270117 – Iris Van Herpen – London
The Iris Van Herpen clothes not only continue to be at the forefront of invention and innovation but also are becoming more and more wearable with each collection. The AW16 collection Seijaku is an exploration into Cymatics. Sound waves are visualised using evolving geometric patterns, where the higher frequency sound waves produce a more complex pattern. The ethereal moiré effect of the dresses appears to be created by waves of light captured on sheer organza and tulle. As the models move a mesmerising optical mirage flows over the silhouette of their bodies. Like all Van Herpen shows nothing is left to chance. The Zen bowl sound installation of Kauya Nagaya, laid like ripples, flow from the footsteps of the models The sound fills the L’Oratoire du Louvre with a haunting resonance reverberating from the marble floor to the cross vault stone domes above. Dark oak panelling forms the backdrop at ground level. These earthy natural colours in a hall of haunting sound has a religious intensity used here to showcase and counterpoint scientific and technological pieces. The models are delicate, fragile, almost see through, each one a sculpture in motion ending their walk on a small granite plinth. The models here, as if intoxicated by the moment, display a doll like process of self-discovery. Every part of this show is perfect installation art, scripted polished and professional.
The SS17 collection ‘Between The Lines’ explores more optical illusionistic effects and distortions with rhythmic black on white 3D printed patterns sewn onto Mylar. The bodies form is lost within a camouflaged optic of complex geometries that create strange over body forms. Many of the pieces are not worn but instead walked within, the penumbra and the silhouette being recurring themes within the work. Iris Van Herpen and her very talented team are fast becoming the rising stars of the fashion world with work that continues to grow in strength and maturity. Her shows have become art works in their own right following on from the pioneering shows of Alexander McQueen in the early 2000s. This is brilliantly inspirational work.
Images left to right. 1 Cymatic volume Ben Lloyd Goldstein. Iris Van Herpen AW16 2-5, SS17 6-7.
220117 – 3D Collage – London
Collage, from the French coller ‘to glue’, the art of assemblage of different forms combined to create a new whole. Known examples of collage date back to 200BC but this use is mainly as assemblage or Bricolage. Collage as an art form is a twentieth century invention and a by-product of mass production and industrialisation, especially with regard to the printed or photographic image. Juxtaposition is a key element in modernist collage, references and signifiers often used to add conceptual depth to the composition of cubist and surrealist works. By the 1960’s photomontage had replaced many modernist ideas of collage and the photomontage space often occupied compositions with real perspective. In art collaged products are assembled to create something new. In car design this sometimes also happens.
The 1960’s was a strange time for car manufacturing. The US the automotive industry had grown on the back of the US oil industry and general Post War US dominance. Asian car makers were still in their early development stage. European car makers lacked the financial backing post war to re-tool their factories or spend lavish sums on R&D. As the US built muscle cars, the Asians built imitations and the Europeans were on make do and mend. Out of this unusual mix came a new type of inventive entrepreneur, that of the component car builder, building cars using off the shelf parts supplied by other manufacturers. TVR, Lotus, De Tomaso and ISO are four makes that immediately come to mind. De Tomaso (Mangusta and Pantera) and ISO (Grifo and Rivolta) had Italian bodies over US mechanics; these cars were aesthetically enticing but crude. Early TVR’s (Grantura, Griffith and Vixen) still had a hand made kit car feel. The master of component car production, despite continued poor build quality, was Lotus.
Colin Chapman (1928-1982) began modifying cars to use in competitions as early as 1948. This began with the Lotus 1, a modified Austin 7, and concluded with the Lotus 6. The early experiments gained public interest and with the production of the Lotus 6, (1952-57) Chapman was able to fabricate and supply kits for sale out of which Lotus Engineering was born. These early cars had a tubular space frame chassis and an aluminium body. The kits used parts from the Ford Prefect and were mainly used by privateers and enthusiasts for hill climbs and competitions. In 1958 Lotus cars produced the Elite for public sale as a factory built complete car (although this was also available as a kit). The car was innovative with the use of its load bearing glass fibre monocoque, had independent suspension all round and was low drag coefficient. The monocoque was advanced, but beyond the material technology available at that time it incorporated a bonded steel structure at the front to support the engine and bonded steel reinforcement in the body to support the doors. All bonding to, and junctions with the monocoque were never fully resolved. The car was expensive to produce, fragile and sold in low numbers (approximately 1000).
