David Cox on 21 Sep 2000 15:52:20 -0000

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<nettime> Site Unseen Seeing, Mapping, Communicating.

David Cox


Property has eyes. As John Berger in 'ways of seeing' argued to see is to
own, and conversely to own is to be able to see. Underscoring the particular
privilege of the Renaissance man was always to be afforded the right to lay
a claim to his own individual, private and unique point of view; to have a
constant personal vanishing point.

This Enlightenment legacy is still essentially the guiding principle behind
economic rationalism, the idea that society is not the basis for human
shared experience. Rather people are imagined and encouraged to view
themselves as sovereign, discreet economic units. Advertising, urban
planning and the nexus between the mainstream media and everyday life
underscores the perpetually reinforced notion that the basic defining aspect
of people is their personal purchasing power; consumption.

The notion that society can be broken down into socio economic
"demographics" - literally 'people-pictures' reflects the idea that
audiences are not pre-existent, but rather like maps, made. Popularized in
the late 1960s, the process of making TV shows for assumed demographic
sectors of society marked the rise in the importance of the advertisers in
the development of popular culture. Executives were concerned to map and
chart and infer the overall nature of their audiences as part of market
research for advertisers.

Try to See it My Way - Subliminals

Pierro De La Francesca, the famed Renaissance painter and architect built
arcane secrets into his pictures. Trained in the then very new technique of
perspective painting, Pierro integrated systems of Euclidean geometry into
the formal composition of his paintings. He even included 'secret' messages
into the subject matter, such as five sided pentangles and so on which to
those in the know at the time related to the presumed relationship between
man, God and the universe. In some pictures, only recently developed
techniques have enabled scholars to unlock some of the secret messages
embedded in his paintings. The pictures were ciphers - cryptograms which
referred back to the social conditions under which they were made in order
to flatter those who could identify those codes. These conventions were
considered part of what it meant to be an educated Renaissance artisan.

The cryptographic geometric and perspectival cosmologies integrated into his
work and that of others around the same time - Leonardo Da Vinci, and Giotto
were those of high levels of mathematical abstraction, themselves at the
time 'redeemed' from Greek antiquity. Using a system which would today be
called 'ray tracing' and which would be done using 3D graphics software,
Pierro was able to calculate the appearance of objects in 3D space by
numerically transposing positions of say parts of a human head tilted at an
angle. The extraordinary feat was to be able to mathematically conceptualize
the body as a fluid dynamic system whose spatial and positional appearance
on the canvas could be represented by numbers. The numbers then could be
used, quite separate from their real life referent to calculate the
appearance of the same subject from any angle.

Just as computers now are used as much as cameras to deliver moving pictures
to our screens, the common conceptual link between the two technologies is
that of the abstract 'plane' upon which the perspectival image is imagined
to fall upon. One of Pierro's most famous images is that of a tilted head; a
detail from his painting èThe Flagellationí. The position of the head was
one of many he could have settled on when he painted the picture, the
subject of the picture was not present when it was painted. Rather the image
of the subject had been abstractly transposed numerically by Pierro first
into his memory, then onto paper and from paper onto canvas. A computer
graphics artist can choose to show a 3D model of a dinosaur or space ship
from any angle and because the computer 3D graphics rely on the centrality
of the perspectival view of the universe, any graphic can be made to
co-habit the perspectival domain of photography.

What seldom gets examined or analyzed as much as it could in contemporary
popular culture is the legitimacy of that perspectival interpretation of
reality. The Enlightenment and its giddy claims to the sole 'take' on the
human condition are reinforced with every computer generated urban planning
layout, every blockbuster movie - particularly those with elaborate computer
graphics and most other representations which seek to privilege the
individual as a sovereign, isolated subject.

