Key Axis, CAB Burgos

5 new artworks are part of this solo show in Fundación Caja Burgos CAB Burgos under the title «Key Axis».

Here is the complete text about the exhibition by Pau Waelder.

X: 295, Y: 180

This was the position of the cursor on my screen when I started writing this text. Some coordinates that, in themselves, do not provide much information to a human reader but indicate a precise location, which the computer can identify to perform calculations and execute instructions. As the artist and programmer Casey Reas reminds us, if in the real world we work with objects by manipulating them directly, in the virtual environment it is necessary to indicate the position of each point with a set of Cartesian coordinates.i The operation of a 3D scanner gives us a good idea of ​​how a form or space is built on the computer: the scanner is made up of a laser mounted on a base that rotates around itself and can move up and down in order to perform millions of calculations of the distance between the device itself and all the objects that surround it. The set of these calculations results in a precise map of the position of all these objects with respect to the scanner (known as a «point cloud»), which is translated into a 3D model that can be manipulated in various ways.ii The computer, therefore, interprets the physical world as a set of coordinates: numbers that can define the profiles of an object, as well as its position relative to another object or a certain scenario. The displacement of an object, a change of orientation, shape or size mean new coordinates. The computer can record and store them or calculate the transition from one point to another, make these changes visible in a graphic representation or even communicate this data to a physical object that controls it through articulated parts connected to a processor. These numbers (values x, y, z) that are abstract to us give rise to forms that evoke a certain materiality within the confines of the virtual space on the screen or also act on our physical reality, moving tangible objects and operating palpable transformations.

The obsolete body

The artist Stelarc affirms that «the body is obsolete» since it has been surpassed in all aspects by technology, which «accelerates» it both in its movements and in its response time and facilitates a quantity and complexity of information that it is unable to assimilate. Consider that instead of designing technology for the body, it is necessary to design the body to adapt to machinesiii, reaching the point of suggesting a possible end to the reproductive act, birth and death:

«It is no longer about perpetuating the human species through REPRODUCTION, but about improving male / female intercourse with a human-machine interface. THE BODY IS OBSOLETE. We are at the end of human philosophy and physiology. […] When fertilization occurs outside the uterus and there is the possibility of nourishing the fetus with a system of artificial support TECHNICALLY THERE WILL BE NO BIRTH. And if the body can be redesigned in a modular way to facilitate the replacement of defective parts, then TECHNICALLY THERE WOULD BE NO REASON TO DIE. «iv

With such striking statements (which he himself highlights in capital letters), Stelarc wants to shake off the notions established about the body and underline the possibility of transcending the barriers of human physiology through technology. In Syngamy, Solimán López initiates a deconstruction of the human body, converted into data, which develops into the pieces that make up the exhibition. This transformation starts, logically, from the very act of procreation (fertilization or syngamy), synthesized in the relations of undulation and tension of three segments of cable which represent the coordinates x, y, z, as well as the basic colors red , green and blue. The axes of the whole form Key Axis and the cables are set in motion when the presence of the spectator is detected. Facing the body that observes it, the piece begins a dance of random undulations that periodically stop when the cables are tensed in a single line: this synchronization generates the creation of a virtual body, visible in the form of a «points cloud», which remains archived in the memory of the piece. The process is repeated, generating one body after another, provided that there is the presence of a person to contemplate it.

The fertilization thus passes from a physical act (coitus) to a synchronization of coordinates, a purely numerical act that ceases the chaotic movement of the cables to form a straight line, a single vector that the software created by the artist translates into a simulated body. This body is formed by only the 36 key points that are used in the capture of movements. It is a technique that translates the postures and movements of the human body into data that the computer can interpret, edit and simulate. When observing this work we are confronted with a perception of the body from the point of view of the machine and not of the human being: reduced to data, the body can be divided into coordinates and be generated automatically from a synchronization of three elements that are abstract but have meaning within the system to which they belong.

