Floating Points by Ed Florance
 

INTRODUCTION

A gap is a universal term. It describes the space between two or more points, though simply acknowledges the space. A gap could be an omission of something, perhaps a break in continuity, a lack of balance, or a problem caused by some sort of disparity. What fills the space and what function the space has is much less discussed. This essay will enquire into the ‘gap’ that exists between reality and representation, the elements attributed to it, and where simulated pieces of art fall into this rift.

Artworks do not just exist in their final form. Reality has contributed to the conception and creation of artworks, and arguably is essential to the existence of all works. Representation on the other hand, could be considered a consequence, eff ect, or by-product of reality; but what is between reality and representation? Is it observable, or is it concealed within the two?

 

As the world is advancing exponentially towards a predominantly digital age,(1) it is safe to assume art is developing in parallel with this boundless expansion. Is the world (Earth) changing, or is reality changing, merging or amalgamating with something new? The invisible veins of computer networks may have promoted an ease of access to an abundance of new information, but what lies within the ones and zeros could be more disturbing than what they represent.

1 Ulises Ali Mejias, Off the Network: Disrupting the Digital World (Minneapolis, MN, United States: University of Minnesota Press, 2013).

 

THE GAP

Displayed in galleries, in museums, outdoors, or on the “electronic super highway”,(1) art as we see it has been through some sort of ‘purification’ journey, whether it be years of refinement, a split second of spontaneity from brain function to brush stroke, or an unconscious filter from reality to the resulting representation. It would be false to suggest all art represents something, although, if something represents nothing, then it precedes something real “without origin or reality.”(2) In this case, it does not mean that there is a blur between representation and reality, but rather, a gap.

In order to define and explore ‘The Gap’ , the definition of ‘representation’ will be split into four orders, in a similar vein to Baudrillard’s orders of simulation:(3)

 First order of representation (R1)

Semiotics. Flags, logos and signatures representing an entity or a group of entities.

Second order of representation (R2)

Reproducing something from ‘reality’ in two or three dimensions. Paintings, photographs and sculpture can sometimes be considered R2.

Third order of representation (R3)

Something regarded as symbolic or metaphoric for something else. R1 and R2 can fit here simultaneously.

Fourth order of representation (R4)

Re-presentation, when something is removed from its original domain into a new one, changing its definition relative to the realm around it.

 

Different artworks can be understood through the orders of representation, for example, Jasper Johns’ White Flag is clearly a rendition of the USA’s national banner, instantly assigning (R1). The fact that it is white allows room for interpretation and question, as the absence of the familiar colours may suggest something symbolic, assigning (R3). Appointing (R4) to White Flag is straightforward because it was created as a piece of art, thus changing, or arguably adding to its original definition. The second order of representation (R2) is much harder to apply to White Flag, as the original Star-Spangled Banner does not reference anything ‘real’, thus becoming the ‘real’ in an odd manoeuvre of reversal, ultimately becoming ‘hyperreal’ by Baudrillard’s definition.(4)

1 Nam June Paik, Media Planning for the Postindustrial Society – The 21st Century is Now Only 26 Years Away (1974), <http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/source-text/33/> [accessed 9 October 2016].

2 Jean Baudrillard, Simulations (New York: Semiotexte/Smart Art, 1983) (p. 2).

3 Jean Baudrillard, L’ordre des simulacres (The Order of Simulacra), in L’echange Symbolique et la Mort (Symbolic Exchange and Death) (Paris: Gallimard, 1976).

4 Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1994) (p. 1).

 White Flag, Jasper Johns, 1955, encaustic, oil, newsprint, and charcoal on canvas, 198.9 x 306.7 cm &lt;www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1998.329/&gt; [accessed 27 October 2016]

White Flag, Jasper Johns, 1955, encaustic, oil, newsprint, and charcoal on canvas, 198.9 x 306.7 cm <www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1998.329/> [accessed 27 October 2016]

If Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain is examined similarly, it becomes clear that diff erent orders of representation are more problematic to assign than others. Here, (R1) is easily assigned because “R. Mutt 1917” is clearly inscribed on the side of the piece, acting as a portrayal of Richard Mutt who “sent in a fountain”, which “disappeared and never was exhibited”(5). The most problematic order of representation in which to assign to an example changes from piece to piece, but in this case it is (R3), as it is often the ambiguity of the representation which leads us to consider its symbolic or metaphoric value, so (R3) may only exist in the eye of the beholder. The fourth order of representation (R4) is easily the most relevant to assign to Fountain, as the original function and perception of the object changes drastically when viewed as a work of art in a gallery environment.(6) The second order of representation (R2) holds the most intrigue in the case of Fountain.

