Minimalism Mash Star Wars

“In a 1967 essay on minimalism, Clement Greenberg, America’s most influential critic, could have been describing Star Wars: “Everything is rigorously rectilinear or spherical. Development within a given piece is usually repetition of the same modular shape, which may or may not be varied in size.” Greenberg rejected minimalism as pedestrian. “Minimal works are readable as art,” he wrote, “as almost anything is today, including a door, a table, or a blank sheet of paper.” Perhaps because of its fantastic nature, the Death Star has never been recognized as an essential work of minimalism—but it is one.

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“Its destruction has never been acknowledged as a turning point for modernism—but it was one. Lucas unabashedly emulated the visuals of Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968),which incorporated the principles of modernist architecture (spare, utilitarian, evenly lit spaces) and the presence of a minimalist slab (colorless, drab, depersonalized, inscrutable non-art). The only ornamental flourishes in the film were borrowed from NASA (whitewashed modular construction pocked by latches, struts, and access panels) and corporate furniture design (steel, leather, powder-coat enamel, and blobby red Dijinn).

Lucas hired so many members of Kubrick’s team that their subset of the Star Wars crew was dubbed “The Class of 2001.” But he borrowed selectively. Kubrick’s 2001 environments were cohesive and balanced, informed by architectural theory and late-’60s aesthetics; they upheld the distinction between the astronaut modernists and the alien minimalists. By contrast, Lucas willfully mashed together minimalism, modernism, and NASA design. Two visual rhetorics are at war on-screen: The first is that of an industrial superpower; the second is that of a rogue fringe of misfits and mismatches…

Star Wars: A New Heap – Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Death Star, John Powers, Triple Canopy

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Towards infinity

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“Sublimity. This attribute of objects of sight seldom occurs on the face of nature, in its natural state, comparatively with most of those which have been enumerated. Mountain scenery, how grand or magnificent it may be, is now, on that account, the more sublime-, an extent of water, though wide as the sea itself, will not admit of the epithet, while it remains in a calm, unagitated state; any more than will an extent of country covered with snow; unless the idea of unbounded space raise it in some degree: but how infinitely more is this idea capable of exciting it, in viewing space itself, — in beholding the universe, — in looking towards infinity!

“The sublime seems to require that the higher degrees of astonishment should be roused, to demonstrate its presence: a degree of terror, if not of horror, is required to produce the more forcible emotions of the mind, which Sublimity is capable of exciting.

“A giant precipice, frowning over its base, whether we view it from beneath, or look downward from its brink, is capable of producing sublime emotions. A river tumbling headlong over such a precipice, especially if it be viewed with difficulty and a degree of danger, real or imaginary, still heightens those emotions. Lightning, thunder, and hurricanes may produce them.

“But, of all natural scenery, the ocean, agitated by a violent storm, attended with thunder and lightning, is perhaps the most capable of filling the mind with sublime emotions, and most especially the mind of a spectator who is himself exposed on its frail surface; and who is not incapable, either from constant habit, or from an excess of apprehension, of contemplating the scenery which surrounds him.

“On the whole, sublimity must rouse some extraordinary emotion in the mind; it cannot be dwelt on with indifference, by an eye unhabituated to its effects, and a mind possessing the least sensibility. Magnificence, grandeur, or simple greatness, may excite some degree of astonishment; but it must be unmixed with awe; the emotions they excite are of the more pleasurable kind. Ugliness disgusts; yet when adorned, it is capable of giving delight; as a contrast to the more rational gratifications of ornamented beauty. All that simple beauty has to bestow is pleasure, heightened, perhaps, by a degree of admiration. Even simplicity, in a state of polished neatness, is capable of giving a degree of pleasure; but, in a state of slovenliness and neglect, it disgust, as ugliness, or deformity, which is simplicity, or beauty, disgustingly defaced.”

Ashfield, Andrew & de Bolla, Peter, eds. The Sublime: A reader in British eighteenth-century aesthetic theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1996. William Marshall, from A review of The Landscape, a didactic poem (1795). pp 276-277.

Image: Alexander McKenzie, Day Landing, 2008. Oil on linen. 137 x 197 cm. Martin Browne Fine Art

Revelation Space

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“The depiction of filmic space in recent years is marked by the possibilities of digital technology to create new worlds and new visions, and yet this creation is accomplished in a predetermined way. While sometimes taking a leap into space, we do so in a way that is both breathtaking and familiar. Consider the remarkable opening shot of Contact [1997], a film that is somewhere between 2001 and Star Wars in its combination of metaphysics and childhood fantasy.

“Digital technology can change the actual in ways impossible for earlier technologies: Whether building upon images of objects from our own reality or starting from scratch, computer graphics and animation have the capacity to bring us into space that resemble the interior spaces of the mind. This realization informs the opening shot of Contact: Begining with discordant and random radio noises, giving us a brief history lesson of recent years, the camera pulls away from an image of the Earth to recede into the space and silence of our solar system, the Milky Way, and other galaxies – only to conclude in the eye of a young girl, Ellie Arroway, who will grow up to be an astronomer and the film’s heroine.

“As Ron Mangid notes, the images of the journey through space are poetic recreations of the digitized images from the Hubble Space Telescope. Unlike other space journeys […] which visualise a forward movement and penetration into space, this one gives us the perspective of receding itno space, of viewing the universe as it rushes past us, ultimately to create the sense of the universe terminating in the girl’s mind. These 5,000 frames create a prolonged three-minute shot that appears to verify [the] thesis that in the midst of new technology and new spatial visions on the screen, filmic space is still under the control of the eyes and the mind of the viewer, a point underscored by the recognisable quattrocentro perspectives that structures the entire shot.”

