Archive for the 'space' Category

Instruments of precision, pt. 2

Monday, March 5th, 2007

In the 18th century India, the Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II built astronomical observatories called Jantar Mantars, which in Sanskrit translates to « The Formula of Instruments ».
The motivation for building these structures was to correct discrepancies of time for the planning of religious events and military operations. The Jantar Mantar structures were radical departures from traditional construction, –temples cloaked with abundant sculptural texture. Also, they are programmatically detached from the mosques, temples, palaces and tombs that encompassed the Indian built environment. In fact, the idea of building a city of astronomical observation is in and of itself as departure. The tendency of technical progress is towards miniaturization and portability. In the sciences, tools for measuring the cosmos, even in the 18th century, were hand-held instruments like an astrolab. In the arts, we can trace representational techniques that progressed from using nature, a cave or the human body, as image support, to marble and granite, tiled mosaics and plastered walls of Roman , textiles, wood boards for medieval painting, bronze plates (etchings), framed canvas painting beginning in the 14th century, to the video projections of the 20th… always a tendency towards portability and a detachment from the natural or built environments.
Why construct these measuring sticks at the scale of a city park, when the fabrication of a simple astrolab could have sufficed?

Part of the answer is revealed through looking at his intellectual and political ambitions, and the means he engaged to realize them. Jai Singh was responsible for the design of the city of Jaipur. Constructed on the grid system with nine rectangular zones corresponding to the nine divisions of the universe, the city had different zones allotted to different professions, boasted 36 meter wide main streets that were perpendicularly intersected by 18 m. wide auxiliary streets, which were further divided by 9 m. wide lanes and 5 m. wide alleys.

Thus, he fabricated an essential and functional link between city and observatory, citizen and science, cosmology and control. Both the city’s functionality and its fundamental symbolic vocabulary were orchestrated to converge through the movement of people through the space and time of the public forum. It was a question of control and expression of the ceremonial and political activities orchestrated through « a common body of tropes » and allegory. The convergence of polis, science and Hindu cosmology projected its creator as a « master of time » in which the city of Jaipur engaged as its device.

Despite the sites’ formal innovation, the instrument’s information design was largely based on existing astronomical tables « derived almost exclusively from the work of Ptolemy and Islamic works directly indebted to it, which was already in disrepute in Europe ». It was unclear, and perhaps besides the point, whether Jai Singh was aware of Europe’s ongoing scientific revolution at the time the observatories were being built.

Thus, the interpretation of these instruments that calculate temporal data by precisely measuring astronomical flux, is secondary to their means of expression and diffusion of this information –through the media of architectural form and urban space. Their form, the relationship between shape, material, solid & void, scale & proportion is determined more by the exigence of representing scientific precision, and not necessarily the representation of that precision. The city is placed in dynamic tension by these objects, expanding and contracting around these structures through the passage of the time of generations, mutating and regenerating, to constantly redefine the relationship between science and religon, politics and the people, control and freedom, architecture and the city…

The static form within a dynamic context of Jantar Mantar is reversed in the virtual environment of Second Life: the inherently dynamic nature of virtual world materials, the prims and textures with which that world is constructed, permits the constant mutation of form within the context of its relatively stable surroundings.

See> Instruments of precision, pt. 1

All quotes are from an article from The Cornell Journal of Architecture, « Jantar Mantar » by Bonnie G. MacDougall.

Dense & intense - 3: The machines

Saturday, March 3rd, 2007

Project statement: fabricate, within the operational MMPORG Second Life, three machines, experimental devices capable of extracting in-world data pertinent to the quantification and qualification of that world’s physical-material environment. The goal is to discover rules of materiality inherent to this world, and represent them through the network of form and space that has unfolded within, around and because of these machines.

Each machine has two potential states…

  1. edifice: the formal structures needed to extract and define this information; and, as an…
  2. artifact: the material forms and spaces emerging from this experimental procedure, capable of representing that which is revealed.

Project scope: position 3-dimensional virtual environments as platforms capable of functioning as highly accelerated cultural engines for the development of knowledge about space, time and materiality.

Discovering the rules in a virtual world, not those published by the world’s creators, but those that are the result of spontaneous, simultaneous in-world action/reaction, requires measurement and analysis. The inherent capacities and limits of the techniques used to quantify, describe or give meaning to a particular phenomenon, be it in the domain of particle physics or the physics of a virtual world, impose the modalities of defining and analyzing that which is measured.

