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A New Aesthetic For Objects: Photosynth Defies Gravity

The above is from a Photosynth of the Muay Thai training room where my wife learns the nuances of the art under the striking personage of Master K, a 70 year old man who flies about his basement weightlessly, Cheshire cat-like with the smile he had when fighting as a young teen in Thailand. (One has to go to the site linked below to view it.) The room is a special place for us. Almost holy, made of pads and simulacrums of human bodies. An intimate space of sweat and person if there ever was one.

We made a Photosynth of it because it is precious, something to be preserved, and because the software promises to be so new, so radically different, some form of it may become a mode of human engagement and contemplation over the next decades. Profound. When choosing the place, a thing, that we should primordially record, it would be this place, before the artform becomes too honed, too inhabited, practiced, in the manner that old daguerrotypes are the only real photographs ever taken.

Muay Thai Training Room Photosynth Here

I believe you may have to download some software from the insidious-to-some, Microsoft, (and it will not work on platforms other than XP and Vista), to see our particular photosynth, but it may be worth it. There are also examples of the technological seeing here, check out the pomnik powodzianina; Floods monument.

But here I would like to post some philosophical musings about the software, in particular how the dynamics touch upon the powers and validity of my latest preoccupation, Graham Harman’s Object-Oriented Philosophy. So I will veer for a moment away from the product.

The Nostalgia for Objects, the Seating of Qualities

The more I come in contact with Graham’s ideas, in particular how they are expressed in his blog, I’m coming to realize that he is not really interested in objects at all, despite the moniker of his project. It is not objects, but qualities that fascinate Graham, the nobility of the quality, the profound substantialness of them, the way that events which are sometimes in philosophy read only at the surface of objects are significantly creative of new things. I think that there is a sense in Graham’s philosophy that qualities do not get their due in philosophy. They are merely passively “bundled” like so much loose paper, or by others turned into mere ephemera which zip into and out of existence, intensities of an unnamable moltenness. I think that (and this sense may change with further readings) for Graham the qualities of objects, if they are to maintain their nobility have to be doing something, something significant and not just passing like sheen on the surface of the soap bubble of Existence. And for this reason he postulates these infinitely disappearing “objects”  with which qualities are fundamentally, and continually in “tension”. An intuition tells me that what is behind this tension, which he has spread to the entire universe, what gives it its gravitas, is the existentialist, and very human, picture of the Self in constant struggle with its non-Being.  The stories of Sartre suddenly becomes the stories of all things. It is a human-centric, and I might say, negatively enriched, picture of personal struggle which ennobles the substantive reality of qualities. And at the center of this is the drama of the gravity of objects.

The thing is, this is something that he and I share, the real attachment to the authority of the quality, so to speak. It is just that I seem them much more redeemed and attaining their force by other conceptual paths, and part of this may be that I do not buy into the essentialized dyads of negativity and non-Being which have characterized modern Existentialism. The appeal of the quality I think is what is behind Graham’s slippery-slope resistance to panpsychism, especially of the postmodern or post-structuralist varieties. The qualities of objects cannot be simply bubbling up of intensities, or lines of force from a molten floor. They have to have something to hold onto, to pertain to. This is what lies at the “bottom” I believe of his gravity of infinitely retreating objects.

Now back to Photosynth. It would be no exaggeration to say that the history of the means of representation is the Urwork of philosophy. That is, with each historical development of a representational form in the West, philosophical concepts (and their ontologies were soon to follow). Figure/ground vase painting in Greece, a painted Acropolis, the plasticization of man in marble, or the invention of linear perspective in the Renaissance (Panofsky), optical precision and the camera obscura in the 17th century, and eventually the camera proper and cinematography. One need only look to the extraordinary Bergsonian metaphysics Deleuze invents just for the artform of film, and one must admit that the metaphysics which DeLanda puts forth, th0se which Graham finds essentially dissatisfying, are born out of the rapidity and surface of contemporary representations. In a way, there is a ubiquity of the image, and Graham is saying something like, “Hey, wait a second, we need to tie these things down to something, and not just some vast flow of amorphous Capital”  (Where in the human?, I hear, or at least, where is the Old Way, despite his position against human-centric philosophy.) Cinema did something to the image and its world. It made it flat. Out of the richness of a dimensional objectivity we were given the “recording surface”. Even a child knew that film is flat (though this is surely changing.) And not just flatness, but succession, eruption of effects, compositions, a primordial of Time over Space.