Encasement Wish

The myth of the encased fighter pilot, the completely technologically
mediated man was the famous subject of the Roland Barthes "Mythologies"
essay "The Jet Man". Barthes could easily have been writing about the
hardcore aircraft fighter simulator freak, or the racing car simulation
videogame enthiusiast. The often physically restrained VR encumbered
shackled to his scuba like equipment resembles closely the look and feel of
many S&M gear on sale in leather sex fetish shops the world over. The very
British sexual thrill known as "encasement wish" finds expression in much of
the language and apparel of virtual reality, and immersion fantasies of all
kinds. A bit of BBC folklore has it that the men whose job it was to operate
the Dalek robot machines in the "Dr Who" show were often reluctant to get
out of their dalek outfits, so closely had they identified with the role...!

If Looks Could Kill

This insistence upon the film plane as evidence of events passed, found
chilling expression in the 1990 Gulf War - the 'Nintendo War" where 'the eye
of the bomb' televised its trajectory to the world. The crossing line here
showed that for US foreign policy as well as domestic that the gamble of the
Gulf War for Bush at least paid off; he was re-elected. As the bomb took the
viewer with it into the side of the bunker, the fact of the bombís
technological/political trajectory was also carried across into political
certainty on TV at home. No one could refute the meaning of that image, even
if they had lost on its outcome. It spelled its message out loud and clear.
The United States had the technological might and means to dominate world
economics. Things had not always had been so deliberately unequivocal.


Pilotís view of the bomb sight on a B57 Bomber

In the 1972 film "Letter to Jane" by Jean-Luc Godard and Jean Pierre Gorin
the soundtrack's narrator deconstructs an image of Jane Fonda on a trip to
North Vietnam cavorting with an 'enemy' artillery piece. During the Vietnam
War images and sounds circulated freely from the war zone to the United
States. The more images flowed the less meaning they seemed to convey.

In "Letter to Jane" another image shows Fonda being talked to by a North
Vietnamese official. Fonda's expression is serious, concerned. As the film's
soundtrack's deadpan narrator explains, the movie star (Fonda) is in focus,
but the Vietnamese army troops behind her in the picture are distant and
blurry. The film goes on to explain that in reality the purpose and role of
the United States in Vietnam is, like the image of the Vietnamese troops,
blurred. In reality however the aims and objectives of the Vietnamese
themselves the narration continues is quite clear, and so the way a picture
appears serves to convey the opposite of its literal appearance.

Sharp Cuts

Film montage emerged from a certain vantage point, a peculiarly 20th Century
vantage point. The idea of disjointed clashing meanings was in common
circulation in Europe in the early 20th Century. The political payload which
accompanied the aesthetics of montage was powerful indeed. The photomontage
images of John Heartfield in Germany in the 1920s were culture jams in the
extreme. The proliferation of photographs in print publishing enabled
political satire to find expression through the surgical cuts of scalpel on
the photograph and to cut and paste and rework still images had its parallel
in the development of film editing in Russia. The Eisenstienian technique
was to make images clash up against each other and in colliding, give rise
to combatant new images. This art of montage was the aesthetics of context
migration. With film editing new meanings could be divined from the
intersection where images collided in time. With photomontage the spatial
field of the photograph itself rather was the terrain of a clash of
opposites, where powerful hybrids of image with image could occur.

Planes of Thought

Linking these technologies was the idea that spaces could be traversed
without effort, or that technology could mediate space. Photography and
cinema have the aim of placing the viewer somewhere other than where they
actually are - transporting them in fact. Cinema and photography both employ
spatial fields of view; the Euclidean geometric breakdown of space into
geometric forms. Inside a camera, light falls on the film plane, is recorded
photochemically, by means of a mechanical shutter. The technology of limits
capture. Adjustments of physical limits to effect chemical processes

Aircraft are similarly about the manipulation of forces, which in turn are
therefore relatively simple to translate into code for the purposes of
making a simulation. Variables like thrust, pitch, yaw, elevation, speed,
flow represent the chaos of the movement of air over the wings, of the
propeller through the air. Affording a view of the surroundings cartography
mapping Empireís make maps before invading. The British Empire's first step
prior to setting up India as a giant cheap manufacturing and supply colony
was to divide the country up into triangle shaped segments, the better to
map it. Conceptual ownership longitude.