The Lotus Elan and Elan +2 (1962-75) was the design of Ron Hickman (of Workmate fame). The Elan was the beginning of commercial success for the company and a master class in component design. Putting a purpose built body over inherited mechanical components is fairly straightforward. Creating a pure seamless aesthetic whole whilst incorporating windscreens, bumpers, lights, door handles etc. from the parts bins of others is far more difficult. The Elan design was beautiful, the engineering ideas revolutionary and as an example of applied design collage one of the most successful to date. The Elan was a collage of economic necessity.
Key to the Elan concept was the 18SWG steel backbone deep box section chassis with Chapman suspension struts. It was strong, economical to produce and light at 75kg. This chassis would be used on the Elan, Elan+2, Elite and reversed to be use on the Europa. Further downstream the chassis would evolve for use in the Esprit. The chassis of the MG R-Type of 1935 may have inspired the Elan chassis but this was an all new revolutionary platform. The chassis has a V at either end where the opening of the V at the front houses the engine and at the rear the trans axle (Vice versa in the Europa). The car is light and nimble with a very good power to weight ratio (685kg /128bhp), the handling phenomenal with excellent cornering and braking ability and steady directional stability at speed.
Onto this backbone chassis would sit the Lotus GRP monocoque and a whole menagerie of components from Triumph, Ford, Alfa Romeo, MG, Wolseley, Hillman and others. The monocoque was fabricated in seven pieces and bonded together as one whole. The design of the monocoque is the outcome of various inputs including ergonomics, aesthetics, aerodynamics, structure, brand identity and styling. GRP is little more than a stiff glue, held solid in space, holding a three dimensional form that supports this collage of assorted parts. In the 1960’s art world high collage was the photomontage works of Richard Hamilton. In the design world of three-dimensional applied collage the Lotus Elan is hard to beat.
So was the Elan a good design? The answer has to be yes and no. It’s innovation, power to weight ratio and interior and exterior styling were all ahead of their time. Lotus’ work in Formula One influenced the design of the road cars. The biggest design fault was that the Elan chassis offered no side impact protection. The Elan build quality faults were in part a condition of the economically challenged 1970’s. It was a difficult time to start a company that sold motorcars.
Lotus Elan and Elan +2
Some of the parts that make up the Elan Collage
Alfa Romeo rear lights
Austin 1100 door handles
Ford Anglia front bumper +2
Ford Capri Front windscreen
Ford Capri door window glass
Ford Capri brightwork
Ford Consul Corsair or & Austin Maxi transmission
Ford Consul Classic rear differential with a Lotus designed aluminium housing
Ford Kent 116-E four cylinder cast iron engine block with a five bearing crank
Hillman Imp drive shafts
Lotus Harry Murray designed aluminium twin cam, two valves per cylinder, head
MGB interior door handles
Sunbeam Alpine filler cap
Triumph Heralds steering rack
Triumph Vitesse front suspension
Triumph Spitfire modified radiator
Vauxhall Victor rear lamps (early models)
Wolseley Hornet modified, cut in half, rear bumper for the +2
Images left to right - 1 Picasso Bull, 2 Elan collage, 3-7 Lotus Elan.
The Surrogate Twin
170117 – Emotive Transparency – London
In Colin Rowe’s infamous 1955 essay on Transparency: Literal and Phenomenal (with Robert Slutzky) two notions of transparency are discussed with regard to modernist painting and architecture. The first Literal Transparency; that through which we can see whether paint or glass and that through which light can pass is given a reduced text. The second Phenomenal Transparency; that of the suggested space captured within the compressed picture plane, especially with regard to cubist painting and architectural layered space of the early Modern Movement, this has the majority text. Dictionaries only give the definition of transparency as the literal description described above. Phenomenal Transparency is the reserve of Art critics and theorists.
It was my intention to assume the concepts behind Phenomenal Transparency and to apply them to a critique of the Baroque figurative sculpture of Antonio Corradini (1688-1752). In re-reading the Rowe essay the concepts behind the idea of Phenomenal Transparency were totally inappropriate to the Corradini work but equally interestingly and equally inappropriate were the Literal Transparency definitions. It was concluded that Corradini exploits a third type of transparency that of a perceived or emotive transparency. It was further concluded that in the Baroque world, where faith had equal authority to science and law, the perception of emotive transparency would be considerably stronger than our perception of it today.