Measurements are not the same as the attribute being measured. A system of correspondence or analogy is needed to determine the relationship between an thing’s attribute and the system used to measure it. The characteristic of the object, phenomenon or event (length, mass, duration, intensity…) that is under scrutiny, must be measured by the appropriately calibrated instrument.

The extraction of quantitative information entails an exchange of energy between the subject, that which is being measured, and the object, the device used to take the measurement. This procedure is capable of transforming the material states of both entities. The energy exchange, the material transformation engaged, is the formative material process of this project.

The action-event between the observed and the observing is a reciprocity that interlocks them in a process of mutual transformation, where entropic energy is both a by-product and a feature of the project’s resonant materiality. This energy is harnessed as the project’s engine of material transformation, of spatial mutation and of in-world representation.

Three machines for in-world experimentation :

  1. The Calibration Machine : for reading, a device that not only measures, but also contains the logic necessary to determine the units, scale and proportions appropriate for the given situation;
  2. The Analogy Machine : for learning, it could also be called the « uncertainty machine », it establishes a relationship between a measurement and the attribute being measured. Accounts for both the accuracy and relevance of the accumulated data, but also for potential factors of interpretation, connotation and representation. Determines the threshold of continuity, discontinuity or coherence connecting data and object ;
  3. The Mutation Machine : for writing, a tool that possesses the mechanics and intelligence necessary to physically transform the materials that compose in-world space and form, as well as a platform for letting emerge the vocabulary of symbology and representation unique to virtual worlds.

Neither simple nor abstract, the machines of this project can be thought of as machine-tools that take an energy source and transmit it to an instrument designed to produce a specific transformation; atmospheric-machines that use ambient environmental energy to make visible the forces inherent in a specific context; image-machines…

Machines that cannot be understood in terms of a linear formula proceeding from input to output, closer to dataflow than to a black box, they present an open environment for defining data structures and describing their association with a material representation, where form, color, movement, noise… can be attached to a signal. Though they are devices that « transmit and modify energy », a classic definition of machine, they do so to produce material from raw, in-world materiality. To imbue the spaces, objects and edifices built from these materials with a sense of place, an embodiment of the qualities and effects that the local environment can have on that which emerges from it.

These machines neither precede nor succeed the theoretical foundation necessary to transform data into shared intelligence, but are the inspiration, the structure and result of this creative reciprocality. They can be thought of as points along the lines of tension between that which is tangible –possessing shape, texture, color– and the patterns of space and structure capable of emerging from this context. The essential organization of this multiplicity of color and form, movement and discontinuity, constitutes the principles of composition and actualization of this world, and conversely, they determine the structure capable of revealing these conditions.