Getting High: Space Race and L.S.D

The Space Race and the Cold War represented the fusing of political and
technological imperatives toward a unified Imperial assertion of Superpower
supremacy. The quest for space took on a religious overtone in both the USA
and the USSR; both elevated space exploration as the pinnacle expression of
modernist progress; to boldly go and get "launch fever". It is no accident
that Tom Wolfe should valorize the extremes of 1960s expansionism on both
the left and right. The Electric Kool Aid Acid Testî is essentially the same
quest as that pursued by those with "The Right Stuff"; Americans going the
furthest, one way or the other. Trajectories of superpower aerospace were
largely ground oriented; the relationship of earth based bureaucracy running
smoothly contrasted with counter-cultural claims to anti-bureaucracy. In
actuality the counter-culture was often highly organized and operated under
the auspices of a similar technology worship - drugs - "better living
through chemistry" and later of course the personal computer revolution.

The central view predominated in the 1960s much as it had done since the
Renaissance. The privileged point of view of the Medici-funded artist was
paralleled 400 years later by the NASA or USSR backed astronaut.


The Earth Seen from Apollo 11 on its way to the moon.

The prize brought back to civilization from the Space Race was that of the
unique view the space photograph of the earth, the moon panorama taken from
space suit or Lunar Module cockpit. Neil Armstrong as Michealangeloís David.
Officialdom needs time and space measured, divided, controlled.

Light Hackers

Photography - Joseph Nicephore NiÈpce (creator of the first fixed photo) was
something of a photochemistry hacker as an experimenter using cameras,
chemicals and surfaces. Exposure to light and the chemical fixing of the
camera obscura's image was the aim of the first photographers. The very
first 'fixed' photo was of his own courtyard. NiÈpce needed to leave the
camera somewhere where it could be left.
NiÈpce published a book called "Natural Magic".


The First Ever Fixed Photo ñ the open courtyard of photographer Joseph
Nicephore NiÈpce

Babbageís Difference Engine (though it did not work) had already been built
when the first fixed photo was made. Computers have long been closely linked
to the conceptualisation of space - Charles Babbage's famous unfinished
prototype for a computer, the analytical engine developed in the 1830s was
developed in response to a request from the British Government to generate
better navigational charts for mercantile shipping. The Colossus computer
developed in the UK to crack Nazi radio codes, found itself mainly decoding
co-ordinate information of Atlantic submarine positions, and the like.

The miniaturization of electronic components which resulted in the
development by counterculture hippies in the mid 1970s of the personal
computer, was itself the result of the need by the military industrial
complex for small parts for use in missile navigation and space travel.
Mapping, architecture and urban planning also play a large role in the
development of video games, whose elaborate labyrinths of play and dynamics
in turn find eerie expression in the layout and appearance of the
contemporary themed shopping precincts of our major cities.

Game Plans for Utopia

Strategy and games both require abstractions of space, and the dynamics,
which take place within them. The Situationist International's project was
that of reclaiming a rapidly modernizing Paris after its liberation in 1945
from the clutches of commercialization. Against sterile rationalist planning
of inner city housing and retail areas they proposed radical alternative
uses for cities, which emphasized a sense of free play, and which advocated
a system of activities in art and architecture, film and writing which would
ultimately render work and all forms of social control obsolete.

The mediascape as we may call it now dominates the public imagination. The
mediascape or spectacle is that set of vectors defined by mainstream
broadcast television, electronic systems of retail and police enforcement,
expansionist freeway construction regimes, centrally owned commercial print
publishing advertising, and public relations organisations.

In addition, to the S.I. a sister idea to the derive was the notion of
èdetournmentí - literally detourning - signs, images, sounds, video, film.
More contemporarily known as èsamplingí and èculture jammingí - detournment
has enjoyed a solid place within contemporary art practice throughout the
20th Century.

It is the dream of many to live in a world where work itself has been
abolished. This simple desire flies in the face of a world where public
space is replaced by the leased holding. Where our èfuture dreaming is a
shopping schemeí to quote Johnny Rotten.

Saucy Sorcery!

