Here we are tearing into two separate, yet related paths: the use of mobile technologies as prosthesis, and the expansion of embedded networks, a tethered prosthesis of the human to nature, and a reversal of our embedding into the factory. Whereas a century ago Scientific Management made the human–to its detriment–more efficient for the production of profit, embedded networks, through activating nature, make it more efficient in the production of knowledge for its own sake. Embedded systems also activate architecture by folding in multiple layers of interaction between systems–the systems of the different operators of the space and the bodies occupying it.

    "With every tool man is perfecting his own organs, whether motor or sensory, or is removing the limits to their functioning. Motor power places gigantic forces at his disposal, which, like his muscles, he can employ in any direction… and the dwelling-house was a substitute for the mother's womb, the first lodging, for which in all likelihood man still longs, and in which he was safe and felt at ease. […] Man has, as it were, become a prosthetic god. When he puts on all his auxiliary organs he is truly magnificent; but those organs have not grown onto him and they still give him much trouble at times."
    –Sigmund Frued Civilization and its Discontents, 1930, pp 42-43.

    For sixteen years Freud suffered from the pain of a prosthetic jaw and palate, put in place as a result of cancer. His prosthesis was placed onto him, rather than, as he writes in this self-reflective piece, "grown onto him." At some point, the heterogeneities of human and technology, having switched forces repeatedly over time, eventually find equilibrium. This will be the fourth machinic phylum: the folding of technology and human into each other. This is the point where technology is no longer a prosthetic, where metaphors of architecture as prosthesis for nature or body no longer hold true. This is when, as Arakawa and Gins arrive at, that we become Architectural Bodies, a reconfiguration of the organism-person-surround––an open-ended entity of potentialities of human and technology (or for Arakawa and Gins, human and architecture) possible through full responsibility of one’s being, revision and reinvention.

    We are, however, debilitated through our own hylomorphic history where responsibility of self is systematically stripped. If we are to follow through with Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the machinic phylum, its potentialities are possible not by outside forces, but by the nature of the heterogeneities of the phylum. To drive this non-holymorphic concept, they devise the artisan theory of metallurgical production, where the blacksmith ‘teases out’ form rather than imposing form on the metal. Similarly blocking us are archaic notions of beauty, narrow views on gender, misconceptions of race, and misunderstandings of philosophies of existence, which are all external forces, usually divine and transcendental, that are forced upon our bodies. These ideas must be re-evaluated through a process of unfolding, meaning that every scenario of the body should be allowed to play out in order to evaluate its effects on our progress: every idea of beauty, every variation on gender; every identification and valuation of self and not others, with reference to an empirical religion.

    Assuming the obstacles have been overcome, that we are in a world where the political body is obsolete, what will become of government, society, urbanism, the body? How do we come to define the concepts of generalities, organizations, striations, and control in order to move towards the obsolete? In an irrational world, should the making and envisioning of a new world be a rational process? Will a purely aesthetic philosophy provide the answer towards a vision?

    The organ is a metaphor. (On how many of our organs do we have control, and how much on those we believe we are in control of?) The Architectural Organ is therefore a thought experiment with intent: What do we keep and what do we relinquish if we wanted to take such evolutionary route?



    [1] Whitelaw, M., Guglielmetti, M., and Innocent, T. 2009. Strange ontologies in digital culture. Comput. Entertain. 7, 1 (Feb. 2009), 1-13. DOI=http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1486508.1486512
    [2] Calvino, Italo. Invisible Cities. Chloé. [1st ed.] ed. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974. pp.51-52.
    [3] Pace-Jordan, Rosetta Di. “Italo Calvino's Legacy: The Constant and Consistent Vision.” World Literature Today 66, no. 3 (1992): 468-71.
    [4] Folding of the germinal disk and the generation of the abdominal wall. Retrieved 14/07/2009.http://www.embryology.ch/anglais/iperiodembry/delimitation01.html
    [5] The Folding of the Embryo. Retrieved 14/07/2009 http://www.ehd.org/movies.php?mov_id=11  andhttp://www.ehd.org/movies.php?mov_id=12
    [6] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, "A Thousand Plateaus," p. 409.
    [7] Sigmund Frued Civilization and its Discontents, 1930, pp 42-43.
    [8] Shusaku Arakawa and Madeline Gins, Architectural Body, 2002.
    [9] Tentative Architectures are clothing that tentatively behave as architecture only when the need arises.
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    I wrote this a while ago for the LandscapeTechne exhibit catalogue at Little Berlin gallery in Philadelphia.


