3.1. Mediation (test)

3.1. Mediation

To Žižek a thing is the contrary, the counterpart of ‘person’, but also simultaneously in contradiction to an ‘object’. In Organs Without Bodies he writes:

‘Thing’ is something embedded in a concrete life-world, in which the entire wealth of the meaning of the life-world echoes, while ‘object’ is an ‘abstraction,’ something extracted from its embeddedness in the life-world.i
Understood as an ‘object’, the computer has progressed beyond the Kantian ‘thing’ and the Heideggerian Zeug [tool], stuff of use, falling into a different category from utensil, equipment, weapon or tool. Instead, as an object, and more precisely as an ‘object of design’, the computer has joined a wide range of design products conceived beyond the usual constraints of functionality and user-friendliness – the latter itself regarded by Virilio as a sort of enslaving to instrumentalism.ii

3.1.1. Hyperdistance
Such concepts merge in Anthony Dunne’s suggestion of ‘poeticising’ the ‘distance’ between user and objects (especially electronic objects). In Hertzian Tales he writes:

The most difficult challenges for designers of electronic objects now lie not in technical and semiotic functionality, where optimal levels of performance are already attainable, but in the realms of metaphysics, poetry and aesthetics where little research has been carried out […]. The position […] is that design research should explore a new role for the electronic object, one that facilitates more poetic modes of habitation: a form of social research to integrate aesthetic experience with everyday life through ‘conceptual products’. In a world where practicality and functionality can be taken for granted, the aesthetics, of the post-optimal object could provide new experiences of everyday life, new poetic dimensions.iii
Dunne argues that this enslavement is to ‘the conceptual models, values, and systems of thought the machines embody’.iv That is, user-friendliness and efficiency normalises the user to a stereotyped ‘caricature’ and constrains its creativity by ‘man-made, artificial and muteable’ corporate values about design.

Hence Dunne articulates the concept of ‘poeticising the distance between people and electronic objects’ to draw attention to the ‘ideological’ values of design and to ‘the aesthetic of the social, psychological and cultural experiences’.v It is the ‘more poetic and metaphysical relationships with the artificial environment of technological artefacts’ that count the most in the discipline of product design.vi He writes:

Electronic objects are not only ‘smart’, they ‘dream’ – in the sense that they leak radiation into the space and objects surrounding them, including our bodies. Despite the images of control and efficiency conveyed through a beige visual language of intelligibility and smartness, electronic objects, it might be imagined, are irrational – or at least allow their thoughts to wander. Thinking of them in terms of dreaminess rather than smartness opens them to more interesting interpretations.vii
In Baudrillard’s The System of Objects, objects appear to have a twofold function. Apart from, of course, use, it is the aspect of possession that can make objects slither their status from one extreme (the actively used, functional machine) to the other (the passively possessed, collected item).viii Utensils, on the other hand, less abstract than objects, cannot be possessed: 
A utensil is never possessed, because a utensil refers one to the world; what is possessed is always an object abstracted from its function and thus brought into relationship with the subject. In this context all owned objects partake of the same abstractness, and refer to one another only inasmuch as they refer solely to the subject. Such objects together make up the system through which the subject strives to construct a world, a private totality.ix
It seems that only if utensils perform mere indeterminate, pseudo-functional and vague functions, that they can be possessed. Such objects are classified as ‘gadgets’ – according to Baudrillard, ‘objects in which a role is played by irrational complexity, obsessive detail, eccentric technicity or gratuitous formalism’x – or ‘gizmos’ – objects that in sheer opposition to machines perform ‘formal operations’ that do not answer real practical collective needs, and thus operate in the ‘imaginary realm’ rather than in the real.xi

It is in Ben Nicholson’s architectural projects Loaf House – described by Neil Spiller in Visionary Architecture as the ‘most extreme gizmotic house of the twentieth century’xii – and Appliance House – where ‘objects are liberated from the tyranny of function, appropriateness and the subservient confinement of hidden utility spaces’xiii – that the abstraction, or distancing, of appliances and utensils from their original function, form, use and user can ‘construct a world, a private totality’ as quoted above. In ‘No Place Like Home: Domesticating Assemblages’, Robert E. Somol argues that Nicholson’s work ‘ultimately defers to the hand and the eye, craft and contemplation, and reaffirms the distinction between viewer/user and producer/maker’.xiv Playing with the twofold comprehension of appliances by the owner and the repairman ‘from without and from within’ – that is in other terms either as object (possession) or mechanism (use) – Nicholson plays with and towards this ‘separation of the senses’.xv Obsessively dealing with gadgets and gizmos, Nicholson creates an extreme anti-machine, anti-modern, anti-functional statement for the home (rather than the Corbusian house as machine for living in). Contrarily to the Deleuzian-Guattarian assemblage of function and matter, he performs a technique of ‘collage-frottage-fragmentation’.xvi Form and function (he specifies architecture and domesticity) are separated. While Deleuze and Guattari relate substance to either expression or content, conceiving the abstract machine as assemblage of matter and function, I consider Nicholson’s houses to constitute a non-abstract assemblage of ‘domesticated’xvii utensils – non-machines (appliances, gadgets and gizmos), which simultaneously form content and expression of an architectural typology (not topology) of non-Albertian (wholeness and beauty) narratives and formalisms.

Earlier, I suggested that the computer is equally and simultaneously object of and object for design: it is constructed; also it constructs things – and non-equipmental forms, matters and spaces – and images (the argument that CAAD constructs are located in an intermediary status between images and things is brought forth in the next chapter, ‘Revolution’). Relying on the computer’s capability of revealing and working properties and not only parameters of digital space, it is not difficult to imagine a philosophical framework for the already introduced concept of intraface bounded inside a controlled feedback system compared to the dividing, boundary condition of interface. In this instance, feedback is understood as projection and performance of inherent and gathered properties, allowing insight into nature and the imaginary. Hence, it is intrinsically optical – prosthetic to the deficient eye.

An interface instead, assumes Perrella, is haptic – also a Deleuzian-Guattarian term to describe smooth space and posed in opposition to optical striated spacexviii – and a boundary mediating the distance between actuality and virtuality:

Interface not only divides spatial realms but allows for the projection and performance of desire to cross borders. Interface negotiates the laminar flow of meaning, the becoming of life traversing an incessant problematic of language/substance in an endlessly interrelated information landscape. The screen that negotiates increasing quantities of intention is only a material artifact. Metaphors posited too symbolically only serve to organize redundancy. The screen’s surface is imbricated with software structuring the production of work and thus the work of production. […] Interface not only divides spatial realms but allows for the projection and performance of desire to cross borders. Interface negotiates the laminar flow of meaning, the becoming of life traversing an incessant problematic of language/substance in an endlessly interrelated information landscape. The screen that negotiates increasing quantities of intention is only a material artifact. […] If our neuro/topo, desiring body/selves exist in a meta-context whose feedback system includes all of the (virtual) impulses that can be interfaced in an environment, then our embodied beings and technological space are a priori interconnected. Metaphor becomes an event and interface becomes horizontal speed, or viscosity; metaphor becomes haptic.xix
In its ‘viscosity’ (I have already discussed this), the interface abandons the realm of user-friendliness and transparency. It transforms itself ‘from a transparent tool into a surface inscribed with multiple, disparate forces’.xx It becomes a ‘hypersurface’, the term coined by Perrella to describe ‘an architectural manifestation connecting life forces with emergent figures’, ‘a threshold whereby the density of difference in an interface becomes vital, self-configuring and autopoietic’.xxi Perrella argues against the notion of interface as mere tool, drafting hypersurface as ‘a condition established between a multiplicity of modified asymptotic relations’.xxii Elsewhere, he asserts that ‘[h]yper is the existential dimension and Surface is the energy-matter substratum, parsing hypersurface into an aspect of presence and an aspect of material form’.xxiii

Assuming the screen as projection surface, Novak conceives it as hypersurface capable of conveying dynamic, ephemeral, ‘liquid’ architectures of becoming, and of depicting spaces that belong to the virtual. As a result of this aspect of dynamism invoked by Perrella and Novak, I deduce, it is probable that Bergson’s fascinated contemplation of inert matterxxiv may not occur any longer – driving hypersurface back into instrumentalism and directness.

This incongruence was already touched upon by Benjamin in ‘The Work of Art’. Comparing the projection screen of a movie to the canvas of a painting, he perceived the first as much less contemplative than the latter, owing to its very dynamism and constant change of images.xxv Consequently, the screen as hyper-dynamic (in terms of 3D modelling software, I refer to the possibility to rotate, zoom, pan, spin, penetrate, lighten, render, saturate, colourise, reproduce, capture original digital spaces, objects and images) projection surface would equally become devoid of digital contemplation. In fact, with the contemporary on-screen visualisation capabilities, during human-interface interaction, partly inert, non-equipmental, digital matter is dynamically projected – from the interface’s side outwards: involution – onto the screen, rendering it deservedly hyper. Yet in its tremendous power, it suppresses that prosthetic projection (contemplation) of the self onto it. Regrettably, under such circumstances the system’s performance overpowers human projection. Arguably, the system’s projection equally overwhelms human performance. Perrella asserts that ‘[t]he moment a technologically induced realm becomes so substantial that we become defined by the logic of its domain, we are in effect disembodied’.xxvi Indeed, the hypersurface as in Perrella champions a virtual domain of ‘bodiless, weightless immateriality that uniquely isolates and accentuates function and desire’.xxvii

I have observed that, surfing the Deleuzian wave, not by chance the architectural debate of the 1990s mirrored a similar concern, concentrating mostly on architecture defined by verbs and nouns of action: flux, events, animate forms, animations, mobility, migration, cinema, accident, travel and so forth. These aspects of hyper-dynamism, virtuality and disembodiment follow theories of Leibniz and his Monadologie. Monads are metaphysical, whole unities, and as such they are of an ontological rather than phenomenological nature. Albeit admitting that in order to exist monads convey some attributes, Leibniz refuses to define their predicates by qualities. It is the verb (action, event, dynamism) that defines forces and relationships, and hence the essence of monads.xxviii

Deleuze’s Folds provides us with a comparison of painting and film, in which he essentially raises what the connotations of a perception of a model without a model, hence of real virtuality disassociated from actuality, would be:

A painting always has a model on its outside; it always is a window. If a modern reader thinks of a film projected in darkness, the film has nonetheless been projected. Then what about invoking numerical images issuing from a calculus without a model?xxix
‘The painting-window’, he replies, is in that case ‘replaced by tabulation, the grid on which lines, numbers, and changing characters are inscribed’:xxx some sort of monadic hypersurface that severs the dark enclosed inside from the outside. Albeit drawn out of the interior darkness, nothing ever transpires to the outside. This, it is believed, is the true essence of monads, which ‘have no windows’ and create as many borders between binary worlds: the inside and the outside, the low and the high.xxxi It was Leibniz, it may be recalled, who invented the binary numerical system based on 0 and 1. However, argues Deleuze, the dynamic exuberance of Baroque forces is capable of shattering the frame and folding itself into infinity:

We have remarked that the Baroque often confines painting to retables, but it does so because the painting exceeds its frame and is realized in polychrome marble sculpture; and sculpture goes beyond itself by being achieved in architecture; and in turn, architecture discovers a frame in the façade, but the frame itself becomes detached from the inside, and establishes relations with the surroundings so as to realize architecture in city planning.xxxii
According to Deleuze it is the ‘infinite fold’ that moves between the two levels of the high and the low, or in other, Baroque, terms the space of soul and mind – force and manner – and the space of façade – form and matter.xxxiii However, I believe that it can be observed how Deleuze and Guattari (and CAAD), in dealing with the actuality-virtuality duality, seem to comprise only half of the model – i.e. forces and matter, snubbing, as already stated, manner and form.

On the other hand, according to Freud and Jacques Lacan, it is the body that operates, performs, and acts at the intersection between mind and matter. The meeting point between social and corporeal is what Freud regards as the site of the ‘ego’, which is ‘first and foremost a bodily ego’.xxxiv Leibniz also necessitates a body, which is a requirement, a necessity to enable expression according to the body.xxxv The ego to Freud is yet not mere surface, but rather the ‘projection of a surface’,xxxvi as it is similarly in Lacan’s view an ‘imaginary body’ that is projected by and from the subject within and that renders its socio-political rather than biological nature. Lacan explains:

The imaginary anatomy […] varies with the ideas (clear or confused) about bodily functions which are prevalent in a given culture. It all happens as if the body-image has an autonomous existence of its own and by autonomous I mean here independent of objective structure.xxxvii
If this body, and the ego, are lost, then we come across the psychosis described by Pierre Janet as ‘legendary psychasthenia’.xxxviii It occurs when the imaginary body, the ego, and/or the existence fail to locate and represent themselves in space – somehow, a critique that could be directed to the rhizomatic spatiality of the Plateaus, in which organisation and development of form is denied. Hence in psychasthenia, the impossibility of interlinking subject, body and objects arises in a psychotic definition and representation of space. Such psychotic dichotomy between subject (the own body) and object (the projected body), which in Bachelard’s Poetics of Reverie epitomises the unconscious night-dreamer, cannot consequently produce or approach, or even contemplate the poetic image. He writes:
The man of reverie and the world of his reverie are as close as possible; they are touching; they interpenetrate. They are on the same plane of being; if the being of man must be linked to the being of the world, the cogito of reverie will be expressed in the following manner: I dream the world, therefore, the world exists as I dream it.xxxix
If contemplation is hindered by distance, the dreamer cannot access poetic reverie and the world the cogito produces. Bachelard writes of the dreamer, ‘the veritable subject of the verb “to contemplate”’, and of the dreamt world, ‘the direct object of the verb “to contemplate”’, as being touchingly close, almost fused together:xl
The reverie which works poetically maintains us in an intimate space which does not stop at any frontier – a space uniting the intimacy of our being which dreams with the intimacy of the beings which we dream. It is within these composite intimacies that a poetics of reverie is coordinated. The whole being of the world is amassed poetically around the cogito of the dreamer.xli
With this insight, the concept of the super-dynamic hypersurface, albeit surpassing the instrumental aspect of the interface as tool, is not fully adequate to describe the nature of mimetic intrafaces, which pretend full emotional, psychic and physical involvement.

i Žižek, Organs Without Bodies, p 175.
ii Paul Virilio, The Art of the Motor (Minneapolis: Minnesota U.P, 1995) quoted in Dunne, op. cit., p 30.
iii Anthony Dunne, Hertzian Tales. Electronic Products, Aesthetic Experience and Critical Design (London: RCA CRD Research Publications, 1999) pp 28-9.
iv Dunne, ibid.
v Ibid., pp 30, 12.
vi Ibid., p 30.
vii Ibid., p 90.
viii Baudrillard, The System of Objects, p 85.
ix Ibid.
x Ibid., pp 114, 113.
xi Ibid., pp 114, 115.
xii Neil Spiller, Visionary Architecture: Blueprint of the Modern Imagination (London: Thames & Hudson, 2006) p 111.
xiii Ibid., p 120.
xiv Robert E. Somol ‘No Place Like Home: Domesticating Assemblages’, http://www.reiser-umemoto.com/periodicals/assemblage/ass.htm.
xv Ben Nicholson, Appliance House (Chicago: CIAU - The Chicago Institute for Architecture and Urbanism, and Cambridge Massachusetts and London: The MIT Press, 1990) p 14.
xvi Ben Nicholson, ‘The Kleptoman Cell, Appliance House’ in Assemblage (Cambridge Massachusetts and London: The MIT Press, 1990, no. 13) pp 106-21, http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0889-3012%28199012%290%3A13%3C106%3ATKCAH%3E2.0.CO%3B2-U.
xvii Somol, op. cit., online.
xviii Deleuze and Guattari, op. cit., p 528.
ix Perrella, ‘Hypersurface architecture’, online.
xx Ibid.
xxi Ibid.
xxii Ibid.
xxiii Stephen Perrella, ‘Hypersurface Theory: Architecture<>Culture’ in Giuseppe Di Cristina (ed.), Architecture and Science, Architectural Design (London: Wiley-Academy, 2001) p 142.
xxiv Bergson, op. cit., p 161.
xxv Benjamin, ‘The Work of Art’, p 231.
xxvi Perrella, ‘Hypersurface architecture’, online.
xxvii Ibid.
xxviii Deleuze, The Fold, pp 52-3.
xxix Ibid., p 27.
xxx Ibid.
xxxi Ibid., pp 27, 35, 81.
xxxii Ibid., p 123.
xxxiii Ibid., p 35.
xxxiv Sigmund Freud, ‘The Ego and the ID’ in James Strachey (ed.), The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (Oxford: Hogarth Press, vol. 19, 1953) p 26.
xxxv Deleuze, The Fold, p 85.
xxxvi Ibid.
xxxvii Jacques Lacan, ‘Some Reflections on the Ego’ in International Journal of Psychoanalysis (1953, no. 34) p 13.
xxxviii Grosz, op. cit., p 38.
xxxix Bachelard, The Poetics of Reverie, p 158.
xl Ibid., p 168.
xli Ibid., p 162. His italics.