STIM 2 / ROTTERDAM, NETHERLANDS
CLIENT: NAI/1ab Rotterdam
SITE: various locations around Rotterdam
PROGRAM: Urban Provocation
SIZE: units of 160 ft2 (20’ ISO standard container)
COMPLETION: October 2001
NOTES: mobile immersion experience system housed in 20’ ISO standard container, miscellaneous steel framing and support structure, translucent glass projection screens
PROJECT TEXT: from the proposal: “The important mobility today is not that of our own locomotion through the world, but of the world through us. We are immersed in the FLOW. From fossil records to urban environments to bit-streams and Boolean nets, we are awash in a sea of information. Continuously accumulating fields of streaming data pile up into vast curling waves of knowledge, facts, news, advice, tips, intelligence, wisdom, lore only to melt down and scatter, and then reconstitute again in some other figure, in some other place for some other reason, endlessly.
The origin of this popular metaphor for the character of information’s contemporary ubiquity—this FLOW—is obscure. Physicists and biologists, engineers and economists all claim first rights, hotly contesting where or when the term “information flow” may have arisen and who therefore “owns” it. The aptness of the term extends to its own sources: FLOW necessarily resists the hegemonies of historicity and, though it is the motive force behind the contemporary economy, it evades clear ownership. The FLOW is slick.
The most popular characterizations of the FLOW emphasize its speed, but its vast impassiveness suggests a more geological quality—albeit a fast geology. The strata of this geology are not arranged by linear time, but by the deposition and upheaval of the information in continuously folding and buckling “layers.” Relevance determines their visibility “above ground” (obscurity=obscurity), and the incidence of the Event determines their intensity or “hardness”(presence = presence). Were this not true, the geology of information flow would appear teleological, progressive, causal and linear. In other words, there would be no “flow,” no lava. Nothing would, or could, erupt.
In a global geology of information flows, “newness” must be highly constructed and engineered in order to gain authenticity, and thus becomes an exercise in the most teleological of historicizing tendencies. To be electronic then, means to disavow the claim to such (imagined) authority … and to allow connectivity through inter- and extra-subjective experience. To be electronic then, means to chance the possibility of the inconceivable.
This is the paradox of the “new” electronic paradigm – visualized, formed. Physical but without physicality per se, layered but without linearity: environ-mental, periodic, explosive, intense. A stim, then, as a technological node for such a paradigm, would absorb and reflect this geological condition, this different earth, as a point of revelation. It stands for the expansion of the physical realm onto the electronic by both occupying the urban realm as a physical shelter, and by rendering information-flow moments visible. It would presence through projection. And absence. Without privilege. Or mastery.
In so doing, it would cooperate in the presumption of a de-centered electronic subject. It would reveal all possible information flows, all that is inconceivable—all the stuff that is going on around you, that is not you, and at the same time, make it flow through you. In such a super-duper-viewer, global moments in the FLOW that would otherwise physically disallow participation can be experienced by the electronic subject. Relevance makes you a part of it. Events happen regardless.
Hardware, program, description The stim is that charged place where the otherwise invisible infrastructure of global FLOW becomes apparent, sensible (visible). The stim is where reality intrudes to awaken us, if briefly, from the dreamstate of the hyperreal procession of simulacra. Our proposal acts physically as a marker of that possibility, and experientially/programmatically as a representational intensification of the experience of that truth.
The “stim” that we are proposing to build for the Rotterdam Biennale could be thought of as a bell jar dropped into the depths of the virtual global infrastructure, like a FLOW (core) Sampler, or FLOW sampler. It opens a gap in the FLOW, where the visitor can be inserted in order to experience that FLOW. The gap is the still zone, the privileged point of view, that represents both the presumption of objectivity, and the impossibility of such objectivity’s perfection. The visitor can stand in the gap to view the FLOW’s approach, or its withdrawal, but never both. Yet the presumption of its continuity, through the visitor/viewer, is inescapable and visceral, as the visitor turns to face one direction or the other. The consequent frustration at the impossibility of experiencing focus and omniscience simultaneously is palpable—an implicit critique of the digital revolution’s promises of omniscience.
Our proposed stim would be delivered to the site in a single ISO 20’ shipping container, which would remain to serve as the second projection hood, saving space for deployment in tight urban situations. At the site, the device would be set up simply by opening the container doors and slipping the assembly out on the integral sliding rail structure until it locks into place. The access ramps are then arranged, and the unit powered up.
The visitors enter the device perpendicular to the long axis, into a viewing area located at the junction of the container and the projecting projector hood assembly. There are no doors; passage is freely allowed in either direction. In small (2.5mx2.5m) viewing area, the visitors are presented with two vertical screens (2.5mx2.5m), arranged parallel to the entry path so that the visitor turns to look at them down the long axis of the device. These screens present the flows being sampled, at an immersive scale: the visitors are not looking at these flows, but sensing the flows as they seem to course through from screen to screen. With two screens the visitors are able to see the information coming towards them and going away—requiring the attention of both visitors to get “the whole picture.”
In the context of the Rotterdam Biennale, the presence of the proposed device would be dramatic. Roughly the size of two 20’ shipping containers when assembled, it would have a strong physical presence in the largest urban space. With its brightly colored fiberglass projection hood, shipping-container-statement-of-Globalization and “techy” detailing, this “stim” will make a fine ambassador for the events and theme of the mobility Biennale.
Construction: The device housing is fabricated from welded steel and fiberglass, with off-the-shelf video projection and internet navigation or video cache-and-feed systems.
Additional considerations Because the projection technology is non-specific, the device can be used for telepresence experiences, as well as the “flow sampling” type effects mentioned above. Examples of such telepresence effects might include same-scale “visits” to various sites around the world, and enhanced viewing through remote instrumentation, such as microscopic or telescopic feeds. Additionally, it would be possible to “tap into” existing telepresence activities to which our team members are a party, such as the Kennis Net of the Dutch Education Ministry or the Philips Evoluon at Eindhoven. This is to be contrasted with “flow sampling” type effects that would seemingly make use of same-scale feeds from municipal traffic cameras, security cameras, or internet transactions. The experience of the two forms of “viewing” would be distinctly different, though they use the same hardware and set up. In the case of telepresence, the viewer would essentially seem to occupy in real time a space somewhere else on the planet, possibly at a scale other than that of the visitor or the device; this would make the theme of mobility dovetail effectively with the electronic revolution’s claims for simultaneity or the collapse of space and time. The viewer’s experience of the linear FLOW sample would be more dramatic, needless to say, as, for example, the viewer finds herself suspended in a river of “flowing electrons,” coming at her in one screen and rushing off in the other, or a swirling sea of hurtling autos—and the three-dimensional aspects of the set-up can be engaged.
For the purposes of the biennale, we propose restricting the feed to a pre-selected set of experiences, chosen to support the theme of the festival and the program for the “stims.” While we are exploring the possibility of a real-time feed, using the proprietary technology of our Senvid partners (particularly for the telepresence experiences), it may be more realistic to assume, given the budget, that most of the effects would be simulated with cached video. Though dictated by circumstances, this approach has the advantage of allowing the experience to be more controlled, and the presentation to be choreographed for maximum thematic effect.