The second order of representation (R2) holds the most intrigue in the case of Fountain. The urinal was not physically reproduced from an original, because supposedly it is an original, however, if we propose it was physically reproduced from ‘reality’ then it becomes its own origin with its own individual purpose, resulting in the reference to a urinal becoming secondary.

5 Anonymous article referring to Marcel Duchamp’s urinal readymade Fountain (1917) as displayed, signed ‘R. Mutt’, at the Exhibition of Independent Artists, New York, 1917; The Blind Man, no. 2 (New York, May 1917).

6 Hayley A Rowe, 'Appropriation in Contemporary Art', Inquiries Journal, vi, 3 (2011) <http://www.inquiriesjournal.com/articles/546/appropriation-in-contemporary-art> [accessed 21 November 2016]

 Fountain, Marcel Duchamp, 1917, replica 1964, porcelain, 36 x 48 x 61 cm &lt;http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/duchamp-fountain-t07573&gt; [accessed 29 October 2016]

Fountain, Marcel Duchamp, 1917, replica 1964, porcelain, 36 x 48 x 61 cm <http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/duchamp-fountain-t07573> [accessed 29 October 2016]

A point which I want very much to establish is that the choice of these ‘readymades’ was never
dictated by aesthetic delectation. This choice was based on a reaction of visual indifference with at the same time a total absence of good or bad taste … In fact a complete anaesthesia.
— (7)

It is important to remember that artworks will often use all of the Rs , or often be interpreted using all of them. Consequently it may be appropriate to consider any representation as a hyperobject, something that could “end the possibility of transcendental leaps outside physical reality.”(8) Difficulties arise when considering ‘reality’ as an absolute concept, maybe it is more of a personal conscious experience than an abundant one. Perhaps we only accept this ‘reality’ as real because we only have dreams and other comparatively short unusual brain activity to relate it to.(9) Nonetheless, reality can be regarded as the initial stem to the plethora of entities it yields, representation appearing somewhere along the branch.

7 Marcel Duchamp, 'Apropos of ‘Readymades’', Art and Artists, iv, 1 (1966), (p. 47).

8 Timothy Morton, Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013) (p. 2).

9 Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner, and Richard Alpert, The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead (New York, NY: Carol Pub. Group, 1987).

‘The Gap’ is harder to define. Instead of thinking what ‘The Gap’ is, thinking about what ‘The Gap’ is not may lead to a better understanding. If any representation can be considered a product of reality, then it is safe to assume that reality (RY) added to ‘The Gap’ (X) equals representation (RN):

RY+ X = RN

However, if the equation is reversed in both orders, it can be understood that taking ‘The Gap’ away from representation does not equal reality, as neither does taking reality away from representation leave us with ‘The Gap’:

RN - X ≠  RY or  RN - RY ≠ X

What is sought to be illustrated here is that ‘The Gap’ can be considered essential and perhaps more easily conceivable if it is thought about as one-way, linear and time-based phenomena. ‘The Gap’ might be considered the ‘doing’ that involves making an artwork perform and as an artwork. However, when considering representation, the ‘doing’ becomes invisible and reality further detached. Perhaps it is this detachment which fully describes ‘The Gap’.

It is only when one considers ‘reality’ to encompass representations as a perpetual existence which negates the notion of reality and representation being separate entities. However, Massimo Negrotti suggests “the representation process implies that the subject conceives and perceives the external world as a separate reality”(10) This notion becomes problematic for simulations, as the ‘world’ in which simulations exist in is questionable, or more so, if the world they exist in is a new one entirely.(11) David Claerbout’s piece Oil Workers (From the Shell Company of Nigeria) Returning Home From Work, Caught in Torrential Rain demonstrates this ‘new world’ theory well, as the three-dimensionality of the image has been entirely simulated inside a computer. This raises questions to the authenticity of the simulation and of the origin,(12) but mainly, and perhaps most disturbingly, raises concerns to what simulations are capable of. Can computation lead to consciousness?

10 Massimo Negrotti, The Theory of the Artificial ([n.p.]: Intellect Ltd, 1999) (p. 9).

11 Nick Bostrom, 'Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?', Philosophical Quarterly, ccxi, 53 (2003), 243–255.

12 Melissa A. Hotchkiss, Chuck Biddle, and Michael Fallacaro, 'Assessing the Authenticity of the Human Simulation Experience in Anaesthesiology', American Association of Nurse Anaesthetics, vi, 70 (2002), 470–473.