  1. Unfolding as an ongoing process that « rewrites itself and whose use dictates its content ». [from Unfolding object, a project by artist John Simon]
  2. Virtual worlds are constructed upon a computational infrastructure that offer persistence and coherence from a consistent set of physical laws, representational techniques and communication protocols. The world’s conventions –social, ethical, metaphysical, psychological– emanate from these rules. Learning them is paramount to being in control of one’s in-world experience. Although the specificities of this code can be more or less ascertained from what (little) information is freely available, their actual deployment as an operational, dynamic and complex system, transcends linear cumulative aggregation of their sequential incitation, while remaining immanently within their bounds.
  3. Virtual environments, in the case of Second Life, are produced by simultaneous calculations of multiple but simple physical algorithms that determine its physical, atmospheric and qualitative-material states. These states, in order to be operational, must be represented, and will necessitate the development of tools that are both sensitive to these forces and capable of producing analytical models of them. The world, taken as an immersive experience, is held together by the fact that there is a clear set of global physical laws. Gravity, material resistance, climatic simulations, light, geography permit the simulation of coherent physical states. The fact that these laws are consistent for the entire world give it cohesion, a global, metaphysical glue, that determines how we perceive it. At the same time, local variations are made possible by the gradual mutation of these states over a specific distance. Those two factors, coherent physical laws and their transformation over varying distances, determine the sum of the world’s external factors and give that world its texture
  4. In classic physics it was believed that if one knew the initial state of a system with infinite precision, one could predict the behavior of the system infinitely far into the future. But according to quantum mechanics, however, there is a fundamental limit on the ability to make such predictions, because of the inability to collect the initial data with unlimited precision. Until the discovery of quantum physics, it was thought that the only source of uncertainty in a measurement was the limited precision of the measuring tool. It is now understood that measurements are only as accurate as the probability distribution specified for it.
  5. Uncertainty is the characterization of the relative narrowness or broadness of the distribution function of a particular measurement and is sometimes referred to as the error in the measurement. The uncertainty principle (developed in an essay published by Werner Heisenberg in 1927) provides a quantitative relationship between the uncertainties of the hypothetical infinitely precise measurements. A fundamental consequence of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is that physical phenomenon can be described as neither a particle nor a wave, but rather by the microphysical situation best described in terms of wave-particle duality. Thus, the definition of the material substance of mechanical physics, where neither wave nor particle were exclusively appropriate descriptions, depended on the innovation of an essential duality.
  6. Measurement theory is a branch of applied mathematics that is useful in measurement and data analysis. The fundamental idea of measurement theory is that measurements are not the same as the attribute being measured. Hence, if you want to draw conclusions about the attribute you must take into account the nature of the correspondence between the attribute and the measurements. Measurement theory helps us to avoid making meaningless statements.
  7. That correspondence concerns not only the calibration of measuring devices, but also the statistical methods used in determining the relevance, precision and uncertainty of the measurement given the specific local conditions under which it is being taken.
  8. The relationship between a pre-existing milieu and built space is a symbiotic one. An edifice has the role of finishing or completing the site upon which it is placed, in order to determine its atmosphere as its undeniable, unique, singular characteristic. The first role for any intervention of a MMO territory is to render its local environment singular, permitting the atmosphere of its local context to emerge as material, and allowing the expression of the symboisis of space and site by molding this material into coherent form that has a tangible scale, proportion, distribution and limits.
  9. A simple machine employs applied force resulting in movement over a set distance, such as a lever, wheel, inclined plane…)
  10. An abstract machine is a theoretical model of a complex system, such as a Turing Machine…
  11. Dataflow as a model of information generation based « conceptually if not physically, as a directed graph of the data flowing between operations » [see wikipedia]. The reference is inspired by my work with Pure Data and by Mathieu Bouchard, of the Pure Data community, whose tag-line is « The Diagram is the Program ». The apparent ambiguity between structure (the diagram) and object (the program) is the door through which this project will pass.
  12. a black box is a device or system or object when it is viewed primarily in terms of its input and output characteristics. Almost anything might occasionally be referred to as a black box: a transistor, an algorithm, the Internet… [see Wikipedia]
  13. see terroir

Dense, intense, persistence - pt. 2

Friday, February 23rd, 2007

Spatial Organization: color & movement, flow & force

Dense, intense, persistence - Part.1

Thursday, February 22nd, 2007




There where I was…

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

Three lessons from the Chris Marker film, La Jetée [Google video] :

  • technique: text = movement, image = space;
  • material: The film’s media is reduced to image(s) and time (and not Deleuze’s movement-image) as distinct indicators of its narrative unfolding. Time is a malleable substance that takes on interchangeable material and immaterial qualities, depending on the context of the narrative space –ageless redwood trees, “a museum filled with ageless animals…” Time is the metaphyical fabric employed to color the world in which the man finds himself –“Then another wave of Time washes over him. The result of another injection perhaps.”
  • Parallel worlds: in La Jetée, are simultaneous contexts that can be engaged spatially, linked by the movement of a physical body between those worlds or symbolized by inanimate objects in static space. Like immersive virtual worlds, The Man experiences the different blocks one at a time, linked by a persistant memory. Inevitably, “there is no way out of time… (he could not) refuse to (his species) past the means of its survival.”

The title is also a homophone for the French phrase, “Là, j’étais”, or there where I was

“another wave of Time washes over him…”

linked by the movement of a physical body between those worlds

“there is no way out of time…”

Of objects in space or in time

Sunday, January 28th, 2007

Matthew Barney is an artist who most ostensibly uses film as his most visible expressive media, but he considers himself foremost a sculptor. This seems like a rather disproportionate statement given the panoramic scale of his films, in relation to the containment of his sculptural work. Perhaps I’m reacting to an image or memory of the sensation his films leave me with (and I’ve seen all five films from the Cremaster Cycle + Drawing Restraint) but in relation to the broad narrative spaces and profound color fields with which he films, his sculptures don’t have the same force. Nor apparently, were they intended to.