Early parlour toys dallied with sex and the licentious - zoetropes and
praxinoscopes and other visual tricks often were delivery mechanisms for
lurid porn fantasies and devil images, rather like the proliferation of
video recorders in the early 1980s. The boom in inititial VCR sales stemmed
largely from the newly created èhome porní video market. The industrial
revolution was starting to result in identifiable domestic scientific
entertainment forms - the home microscope ( a latter day home computer)
offered èviewsí into other worlds - the microscopic and the
microphotographic. Microphotographs were tiny photos to be viewed through

These images are ghostly, even phantasmagoric. At the Sony Center in San
Francsico recently, my wife and I were able to have a hologram made of us
kissing. The image of us turning and kissing moves as one angles the card on
which it is mounted from side to side under a light. To take the hologram, a
video camera on a kind of four foot long conveyor belt scanned our faces
over a period of five seconds as we kissed. The resultant frames were then
processed in an adjacent lab, which converted the digital frames into the
reflective white light hologram moving image the size of a large postage

In a sense the technology of the space/time based arts like cinema and the
space recording arts like photography have converged to enable moving
holograms which record events, albeit short span ones, and to present those
events in movie like images which can be seen in ordinary white light.

C3 Command Control, Communication

Communications, military strategy, and the control of land and sky have
always been intertwined. To this end the themes of secrecy and encryption
have found expression in works whose message was often as hidden as explicit
since the Renaissance. Then as now military power is synonymous with
Imperial, national economic power. A recent TV documentary shown in
Australia included an aboriginal woman's description of the Pine Gab base in
northern Australia "Its the eyes of America" she said.

Alan Turing and his team of encryption experts helped build the "Collossus"
device in England during World War II as well as other computers to decrypt
enigma encrypted nazi radio signals. These encrypted morse code messages
usually were co-ordinates on maps of locations and maneuvers of such things
as Luftwaffe bombing targets and directions for fleets of U-boats to torpedo
merchant shipping.

The Situationists often made use of guerrilla iconography in their artwork,
the most famous of which is the "Naked City" image from the collage book by
Asger Jorn and Guy Debord. In this image, curved arrows link cut up maps of
Paris to indicate those regions considered the most amenable to play and
liberty. These were described as 'ambient unities'. The convention of the
arrow on a map is, of course, strategic in origin. It shows the movement of
artillery, personnel and so on - the opening sequence of the early 1970s
show set during WW2, "Dad's Army", parodied the direction of the arrows on a
map of Europe.


Guy Debord's work included, toward the end of his life in 1994, a board game
whose surface was a grid, and the pieces of which, were markers. The aim of
the game was to roll a dice and to occupy space. The iconography of the
symbolic re-taking of cultural space was thus 'detourned' from its origins
in Imperialist wargame culture.

Wargames play a main role in the mindset of those whose job it is to
conceptualize a videogame's possible set of outcomes. RPGers or Role Playing
Game writers are usually deeply conversant in the syntax and conventions of
military strategy. The premise for them is often 'we are always at war', a
state of affairs no doubt shared by many who view themselves in opposition
to mainstream life in general.

The 1990 Gulf war began not longer after the finalization of the virtual
mapping of the Persian Gulf region for use in the onboard memories of cruise
missiles, pilotless, èsmartí weapons which can find their targets within 5
meters over thousands of kilometers.

The abstraction of space and land and the making of maps seem inseparable
from attendant notions of ownership and domination. The twin gestures of
both looking and seeing are about controlling the cartographically
consolidated, abstracted space.

The fact that the Internet was designed as the last lines of communication
for besieged post-nuke war military brass is widely known. The network was a
way of decentralizing control. The centralized nature of modern urbanism
meant that if the Soviet Union were to nuke American cities, power would
have to reside outside centralized locales of political and administrative
institutions. Decentralization as a survival strategy found its way into the
development of such innovations as Buckminster Fullerís geodesic dome.
Embraced in the 1960s by both the counter-culture and the military, the
famous geodesic dome was emblematic of, on the one hand the rationalist
notion of maximizing efficiency with minimum resources, and, on the other
"communal" self support, the efficiency of which was no less appealing.