    LandscapeTechne. The crafting of a landscape. It begins with the irreducible landscape of nature. There is a rich history of landscape art, from Romantic paintings to Ansel Adams' photography and Robert Smithson's deformations in dirt, just to name a few that easily come into anyone’s mind when pressed on the topic. In all, and within this exhibit, landscape, among its many identities and roles, is a toolset, a carrier, and a medium. Technology has been crucial for many artists in the process of knowing and crafting the landscape. Its role in the landscape has been one of compression—rail and telegraph compressed days and months worth of landscape to minutes and hours; of extension—still photography or Muybridge's motion experiments; and of abstraction—creating layers upon layers of narrative and reality upon the concrete reality.

    Every landscape is thus a multiple of potentials waiting to be realized. Therefore, a landscape, a being-as-becoming, exists on what Deleuze calls ‘a plane of immanence’, latent with possibilities. The key to existing on this plane and unlocking its potentials is desire. What is the desired knowledge that is guiding these techni? Because, by Aristotle's account, technê is concerned with bringing into existence things that could either exist or not. It appears as a very casual position where being or not being of those things have no effect beyond their own existence. But as artists we appropriate everything at hand, not just landscape and technologies, to bring 'something' into existence, repeatedly.

    Craft-like and practically applied knowledge is called a ‘technê,'. (Wikipedia) Many early accounts of technê in Greek philosophy identify it with acts that are of necessity, such as farming, sowing, and other home and land management skills. Being that most of these skills are no longer a necessity for the general population, what is the necessity that pushes the artist to practical and philosophical technê?

    In modern philosophy, 'need' is also a driving force for creating. In Production of Space, a level-minded expansion of Situationist thought, Henri Lefebvre defines the spatial practice of 'appropriation' where nature is modified to satisfy human needs. "An existing space may outlive its original purpose and the raison d'etre which determines its forms, functions, and structures; it may thus in a sense become vacant, and susceptible of being diverted, re-appropriated and put to a use quite different from its initial one.”

    Lefevbre's space is a space that does not pre-exist us, but is simultaneously created and defined by social, economic and political forces. They are all fake spaces, fake social constructs, and re-appropriation shakes them up, with the goal to create new spaces for action and interaction. In the works presented in the LandscapeTechne exhibit, the space, however, is the pre-existing space of the natural landscape. It is diverted from its initial expanse of timeless space, to measured and coded space-time of each artist’s ideology. As Lefevbre asks, “What is an ideology without a space to which it refers, a space which it describes, whose vocabulary and kinks it makes use of, and whose code it embodies?" The spaces of the works may be the irreducible expanse of the natural landscape, reiterated over and over by each artist into their own unique narrative, but the ideologies coded into each refer back to the constructed spaces of the everyday, which are mostly mediated by technology, from mass media to mobile media.

    The natural landscape is where one goes to in order to hear oneself and to find a balance away from our everyday lives in the urban landscape. In the United States, we have the privilege of massive amounts of space, weighted down with thousands of different time speeds in a phase space, or liberated from time altogether, however you wish to feel it. Isolation—absence of others, lack of sound pollution and no burden from pre-segmented existence in time—gives us a sense of freedom and it is only when we are free, and voluntarily in isolation can we have "the liberty to know oneself.” (Robert Adams) The natural landscape is therefore an amalgamation of other landscapes—for an artist, the landscape of the body and the mind, upon which the they construct yet other landscapes: mythical, emotional, psychological, physical—real and virtual.

    Humans design, craft and make, and the references for making are outside and within our selves. The ultimate crafted landscape, however, is the landscape of the self. Artists first craft themselves and the qualitative measures of who they are as an artist, and this knowledge in turn crafts their work by appropriating acquired and existing toolsets. Though the spaces in LandscapeTechne are not detached from their parallel spaces of here and now, their creators have successfully been able to detach themselves in order to navigate between them and to take us along. Our desire for other spaces is just as strong as their need in delivering it. The need and the desire are one, and inherent within all of us.

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    ... Erin asked. "Yes." I said, without hesitation.

