THE SERIAL NON-IMAGE:
A RESPONSE TO BERNARD CACHE'S EARTH MOVES

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


AADRL: DDIS.TURB (D. Akritopoulos, S. Georgiadou, D. Manisali)

The power of Cache’s book is due to his skillful implementation of the concept diagram. To begin any analysis of Cache’s work, it is a primary necessity to acknowledge the inherent tug-of-war between the simplicity and complexity of his three concept diagrams: the image, the vector and the frame. The simplicity of these three elements as discernable and tangible objects is quite clear, however it is that Cache uses these as conceptual armatures that confounds their legibility and instills the potential for them to be laden with a complex interpretation. If we start with the diagram of the image, for example, we can imagine the image of a hammer. The hammer as an image is a stick, a top of metal, sometimes there is a nice coat of varnish. There is also the image of its action; its handle sits in the hand, and as an extension of the arm, we can see the image of a swinging motion. Meanwhile, this image of the hammer is affected by cultural vectors, including the fact that we use hammers to drive nails, pull nails, break windows, and even strike flesh. But how we define the hammer’s affect is determined by the frame through which we limit the abundance of vectors. So with one frame, I see the image of the hammer and I recognize a particular vector as linked to a motivation which initially brought me to the frame. So, it is the conceptual structure of these three elements – image, vector and frame – with which Cache proceeds to investigate the meaning of surfaces in architecture. But in order to proceed, we must recognize that these diagrams exist prior to representation.

What is most compelling in Earth Moves is its lasting application to present technology and the ways it continues to shift, not in its technical particularities, but its access to the particularities of the image, vector and frame. Translated into English in 1995 (I believe it was written even a few years prior, discovered by the Any crew, and then brought to the US for English publication) Cache had already experimented with a variety of CAD/CAM techniques and written at great length on their philosophical affect on the making of architecture and its internal furnishings. Cache could not have anticipated the specific evolutions of digital techniques in the 12 years since then, but the present applicability of his ideas indicate either that he was clairvoyant or that the sea change (about which we are still crazed) had already happened. Regardless, the tides of technology continue to ebb and flow, and the rise of techniques such as blend-shaping, physical dynamics, and parametrics came about, mostly as a result of the issues that Cache’s work investigated at the time. Most specifically, I am interested in his writing on mass-customization and the variable object, which Cache calls an objectile. It is perhaps best to use Cache’s own words rather than summarize:

“It used to be that the object was simply what we saw in front of us; it was generally contrasted with the variations that are thought to take place within the subject. It was inseparable from a sense of clash or constraint that went together with a will to last or to resist.” (88)

Before we confront mass-customization technology, objects existed much like the iPod or iPhone, which benefited from a high degree of flexibility without losing durability, permanence or a sense of its own existence (branding). But as soon as objects broke the legality of the series, or even morphed the beginning and end constraints of the series, a new image emerges that exists beyond the physical surface we read in the object, which in imagistic terms could be defined as the surface’s set of control vertices.

“The object was meant to maximize the utilitarian function, and its very repetition was the sign of its legality. Many also took this legality to be a form of equality: the identical object, produced by the masses and for the masses. But this sort of contract is no longer viable today. For the standard model is not the same as equality and the norm is not the same as the law…Henceforth, the image takes precedence over the object. The [Computer-Assisted Conception and Fabrication] image, malleable in real-time, has lowered the status of the prototype as well as all representation of the object. The modes of production of images, as in the case of advertising images, are no longer derivatives of this primary one…The primary image is no longer the image of the object but the image of the set of constraints at the intersection of which the object was created. This object no longer reproduces a model of imitation, but actualizes a model of simulation.” (95-97)

But how, then, does this affect our understanding of surfaces, especially those that form the intersection between built-form and land-form? More specifically, how does seriality and a divergence from seriality apply to the methods with which we as architects define a boundary between figure and ground? Lucky for us, Cache makes certain statements that potentially point us in a resolvable direction:

“A field of surfaces thus governs the object that has now become the set of possibilities of their intersection. But the surface of the object also becomes separated from its function when the latter is no longer mechanical or electronic.” (97)

Here Cache makes a clear distinction between the object and the surfaces that compose it, and he claims that the phenomenon of surface morphology becomes disconnected from the object’s function while it is in the process of mutating. What Cache is espousing here is not a complete abandonment of surface’s obligation to function or performance, rather he seems to be describing a non-predictable allegiance of form and function. Like the imageless-ness quality of Cache’s diagrammatic image, we should imagine here an architecture that is more formless and composed of “continuously shifting affiliations and alliances” (Kipnis, “Folds, Bodies and Blobs,” 93). Again, we should avoid assigning a formal explanation of this event as shields us from understanding a fuller, conceptual field of potentiality. I prefer not to resort to a discussion of an inflected surface supporting both a basketball player and baby, for its sheer improbability and pointlessness. But if we imagine, instead a field of shifting control vertices, or shifting spheres of influences, we can also imagine a shift in the gradations between the identities of figure and ground, of black and white, or reversed if we were to imagine the Las Vegas strip. Shifts in this field, between smooth progressions, accelerations, decelerations, rhythms, radii, microscopically clean delineations and event horizons are all components that could mix the new potential gradient of various shades of grey. The focus therefore shifts from the object to the effect generated by the changes in influence, or the movement implied within the field by the shift in control vertices.

The purpose of my investigation from here on out will be to study the profit of such a system. It certainly provides a means of rethinking the surface of man-made land as a topology worthy of articulation. But why is it that we must articulate the ground, and is it necessary for the articulation to be gradated, especially if that gradation is gradual or abrupt? What we arrive at possibly, is a debate between a mathematical image of the ground versus an organic one. Our use of objects (extending from the image, vector and frame diagrams) is a linear event. However the multiplication of perspectives gives credit to a system of organic relations within the field and in relation to the object. Again, we must focus on the effect of the field and not on the performance of one instance of the object. But in an environment of limited resources (with which we must maximize our efforts), I cannot imagine the justification for any such effect, especially when it becomes an element of social or cognitive agency. The desire to blend built-form into land-form is a diagram-less image, its is one we take from our nurtured understanding of biology and physics, and yet it apparently has nothing to do with the interaction between figure, ground and the elements that cross from one to the other. This means I need to keep reading to figure out how it might be worth something. So let’s see, maybe we’ll start with Hypersurface Architecture by Stephen Perrella. They wore some excellent sunglasses in the 1990’s.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

According to the publisher, the book is actually a translation of a 1983 manuscript entitled "Terre Meuble", that Cache wrote when he was 25.

March 12, 2009 at 6:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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December 30, 2009 at 5:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is an interesting article. Thanks for sharing.

December 7, 2010 at 7:56 AM  

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