In answer to these I feel that Graham’s Object-Oriented Philosophy has some legitimate concerns, and there is something dearly Rilkean in the way that he embraces the world of hidden objects. I believe that Photosynth has an answer to Graham’s concerns, but I’m not quite sure which way the answer cuts, for it is an aesthetic answer. What Photosynth does is take our flat photographs (we still seem them as “flat” no matter how pixelated we understand them to be), the Old Fashioned way of looking at and framing the world so as to memorialize it, as spatialize them by assembling them into a weave of “recognitions”. Flat image upon flat image appears, only to be toggled around the objects (and the lived experience) that created them. It is really an extraordinary effect.

Further, they are presented in a format that is inter-active, or one might say enter-active. In a videogame-world aesthetic one traverses the object space so that there  is a legitimate experience of discovery. For instance, in the Synth of Master K’s training room (top) there is a close up of an old photograph of master K when he was a youth. You can get closer and closer to the face of the young man that is behind the entire room, until you are staring right into the past. One does not encounter it in the usual arrow-by-arrow jumps left and right, into and out. It is buried in there, behind objects, can you find it, I missed it the first few times crossed the space? The presentation is one of paths. Each time one looks at the synth one has had signficantly different experiences, and difference leads to meaning. The photograph I spoke of is the lone photograph remaining of this Thai Boxing master’s fighting days of over 70 professional fights, and here it lies within the layers of aesthetic space in a way analogous to the history which had constructed it. It is a recognizable Blade Runner effect.

I wonder how this aesthetic experience of an old form of flatness (there is no jabberwocky of Youtube camera shake) would touch upon Graham’s preoccupations with hidden objects. There is the real sense that Photosynth performs just what Graham is poetically/ontologically describing, the hiddenness of objects. Through a flat-space of real qualities one encounters objects that one feels are ever in retreat, while new objects are constantly being revealed. The entire spaces is eruptive and recessive. Further, unlike in video clips, it is not temporality or even subject matter that seem to make the best thing to capture, but objects themselves, and the space around which events happen. When thinking about what to synth, how you would point your camera if you were to film and edit something, or if you were to frame a single and telling “shot”, one realizes that these are different things.

The Aesthetic of Quality

But if I were to allow myself to consider Graham’s Object-Oriented Philosophy through Photosynth I have to say that while the aesthetic experience deals with the same concerns that Graham has, a return to the Old Fashioned photograph, like a  return to Late Scholasticism, the result is somewhat different. What one feels I think is that Photosythn makes even more apparent that lack of a need for Graham Harman’s hidden objects. Objects that recede, much as in lived life, are recoverable. They do not vanish, but rather proceed. In fact, not only are the surface effects of flat-projections (here assumed to be qualities) shown to be substantive, but rather than being engaged in a struggle with their hidden objects, are part of a spatiality of wholeness. This comes through because the view is entered into the space itself. It is a very different experience if you watch the synth that someone else is toggling through, than if you explore it yourself. This I believe is what is key to understanding the nobility of the qualities of things. This nobility is achieved not through some posited wobbling between hiddenness and manifestation (projected from our own self-negating experiences under a particular philosophy of negation), but through crafted (that is directed) combinations with the world itself, through assemblage. What one is struck with in Photosynth is how actuating and real image is, and this is come from the richness of our own bodies.

[Note, there is another sense in which Photosynth performs something of Graham's democraticization of objects, that is, his thought that all objects are in a tension modeled on own human experiences of essentialized subjectivity...a philosopher of dyads. Obama, the first Internet President, will have his Inauguration covered by Photosynth in a dramatically ideological aesthetic of democracy. CNN and Microsoft have combined to produce a "synth" document from all the images sent from all the camera phones and video cameras of those in attendance. The phenomenal struggle with hidden objects is transferred, or one might say, translated, into a new and enactive political whole.]

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2 responses to “A New Aesthetic For Objects: Photosynth Defies Gravity

  1. Pingback: quality-oriented philosophy (QOP) & The Count Magnus Effect « Object-Oriented Philosophy

  2. Pingback: The Synth of Photosynth: Subjection and Engagement « Frames /sing

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