Tuesday, June 28, 2005

silent reflections

I’ve been reading Haunted Weather: Music, Silence and Memory by David Toop these last couple of days (thanks for the tip off Kris!). It’s really got me thinking about silence not as the absence as noise, but as something altogether different. It’s not an absence at all, since true silence is impossible, at least within our atmosphere. In seeking to achieve silence we only succeed in revealing more and more levels of noise, uncovering the sounds which underlie our everyday. The hum of a refrigerator, the far off bark of a dog, those sounds which go unperceived, or a least remain unnoticed. Any soundscape can therefore be seen as a complexly layered palimpsest. Peel away one of these layers and it reveals another layer of sound, our perception like a pyramid, focusing only on the point of forgrounded sounds, whilst less and less attention is paid the closer to the base (bass) of that pyramid we go.

Social silence, noisy silence, deafening silence. Whilst music fills the air (and the ear) with noise, in doing so it often reduces the listener to silence. Does music cover silence or does it uncover silence?

The opposite of noise isn’t silence, the opposite of noise is listening.

- Gerard

Saturday, June 25, 2005

herzog & de meuron models

Mobile(72a), originally uploaded by INCITE.

inscriptions, maps, models and mess

In my study of wifi networks (in particular how wifi is made political, public, social and a site of resistance and power) I have been undertaking a critique of how representations and in particular inscriptions are used in sociological research. The concept of inscriptions, the devices that produce them and the practices in which they are embedded form a framework for much sociological analysis of representations in science and technology and I have been keen to see how I might learn from these approaches. From early ethnographic studies in the scientific laboratory (Latour and Woolgar 1979) to later research focused on scientists and the entire laboratory itself (Latour 1983, Lynch 1985, Law 1986, Knorr Cetina 1999) to technological design and innovation studies (Callon 1986, Cockburn and Ormrod 1993, Bijker 1997) and even the visual culture of engineers (Henderson 1999), despite their methodological differences, all share an interest in how scientific fact or technological artefacts are socially constructed. In general they deal with the various ways machines or the configuration of artefacts produce an inscription, how it travels along a defined process, enrols actors along the way and is ultimately used to persuade others within and beyond the walls of the laboratory or office. People do ‘jobs’ with inscriptions so irrespective of their content they present a juncture for the study of the complex network of actions, practices and interactions.

Ok. But how does this relate to my work? Well I have been looking at the wifi node maps created by volunteer wifi community groups – in particular Consume.net - and considering the ways in which these representations make wifi political. One aspect (amongst many) that I find interesting is the way in which inscriptions clean up and are cleaned of the messy, complex and largely repetitive design/experiment/information process. For example once Latour and Woolgar (1979) understood the inscription process they saw the laboratory more clearly. No longer was it a messy, complex and complicated site. They started to see individual actions, objects and activities as processes from which inscriptions in the form of texts, charts, graphs and more were created. ‘Thus the observer could even make sense of such obscure activities as a technician grinding the brains of rats, by realising that the eventual end product of such activity might be a highly valued diagram’ (1979: 52). Nice, huh! These inscriptions were then cleaned of the residue of everyday experiments, removed from repetitive painstaking procedures and used as objects of power to influence and persuade others.

This brings me to the actual point of my post - the current Tate Modern exhibition featuring the many sketches and models of architects Herzog & de Meuron. Situated in the Turbine Hall the exhibition reveals ‘the by-products or ‘waste’ produced during the course of the architect’s work’. Whilst many things are still cleaned and thus concealed, such as gender relations and the everyday rhythms of the process, much more of the everyday mess of 'doing architecture' is on show. The exhibition blurb says:

‘Made of an astonishing range of materials, these artefacts tell the story of how ideas take shape and form, through a complex process of experimentation and detour, to evolve a new architectural language for building.’