Marble is a metamorphic rock composed of sedimentary carbonate minerals that have recrystallized. Recrystallization is a metamorphic process that requires intense temperature and pressure where grains, atoms or molecules of a rock or mineral are packed close together, creating a new crystal structure. Marble is nearly twice as dense as concrete and is only translucent as a backlit veneer when a few millimetres thick. Antonio Corradini uses marble that is solid, heavy and non translucent. Scientifically we are aware that the marble is solid and that we cannot see through it. Emotionally the sculptor induces a cognitive response to two known conditions, that of the woman and that of the veil. By presenting this duality the artist creates the desire to see two complete known entities simultaneously and in so doing creates the illusion of transparency
The Surrealists were aware of emotive transparency. In the Rene Magritte’s Le Blanc-Seing in the essay below (d.161116) there is no flattened cubist layered space, as both components that make up the space fall within a single perspective on the same picture plane. The image is flattened by the manipulation of ones perception. Our desire to complete the image overrules our rational interpretation of what we actually see. Our minds join the horse and rider as one image passing behind the trees in a space represented through normal perspective. The reality is that the horse is not whole but instead laid as three strips onto an exiting perspective of woodlands. Antoni Corradini uses the same technique. When looking at the veiled face in detail, the veil does not cover the face but instead it is carved in strips that are laid upon the face. Up close we either see only the folds of the veil or the curves of the face. Our desire to see both of these things simultaneously creates the illusion of transparency. The transparency is generated by a sensual and emotive response to the appearance of two known cognitive conditions presented concurrently.
Ambiguous images are famous for inducing the phenomenon of multi-stable perception. This is when an image provides multiple, though stable, perceptions. Usually two images from one drawing, one image is perceived at a time, never the two images simultaneously. Veiled Truth is also a three dimensional optic that manipulates our sensory perception but with greater sophistication than an ambiguous image. When we see an image the first act of perception is to organise the image into identifiable groups. The simplest group consists of edges. On a 3D figure we first identify the edges and our brains connect the edges to conclude an identifiable form. When a pattern or form is perceived frequently it is stored in memory so that it can be recalled easily without the need to study in detail the entirety. The human form and the human face would be such frequently perceived patterns. This obeys what is now known as part of the Gestalt grouping rules where good continuation provides the visual system with a basis for identifying outlines and forms. Veiled Truth also obeys the Gestalt ideas of proximity where close similar objects are most likely to belong to the same group, here the folds of the veil. Perceived complete forms seen from a series of drawn fragments is best exampled by the Kanizsa Triangle. In this drawing the perception of two overlaid triangles on three circles is induced by a series of drawn fragments. Veiled Truth draws upon this emotive cognitive response to achieve transparency in the solid medium of marble.
In summation we have three known types of transparency.
Literal Transparency this has a scientific definition and requires transparency or translucency within a material.
Phenomenal Transparency has an intellectual definition and is read through decoding information.
Emotive Transparency has an impassioned definition where the desire to see overrules the logic of seeing.
It saddens to concede that the craftsman’s skills of the past may never be revived and that we live in a culture that so undervalues such skill? Our instantly obtainable and so easily disposable digital culture has lost so much.
Images left to right. 1-5+7 Veiled Truth, Antonio Corradini (1688-1752). 6 Kanizsa Triangle
The Surrogate Twin
150117 – Kinetic Fresco – London
The forgotten techniques of Mannerism and Baroque.
Di sotto in sú
Fresco and Fresco-secco
Perspective theories developed in the 17th century to a point where enclosed space could be opened up using illusionistic painting techniques. Walls and ceilings became surfaces that could be expanded into other fictional worlds. The techniques were adopted from the theatre and were often used to open up a space to the outside world typically with garden vistas or soaring skies. These fictional painted spaces contained other worlds that were often mythical or biblical. They were spaces in which to escape or to be reminded of ones humble place on earth, a space to explore but also an over looking space who’s inhabitants watch and judge. ‘As the gods look down’ the physical space is monitored by the fictional space. Story telling, myths and fables complete the interaction between the two spaces and the physical space becomes a transitional space to another world, a gateway. Religious spaces have often been rendered as such.
Trompe-l’oeil - Fresco is painted into plaster that is still wet (fresh) whilst fresco-secco is painted onto dry plaster. The technique for transferring the images to the plaster is dependent upon the type of fresco used. On fresco an outline drawing would be sketched on the under layer in a red pigment that then bled into the fresh top layer prior to pigmentation. In fresco-secco the drawings were transferred from paper sketches or cartoons in the same way as all large paintings were created. Outlines on the cartoon are pricked with a series of fine holes through which soot or chalk powder is rubbed to mark out the areas to paint. Fresco painting is a slow process with large ceilings and walls often taking years to complete. Once complete it is a static image, a static illusion.