    We each began fantasizing the benefits of having our own second 'me': She would not be second to me, she would be a duplicate 'me', equal in every aspect. I don't want her for her organs—I can grow those individually. I want her for her mind, her abilities, all the things that make me 'me' and which I want more of. She would be in charge of tasks I only trust myself with because she would do and decide as I would. I also trust her to be meticulous in her craft and detailing. Being another me, she obviously has the same interests I do, so I can send her off to read a book which we would download later in the evening, either through physical jacks or more poetically, synching through our dreams. She could work while I party... we just hit a bump here... She's me and I'm her; no one is the boss of anyone. So we both work and party.

    The imaginary relationship works for me, but what happens when my clone learns of her mortality. We don't carry anger from knowing we die, because there is no one to be angry at or to blame. But for my clone, I am her Creator (along with the scientist cohorts who made it possible), so she does have someone to be very mad at for making and bestowing her with human finitude. Is it the same anger harbored by teenagers towards their parents? Will we enter a version of Blade Runner, she and I, duking it out one rainy day? Aside from the problems that may arise between me and her on this one detail, I have a partner who would very likely leave me and me to each other and walk out. So the question shifts to "At what expense would you clone yourself?" How do we confront questions of mortality and morality? Is the second 'me' too close for comfort? Will it be confusing as to who is who and which does what? Will I fall into a self-absorbed, perfect relationship with myself?

    Probably. That's why we need robots, not clones. A clone is the same kind, a twin really, just one delayed in its conception and birth. With robots, on the other hand, we would expect there to be a level of detachment because of the materiality of the robot, as opposed to the flesh and consciousness of our clone. But let me give you a three very real examples how that won't work either.





    Yes, Paro, the healing robot seal. I met Paro in 2005. I was petting him and gently testing his reactions when a group of 9 year-olds came running over and almost immediately began taunting and teasing him. His movements were bewildered, his cries were for help. I was distraught. Paro was not having fun and his responses were so real, that I wanted to scream "Stop!" but didn't and just walked away. I still carry the guilt of not helping Paro...

    Paro's purpose is exactly that, to generate and foster emotions, though not the emotions I had due to the specifically cruel circumstances Paro and I met.

    Aiko, in pop-culture terms, is aspiring to be a 'skin-job'. Aiko's web of sensors beneath a soft skin can be very confusing. The confusion is that we know for a fact that what we are experiencing is not a life-form, yet somewhere between our eyes, our brain and our emotional response to what we are seeing, information gets confused. Or we allow ourselves to be fooled, a momentarily lapse into another reality. Realdolls are also such example. They are realistic looking dolls, and though without any of the sensory interaction as Aiko, here is a testimonial "that says it all":

    January 10, 2010

    The reasons why I decided to buy a doll were various: I was (pretty happy) single, but once I realised this doll could really make a difference to a life of solitude, I started searching the net. I came out by Abyss... I didn't doubt anymore... made my choices and ordered a doll... Then the waiting period...

    When you are fully committed to a purchase like this, it's a long time, but the customer service is no less than perfect.

    The day she arrived I wrote the following passage to Debra and Amanda:

    "She is so much much more beautiful then I expected from the face-picture taken on her birthday. I read testimonials, saw documentaries, etc. but it is really astonishing how this is possible. She's here now for approx. 4 hours and everytime I walk in the room I get a little scare as if someone's really sitting there. Which means she gives me the feeling of company from the first minute , and I could never really believe that that could be possible. Maybe you remember I told you that I was afraid my cat would feel tempted to set his claws into her flesh and you said the cat in your atelier didn't show an ounce of intrest in the dolls. Well, believe it or not, from the moment Lily sat on my couch, my cat came to her and gave her little knob-heads as if she was a real person. That says it all."

    We are some days further now and I can say: it is getting better and better. The things you discover... The things you can or must do: go shopping for her, taking care of her (washing, powdering), dressing her up, moving her,... Kissing her, caressing her, cuddle her, laying next to her, holding her hand, brushing her wig,... too much to mention :-)

    Not to mention her design and her looks. When you see her 'in person', all pictures furfill their expectations. In fact, no picture can capture her beauty and her sweetness. I am so happy to have her with me!

    Thanks to Abyss and to all of its staff... [ed.] Thank you for making this possible!