An abundance of architectural models, design sketches, castings, die cuts, shapes and textures cover a series of tabletops. All sorts of materials are represented; glass, paper, cardboard, fibreglass, plastic, foam, wood in all sorts of configurations from the abstracted idea right through to the scaled model (but not necessarily in a linear fashion). Materials on each table, with a little imagination describe a path through which ideas were formed but there are no climax shots, no images of finished objects. The sheer amount of material (over 1000 models) illustrates how important modelling is in the process of design to architects. And these are only the ones that were deemed of value to keep, unlike these ones spotted by Dan in bins outside the AA, which leads into a whole other post .... but it's an exhibition well worth seeing. It's on till 29th August.

- kat

Sunday, June 12, 2005

ZKM exhibition: Making Things Public II

Here's my brief response to the exhibition we all went to see last month at ZKM in Karlsruhe - Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy.

First of all it was a pleasure to be introduced to the exhibition by Bruno Latour who briefly explained the flow of ideas, overall structural intent and the ‘phantom public’ piece which I will talk more on later. The exhibition is a gargantuan undertaking; 100 pieces of work from artists, scientists, sociologists, philosophers and historians all tasked with rejuvenating ‘the political in the name of arts and sciences’. Many pieces are collaborative experiments and thus timely to view given our recent collaboration with RCA design students. In fact we had been introduced to one of the pieces on display - Pindices; Demonstrating Matters of Public Concern by Lucy Kimbell (in collaboration with Andrew Barry) - only a week before and I was eager to see this work in context of other representations. I am also currently reading and thinking on how wifi is made political by different groups so was interested in the curators notions of ‘assemblies that are not political in the customary sense and yet assemble a public around things that are controversial and therefore political’. I definitely recommend a viewing of it – it is open till August – and try to allocate at least one full day if not two starting both with a good solid German breakfast.

In my brief review of the exhibition I agree and also don't agree with kris’ call for 'more disputation' (see below).

I too found the show interesting in terms of structure as well as content. The division of four zones and a further 13 sections provides a strong narrative for the many works and a foundation for curatorial decisions. It is a structure that neither leads the viewer in a linear path nor frees them to explore unencumbered. The viewer is caught in a web of simultaneously wanting to experience the exhibition as a whole, engage with the thematic introductory essays and the pieces together as well as appreciate them individually whilst bringing to bear personal interests. And as mentioned there is an awful lot of it to work around and through. Thus the experience can at times feel overwhelming and exhausting. On these accounts and others I agree with the desire for more disputation within and between individual pieces for the purpose of drawing out individual voices.

However is not the concept of democracy a collage of many voices - the good and the bad, the weak and the strong, the interesting and the dull, the confident and the misguided - each having an opportunity to speak in some form at some time? As the curators remind us the exhibition is an 'assembly of assemblies’ and thus a space for representation of many things that may or may not interest us and do not necessarily complete a smooth and neat and always easy to interpret picture of society. Politics resides in a lot of places, not always where you expect to find it.

So perhaps in this way the melee of voices, blurred and occasionally complicated navigation and multi-layers of information works to establish the context for our accepted ruling systems. Perhaps the structure of the exhibition (as well as its contents) presents us with an ‘atmosphere of a democracy’ to make us question a number of things like; Is this how it should be? What is our role as viewers, as participants and as citizens? And how do we decipher, act upon and dispute this kind of information in this context?

It's how I now see (on reflection) the idea of the 'phantom public' piece. Though a little nebulous at first when you are actually in the space, upon gaining time and distance on the experience I have come to see it more clearly. The ‘phantom public’ is a digital artwork that captures a sense of an individual visitors presence via their RFID entrance tag and collates and translates this information into a constantly changing rhythmic collage of light and sound throughout the space.

‘You will leave countless traces during your time in the exhibition; these activate the “phantom public” and this phantom in turn leaves it’s mark in the visitor’s mind. Without ever being completely clear about this, visitors will be both actors in an invisible artwork and a screen for its projections; it is an artwork that aspires to realize a new community.’

It is this idea of influencing the conditions of democracy on a personal individual level inadvertently by unconscious or habitual actions that I find potent and tangible - because so often (especially in this country of non-compulsory voting) there is the assumption that one person alone cannot make a difference.

- kat

Thursday, June 09, 2005

A work in progress

We are in the process of a design spring clean of the blog - so please bear with us as we lose and try to re-find things that fall off. thanks

- kat