“These three-dimensional works are not cinematic relics or props, but incarnations of the characters and settings. They exist separately from the films, but carry the same content… these stories are a way of creating a narrative out of which sculpture can come… They exist independently from the films, but embody the same content—now expressed in space rather than time.” [Matthew Barney at the Babylon Theatre Transcript]

Image from Matthew Barney’s film “Cremaster 3″ showing the charactor Hiram Abiff (or the Architect) played by sculptor Richard Serra, in his atelier.

Measuring atmosphere

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

This project will be based on the invention of tools capable of analyzing a virtual environment in order to reveal its physical and material essence. Devices of evaluation and comparison will be needed to determine a quantity, dimension or capacity based on a coherent system of measurement. Coherence, in this context, will be in relation to the physical and temporal laws of the world that it is measuring. [see: What does “environment” mean in the context of online worlds?]

attempted to measure the World of Warcraft territory of Azeroth. He began by examining its “shape” as determined by a cartographic representation. This was inconclusive due to the lack of a consistent, comparative scale base to measure it against. Then, intelligence kicked-in, and he examines what it actually means to measure something using a standardized unit, in this case, a mile. The choice of a mile proved wise given the context of Wow. The historic, military and ergonomic precedent of mile, “1000 double steps of a marching legion” [How big is Azeroth?] created a seemingly coherent context. Thus, a mile is an agreed upon distance based on x-actions performed by the human body. Although this concept was fine for the military planners of a marauding Roman legion, but is not quite adapted to the multiplicity of races, sizes and gaits of a busy virtual world. “But,” Tobolds continues, “interestingly all races move at the same running speed.” So they chose a relatively unobstructed path, and run he did.

Measurement, thus, becomes a factor of time and distance as determined by the human body. He concluded that Azeroth is, in fact, a pretty small place if measured by this method. This was quite unsatisfying to Tolbold, if for no better reason than it seems like a much bigger place, and this is a very good reason. When comparing the results of this seemingly scientific calculation with the mental map he had drawn of the world, an image based on perception, usage and memory, and all the psychological baggage that comes with our facilities of projecting mental imagery, the two did not match up. Tolbolds concluded that perhaps other factors such as population and quest activity should be included as factors of measurement. Though this would be difficult to rationally quantify, the idea of opening up the factors of measurement to perceptive stimuli and memory is interesting.

Also, as a commenter points out, employing real-world time as the block temporal measurement is inconsistent with the actual in-world physical construct. Good point. Regardless of its precision, Tolbold’s approach, employing a combination of scientific method, with intuitions honed from in-world experience, seemed like the right direction.

Project notes> Instruments of precision

Thursday, January 18th, 2007

1/ The expressive systems of any given cultural context, its graphic and spatial structures of representation of space and time, force and form, continuity and fragmentation, scale and density… emerge from the potentialities inherent to a specific physical and material context. In a virtual world, local context is defined by its geometric, physical and temporal structures that, by definition, determine that world’s materiality. This unfolds within the structure of its unique representational media, a consistent but modulating field of 3-dimensional digital space.

The common, ubiquitous substance of any virtual world is digital space (as defined by a partitioning of that world’s spatial expanse or territory into tangible perceptive blocks of scale, proportion and material).

Partitioning the world is its law… Cosmos, nomos, a distribution of the world’s parts.”

2/ In Greek culture, nomos (law) was a means to divide the land, a pasture or a field, defining its limits and taking possession of the territory. Traditionally, the social conventions of nomos, in the context of polis, the space of the city, was employed to separate and define space, forming where one inhabits. Territory is transformed from a boundless space into an oriented, sustainable Place.

Landscape is made from that which escapes, all landscape is scapeland.” [Jean François Lyotard]

3/ The materials used to partition space are fabricated according to the world’s physical laws –a consistent body of physical and geometrical rules that determine how material bodies act, react and resist. These materials, their specific qualities in terms of texture, transparence, resistance and economy, are determining attributes of a space’s qualities (proportion, scale, articulation, usage…)

4/ Instruments of precision must be invented by, in and for the world in order to measure it, to analyze it, to reveal its physical and material structure. These tools make possible the accumulation and diffusion of the necessary knowledge and know-how to understand those laws, and to enable working and creating within their framework.

5/ Connecting, disconnecting and aligning these instruments creates complex devices, logical machines, from which the world’s technologies are developed.

6/ It is through the development of applied technologies–material, graphic and representational techniques–that the world’s systems, objects and spaces can be invented.