    In a separate conversation on this topic, soCinematic brought the Uncanny Valley to my attention, the area where extreme likeness to a human, but not a human, is met with repulsion. He supplemented it with this graph as well:



    Erin pointed out that regardless of all the sci-fi narratives of humankind destroyed or enslaved by AI, we are on an inevitable path to developing these very gadgets of our demise. I disagree that we are moving towards developing better AI with any more determination than we are in keeping ourselves in a stagnant place, not moving forward in our emotional development. The problem is when we position highly advanced beings (man-made) across from humans which have really had no significant change in the past 8000+ years, other than getting taller and fatter (though I read somewhere that we're getting shorter again).

    The core issue is our inability to emotionally cope with clones/robots/transhumans/etc and, of course, with questions of mortality. I understand and have argued for human emotion, mainly it's result, empathy. But to close the first Valley, and to jump over the second Valley, we need to advance emotionally, without losing our unique ability to empathize. Our ability to understand and connect with other beings is so important that, for example, the Japanese have a specific word for the sense of connectedness between humans (and only humans): ふれあい (fureai). This kind of specificity in language blocks our emotions from extending to fit future scenarios. Even now, it would be incorrect to use the word fureai in relation to the RealDoll, while the emotions felt by the human opposite a RealDoll can easily be extended to meet emotions expressed to a real human companion, as in the testimonial above.

    The bigger problem, aside from specificity in language and underdeveloped emotions, is that we have questions of morality, ethics and religious beliefs bogging down science and progress. From the above examples I gather that we have the capacity to emotionally advance. I will get to what I mean by emotional advancement and why in our trans/posthuman pursuit it is important to alter and enhance affect, and only by achieving advanced emotional states can we advance morally, ethically and in return evolutionary. By moral and ethical advancement, I mean that moral and ethical questions must lose their grip on our decision-making process. The reason they raise questions, and usually at the start of an uncharted or unconventional process, is because we cannot emotionally handle the very situations they question. We must change ourselves to meet advanced emotional states. And, in order to do so, morality must change. But what are the measures we should go by to advance (or shrink away) morality? I agree that science can answer those questions. (Mr.Harris makes good points but he can sound imperialistic and pretentious.) However, science alone cannot be used; it's objective and morality is subjective.

    Sam Harris: Science can answer moral questions




    Morality is more of a concern now that we know life from synthetic matter is possible, as well as possibly life from dead matter. This debunks any basis for the existence of a God that has us functioning on fate, and in return rewards and punishes based on our decisions.

    But the point I want to get back to is how should we emotionally progress before any new life-forms are introduced to our midst, whether clone, robot, resurrected, or synthetic? How do we deal with human, but human of another kind? With life of another kind, we don't encounter the uncanny valley between two peaks—we start off in an endless valley of the uncanny where a human corpse may be more comforting when faced with the other.

    Beyond physical and cognitive enhancements, as well as genetic enhancements which deal with disease and appearances, the future 'me' must possess objective emotions.

    Now, I began this post end of March 2010 and had the bulk of it written in a day. It is July and I have been stuck in this corner, which I have placed myself in single-handedly: objective emotions. I will try and follow up in a future post on how do we achieve a balance with objective emotions. For now, the moral of this post is: "ditch morality, advance emotionally."

    Fri, Jul 23, 2010  Permanent link

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    I rarely share CNN stuff; they suck in journalism. But this little window into Shishmaref, Alaska is interesting.

    There is a concern of dialects and languages being lost, and as a result, cultures being lost. Of 4000 or so spoken languages, we have about 2500 left, some spoken by as little as one person, and when that person is gone, the language is gone unless it was successfully transmitted.

    However, at the same time that we are losing ancient languages and cultures, we are gaining new ones. This is either happening the way it has happened for centuries, which is by the fragmentation of social and cultural groups that leads to dialects; or in more creative ways such as completely new construction—which also has historical roots—such as Esperanto, Klingon and now Na'vi. Are the linguists and scientists too worried with loss of old languages (and cultures) to realize the new emerging ones? But the concern for loss of language extends to regular people too, speakers of a particular language, not just scientists. Let's take current English as an example. In the comments of the io9 post linked above, one person says "Work on America speaking better English first." And a few comments are exchanged on what is really about the action the limitations of technology have taken on changing our language, primarily SMS and IM by altering our spelling, and now tweets that require new abbreviated grammar, which also incorporates the new spelling, all compounding the transformation of informal written English.