Space and Beyond: The Frontier Theme in Science Fiction, by Gary Westfahl, Published by Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000. P 74.

Las Ruinas

“Large ruins like this one produce the elemental sublimity of size; here the artist’s vantage point makes clear that the ruin dwarfs the spectator…”

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“[The ruin]… embodies a very popular form of the sublime that by the 1780s had become a new European aesthetic category — the picturesque. Ruins provide several different forms of sublimity: First, large ruins like this one produce the elemental sublimity of size; here the artist’s vantage point makes clear that the ruin dwarfs the spectator. Second, the fact that time overwhelms the works of man makes time, like space, the source of grandeur. Third, this same fact provides the occasion for a wide spectrum of literary and philosophical applications ranging from political satire of empires to devout ruminations of divine power and, particularly in the last decades of the eighteenth century, enjoying the gentle melancholy of loss…”

The Sublime Ruin

All is full of love

Bjork, robots… the uncanny.

“Modern concepts of the uncanny can be traced back to two major essays: Wilhelm Jentsch’s, ‘On the Psychology of the Uncanny’ (1906), and Freud’s ‘The Uncanny’ (1919). 1919 also saw the release of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Rutherford’s discovery of the proton, the first episode of the constantly re-animated ‘Itchy and Scratchy’(according to the internal history of ‘The Simpsons’) and the Theremin invented by its namesake, making it a good year all round. The ‘uncanny’ derives from the German unheimlich, loosely seen as meaning ‘un homely’. There are many readings and interpretations of the term, but many centre upon the concept of the animation of apparently inanimate objects, and can be applied to technologies including the animated image, the dislocated and disembodied voice when using a mobile phone, and the ‘uncanny valley’ of cybernetic automata.

“However, a base characteristic of the uncanny as argued by both Freud and Jentsch is that it occurs when animate and inanimate objects become confused, when objects behave in a way which imitate life, and thus blur the cultural, psychological and material boundaries between life and death, leading to what Jentsch called ‘Intellectual Uncertainty’- that things appear not to be what they are, and as such our reasoning may need re-structuring to make sense of the phenomenon.

“The simplest and most universal example of this is the reanimation of the dead; ghosts, zombies, poltergeist activity and communication from the ‘other side’ all form part of the psychology of the relationship that the living have towards the dead, and towards their own death. A corpse creates feelings of the uncanny as it is life-like (for it was once alive), and reminds the viewer of his or her own approaching death, the animate imagining the inanimate, and the possibility that the inanimate could be animated again.”

Technology and The Uncanny

Subliming Out

There may be no sublime – at least, we can’t say or know there is without contradicting the very idea of the sublime. All we can do is make things that have come to represent the sublime or that remind us of what the sublime is supposed to be.

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“Many writers and artists were once of the opinion that the sublime was impossible to grasp; but that didn’t stop them from writing and discussing it intensely for over a century. The sublime was seen as rooted in intense passions like horror, fear, or terror in the face of objects, events, or spaces that were vast, infinite, powerful, massive, mysterious, or deadly. Things like the vastness of nature, the power of storms or avalanches, untamed wilderness, the open sea, epic battles, even God, were all seen as sublime.

“The problem of the sublime was eventually linked to more general philosophical and artistic problems of grappling with the known and the unknowable, the imaginable and the unimaginable, the representable and the unrepresentable.

“In principle the sublime cannot be described or depicted. If the sublime could actually be experienced by simply gazing into a painting, the relationship of the sublime to the painting would be a figurative one at best: the painting is some kind of feeble substitute for this profound experience. Of course, the other possibility is that all paintings and writings and pronouncements about the sublime – including its ungraspable nature – are self-contradictory. There may be no sublime – at least, we can’t say or know there is without contradicting the very idea of the sublime. All we can do is make things that have come to represent the sublime or that remind us of what the sublime is supposed to be. We are left with what many scholars refer to as a “visual rhetoric” of the sublime – a mediated visual language that stands between us and “all that.”

The Beautiful Unknowable

Base Jumping

Redefining the Basemap
Alison Sant

Abstract

Current collaborative mapping projects using locative media technologies have often overlooked the conventions of the base map as a site for reinvention. Although these projects are ambitious in their aim to propose alternative organizations of urban space through the way it is digitally mapped, they remain bounded by datasets that reinforce a Cartesian and static notion of urban space. This paper questions the methodology of the base map as it is utilized in these projects, and proposes alternative approaches for mapping the city. Specifically, it looks at the city as a space of events, defined by the ways in which it is used rather than the orthogonal geometry by which it is constructed; and highlights several key examples from the history of urban planning and art practice that provide models for such alternative mapping strategies. By focusing on the limitations of the base map, I hope to provoke new ideas for these emerging projects.

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Collaborative Mapping

As the technologies of locative media develop, they have engendered a series of projects that utilize GPS (Global Positioning Systems), wireless networks, and mobile technologies to augment space with its digital double of media annotations. Among these, collaborative mapping projects have proposed to use location-sensing technologies to create a shared interpretation of urban space. Admirably, they offer tools with which to gather multiple perspectives of place – escaping the margins of tourist guidebooks and visitor maps – to enable a collective memory in which, in the words of Giles Lane, “ordinary citizens embed social knowledge in the new landscape of the city.”[1] As the strategies of this vision are defined, the code is written, and the geographic data sets are collected, it is crucial that we examine the strategies of mapping itself; including not only what is mapped but how.

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