An invisible architecture? Marcos Novaks words doesnt really make any sense this sunny afternoon in a café along the board-walk at Venice Beach, California. The pinkish facade of old Cadillac Hotel where I got my room, is tangible enough. And the hot black espresso is quite visible too. Only the salty freshness of the air evades any visual manifestation, but its sensuous enough I assure. Marcos talk about invisibility nonetheless reminds me of a recent conversation with Jacques Herzog, of Herzog & de Meuron. He wants to create what he claims as the ultimate architecture - a perfume. And of course I cant but think of Jean Nouvels huge glass-walls at the Cartier Foundation in Paris. Maybe invisibility is the thing to come?
Clearly, the most daring, radical and elegant option is to render the virtual present and precise, but invisible. Invisible architectures, invisible sculptures, invisible interfaces: the reanimation of the world by worlds beyond worlds. Marcos raises his hand in a gesture, squinting against the sun, saying Ive seen a nanotech project where miniature items are invisible when glued together, assuming form and function when separated. Just imagine the possibilities, when you say glass you will have it, right in your hand!
Sure, that does ring a bell, triggers this stray band of doggy associations in my mind. Isnt it a sophisticated rephrasing of that challenge stated by Toyo Ito, how to reconcile our physical and virtual bodies in a new reality, so that our biological needs doesnt necessarily have to be confused and hampered by all this running around in an ever more hypertextualized global information society with squeaking mobile phones and incessantly flashing monitors all around? And I do agree, there must be a life beyond the mere biological, lets extend our bodies, blur the differences between object and subject. With Marcos Novak that alchemic creed stated by Neil Spiller takes on another epic. This is pure cyberarchitecture, physical space transformed by the virtual, a whole new architectural space to take into account. But that form will interact, acquire shape in the infocosmo, that I can get. But invisible forms, how would you figure that out?
Compare to when you enter a gothic church, already the portal gives you a sense of subtle change, of an aura, already there you have an architectural sensation which is not visible, but evident enough. Then you might imagine a more intelligent response to your presence, which can interact with your needs, where shapes are created by a mere touch of a hand. Where walls, ceilings and things not yet imagined appears as you need it, or actually invoking themselves, not just passive reactions but expressions of worlds beyond you yourself.
Marcos departing point is that ordinary architectural and artistic responses no longer suffice: ordinary objects and forms appear reactionary and inadequate in dealing with what he brands as transarchitectural challenges facing a worldwide population carried away on a frenzied transition from a wired information society to a society of wireless global virtuality. He smiles cunningly, saying that architects doesnt really dare go into these things, it requires a certain courage to abandon certainty, to jump into the unknown. Questioned is this architecture?, you must be ready to answer It doesnt matter!
I want to explore how virtuality can be everted into physical space as invisible form rendered in what I call sensels, that is a kind of sensor-elements or regions of sensed space understood as output, not just input. And these invisible forms are created by the interactivation of space by sensor/effector pairings arranged to produce synaesthetic awareness of the virtual in ways that free the virtual from its imprisonment behinds screens and casts it into our midst, in or out of doors, come rain or shine.
Eversion is the term I employ to describe a motion complementary to the familiar notion of immersion. Whereas immersion describes a vector moving from ordinary to virtual space, eversion describes the counter-vector of the virtual leaking out into the actual. Eversion predicts that the content of augmented reality and ubiquitous computing will be the population of the physical world with phenomena and entities first encountered in virtual space.
Across the large stretch of sand the huge mass of the Pacific incessantly keeps hitting the shores of Venice, wave after wave. The sun is still beating. Passing by our chairs, some street vendors has given up for the day, dragging away their carts with New Age-literature, Aura-charts, whole beds for a relaxing massage. And Marcos goes on explaining that his liquid architecture is the next step in architecture, to step out of the present transmodernity, into the virtual, but a virtuality rendered material, to go inside, and to outverse it. And this whole vocabulary sure sounds strange. How can you outverse the virtual? Marcos says its the contrary to inverse, its about making the virtual take shape in the physical world. And that makes sense, you might as well paraphrase Yves Klein, you could talk about going from an architecture of representation to an architecture of reality appropriated. Or in a more mundane way, like that perfect being in Luc Bessons s-f movie The fifth element, acquiring the image of a beautiful woman, i e Milla Jovovich, in order to save life, the universe and everything. In a way that movie is just another example of how movies offers the realisation rather than just the representation of s-f narratives.
Our conversation swims into deep intellectual seas, washed about by great ideas, hinting at the peculiarities of genetic engineering, neural Darwinism, genotype-generating programs and all the possibilities of digitech sciences. Nothing else would be expected, among different assignments Marcos is together with Paul Virilio co-president of Transarchitectures Association in France. And sure, cyberarchitecture presents a whole new worlds to experience and explore. But isnt it still a bit early? Most architects are still occupied with traditional building methods like reinforced concrete, steel constructions and glass panels. So far, looking at the works by Gregg Lynn, D'Ecoi et al, cyberarchitecture seems to explore form more than anything. How will this affect our daily lives, what are the typological concerns at stake? And wont the cyberarchitecture of tomorrow be very much different of what we can image today? Not so, says Marcos, reminding me about his exhibit at the Biennale di Architecture in the real Italian Venice.