The technique of Quadratura created single point spatial perspectives. This false architecture of perspective when painted onto a flat or shallow vaulted ceiling would continue the real architectural space. The perspective had one focal point and used foreshortening of figures, architectures and landscapes to create the illusion of a deeper space often opening to an infinite sky. Fresco painting is the technique ideally suited to the Grand Manner of the Baroque. The ambition of scale and subject complement the vast canvas of the walls and ceilings of the palaces of the nobility. Whole spaces were transformed as each enclosing surface was expanded with an illusionistic space. A dialogue would begin between each expanded space that conversed across the room and in so doing dragged the real world into the fictional and vice versa.
Baroque Quadratura was only convincing when standing at one point. Augmented and animated ceilings could shift this perspective as the viewer walked around the room. The shopping mall is already an augmented space, a real space overlaid with wireless fed information about products, information or events, a rich and dynamic multi-media experience. It will be interesting to see whether these augmented spaces develop into a new medium of spatial experience or whether they will remain merely as information overlay options to be turned on or off as desired. As virtual reality (VR) becomes mainstream, at first adopted for home and public entertainment, the overspill of this spatial type onto the city will create another layer to be explored by artists, architects and designers. Layering the fictional onto a real space, exploring time, place, sound and activity dislocation, the consequences of such experimentation are yet to be known. What is certain is that the augmented real space will be a hyper-real alternative to the space we experience today. The layering of the augmented onto the real will be read as one single spatial experience in the same way as the fictional ceiling frescos and real time volumes read as one space. What is new is that the augmented space will be dynamic and interactive and that we experience it in two ways, one as a space and two via a device. If there is a further layer of augmentation via a device, a cell phone, pad or wearable, a hybrid interpretation of space materialises. The space has a public domain and numerous subjective, simultaneous personal domains. The urban spaces of Tokyo, Hong Kong and Seoul, where walls of electronic media enclose public spaces, are a precursor of this spatial type. The information the media walls support is pragmatic and informative as opposed to purely cultural or experimental.
The 1990’s offered VR parallel worlds and the internet created cyberspace. Whilst VR is still waiting for technology to catch up and commercialise, cyber space has been domesticated, taken over by the big brands and normalised and is now little more than an ‘electronic suburb’ (Norman Klein). However within cyberspace new obsessions have emerged that create a constant and continuous dialogue between the data of cyberspace and occupied real space. Selfies, the use of GoPro or dog cams are all forms of video surveillance that turn real space into cyberspace. Cyberspace when recalled upon a device informs real space. Every real time object with embedded information becomes a cornerstone to cyberspace, simultaneously a three dimensional reality and a two dimensional on screen character. Once in cyberspace it can be edited, altered, layered with text of further information such as music or sound. It becomes something else, neither a copy nor an original, neither fact nor fiction. Space has never been experienced with this type of dynamic duality before.
When every object in a physical space has been embedded with some level of technological tangible interface the centralised computer becomes obsolete and a reader is all that is required. All of the surrounding physical space becomes part of the human computer interface. When tracking a users interface to provide localised information the users data is collected. Augmented space is both an experiential and monitored space (‘as the gods look down’ text from above). Augmented space is a 4D physical space (when 4D is 3D plus time) with an additional fifth dimension of information, a 5D space. Augmented space is never permanent and exists within a feedback loop. As information is collected and uploaded from interactions with the physical space the augmented space is modified to accommodate new incoming information that is in turn fed back to the physical space. Augmented space is therefore a space of collective learning and experiencing. At present the user needs an interface device to access and then interpret the augmented space. When the interface device is no longer electronic but biological it is feasible that collective learning or collective experiences could add a further perceptual dimension. The collective experience would have multiple experiential responses; these may be polar or assimilated into a generic.
With the augmented electronic space, the dynamic or kinetic fresco, choreography is added to the skills required of the electronic fresco painter. Unlike previous frescos, in the kinetic fresco every constant has been replaced by a variable and every variable is a fiction. In this world the image has a greater inherent value than the original, as the image is hyper-real, super-intense, edited and associative. The image is the myth that the object aspires to and possession of the object is the means of acquiring that myth. Through this image and its associative context the original object is loaded with additional values and aspirations and as such the real becomes more fictional. When the object is a space we inhabit and that space is further continuously augmented, updated and refined. The two spatial types, real and fictional are blended, their differences become indistinguishable, and we inhabit this new spatial type with blind religious fever.
