Listening to the Ocean on a Shore of Gypsum Sand is a collaborative project between Gene Kogan, Phillip Stearns, and Dan Tesene. Seashells are 3d printed from algorithmically generated forms for the sole purpose of listening to the “ocean”. The project questions the role of experience in the mediation of the virtual world to the real world and visa versa.
For those of us who have had the experience of listening to the sound of the ocean in actual seashells, it is a questions of lived experience shaping an approach, not only to the object (or world) at hand, but how it is perceived and acted upon. Are we to trust these shells? Do we seek out natural shells for comparison?
To those for whom their first experience of listening to the “ocean” through the digitally produced shell, the question becomes one of how the first encounter with a virtualized and simulated reality shapes the experience of lived space. This virtual shell is all I know of the real, until I encounter those found in nature—and when I see this natural shell, what then is my experience of? More broadly, how does mediated reality form our preconceptions of the world?
For some, these questions seem obvious—we may even have convinced ourselves that we have this all figured out. We are aware of the possibility that the virtual world and real world are two interacting identities, distinct ideas that maintain their individuality despite their mutual influence on one another. There is, however, a possibility that this distinction is fading with younger generations, as technologically mediated experiences permeate childhood. I wonder about the effect of this as they grown into the world.
This project will be on view at Soundwalk 2012, a sound art festival in Long Beach, CA on September 1st 6-10pm.
Without thinking about it, I had turned the TV on and settled on the couch. In an attempt to halt my exhausted mind, I was letting the stream of media wash over my brain, when a story about a recent fashion show featured an brief interview with designer, Gareth Pugh, set in motion a cascade of thoughts. He went on about opposites: black/white, male/female, good/evil—binary states. There was no grey area in the way he spoke about the elements he was working with in developing his fashion. My gut feeling is that this obsession with opposites and extremes, although cliche, is perhaps indicative of a general malaise.
Initially I was tempted to ask myself if extremism is merely a coincidence, concurrent with maturing global capitalism, or if it is a consequence of employing digital technologies in the advancement of free markets, but to make it an issue of economy casts the issue in the wrong light altogether. Digital technologies are symbols of speed, communication, efficiency, but also exemplify certain attitudes towards the material nature of reality—attitudes that express little about the spiritual content that define our connection to it.
Does building a culture upon a technological substrate that is based upon systems of discrimination, determinism and absolute binary states have subtle consequences for the formation and development of social behavior? Out of a sufficient number of bits (although each bit embodies an equal possibility of being in one of only two states) any quantity can be expressed in discrete terms. 32 bits is roughly 4.3 billion unique states, but does combinatorics have anything to say about the gray areas of our age? Ethics is replete with gradients; the events resulting from the meeting of cultures whose values and customs precipitate diverse ethics and morals, often times contradictory and incompatible, demand analysis which can reconcile extreme ideals and beliefs in a position between or outside them. Else, it could be reasoned to give both sides the means to eradicate the other.
Is it simply a matter of perspective? We can’t perceive the discrete nature of our digital age (perhaps this is why it slips by undetected), but it reflects a desire in our thinking for absolutism. Deterministic systems can easily be represented in deterministic machines, but what is the necessary fudge factor to introduce indeterminism into these same deterministic systems? Bigger numbers? Better math? Brute force computation? At what point does it matter?
For painting a digital gradient between incompatible color palettes, maybe it is a question of the limitation of our sense organs, but a simulation is a simulation and the world modeled after a complex system of mathematics lacks a certain spirit. Our ability to express becomes limited to the scope of our mathematical equations. Though we may be writing ourselves into the machines in the form of our programs, code, algorithms, the necessary reformulation of an indeterministic experience into discrete language to be executed on a deterministic machine robs its fruits of a certain vitality. Perhaps it’s a simple limitation of or present state of technological development that we have no mediated equivalent of a handshake, and sensual physical encounters are not yet possible over the so called broadband networks spanning the more developed parts of our globe. Perhaps a supplement should never be taken as a replacement for the real thing.
Objects are born from the mind and realized with the almost exclusive use of automated machines, or humans guided by routines optimized by machines. If we program the machine, does that necessarily imbue it with a spirit? What is there to be said about spiritless machines overdetermining the actions of spirited machines? Does this situation diminish or enrich the spirits of those machines who possess them? We are hard pressed to turn up well reasoned answers, and yet we’re removing the hand, which is attached to the spirit, from the making of our world. Curves formed from discrete values, guiding the indeterministic materials of the real world; the mind acting on matter, however mediated—we shape our world but to what extent? Where do our machines begin to exert their crude reduction of our intentions on our own thoughts as a form of deterministic human enabled machine agency? The relationship between human and machine is dynamic and reciprocal and we cannot easily formulate a way of quantifying it. It is difficult, if not impossible, to program that which we do not fully understand, let alone that which refuses to be subjected to discrete forms of classification and analysis.
Perhaps there is something that I fear and I can’t quite express it. There’s sense of a loss, but it’s not the loss itself that troubles me, it’s the general attitude towards that loss: indifference, ignorance, or complete obliviousness. And in the middle of this intuition is a sense of helplessness at the fact that nothing can be done to reverse the trend, only to create an isolated pocket of appreciative practitioners. Not Luddites, no. We will die without our technologies; they are outgrowths of our species and we share a common blood. But a world made by hand is quickly becoming the world made by the hand guided by the machine; its a pointless paranoia and the best I can do is make note of this uneasy feeling, reach for my pills and sleep it off.