  Oil Workers (From the Shell Company of Nigeria) Returning Home From Work, Caught in Torrential Rain , David Claerbout, 2013, single channel video projection, HD animation, colour, silent, endless &lt;http://davidclaerbout.com/filter/work/Oil-workers-from-the-Shell-company-of-Nigeria-returning-home-from&gt; [accessed 4 November 2016]

Oil Workers (From the Shell Company of Nigeria) Returning Home From Work, Caught in Torrential Rain, David Claerbout, 2013, single channel video projection, HD animation, colour, silent, endless <http://davidclaerbout.com/filter/work/Oil-workers-from-the-Shell-company-of-Nigeria-returning-home-from> [accessed 4 November 2016]

 

SIMULATED WORLDS

Edward Castronova has defined two elements at work within virtual worlds: virtual worlds as play spaces and virtual worlds as extensions of the Earth.(1) The virtual world is often considered an extension of contemporary reality which houses the many components of everyday life.(2) When considering simulations, it may be important to think of the ‘world’ they exist in as a new one entirely, having no relation to the ‘offline’ world they were conceived in.

Simulations have many purposes, but most interestingly “the internal interactions of a complex system or of a subsystem within a complex system.”(3) Simulation Fidelity can be used to express how close the imitation is to reality, but appears difficult to describe quantitively.(4) For an examination into ‘The Gap’, it may be only appropriate to look at high-fidelity simulations, where the boundary between the real and virtual becomes unclear. With this notion, we should assume that simulations are copies of reality, reducing them down to some form of mathematical process. However, if the difference between reality and simulation is considered at all different, then we can assume that simulations are new entities, only taking reference from real events; that is unless they simulate something real to 100%, which in turn becomes a clone.(5) In a way, we should hope simulations do not reach a 1:1 ratio of simulated experience, because the observations would be identical to the real experience.

Similarly to the notion that representation can be contained within reality, we can consider the possibility of reality being contained within representation, and how this is relevant to simulations. Examining Ed Atkins’ piece Ribbons, the audience is presented with an obviously simulated world, accentuating real-world camera limitations (lens flares and depth of field) when clearly it has been a simulated camera ‘recording’ the footage. Referencing reality from inside the simulation assists in drawing similarities between the constructed world, yet also establishes a conflict between the two realms. This also allures the viewer up to a point where disbelief is not suspended, but almost blocked by the cleanliness and sterility within the scene. This also supports Atkins’ own expression, creating a “purgatorial looping nowhere”.(6) Atkins’ reference to purgatory is interesting because his resulting creation is a final product. In some aspects of the word, his work is not purgatorial at all, since in association to reality and representation, it has reached its endgame. The action is complete. Reality has been processed and what is presented is a representation. Although Atkins’ work is computer-based and simulates the real world, it does not transcend reality in a way which creates a new world entirely, merely creating an airlock of a floating point inside a computer.

 

For an examination of the previously described ‘gap’ relative to simulations, it is appropriate to use examples that are not obviously computer generated nor have been created entirely in a computer. This is because the indistinguishability of the simulation relative to reality dictates how ‘successful’ it is, both visually and mathematically, measuring “the degree to which a model or simulation reproduces the state and behaviour of a real world object or the perception of a real world object, feature, condition, or chosen standard”.(7) Again, David Claerbout’s further work is ideal when examining ‘The Gap’ because the ‘realityplus-gap’ equation and its subsequent reversals become problematic when applied to Olympia. The thousand year long piece works in real-time, mimicking weather, daylight and emphasising the decay of the Olympiastadion Berlin. It is a representation of real events as they happen, yet still is computer simulated; becoming an anomaly to the aforementioned equation. If we take reality (real-time weather effects and sunlight) away from Olympia, there is still a computer simulation, and there is still a representation, albeit contained in this new world of cyberspace without reference. The representation becomes itself, it becomes its own origin in its own world.(8) It is this standalone canister of something new which sets simulations apart from other artworks, and ultimately can describe the difference between real and virtual worlds.

1 Edward Castronova, 'The Right To Play', New York Law School Law Review, i, 49 (2004), 185–210.

2 Martin Dodge and Rob Kitchin, 'Virtual Places', A Companion Encyclopaedia to Geography (2007), 519–536.

3 Jerry Banks, John S. Carson, and Barry L. Nelson, Discrete-Event System Simulation, 5th edn (Harlow, United Kingdom: Pearson Education, 2013) (p. 2).