You did see it, didnt you? The idea was to employ technologies to envision a time in the not-too distant future in which it will be feasible to build, at full scale, architectural form more complex than even that of Gaudìs Sagrada Familia. And the proposition of the invisible as the newest of materials allows us to envision how virtuality could inhabit the real cathedral, or indeed, cities and spaces at large, without offence.
The installation in the Greek pavilion did look quite sculptural in our mundane ordinary world, but on a closer look were discovered to consist of three different parts juxtaposing a screen-bound virtuality with the materiality of rapid prototyped forms, with the invisible stages as a condition between these two poles. First of all the occasional visitor encountered a large video projection displayed fast alternating computer-generated virtual, liquid forms. A couple of those had been extruded into a fourth spatial dimension and then fabricated through a LOM-process (laminated-object manufacturing). Four rapid prototyped physical forms were made out of thousands of sheets of adhesive paper cut by laser and pressed together into solid, wood-like forms. So much for the eversion. Then the implicit but absent centrepiece of the whole installation, a light bar carrying five small and two larger sculptures assuming shape through a series of infrared sensors. Lastly a transactive, navigable, spatialized audio-space in between the rhythmic structure created by the evanescence of the invisible and the weight and solidity of the visible forms.
Spatialization were used as a way of locating sounds in the exhibition space, so as to create yet another sense of the invisible. But ironically, the element that was to be the armature and culmination of the physical realisation of the installation, a really large screen wall derived from the this four-dimensional form, was not realised due to the invisibility, at the last moment, of promised funding.
Nevertheless the idea was to create distinct forms in space that, although invisible, can be sensed synaesthetically, and which act as interfaces to the algorithmically generated sounds and projections. When the installation is undisturbed, its autonomous behaviour is calm and meditative. As users begin to interact with the invisible sculptures, however, this gradually changes. If one reaches into the field of the sensors carefully, following the contours of a particular sound, distinct shapes can be discovered. At the same time, these shapes act as interfaces, changing the contents of the projections. Caressing the invisible sculptures alters the sounds in gentle ways, but pressing too hard into the cores of the infrared fields, the sounds become higher, louder, and increasingly altered.
This is really the invisible rendered visible, and in a much more advanced way than what can be found in Marcos installation for the freshH20 eXPO housed in the Water-pavilion outside of Rotterdam by NOX Architects and Oosterhuis Associates. The manner of the installation in Venice is analogous to Duchamps Large Glass in many way. The sum of these invisible architectures speaks in the specific combination of all its materials, virtual, physical, and invisible, and you can try get away from the question Is this really architecture? saying that the sum escapes language. But what fore? Marcos retorts that we are blind to the full extent of what exists, invisible reality vastly exceeds visible reality.
Even before invoking the question of technological, rather than just Platonic, virtuality, it is evident that the information upon which we construct reality is severely limited. Our sensorium only detects a tiny fraction of the electromagnetic spectrum. Most of reality is invisible to our senses, and what we ordinarily assume to be real, is but a morsel of the whole. Technological virtuality gives us access to even larger worlds. Never before have we been able to see so far, and yet never before have we been so blind!
But compared to ordinary architecture, this new tectonics presents a loss of distance, a new, technologically augmented spatial continuum, a multi-dimensional spectrum spanning manifold ranges: from physical to virtual, from visible to invisible, from static to liquid, from handmade to generative, and from passive and innocent to interactivated and autonomously intelligent. I dont know where I end me myself I any more and where the rest begins. Going along with Marcos ideas, I imagine myself inhabiting this super-intelligent house of the future, where my mere presence will trigger of an extremely serious room-service catering to whatever need I might express voluntary or not, the whole environment acting for what it believes is my satisfaction, no resistance to cope with at all, me becoming part of everything, everything becoming part of me. And out of the corner of my eye I would see Gibsonesque nanotech skyscrapers, incessantly assuming new shapes, allowing for more people, different activities. Quite a nightmare.