The virtual bodies of Syngamy are phantasmagorical or illusory in the sense in which Stelarc refers to the bodies that are created in virtual environments. They become a reflection of our real bodies, which we abandon when immersing ourselves in the simulation offered by the computer . The Australian artist affirms that the virtual or illusory body (Phantom Body) can operate in a semi-autonomous way. It can have enhanced functions and artificial intelligence, manipulate data and interact with other virtual bodies in Cyberspace.v The bodies that are generated in the particular fertilization of Syngamy reflects this idea and makes the flexible and fluid quality that Stelarc assigns to phantasmagorical bodies clear. However, they are clearly similar to a real body, formed by points that maintain a relationship with each other. In 3D animation it is not difficult to identify a human body even though what we are seeing is actually a series of coordinates. But this abstraction can be taken a little further.

syngamy_soliman_lopez

Pilgrim is a work composed of a series of LCD displays that split the body of a person into the 36 points that are necessary for the capture of movement and shows the coordinates of their position in a virtual space over the years. Starting from the data obtained in a simulation of a human body that grows from its birth and is transformed until the moment of its death, this piece shows the coordinates in the x, y, z axes of each point and the rotation data in relationship with the central axis of the body, next to the corresponding year, in an individual display. The screens are not distributed in relation to the location of these points in a human body, but respond to a logical occupation of the space on the wall. Each display shows the information in one of the three colors assigned to the three axes (red, green or blue). After one year in the life of the simulated body, all the screens flash briefly with an intense white glow.

pilgrim_soliman_lopez

In this case, the identification (and reconstruction) of the body can no longer be produced from a visual form but depends on the interpretation of numerical data that are vague and incomprehensible to the human spectator but absolutely precise for the machine. The cold dissection of the body that grows, matures, deteriorates and dies is again a confrontation with our most rational facets, while reminding us, as Solimán López states, that this body once occupied a specific space. In this sense, the piece gives form to another concept proposed by Stelarc, that of the Absent Body: since the body is designed to interact with its environment, it is open towards the world and operates in relation to external stimuli. This leads us to «operate like minds,» ignoring what happens inside of us.vi A body develops and dies in Pilgrim, but does not offer us any information about its internal processes (it is a hollow body, without organs)vii, only the data of its relative position in a certain space. This is the vision of an external observer, which reduces a biological process to changes in the coordinates of a set of elements. If we try to read the numbers carefully, perhaps we can interpret the changes in the values ​​of certain points as the development of a body from childhood to adolescence. But no matter how much we imagine and manage to extract details of the numerical values, we will be observing an empty body whose existence is reduced to the position it occupies in space. Thus represented, the body ceases to have the central role that we grant it by defining ourselves as individuals and becomes an object more of the environment, capable of being detected and measured in the same way that the 3D scanner marks the exact position of all that that surrounds it.

The Map and the Territory

In his well-known story «On Exactitude in Science» (1946), Jorge Luis Borges tells the story of an empire in which such perfection had been achieved in the art of cartography that the map of the empire occupied the entire territory. The absurdity posed by this fiction is in fact what current cartography has achieved based on images captured by satellite and the global positioning system (GPS), which allows us to accurately determine the location of an object anywhere on Earth. From this perspective, just as the «living» body of Pilgrim is a set of coordinates, everything on the planet can be interpreted as a set of numerical values. If, as Casey Reas indicates, the computer can create a two-dimensional or three-dimensional space by determining the position of each element, then thanks to GPS, the real world also becomes a space that can be calculated and reproduced down to the smallest detail. Thus, the map is superimposed on the territory: real and virtual space are confused. However, even this advanced form of cartography has a limit, which is what Limbology explores, a geolocation experiment in the stratosphere performed with a beacon attached to a probe balloon.

soliman_lopez_limbology

The balloon is released in an open space, where it begins its ascent at the mercy of air currents and with an  uncertain destination. Floating in the sky, the balloon seems to be nowhere (therefore, in limbo) but at the same time its position is fixed with precision thanks to the GPS beacon. As it rises, the beacon’s capacity to transmit the data decreases until it reaches a height where it loses connection and subsequently, due to the decrease in air pressure, the balloon expands until it bursts and starts its vertiginous decline. The data of the position of the beacon during the journey are translated into a sinuous line that rises and stops abruptly. The artist visualizes this route with a neon tube suspended from the ceiling and a video that captures the trip of the balloon. Consciously realized as a failed experiment, the action shows the limits of technology while reflecting on how we conceive space as something that can be mastered by means of measurements and maps.

