Linear Development

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Installation view of Pohflepp's "Forever Future" at the Wind Tunnel Gallery in Pasedena

Artist Sascha Pohflepp's recent work "The Tsiolkovsky Trick," sourced from models of space rockets via Google's 3D Warehouse, visually embodies a particular understanding of techno-history. In his essay "Lagrangian Futures," Pohflepp explains that in 1903 Konstantin Tsiolkovsky "published a scientific article titled 'Investigation of outer space rocket appliances,' in which he proved that a propelled object could perform space flight if throughout the launch would shed parts of itself." Later in the essay, Pohflepp expounds:

Technology, although shrouded in notions of logic, reason and profit, is a largely narrative endeavor anyway. Futures have to be thought before they can be built or sold and their thinking as visions, myths and also plain lies provides what Norman M. Klein fittingly refers to as “fantastic infrastructure.” It is hardly surprising then that both Tsiolkovsky and [Jack] Parsons had a great interest in science fiction. Before he published in scientific journals, Tsiolkovsky had been writing fiction, only one year before his first influential theoretical article, he had published a novel about space colonization titled “Dreams of the Earth and Sky.”

The Tsiolkovsky Trick

Any attempt to construct a linear narrative of technological process faces countless hurdles. In embodying this narrative, Pohflepp's reveals its inadequacy through simple scrolling. Tsiolkosky's trick, of course, is narrative itself. Just as past serves as prologue, so too does the imagined future. Pohflepp's emphasis on the narrative impulse echoes an eternal critical obsession. While dreams and science fictions undoubtedly form a discursive basis for any potential future, the form of narrative itself may conceal as much as it displays. Paul Ricoeur reminds us that the stakes here may be higher than they appear: "Ultimately at stake in the case of ...

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The Moon Goose Analogue: Lunar Migration Bird Facility

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The projects of German artist, Agnes Meyer-Brandis, flirt with the construction of scientific knowledge, grasping and slipping between the object and subject. Drawing from a background in visual and new media art practice, Meyer-Brandis creates installations, performances, and film that drift from scientific theory into fiction and wonder. Her work draws parallels with fictional and quasi-fiction worlds, those of space cadets and armchair rocket launchers.

Exploring recurring subjects such as gravity, weightlessness and space travel, her work has led to collaborations with scientists and researchers providing access to operations and activities usually restricted to scientific experimentation only. In 2007, while working on a project called Cloud-Core-Scanner she travelled on a zero gravity flight in collaboration with the DLR (German Aerospace Centre) to examine the formation of clouds in a weightless environment. As well as a rigorous scientific approach, her work is often tinged with a playful humour, such as her series of public meteor watching events, where participants are instructed to bring a safety helmet.

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Occupy the Internet

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This essay was originally published in N+1's Occupy! An OWS-Inspired Gazette

Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images via The Big Picture

A Tumblr of user-submitted handwritten signs with bleak personal testimonies first captured the internet’s attention. Presented are the lives of real people, unmistakable hardships, ready to reblog and retweet. But implied—by the faces, the faces, the faces —is that to sympathize you must show up. This time a Facebook “like” is not enough. 

There is something twisted and belittling about the momentary act of tapping on Tumblr’s like button — a heart icon — when you are looking at the face of someone who has itemized his debt in magic marker for you to calculate. How much we have and what we owe is what we are typically raised never to discuss openly in polite company. These images of persons denuded of financial mystery request from the viewer something just as human; not a thoughtless mouse click. To properly commiserate with the enormity of this curated series of individual misfortunes, one must in person participate.

Around the globe, the “99 percent” sloganing rings effortlessly. This is a generation accustomed to encapsulating arguments into 140 character messages. It is also a generation experienced in negotiating private entities for public means. Zuccotti Park’s tenuous standing as a privately owned public park seems an inevitable metaphor for the questions of free speech, assembly, and property rights posed by so many virtual spaces. Brookfield is like Facebook, Bloomberg like Zuckerberg: their threatened park closure is like the ever-present possibility that Facebook will suspend activist accounts and group pages used to plan rallies and activities, for vaguely specified reasons.

"We must occupy real and virtual spaces,” Reuters’ Anthony De Rosa tweeted, quoting an occupier at the second Washington Square park General Assembly. Without one there couldn’t exist the other.

 

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Kowloon Walled City Lives On in Videogames

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1989 German documentary on Kowloon Walled City (English subtitles, Part 1 of 4)

In Kill Screen, Michelle Young writes about Kowloon Walled City as an inspiration for game level designers. The fortress-like Hong Kong settlement once contained 35,000 residents within its 6.5-acre enclosed space. A labyrinth of alleyways, staircases, and 250 sq ft apartments; much of it poorly lit makeshift spaces with unstable construction; it was also largely a lawless enclave with thriving drug trade, mafia, and other black market activities. It was demolished in 1993:

Often, aspects of Kowloon’s architecture and environment are used to impart a sense of repression, confusion, or loss. In videogames, the mafia and undercurrent of illicit activity provided ideal storylines amidst dank and mysterious backdrops. The cramped businesses in the inner alleys, and the jumbled exteriors of Kowloon, gave videogame designers a rich visual vocabulary.

The characteristic that most set Kowloon Walled City apart from other slums was its high-rise, skyscraper form. Videogame design has capitalized on the city’s verticality. In the opening sequence of Shenmue II, we are transported between the normalized architecture of Hong Kong to Kowloon and enter the city as if falling upside-down from the sky into the depths of the Walled City. The distance between Hong Kong proper and Kowloon is greatly exaggerated with hills and wide plains separating the two, likely an attempt to emphasize Kowloon’s “Otherness.”

 

Kowloon was an anomaly in modern urban construction not only for its organic formation, but also for its reversal of standard building aspects: interior versus exterior, street versus roofs. Its ad-hoc construction engendered a maze of narrow alleys and staircases. Think of single apartment units being stacked over time like Jenga pieces—except that the façades don’t have to be match or be in-line with ...

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A Two-Minute Visual History of the Spacewalk (Video)

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The Atlantic's Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg created this visual history of the spacewalk using archival footage from NASA and the Internet Archive.

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BLDGBLOG Interviews Nicholas de Monchaux, author of "Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo"

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Image from Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo by Nicholas de Monchaux

For instance, the word cyborg originated in the Apollo program, in a proposal by a psycho-pharmacologist and a cybernetic mathematician who conceived of this notion that the body itself could be, in their words, reengineered for space. They regarded the prospect of taking an earthly atmosphere with you into space, inside a capsule or a spacesuit, as very cumbersome and not befitting what they called the evolutionary progress of our triumphal entry into the inhospitable realm of outer space. The idea of the cyborg, then, is the apotheosis of certain utopian and dystopian ideas about the body and its transformation by technology, and it has its origins very much in the Apollo program.

But then the actual spacesuit—this 21-layered messy assemblage made by a bra company, using hand-stitched couture techniques—is kind of an anti-hero. It’s much more embarrassing, of course—it’s made by people who make women’s underwear—but, then, it’s also much more urbane. It’s a complex, multilayered assemblage that actually recapitulates the messy logic of our own bodies, rather than present us with the singular ideal of a cyborg or the hard, one-piece, military-industrial suits against which the Playtex suit was always competing. ... — Nicholas de Monchaux, author of "Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo" in an interview with BLDGBLOG's Geoff Manaugh.

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