    As both student and teacher, I have always been meticulous of proper spelling and grammar. I am even picky with tweets, SMS and IM and spell everything out (yes, I face space and character limitations too frequently because because is not bcuz). However, after reading and re-reading De Landa's chapter Memes and Norms in A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, I am more convinced of allowing English to be changed through our use of technology. Technology is adding new words (blog) and redefining old words (blackberry). As we are becoming more intertwined with and defined by our technologies, why can they not define new grammar and new spelling? As De Landa puts it, 'the sheer weight of numbers decides its ultimate fate.' He provides Norman French and Roman Latin as examples where though one was the language of English aristocracy, and the other was regulated and forced through the language of law and religion, neither were able to 'take over as the language of the masses', because the masses were speaking their own languages and dialects and they outnumbered the ruling classes. So we can enforce proper spelling and grammar by attaching consequences to it like the Romans did—with grades instead of arm power—or we accept that the growing number of English speakers are adopting new spelling and grammar. This is not a new idea, it's called Spelling and Language Reformation.



    Ed Rondthaler illustrates redundancies of English spelling.

    I think I may have written somewhere on SC, about my anxiety over losing languages; saddened over the switch from blackberry to Blackberry. I still feel sad when I learn of nature words omitted from the Oxford English Dictionary for Children. How can children be taught to care for nature and environment when they do not know or understand the words that define it?

    Omitting words and redefining word spelling are different though. Marcos Novak disagrees; he asserts that 'changing spelling, changes meaning therefore completely changing the language because the connection to the root word is lost'; the original word may as well be omitted from the language. I disagree on the premise that society and humanity are constantly changing and cannot be defined by old words and older meanings. As technologies create more modes of interactions and emotions, our old language will not have enough words for describing and expressing ourselves. In turn we create new words and redefine old words. As we evolve, we advance our language. But if we are adamant about tying everything to proper root words as they were being used in 800AD, 1600 or even 1980, will we not face a problem of inadequate expression? A while back some members of SpaceCollective began brainstorming new word definitions—in a way, reclaiming the language to fit our current needs and modes of expression. (I can't locate the post and it's string of comments. If you do, please create a synapse.) Etymology is vertical and hierarchical, while redefinition is horizontal and mesh-like. The vertical is a slice through strata with diversity across time, while the horizontal stitches together from a larger cultural sample where time is not varied, but common (or has little variety, ie. 15 years, not 150 years). A word which was relevant at one time, is not relevant at another time. Loyalty to the root is therefor not feasible as it slows down emotional and cognitive evolution.

    My title for this post, Language as Virus, is not from William S Burroughs' quote, "Language is a virus from outer space." I have not even been able to locate the context of that quote. (the internet may seem like a good place to look for something, but sometimes it is too big to find what you are looking for.) I came about the title when I began thinking how words are formed and accepted between a group of people, and drew a literal parallel with a virus, an agent that replicates through a host body. This also came about from reading the opening paragraph to the Memes and Norms chapter:

    Human languages are defined by sounds, words, and grammatical constructions that slowly accumulate in a given community over centuries. These cultural materials do not accumulate randomly but rather enter into systematic relationships with one another, as well as with the human beings who serve as their organic support.


    In the case of our ubiquitous technologies, who is the virus: (the) language (of technology) or technology itself? Are we the hosts, or is our language the host? Are we the agents of change through the language or is technology changing us? My mind went wild thinking of the cycle: We create mimetic systems; they take control; we become mimetic systems; we take back control, and the cycle continues—a popular sci-fi plot. However, the "they" are not the machines, the robots, etc. it is the language, the vowels, the consonants, the syllables. Soon we will speak code. The break down and baring of language to shorthand logic for everyday communication and transmission of information is inevitable. We already do that through email and text messaging where all words are reformulated to codes and eventually broken down to two numbers. We are already internally vocalizing the same complex-to-simple shift when reading w/ r u 2day? (Is SMS written or spoken language?)

    Language is communication. Language is culture. Language is poetry. Language is a hand-woven silk rug. Language is a hunting scene painted on the wall of a cave. They all communicate a story about their originating and executing culture. The 'etymology' of these languages are varied; we cannot trace them to a common or single poem, rug, painting, etc. So why should we insist on tracing our spoken and written language to a single common word, an instance in time, so long ago that we cannot even identify with?
    Fri, Dec 18, 2009  Permanent link
    Categories: language, code, rant
    Sent to project: The Total Library
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