Designed to withstand the devastating effects of nuclear war, the truism
goes that the Internet "interprets censorship as èdamageí and re-routes
around it". Imperviousness to commercial co-optation may prove somewhat more
difficult. In the relatively early days of the Internet, the early 1990s, to
get on-line required something of a knowledge of the Unix operating system.
True to the tenets of Unix, if you were unable or unwilling to teach
yourself the language, it was assumed you had little interest in learning
about the systems upon which it was based.

Gameplay - the Abstraction of Engagement

The various genres of games - 'shoot-em-ups' which reward fast finger
action, èsimulatorsí which privilege the level of representational
similarity to the real world system being simulated and role playing games
all create for the player self-contained cosmologies. The level of
resemblance to the 'real' world matters less than the level of engagement
for the player. This level of engagement is known in the trade as gameplay,
and is so abstract a concept that defining it is less understood as felt.
The prime test of a game's gameplay is of course the popularity of the game
in the marketplace as an addictive experience.

The first web site I saw in 1992 was based at the same department and showed
a 'virtual tour' of the corridors of that department. In those days most
people understood the 'net as a primarily and uniquely public entity.
Anything commercial at all was frowned upon as contrary to 'netiquette. To
sell your CDs via email was considered inappropriate and to multiple send
anonymous ads was considered so deeply offensive, that the sender was likely
to have his or her 'Spam' returned in spades, the attempt to crash the
server of the spammer.

If an imagined war hungry Soviet Union were supposed to have been unable to
overthrow the Internet's original purpose as a military communications
channel, then supposedly years later the big corporations were expected not
to have face the same type of restriction.

There are those who entertain a rather cryptic notion that the Internet has
grown to such a size that it is conceivable that it may have developed
characteristics of a sentient entity. Indeed for even those who know little
about the Internet, using it successfully for the first time must echo the
feelings of those who picked up the phone receiver when that invention was
new. This eerie sense of telepresence - being somewhere without going
there - continues to define the themes of the techno underground movement.
Dance clubs and dance tracks often refer to contact with outer space, with
other dimensions.

I met Erik Davis in San Francisco in 1999. He had just finished writing an
article about pinball machines for Wired magazine. We talked about the
philosophy underpinning many of the developments in electromagnetic
technologies over the past century. He appears in Craig Baldwin's latest
film "Spectres of the Spectrum" which in science fantasy form, dramatizes
the overlap between the battle for control of the electromagnetic spectrum
by corporate and government interest versus ordinary 'hacker' individuals.
These Nicola Tesla, the eccentric and superstitious inventor of radio
control and alternating current power, and Philo T Farnsworth, the inventor
of television, among others. Both met with an ill fate at the hands of the
large organizations which essentially stole their ideas and left them with

Davisí book "Techgnosis" examines the inter-related themes of spiritualism
and technology - particularly that of electronics. The invisible energy
source whose origins like in the magnetic nature of bodies in the universe
resembles for many who have learned to benefit from it aspects of an
imagined parallel dimension.

In all of these types of inquiries, certain elements remain consistant. The
seen and the unseen dance a complex waltz around those spaces where the body
and the machine exchange faculties. The highly organised global systems of
official entertainment has now joined that other age old official project,
the command and control of earthly and outer space. With war as its natural
fuel and starting point, the demands of commerce continue to shape what is
seen, and what is left unseen. Our technological imperatives now stem
directly from a kind of official curiosity whose manifestations can only
increase in complexity, even if those same imperatives stem from the basest
of human instincts - to dominate, to subjegate and to control.

David Cox B.Ed, Grad Dip (Hons)
Lecturer in Digital Screen Production,
School of Film, Media and Cultural Studies
Nathan Campus
Griffith University
Queensland 4111
Telephone: ph: +61 7 38755165
Mobile: 043 050863
Fax: +61 7 38757730
Email: d.cox@mailbox.gu.edu.au
personal web site: http://www.netspace.net.au/~dcox/dcox.html

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