shannon_mattern + caves   1

Rendering: The Cave of the Digital - e-flux Architecture - e-flux
Throughout this cave, and across the paleo-world of what is now southern Europe, are cave paintings of bodies and figures, people and animals. Not portraits, but points, like the freeze-frame screens that football pundits use on pay TV. Except these drawings are made over millennia, describing some other kind of relationship to time and space. These cave art scenes are pictures of space, of gaps between, of the tension between figures.

The surfaces of the cave narrate stories like celestial constellations. Images are etched, smeared, blown, and drawn onto this undulating, ragged, curved surface so that topography blurs into figures—the surface of a sleeping bison, the neck of a horse conjured by shading applied to a fissure or a bump.

Caves invert the space of the world above ground. In these underground interiors, space is bounded by the earth itself. Yet through the drawings in these concave enclosures, they are rendered into worlds. Representation transforms them into an essential act of architecture—spaces that organize meaning and form. One might even say that these drawings act as the first form of architecture—that the natural cave becomes architecture not through shelter but representation. These were not places to live, after all, but served some other purpose.

Caves are spaces of representation without edges; where the world and the space of the page are the same thing. Drawings whose subject, but also medium, is space. Representation that is applied to the world itself; representation that becomes the world.

Inside the cave, we occupy the drawing just as the drawing occupies and manufactures space. We are not outside observers of an image, but active participants within the space of representation.

Looking closely, there are other specific representational tropes. There are no faces on any of the figures. No sky either; no trees, no rivers, no landscape, no horizon.

They are pictures of the world, but a world that is different to ours; a world whose outlines remain daubed on cave walls but whose meaning we can’t comprehend. Maps whose coordinates have been lost, whose legend no longer makes sense, whose orientations and coordinates obey different rules. Representations whose scale and depth no longer register as they did with their authors....

Space is not a natural phenomenon, but something constructed. Medieval European space, for example, is fundamentally different from Neolithic space. Perspectival space is fundamentally different from Byzantine space. Space is a product of social, economic, and environmental conditions. It provides a specific framework for encounter, relationship, and the production of specific kinds of meaning. Representation is not just a way of recording or depicting space, but the way of constructing it. Spatial representation is not merely pictorial or graphic, but also conceptual....

Erwin Panofsky argues that the invention of linear perspective could only occur at the moment when a particular conception of space—the concept of infinity—emerged.1 He suggests that this idea of the infinite emerged because of a new religious conception of a singular, divine omnipresence. Without this idea of the universe, it would be impossible to conceive of the vanishing point....

To this we might add that the drawing system of perspective, relying as it does on accurate measurement to construct its space, emerged within the highly mercantile contexts of Florence and Venice; places where the measurement of goods was fundamental to the accumulation of wealth.

In other words, perspective brought spiritual divinity and earthy pragmatism together into the same representational space. ...

That Pacioli, a Franciscan friar as well as mathematician, is also credited with the invention of double entry bookkeeping should come as no surprise. “Double entry” is a system of recording transactions in terms of credit and debit; a debit in one account will be offset by a credit in another, so the sum of all debits must be equal to the sum of all credits. Double entry remains the basis of contemporary accounting. It is the space that appears when spreadsheets are opened, just as perspective is the space that appears when Sketchup is fired up and pictorial space for constructed the lonely figure in an empty world.

Both perspective drawing and double entry bookkeeping are systems that seem to help accurately record the world as it is. But at heart, the power that both have is to remake the world according to their own vision. ...

The power of perspective is not only its internal representational mechanism, but how it projects its ideal geometry outwards into the world. Not as a form of recording the world, but of constructing it. Unlike the representational space of the cave, which internalizes the world, perspective is mapped outwards from its vanishing point, beyond the frame of the page and into the world.

One can further argue, along with Hito Steyerl, that concepts which emerge from perspectival space shape geopolitical space:

The use of the horizon to calculate position gave seafarers a sense of orientation, thus also enabling colonialism and the spread of a capitalist global market, but also became an important tool for the construction of the optical paradigms that came to define modernity, the most important paradigm being that of so-called linear perspective....

Just as language constrains what it is possible to say—or perhaps even think—the conventions and genres of representation used to create architecture also set out the terms of its engagement with the world. They may appear to represent space as a simple, “natural” thing, but the possibilities of the space they depict are already contained within them before pen is put to paper, or cursor to page. ...

Attempts to deploy alternative, even Cubist types of architectural space, from Deconstruction to Parametracism, have only served to reinforce traditional representational modes, insofar as their highly complex forms have required the development of hyper accurate software that replicate the spatial constructs of traditional architectural representation. In other words, advanced 3D modeling software have only served to reinforce preexisting forms of representation. ...

This rejection of the technical sophistication of the photorealistic “real” instead embraces a new awkwardness. It finds itself making digital collages that hit Google images hard and proclaim their diverse sources. Instead of complex three dimensionality, they take advantage of Photoshop and Illustrator’s ability to operate in an infinitely layered two-dimensional plane—which, in passing, operates as a native digital space rather than a simulation of the real just as a digital database can operate in nth dimensional space. These drawings accentuate the artificiality of the drawing, sometimes through the use of one point perspective, or by rejecting perspective entirely for a flattened “digital Byzantine.” These, amongst others, are tactics of post-digital architectural drawing. Far more than a stylistic project (though this is always a present danger of representational regimes), they configure an approach to digital culture that turns away from the pixel-perfect simulation of the real to expressly declare the representational quality of the drawing. These drawings accentuate representation’s “representational” quality, eschewing preset realism in order to expose how drawing and seeing are active in constructing the world.
archaeology  caves  writing  space  representation  art_history  perspective  media_architecture 
february 2018 by shannon_mattern

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