Absence and silence

Understood as a set of data, space becomes a medium, according to the theorist Lev Manovich. This is in reference to the creation of a three-dimensional space that is at the same time a narrative space in video games Doom (id Software, 1993) and Myst (Cyan, 1993). Manovich emphasizes that in these games the narrative itself depends on the player moving through the virtual space and interacting with the elements that he finds. The game scenario acquires a leading role, but also reveals itself as an environment in which map and territory are confused: the computer creates the space as it is navigated, being susceptible to all kinds of modifications, most notably in the case of Doom, one of the first games that allowed players to edit the levels and thus rewrite the map and the territory. This malleability of the virtual space is what leads Manovich to consider it a medium:

«For the first time, space becomes a type of medium. Like the other types of media – audio, video, still images and text – it can now be transmitted instantly, stored and retrieved; it can be compressed, reformatted, converted into a continuous stream, filtered, computed and programmed, and you can interact with it. In other words, all the operations that are possible with media as a result of their conversion to computer data can now also be applied to the representations of a three-dimensional space. «viii

The conversion of physical space into coordinates, and therefore numbers, is what allows the computer to perform all kinds of transformations in a 3D simulation that is displayed on a screen. The screen here becomes a substitute for painting in its function as a window open to the world and inherits from it the frontal perspective. As Manovich reminds us, this frontal perspective defines the relationship between the screen and the body of the spectator, since it requires the latter to remain still: from the first perspective machines, the camera obscura and pinhole camera photography to cinema , the immobility of the spectator is a constant.ix The same thing happens in front of the computer screen, even though it is possible to navigate through a virtual space and even insert an avatar of our body into it. Only in Virtual Reality environments can there be a certain movement of the body, although this occurs at the price of tying the viewer to the machine and further controlling their movements.

In d00m, Solimán López explores the possibilities of virtual space and its relationship with the body of the spectator. A computer generated simulation evokes a constantly changing three-dimensional space. The perspective that generates the illusion of depth does not depend in this case on the position of the spectator who observes the projection but on the decisions of a program that chooses at each moment the configuration of the space, creating a vortex from coordinates of latitude and random length. The piece is totally autonomous, although the presence of the public activates changes in the generation of space, composed of a point cloud, which changes the coordinates and continues its self-generated process. The viewer is thus faced with a virtual environment that (unlike video games) does not revolve around him, but responds to a logic of its own. Oblivious to the observer, the program explores by itself the space that it has created and supplants the user, whose intervention becomes unnecessary. The autonomy of the system is reinforced by the use of an Artificial Intelligence program, a technology that inspires in humans the fear of being overtaken by machines in all their capacities and thus become superfluous or obsolete. The piece highlights this possible change of paradigm through a virtual space whose perspective no longer obeys the gaze of the viewer. Once the computer has mapped the real world and translated it into data that it can manipulate to create its own world, it may no longer need humans.

soliman_lopez_d00m

d00m is located at a time when the computer no longer needs the user, which constitutes a substantial change in the parameters in which the human-machine relationship has been laid out. The axis that articulates this binomial moves, the coordinates fail and the lines of the map become blurred. The tools with which the human being describes and orders the world imprison her and limit her vision of it, as did the camera obscura when defining what the artist locked inside herself could represent. Inverse Triangulation, the piece that completes Key Axis, refers precisely to the artist who, in a certain way, is trapped inside as an absent body. In the centre of the room, a projection on the floor shows a vertical scan of a body composed of a heat map that shows different areas in the three colors used in the other pieces. A synthetic voice recites every 4:33 minutes (in homage to the work composed by John Cage) the coordinates of the current geographical location of Solimán López. The reading of the coordinates, together with the visualization that is projected on the ground, gives a ghostly presence to the body that is not there but is constantly being located. Converted into data, the artist’s body can not fail to be present in the piece: technology does not allow absences, or silences.

inverse_triangulation_soliman_lopez

Pau Waelder

May 2018

iReas, C. y McWilliams, C. (2010). Form + Code in Design, Art and Architecture. Nueva York: Princeton Architectural Press, 33.

ii An example of this technique, made with a Kinect, can be found in the work Host-In (2016) de Solimán López.

iii Atzori, P. y Woolford, K. (1990) Extended-Body: Interview with Stelarc. C-NET. https://web.stanford.edu/dept/HPS/stelarc/a29-extended_body.html

iv Stelarc (2007) From Psycho-Body to Cyber-Systems. Images as post-human entities, en: Bell, D. Y Kennedy, B. M. (eds.) The Cybercultures Reader. Second Edition. Nueva York: Routledge, 457-461.

v Stelarc (2007) op.cit., 468.

vi Stelarc (2007) op.cit., 458.

vii Stelarc defines phantasmagorical or virtual bodies this way. Stelarc (2007) op.cit., 468.

vii Manovich, L. (2001) The Language of New Media. Cambridge-Londres: The MIT Press, 252.

ixManovich, L. (2001) op. cit., 104-107.

 

Complete interview about the exhibition: