Issue No.4 Launched!

September 24th, 2012

Material agility. Collaborations of living and non-living actants. Building materials exhibiting life-like behaviors. Architecture, protocells and Petri dishes. Stratophysical approximations. Soil taxonomies developed to account for anthropocenic change. The dream of a non-anthropocentric, nomadic domesticity. Homes built out of bones and muscles. Cities that are co-evolved with Nature.

These are only some of the things you will read about in this fantastic new issue of Organs Everywhere, “Material Shifts.” Along for the ride will take you the terrific and generous contributions of some amazing thinkers, researchers and innovators: Mitchell Joachim, Etienne Turpin, Seth Denizen, and finally Rachel Amstrong, whose vision truly made this issue possible. I thank them all for their outstanding contributions, and wish you an excellent read! Enjoy!

Urban Animal

April 7th, 2012

 

Jonathan LaRocca and Ned Dodington of Animal Architecture have just launched Urban Animal, the new installment of the Animal Architecture Awards, which this year closes in on new potential collaborations—what they call cospecies coshaping—between human and non-human animals in the density of our shared urban environments.

I like this setting very much because it removes animal life from the kind of ideal, self-regulating pre-anthropocenic “nature” we are still tempted to ascribe to it, and places it right in our backyard, in the midst of complex and entangled urban ecologies and material processes.
Of course, we know that the most catastrophic effects of our actions can travel the mesh of planetary interconnections in ways often hard to predict or understand (and reach far from the point of origin) but what kinds of links and alliances can be found in the most concentrated nodes of the mesh, in the places where the environmental impact of human agency is more tangible and apparent—our cities? What productive and mutually beneficial relationships are in place or could be designed between nonhuman animal life and urban subjects, buildings, infrastructures, social systems?

As the Animal Architecture editors suggest squirrels, pigeons, mice, crows and others (not to mention our own biomic entourage) are “highly urbanized non-human animals and our potential design partners”. They continue: “Expanded hetero-cultures, urban agriculture, and a flexible, more resilient urbanism are all potential benefits of cross species collaboration. What other benefits exist?”

The possibilities seem endless, with proposals/interventions ranging from the built to the unbuilt, from the site-specific to the typical, from the practical to the speculative, from large to small, from theoretical to critical, from utopian to dystopian, from domesticated to feral…

I will be a jury member along with such names as Fritz Haeg, Kate Orff of SCAPE, Christopher Hight, Susan S. Szenasy (editor in chief of Metropolis Magazine) and the Animal Architecture editors.

Register by 13 May 2012 to submit your work. Further information, including the complete call for submissions, can be found on the Animal Architecture website.

The Zoned Body

January 29th, 2012

Some questions linger, are mutagenic and multiplicative; their purpose is not clear, their possibilities not fully explored. The “Digital Surgeon” project from Œ No. 3 “Cyborgs and Monsters” addresses a cluster of such questions: how will men and women appear to each other in the future? Will virtual augmentations contribute to their freedom, or will they be used to entertain/soothe them into a kind of semi-conscious perceptual subjugation? Could the inner, autonomic processes of the body be interpreted to provide clinical information, or externalized as colorful communication tools—signifiers of moods, emotions, disease? And how will our real-time, real-world virtual doppelgängers (we might call them the “Internet of the body”) interact with the increasing ubiquitousness of the Internet of things? How will space and the body mutually and responsively change and adapt to each other?

To begin expounding on these questions—preliminarily laid out in the “Digital Surgeon’s User Manual”—I wrote a micro-essay/project description which, for now, focuses on body modifications as a means of expression and control (exercise of ownership?) over the body. Of course, the AR nature of the project excludes the incredibly interesting and ethically tortuous field of functional body modifications—increases in our functional range, from magnetic implants and exoskeletons to meat-and-blood wings. By merely looking at the body as perceived through the distorting lens of optoelectronic devices, however, we might realistically assume a leveled playing field, one where socially relevant technology keeps being within the reach of most. Anyway, here it is (and you can find more images in the issue or here):

If the ability to modify something is a mark of ownership (you re-model your own house, not your neighbor’s), when it comes to the human body things get complicated. Clearly, we can shave, tattoo or pierce it, but if more invasive or unorthodox modifications are desired—the surgical equivalent of tearing down walls or punching windows—our volition proves insufficient; we must seek the approval of experts—medical, legal and psychiatric—to ‘clear’ our desires into agency.

It turns out that, like buildings, our bodies too are ‘zoned,’ and the ‘master plan’ they adhere to is continually tested against public opinion and mainstream ideas of beauty, dignity and belonging. And it is precisely the arbitrary ethics of these shared efforts that stipulate that, for instance, breast augmentation is a more acceptable procedure than, say, growing a bump in the middle of the forehead.

In the physical world, the catalog of available elective surgeries is edited not by subjective wishes, or even medical constraints, but current fashions. But in the augmented city of the near future, where physical and virtual objects merge and are experienced as one, this need not be the case.

Digital Surgeon is a speculative Augmented Reality software set in this not-so-distant future, and aimed precisely at re-gaining control over the body as perceived in immersive environments. Firstly, the user’s body is scanned in great detail, generating a 3D baseline model for the mapping of surgeries. Secondly, the user selects a surgery or group of surgeries and tests it in front of the mirror. Lastly, the surgery is broadcasted to optoelectronic lenses activated by proximity, and computed in the viewer’s field of vision in real-time (beauty truly in the eyes of the beholder).

Surgeries can run under five distinct modalities: the cosmetic mode allows users to enhance their own appearance by modifying the 3D mesh associated with their bodies, uploading new digital parts, and overlaying filters. The plasticity mode curates a compilation of time-sensitive operations, challenging the permanence and irreversibility of traditional cosmetic surgery and providing users with a plastic, durational flesh. Metamorphic cycles run algorithms based on pre-defined time schedules, tagged to GPS coordinates—or cities, buildings, rooms—or activated by specific viewers. The controversial demiurge mode reverses the software’s aim by assigning digital surgeries to others. The invisibility cloak mode allows users to mask selected parts of their body with live video from other parts (grafting) or with images of the surroundings, thus seemingly disappearing. The translucent body mode translates electrophysiological information collected by sensors into colors and patterns, allowing users to visualize the complex, ecological dimension of the body and its autonomic biological processes.

Digital Surgeon promotes a flexible idea of beauty, proposes new electronic frontiers for the (perceived) body and generates a novel kind of real-time portraiture—one where painter and thing painted coalesce into one. It imagines men and women capable of (re)presenting their bodies with ever-growing plasticity—unbound by the prescriptive tastes of society.

Issue No.3 Launched!

December 6th, 2011

I am excited to announce the launch of the third issue of Organs Everywhere (Œ), available for online browsing or download here. This issue, entitled “Cyborgs and Monsters” combines contributions by an outstanding pool of thinkers, writers and designers: Ben Woodard investigates the space between haunted and green houses, and calls for the opening up of ‘homeness’ to broader outside ecologies. Liam Young and Tobias Klein with Denis Vlieghe explore the effects of external flows on the internal geographies of the body. Simone Ferracina performs digital plastic surgeries on the body as perceived in virtual/physical blended space. Sara Hendren proposes an ethics of augmentation rooted in the cyborgian experience of disability. Sukjong Hong transforms and overwrites the monstrous ‘others’ generated by Cold War narratives. Tim Maly narrates the science fictional story of a woman who gets pressured into consuming the drug-filled remains of an enemy academic.

Thanks to the contributors for their amazing and generous work. And to everyone else, enjoy!

Animal Architecture Exhibition

November 25th, 2011

If you live in Texas or happen to stop by over the holidays, you might want to check out the Animal Architecture Exhibition, which will be on display at Caroline Collective through November 28th, and will then travel to the Architecture Center Houston (ArCH) in mid January. And if you are interested in finding out more about the Theriomorphous Cyborg project, you can read my interview with the Animal Architecture team here. Enjoy!

 

Food Gymnastics

November 21st, 2011

When I think “body modifications”, my mind instantly turns to tattoos, breast implants, nose jobs, prosthetics and sub-cutaneous chip implants. Food never even crosses it. That is partly due to the fact that, for at least ten years, food hasn’t had much of an effect on my appearance, weight and overall shape. As someone recently pointed out to me, however, that is not the case for most people. Many have a remarkably good grasp on exactly what changes different kinds of foods will trigger in their bodies: how much beer or bread will result in a belly, how many cupcakes stand in the way of their ideal figure. Food consumption is regulated by this tight balance between instant gratification and the desire to obtain (or hold on to) the most society-pleasing body we can afford. But what if we could use food to creatively modify the body? Of course, there are pathological examples at both extremes of the food consumption spectrum—namely starving and over-eating. Non-pathological, reversible changes are championed by method actors, with Christian Bale as an exemplary case. For the lead role in “The Machinist,” starring a man with chronic insomnia and increasing paranoia, Bale allegedly spent over four months consuming only an apple and a cup of unsweetened coffee daily, and losing a total of 28 kilograms. Soon after, he re-gained about 50 kilograms in preparation for his role in the blockbuster “Batman Begins.” Now, without pushing our bodies to such extreme and dangerous oscillations, could we curate more slight, minute changes in our appearance? Could we devise specific sets of “food algorithms” and chart ingredients and dosages according to a conscious, expressive intent?  Cosmetic foods may  be designed to exaggerate bodily responses, to  simulate allergic reactions or cause temporary, circumscribed swelling. They could momentarily alter the size and weight of body parts, or their shape. New gastrono-cosmetic maps may describe a fluctuating body—a plastic envelope periodically re-negotiated between interior and exterior.

Thrilling Wonder Stories 3

October 25th, 2011

I am excited to announce that I will be giving a short presentation on recent speculative projects at Thrilling Wonder Stories 3, an incredible event organized by Geoff ManaughLiam Young and Popular Science magazine. Two events will take place simultaneously at the Architectural Association in London and at Studio-X NYC. The line-up for both locations (which you can find here, along with all the details) is absolutely amazing. Do stop by if you have a chance, and see you there!

 

Endogenous Fashion

September 20th, 2011

 

I have been meaning to post about Bart Hess‘s video “Grow on You” for a while now. The video conjures up an ambiguous dimension between chicken pox and high fashion, disease and design. It elicits thoughts about something we may call pharmaceutical or endogenous fashion: fashion that is swallowed as pills and surfaces to the skin from the inside, exuded, sweat out; fashion that emerges when you get goosebumps, or when you blush; fashion that itches and burns, tickles and  swells. It is not uninteresting trying to imagine a world without clothing, one without the words “skirt”, “trousers”, “hat” or “glove”; one where warmth, protection and comfort are not dependent on exterior, foreign agents, but grown within and through the body itself.

New Website!

August 15th, 2011

I’m happy to announce that you can now follow my design/research work outside of Organs Everywhere at simoneferracina.com . Take a look around, let me know what you think and enjoy! On a different note, keep your eyes peeled for the next issue of Œ: it will feature some exceptional contributors!

Animal Architecture Awards

August 15th, 2011

 

I am very pleased to announce that my project “Theriomorphous Cyborg” has been selected as the winning entry to the 2011 Animal Architecture Awards! The project, inspired by zoologist Jacob von Uexküll’s animal Umwelt, speculates about an Augmented Reality game capable of opening up new perceptual realities and fields of experience and reach previously invisible animal/human worlds. Find out more about the “Theriomorphous Cyborg”  here and take a look at the other selected projects here.

Cyber-Imageability

August 13th, 2011

 

Experiencing an environment triggers a two-way exchange between the environment and its observer, a process that bridges materiality and immateriality by creating what Kevin Lynch calls an “environmental image.”1 Such an image consists in a “generalized mental picture of the exterior physical world that is held by an individual”2 and it is critical in contributing to the subject’s ability to engage his/her environment, from orientation and way-finding to social interaction and emotional mooring. Environmental images are drawn both on personal—subjective—factors and on collective—objective—responses to sensory cues. “The Image of the City,” Lynch’s famous volume, sets out to investigate the latter: how the physical environment can be planned so that its corresponding image is “vividly identified, powerfully structured” and “highly useful.”3 These features account for what Lynch calls “imageability”: the “quality in a physical object which gives it a high probability of evoking a strong image in any given observer.”4 In the near future, the technology-driven rebalancing of objectivity and subjectivity in the perception of urban environments might call into question the relevance of such prescriptive approaches. This essay attempts to re-frame imageability in the context of the Augmented City and to envision and propose a new, digitally externalized, environmental image.

Objective Navigation

The Augmented City is a mixed urban environment where virtual and material objects entwine and are simultaneously experienced, one where cyberspace and the physical world co-contribute to the construction of reality. In this near-future cityscape, it seems unlikely that urban orientation and way-finding will rely on physical cues. Here is why: (1) Today’s widespread usage of GPS navigation systems and applications in cars and smart phones heralds the substitution of do-it-yourself way-finding in favor of reliable technology-led navigation apparatuses. (2) Digital navigation provides increased security and minimizes the probability—both actual and perceived—of becoming lost. (3) Computers tend to be more reliable than people; they have slimmer margins of error and can pick-up and adapt real-time information such as weather forecasts, news reports or service changes. (4) Satellites see farther than eyes, their vision being unbounded by environmental barriers and unobscured by darkness. Even in the absence of sensory cues, they know where the next subway station is and how to lead me to it.

The transposition of navigational cues from matter to bits does not necessarily promote digital alienation. On the contrary, a subject’s physical surroundings are emphasized and continued by digital information overlays: their gaps filled, their inefficiencies smoothed away, their visibility augmented. The mediated inhabitant of the Augmented City must still read and interpret his/her environment in order to successfully engage it, but the necessary identity and structure—characteristic of Lynch’s paths, edges, districts, nodes and landmarks—are not embedded in the mediated object, but designed and programmed into the mediating interface.

Going one step further, we might wonder if matter-embedded objectivity is doomed. Today objects of all scales from forks to buildings to entire neighborhoods owe part of their shape and inner organization to the demand for discernable images. A door, for instance, is defined by the capacity to perform a function—open and close— but its hinges and handles are not only functional pieces of hardware, but also cues helpful to recognize the object ‘door’. In a building, the entry door is still defined by its function—providing access and connecting inside and outside— but in the context of the city the door’s success depends almost exclusively on its ability to signal presence and to be found. To this end, architects have historically employed clusters of strategic indicators: canopies, entrance plazas, variations in scale, symmetry, ornamentation and so forth. Now, in a mixed setting where indicators are predominantly digitized, how will the practice of architecture change? How will buildings organize the relation of their parts to the whole if the semantic link between user and physical building is broken? The way we understand and design the environment may be on the brink of a paradigm shift.

Of course, there is an inherent risk in replacing physical orientation and way-finding cues with electronic systems, the most obvious ones being the possibility of mechanical failure, black-outs and technological segregation, but these challenges aren’t much different from those met thousands of times by human beings employing new technologies: from the reliance on fire in food preparation or lighting to extend the day, to the use of cars and airplanes to move around and the adoption of computers to process and store data.

Subjective Domestication

The environment suggests distinctions and relations, and the observer—with great adaptability and in the light of his own purposes—selects, organizes, and endows with meaning what he sees. The image so developed now limits and emphasizes what is seen, while the image itself is being tested against the filtered perceptual input in a constant interacting process.5

The urbanites Lynch had in mind when writing “The Image of the City” were different from us and from the future dwellers of the Augmented City in significant ways. Their experience of the urban environment is implicitly counterposed to the domestic experience, one characterized by maximum perceived security and privacy, impeccable orientation and absolute control over the identity and organization of space. At home we feel safe, we are able to orient ourselves in pitch dark, and we are aware of the content of each drawer, shelf and wardrobe. In this sense, home could be re-defined as the bounded space of perfect correspondence between a subject’s environmental image and the environment. A correspondence, it is worth noting, that derives more from familiarity and habit than from an objective, coherent organization of space. Now, when Lynch’s subjects venture out of the domestic sphere, they leave behind not only the constellations of objects and functionalities with which they appropriated their home, but the very capacity to appropriate space with similar pervasiveness. On the contrary, the contemporary electronomad can carry along with himself/herself, in the form of bits and networks accessed through portable and wearable devices, many of the functionalities and belongings once associated with domestic life.6 Furthermore, if, as inferred, real time information overlays will absorb and broadcast part of the identity and structure of the built environment, the mediated/mediating citizens of the Augmented City will be endowed not merely with control over environmental images, but with control over the environment itself. Extreme customization is the ability of the technologically equipped subjects of the near future to customize their own perception of the urban environment through digital curatorial channels, locational feeds and mnemonic geographies. It is an electronic filter capable of mediating the cityscape according to one’s interests, memories, social values, group associations, tastes and so forth.7 In conclusion, we can predict that subjectivity will play such an extensive role in the experience of mixed space, that its virtual layers and the subject’s corresponding mental images will often overlap and merge. The environmental image of the future will be an externalized digital representation of customized objective and subjective cues; an electronic spatialization of identity, structure and meaning; a ubiquitous dimension of home.

Notes:

1) See Andrea Mubi Brighenti, “New Media and the Prolongations of Urban Environments” in Convergence 16 (November 2010)
2) Kevin Lynch, The Image of The City (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998)
3) Ibid.
4) Ibid.
5) Ibid.
6) For more on electronomadics, see William Mitchell, Me++: the Cyborg Self and the Networked City (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003) 7) For more on extreme customization, see Simone Ferracina, Organs Everywhere No.1, Augmented Selves, organseverywhere.com/past/issue1/ (accessed January 30th 2011)

Image by Organs Everywhere. Apple/Bread/Pepper/Bell pictograms by The Noun Project are used under a CC BY license. This article was first published in Lo Squaderno No.19, March 2011

 

Organs Everywhere on PDF!

July 24th, 2011

 

As work toward the third issue of Œ begins in the scorching New York Summer, I am pleased to announce that Œ No.1 “Augmented Selves” (here) and Œ No.2 “Alternate Ecologies” (here) are now available on the site as downloadable PDFs, as will be all future Organs Everywhere issues. This format should provide readers with a freer, more personal experience, as well as the ability to browse issues from all devices. Enjoy!

 

Kerb 19 Contributors

April 11th, 2011

Just a quick post to let you know that my project “Super-Natural Garden” will be featured this coming August in Kerb 19, the journal published by RMIT University School of Architecture and Design. Judging by the other selected contributors, this year’s issue promises to be excellent. Thanks to Justin Pickard and Alexander Trevi for posting the call for submissions —which made me aware of it—and to Timothy Morton whose books, “The Ecological Thought” in particular, were a determining inspiration for the project. Also, thanks to the editors for selecting it! Can’t wait to see it.

You can check out Kerb’s contributors page here.

App-Induced Spaces for Experimental Navigation and Interaction

March 20th, 2011

 

The bright and milder weather in New York City today enticed me to finally try out Mark Shepard’s celebrated Serendipitor, a navigation app for iPhone that helps you, as the slogan proclaims, “find something by looking for something else.” The application combines directions generated by Google Maps API to instructions for action and movement inspired by artists such as Vito Acconci, Yoko Ono and the Fluxus collective. It hacks the embedded “Maps” application and shifts its emphasis from fast and efficient “getting from A to B,” to the experience of the journey itself, one populated by serendipitous “action” events.

Upon mapping a route based on a random destination, I set out for my indeterminate journey. Serendipitor provided a series of instructions, some easy (get on a bus and ride for one stop, walk toward green traffic lights until you reach a red one, pick a person to follow for two blocks), some  inspiring or poetic (follow a cloud, head toward the sound of traffic and take a photo of the sound, buy a flower and give it to someone) and some creepy or outside of my comfort zone (hitch a ride with a passing car and find out where it takes you, ask someone to take you to the part of town they are afraid of). I didn’t follow all instructions—it is hardly the point—but enjoyed the experience immensely. Most interesting was the realization of having stepped into a different—almost virtual— realm of navigation: free from everyday causality, productivity and social norms. Metaphorically speaking, I was inhabiting a different channel of reality, a different feed. I was engaging the city from without my comfortable habits, specific interests and ideas.

As a matter of fact, there was an uncanny component to the experience. More than inhabiting my own feed, it felt as if occupying someone else’s. At times, I had the impression of playing a video-game, of carrying out orders transmitted by some higher power pushing buttons on a joystick while stroking a cat; The streets and homes around me had become devoid of the contextual meaning that makes them real, and could disappear at any moment.

Still from the movie Gamer

These thoughts, along with the idea that in the future live instructions based on real-time encounters or on data picked up by the phone’s camera might be somewhat more accurate and engaging, reminded me of the movie Gamer. In the movie, evil genius Ken Castle invents a technology to link two human bodies so that one can remotely control the other like a real-world avatar. The technology is employed in two hit multi-player on-line games: “Slayers” and “Society.” The first one  forces death row convicts to fight among themselves while being remotely controlled by teenage players, the second allows a sort of (un)mediated prostitution where the sexual service is performed not on the client him-/herself, but on the doppelgänger’s body. Without suggesting parallels between the movie’s dystopian games and Serendipitor, it is interesting to note a similar element of remote control, and wonder how future smart phone applications may serve not only as direct lenses to focus, distort and customize reality, but also as tools for controlling and being controlled, for psychotherapy, for trying out identities and role play.

Another interesting dimension of Serendipitor is that of interaction—interaction with strangers. However, if the user of Serendipitor engages unaware non-users— and the situation is therefore unilaterally defined and potentially awkward—a new app puts forward a different premise: that of complicity. Benrik’s Situationist is an iPhone app inspired by the Situationist International’s call for experimental forms of behavior and geared towards generating impromptu encounters. Users make up a profile by uploading their picture and selecting—or suggesting—situations they want to happen to them, from the friendly “Compliment my haircut” or “Hug me for 5 seconds exactly” to the more subversive “Help me rouse everyone around us into revolutionary fervor and storm the nearest TV station.” They are then notified of each other’s proximity in order to act out situations, which—beware— could occur anywhere and at any time. “Merely by having it on your phone—the creators maintain—your urban environment is transfigured: everyone you see is a potential encounter.” It is exciting to witness the rise of (free) tools for serendipity and experimental navigation and interaction, and to realize what a broad impact these tools can have in our perception of others and of the built environment. They remind us of the interconnectedness of all beings across socio-economic barriers and afford us a glimpse into a dimension of ourselves unbound by the routine of everyday survival.

Lo Squaderno No.19: Urban Knowledges

March 2nd, 2011

Today I had an article published on Lo Squaderno – Explorations in Space and Society. The article, entitled “Cyber-Imageability,” aims at re-framing key concepts from Kevin Lynch’s landmark book The Image of the City in light of contemporary and future modalities of urban navigation. My contention is that way-finding in the Augmented City—an environment made up of as many bits as atoms—will rely more on technological mediation and subjectivity than on objective physical cues, with the following outcomes: 1) In a city (Keiichi Matsuda appropriately calls it domesti-city) appropriated with ever-expanding electronomadic tools, environmental images—our mental pictures of the physical world—will increasingly become externalized and digitized. 2) If “legibility” ceases to be a condition for successfully inhabited physical space and efficient relating of building parts, architecture may endorse the radical possibilities afforded by illegibility. More on this soon. For now, enjoy Lo Squaderno No.19 “Urban Knowledges.” You can download it in its entirety here.

In Defense of the Architect’s Lingo

February 6th, 2011

“As we observe the world through concepts, a new view can be provided only if a novel vocabulary is established.”1

I would typically refrain from polemic, especially the written kind. However, I must give in to the temptation of a short post in response to this week’s article by Witold Rybczynski, architecture critic for Slate (you can read it here). The article, as the subtitle—an essay on the ridiculous way architects talk—clearly indicates, sets outs to ridicule architectural jargon as pompous, confusing and unnecessarily affected: “large, made-up words” that architects and designers employ “to make themselves sound smarter than you.” Despite the article’s subtle irony—Rybczynski being an architect and all—I can’t help but take issue with the notion of architectural language being frivolously obscure and inflated. Here is why:

(1) Professional terminology is, by definition, non-inclusive. We wouldn’t dream of asking a nuclear physicist to change his formula—or a playwright to simplify his/her vocabulary—so that we can understand it. A pseudo–democratic call for universally transparent language is misleading and disingenuous. A leveling/flattening of expertise and knowledge should be dreaded, not aimed for.

(2) Despite the claim that using words such as “assemblage” is pretentious and unwarranted, Rybczynski fails to provide single-word equivalents. Instead, he translates it with “putting things together” which, to me, is a bit like dropping “tooth” for “calcified whitish structure.”

(3) When two words exist to describe what appears to be the same thing, check again. ‘Metamorphosis’ does not equal ‘change’; rather, it is a dynamic transformation involving form/structure and resulting in a dramatically altered appearance. That is to say: whether I order an espresso or a double mocha latte with soymilk and caramel will fundamentally affect the nature of my coffee-drinking experience.

(4) An architect’s academic education and professional experience ground and contextualize the words he/she uses. I can’t separate the word ‘metamorphosis’ from Sanford Kwinter’s writings on Kafka, the word ‘tectonic’ from the teachings of Kenneth Frampton or the word ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ from pictures of Marie Sèthe’s room-matching dresses. Taking words out of their cultural context is like eating flour instead of mixing it in the batter: not very helpful, or tasty.

(5) Architects help build the future by bridging imagination and reality. It is therefore no wonder that their words point to the larger, systemic and abstract dimension of things: ‘methodology’ (a system of methods) instead of ‘method’, ‘fenestration’ (all openings in a building’s elevation) instead of ‘window’, ‘materiality’ (the qualities or character of a material as we perceive it) instead of ‘material’, and so forth. Are these words synonims? Not really. Does Rybczynski know? Probably.

The most lucid point in the Slate piece is implied: architects aren’t very popular. I can’t imagine a similar article being written about engineers, medical doctors or mechanics, and the reason is simple: their role is understood as fundamentally valuable; their lingo perceived as a direct consequence of its inherent complexity. Work in the design field, on the other hand, is often associated with fluctuating tastes and a certain lack of necessity.
Architects— not their jargon—are to blame for that. If anything, Rybczynski’s article reminds us that the role society attributes to design professionals depends on their ability to move beyond the obsessions with form, materials, sleekness and seamless construction and to engage the political, social, environmental and technological dimensions of everyday life.

1.Christian Borch, “Foam Architecture: Managing Co-isolated Associations” in Economy and Society (New York: Routledge, 2008)

Issue No.2 Launched

January 5th, 2011

Hey everyone! Issue No.2 Alternate Ecologies is out!

Special thanks to Neil Spiller—guest author of this issue—for his generous contribution.
Thanks to Brian and Lauren for reading the first drafts and for providing much-needed feedback. Thanks to Keight for the last-minute website amendments.

And Happy New Year from Organs Everywhere!

Metadress on Steroids

November 28th, 2010


A few days ago I came across Robert Hodgin’s amazing and strange videos. Hacking a Kinect with CinderBlock, Hodgin transforms the information gathered by the Kinect camera and sensor into unsettling and surreal digital augmentations. Beyond its weird beauty, this video strikes me as symptomatic of several important steps toward an immersive mixed reality.
(1) As much current experimentation demonstrates, the re-purposed full-body 3-D motion capture and facial/voice recognition capabilities of Kinect can reach far beyond gaming and will eventually replace control devices in most human-machine interactions. Johnny Mnemonic-style intuitive gestural interfaces begin here and now. (2) Kinect translates the real world into digital data maps that can be used for real time augmentations. It is a tool for recording, interpreting and digitally reshaping reality. (3) The colorful electronic fatsuit worn by Hodgin represents a germinal stage of personal augmentation in AR, a first instance of metadress – the digital dress extension theorized in Œ No.1 ‘Augmented Selves’.
If formulating metadress I predominantly focused on mapping digital garments onto the human body, these images suggest a more radical approach, one geared not at clothing the body but at transforming it: metadress as cosmetic surgery. The human flesh becomes a plastic medium digitally sculpted for the presentation of self. Subjects may enlarge their eyes and lips, smoothen their chins, erase moles and retouch noses, but also multiply eyes, magnify cheek bones, animate foreheads and so on. I am reminded of the work of French artist ORLAN. The surgical operations she performs on her body embed the skin with intentionality, thus defying the inadequateness of the flesh in embodying who we really are:

Skin is deceiving – in life, one only has one’s skin – there is a bad exchange in human relations because one never is what one has. I have the skin of an angel but I am a jackal… the skin of a crocodile but I am a poodle, the skin of a black person but I am white, the skin of a woman but I am a man; I never have the skin of what I am. There is no exception to the rule because I am never what I have.1

Like ORLAN, subjects in the Augmented City will perform digital surgeries on themselves in an attempt to bridge the gap between exterior and interior, between how they appear to the world and how they perceive themselves.  In this perspective, metadress isn’t just fashion; it is the very flesh of our digitally redesigned bodies.

1. Eugenie Lemoine Luccioni quoted in David Moos, Memories of Being: ORLAN’s Theater of the Self (1996), http://www.stanford.edu/class/history34q/readings/Orlan/Orlan.html (accessed November 26th 2010).

Issue No.1 Launched

October 30th, 2010

Hey Everyone! Issue No.1 Augmented Selves is out!

Thanks to Brian, Lauren and Lisa for reading the first drafts and/or kindly agreeing to appear on the images. Thanks to Keight (lureandcast.com) for the beautiful website design.

And welcome to Organs Everywhere!