4 Report from the Fidelity Implementation Study Group, Simulation Interoperability Standards Organization (1999).

5 John Harris, On Cloning (London: Routledge, 2004).

6 Ed Atkins, Alex Da Corte and Ed Atkins in conversation, YouTube, Louisiana Channel, 28 June 2016.

7 Geoff Northam, 'Simulation Fidelity – Getting in Touch with Reality', Computer Sciences Corporation 2000.

8 Paul Hegarty, Jean Baudrillard: Live Theory (London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004).

  Olympia (The Real Time Disintegration Into Ruins of the Berlin Olympic Stadium Over the Course of a Thousand   Years) , David Claerbout, 2016, two channel real-time projection, colour, silent, HD animation, 1000 years &lt;http://davidclaerbout.com/Olympia-The-real-time-disintegration-into-ruins-of-the-Berlin-Olympic&gt; [accessed 25 November 2016]

Olympia (The Real Time Disintegration Into Ruins of the Berlin Olympic Stadium Over the Course of a Thousand Years), David Claerbout, 2016, two channel real-time projection, colour, silent, HD animation, 1000 years <http://davidclaerbout.com/Olympia-The-real-time-disintegration-into-ruins-of-the-Berlin-Olympic> [accessed 25 November 2016]

According to Gaston Bachelard “a house that has been experienced is not an inert box. Inhabited space transcends geometrical space.”(9) However, if it is considered in relation to simulations it raises uncertainty about the inhabitation of beings inside the virtual world. The diff erence between the real and virtual world can be thought about as a continuum, encompassing all possible variations and combinations of the two realms.(10) Inhabitation of the virtual is questionable because currently technology can be thought about as running parallel in everyday life. Can we inhabit the virtual world, or is our experience of it a controlling one, never fully undergoing immersion within the new world? Perhaps it is more suitable to describe the difference between the real and the virtual as a ‘rift’, or in some sense, a wormhole. Considering virtual worlds as new worlds and ‘new’ realities is difficult because if there is no reference to reality then the resulting world is entirely computer generated, and generated by itself, in an odd self-reproducing, selfsimulation. However, because simulated spaces are designed by humans with an attachment to reality, it would suggest that all simulations have some essence of humanity and ‘base’ reality embedded within them. It is only when the machine makes the work on its own accord that a simulation has been fully detached from reality. This thought is rather disturbing, because it suggests some kind of desire and conscious thought from the computer, which in turn raises concerns regarding the future of simulated consciousness.

However, because simulated spaces are designed by humans with an attachment to reality, it would suggest that all simulations have some essence of humanity and ‘base’ reality embedded within them. It is only when the machine makes the work on its own accord that a simulation has been fully detached from reality. This thought is rather disturbing, because it suggests some kind of desire and conscious thought from the computer, which in turn raises concerns regarding the future of simulated consciousness.

9 Gaston Bachelard and M. Jolas, The Poetics of Space (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992) (p. 47).

10 Paul Milgram and others, 'Augmented Reality: A Class of Displays on the Reality-Virtuality Continuum', Proceedings of Telemanipulator and Telepresence Technologies, 2351 (1994).

 

CONCLUSION

‘The Gap’ still holds much intrigue. Although the definition of this space has been examined, I would argue that it is unfeasible to define it as one event. It may be the human exertion that happens from the inception of thought carried to the consequential resolution of an artistic occurrence. In this sense, ‘The Gap’ becomes time-based and linear. Perhaps ‘The Gap’ is more of a detachable phenomenon that is the absence of any previous phase relative to a complete artistic occurrence. ‘The Gap’ might be a characteristic of reality or may be a characteristic of representation, where the linking to either is unclear. What is clear, is that it manifests itself shrouded in uncertainty.

Simulations are an oddity when discussed relative to ‘The Gap’ and in combination with the continuum of the real and virtual. They may be understood as real events in a new world, or real worlds bearing new events.

 

They may be understood as real events in a new world, or real worlds bearing new events. This cross over with the real and virtual throws off indications of starting points or originality, eclipsing binary or rigid thought.

I would like to argue that ‘cyberspace’, the ’virtual world’ or by any other name a simulated world is known, is not a single world. Instead, virtual spaces should be deemed new spaces for every specific virtual event. If we think about virtuality in relation to the universe, perhaps we can consider the virtual a new universe entirely, with its own rules and regulations, and virtual events with their own specific set of laws and commands, spawning each time a virtual function happens. It may be appropriate to consider the virtual running parallel with the real, emanating in a very active universe.
 

by Ed Florance