Wouldnt we rather keep the distance to the immaterial world, and contend with the usual stuff: concrete, wood, steel and glass? Would we really want implants instead of the old wrist-watches, who wants to know about hereditary diseases lurking deep inside, about the clogging of the veins? Are we ready to accept a new cosmological thinking where the net and the virtual worlds makes us the centre of all worlds? Marcos answer is not what I expect. Ive got nothing against the material world. I love my bicycle, I like the Santa Monica mountains over there, this is the right beach, the sun sets in the right spot. But we shouldnt believe theres only one kind of distance. We should figure out how we can cross boundaries. Perhaps we can register more realities than we normally permit ourselves to consider, but, even so, reality is still a construct of givens and of emergent relations. And he certainly has a point, distance is not a fixed thing, it has different connotations in different dimensions, we might just not be aware ofem. Its enough to drive up to the Schindler House in West Hollywood and admire how that modernist piece of a summerhouse altered our perception of the relation between outdoor and indoor. gogg
Afternoon starts fading into evening. The beer-bar further down has awakened noisily and the sun is about to hit that perfect spot on the horizon once again. But I cant but mention another objection, although on another level. Although claiming that virtuality is the end of the Modernist project, arent we back at Gehrys Bilbao Guggenheim in a way, nice new forms, but still a museum where art is to be contemplated in the same old way? In cyberarchitecture, the big thing will still be the typological questions, how to live, why do we live, where do we live. Wont these new emergent interactive multidimensional spaces just extend our present world, producing a determinist reality of higher order, decided on by programmers, or by ourselves? Will this obsession with the virtual change anything anyway? Marcos takes a sip on his espresso which by now has turned cold, and assures that with the help of AI and AL (Artificial Intelligence and Artificial Life) cyberarchitecture might very well acquire a life of its own. But he admitts that while still lost in our present transmodernity, the capabilities of cyberarchitecture are simply enablings without content, which beg the question of how it is that we will imbue meaning and relevance to this new instruments. But he argues that his installation attempts to answer that question by peering into the darkness of higher dimensions and the realms beyond our direct perception and retrieving such things as might extend our awareness of larger worlds. I think that the attempted fusion of the virtual and the actual through the mediation of the invisible would produce something not dissimilar to the angels in Wim Wenders Wings of desire, always present but not seen, benign spirits which can sense our whole selves, and which can hear our thinking.
One is of course entitled to argue that the new worlds Marcos Novak and his collegeaus begs us to explore, wired Situationist cities and such, is but an escape from ourselves, new frontiers to overcome while our physical world is left to die. But one might as well say the contrary, that freed from the material world, immersed in an architecture of fluid and endless transitions, we can look deeper and deeper into ourselves, searching for our souls, as well as bringing out our repressed demons, posing the big question: If everything is possible, where do we want to go? This would avoid any deterministic thinking. And Marcos mentions the recent s-f horror movie The Cell as an example of how to apprehend this alien reality within ourselves.
The plot of The Cell is quite simple. The schizoid serial killer Carl Stargher, played by Vincent DOnofrio, is caught by the cop after he has left his latest but still alive kidnap-victim to be drowned in some unknown location. But how to get anything out of the comatose killer? Catherine Deane, played by Jennifer Lopez, is a young gifted child therapist working in a sophisticated high-tec lab on an electronic/pharmaceutical process which allows her to virtually enter the mind of catatonic patients which has lost all contact with the mundane world. And thus she dives into Starghers unconsciousness, a dark and twisted nightmarish kingdom of gore filled up with his earlier victims exposed in ritual torture chambers. Catherine meets not only the devilish adult killer, but also the younger imprisoned self of this serial killer, a hunted and hurt child. But shes not able to establish any communication, instead she becomes just another prey for the madman. The macabre and fantastic mise-en-scène is just a big play-off, while the outcome of the film paradoxally is solved in the real world. Just another Hollywood script not worked out properly. The visceral visuals are quite rewarding though, but of course no credits for artists like Matthew Barney, Cindy Sherman and Damien Hirst, without whom the videoclip first-timer director Tarsem Sing wouldnt have been able to create anything alike this.
And Marcos agrees this is a nice rendering, really Mary Shelleys worst fears coming true, life without a body. But our inner worlds must be much more complex, more like endless permutations of dreams, a Tora of hypertextual relations drifting between shores of memories, dreams, wants. But the big thing would be to be able to fathom these powers, like a Prospero in The Tempest by Shakespeare, not have ones love cumbered by the mastery of some bothersome skill of everyday life, but just expressing oneselfs true being. Marcos Novaks departure is somewhat different I presume. Raising from his chair, he asks himself rethorically, wheres the edge of heresy today, why would one burn a Giordano Bruno today? And he answers himself saying that one way to push the limit would be to clone oneself, to give birth to oneself as a woman, or why not as a jellyfish? and then to be exposed in a gallery, that would be pure transgenetic art. Sure, this is really bringing out the alien. Yeah sure, here, look at my id-card, it says Im an alien resident. But really, of all the species of the invisible, the most remote is the alien; and of all the species of the alien, the most ineffable is the alien within. Im not scared, I dont think they are either good or evil, just uniquely different, or I should rather say rare...
10x10, Phaidon, 2000
ed by John Beckmann, The Virtual Dimension, Princeton University Press, 1998
Peter Zellner, Hybrid space, Thames & Hudson, 1999
Edelman, Gerald M. and Tononi, Giulio, A Universe of Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination, Basic Books, 2000
Hughes , Howard C., Sensory Exotica : A World Beyond Human Experience, MIT Press, 1999
ed by Michael Benedikt Cyberspace: First Steps
The cell, script by Mark Protosevich, directed by Tarsam Singh, New Line, 2000
Prosperos books, directed and written by Peter Greenaway, år
© 2001 Calimero, published in Frame 2001