The Blue Journey dance performance (gif image four) is a work that consists of two elements that happen at different times and are then re-sequenced in the present. The backdrop is a pre-recorded animation that draws upon a limited pallet of black on blue (the work of choreographer David Middendorp). It is two-dimensional and flat, an animated picture plane presented as a vertical surface, as a border enclosing a real space, a boundary. The events on this flat animated space are fantastical, they defy gravity, have no fixed scale, they are able to morph in form, disappear and reappear, they can float, fly and become ephemeral. This fiction is a dream space edited and rehearsed, it tells a story, it is an animated locale, a fresco, a Trompe l Oeil. The fictional space is a space from the past, a historical space that has already happened elsewhere, perhaps only happened in the digital space of the computer screen. A transplanted fiction from another time and place. A space that never existed is presented as a spatial extension of the real.
The Blue Journey performance happens in real time in a physical space, the stage in front of the animated space and consists of a dance, a dialogue between two characters, over viewed by a third party, the animation. To cement the relationship between the performers and the backdrop, two events happening at separate times, the backdrop first takes the role of shadow to the performer. This is introduced simply, as the male dancer walks across the stage followed by his shadow. This simple act of walking with ones shadow apparently falling onto a wall sets the premise for the full extent of the credibility of the following journey. By locking these two dislocated movement pieces into one time frame, the fantastical and the real merge and a mythological landscape materialises. The boundary that contained the real world has been breached and space is extended into an animated augmented world. The transition is seamless; the audience are given no instruction other than this simple introduction that the shadow follows the walking male. This is all that was needed to link an imaginary world to the real world, to link two distinct time zones. When the female dancer begins to move she is beautiful, graceful and poetic, her shadow follows and the audience is dragged further into the illusion of synchronised time. Then the shadow stops, it no longer follows the dancer, but the idea of synchronised time is not lost as the audience is convinced that the shadow is that of another dancer working back stage. Not losing the illusion of synchronised time is essential to maintaining the extension of the real space into the fictional.
The fact that this space is animated and choreographed gives it a power that traditional fresco was unable to achieve. The extended space becomes a walk into an occupied fictional space as opposed to the previously Mannerist viewed only space. It is important to note that this spatial extension has been achieved simply by silhouette, in a flattened two-tone, two-dimensional space. This is a space that never imitates the real and has none of the full richness of a Baroque Quadratura. In the Baroque, sculpture was often used as the transition from the real to the fantastical, a peripheral border linking the two worlds, sculpture as foreground, imaginary space as background. Sculpture was a static transition; its dynamic comes from gesture and association. Further movement of the viewer and the changing fall of shadow and light would animate the Baroque sculptural transition.
As the Blue Journey performance continues, the space of the fantastical begins to take over and separate from the real. The audience are drawn into the fictional animated space, as this (background) has greater dynamic than the real time performance (foreground). This shift in dynamic from real to fictional is essential for taking the eye from the real to the fantastical and this will be a key component of future augmented space. The Blue Journey animated space continues to increase the credible limits of fantasy as figures dissolve in mist, float without gravity, multiply instantaneously and eventually the silhouette dancers fall as if rain from the sky. The bonds between the real and imaginary are choreographed through sequencing, gesture and touch, keeping the two spaces locked in one time zone simultaneously happening in the present. This interaction is best exemplified when the dancer leaves the real world to join the animated world only to reappear back in the real. This seamless link of the real and fictional connects the two separate time and location zones in which each space was made into the one space of the present.
Future augmented space will explore the possibilities outlined above and as a consequence the delineation between what is real and imaginary will continue to evaporate. At the same time in a crowded world of physically finite space extended virtual space is infinite.
Images left to right. 1 Chiesa di San Pantaleone Venice - Gian Antonio Fumiani 1645-1710. 2 Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio, Rome - Andrea Pozzo 1642-1709, 3 Palace of Liechtenstein - Andrea Pozzo 1642-1709. 4 Blue Journey Dance.
The Surrogate Twin
100117 – The Yoko Towers – London c10/1991
Termites and Butterflies
The Amitermes Meridionalis also known as the Magnetic or Compass Termites of Western Australia build their tower homes aligned to the sun. The termite mounds are elliptical in plan. The termites build the long axis of the ellipse north south; this aligns with the sun offering the smallest solar exposure with the narrow edge of the nest fronting the midday sun. The east and west facades of the nest are expansive and maximise morning and evening solar gain. The base of the termite mound goes deep underground, sometimes as low as the water table; here temperatures are low and stable. The sidewalls of the nest contain ventilation shafts that have a two-fold purpose; they insulate the inner nest from the sun whilst allowing the escape of hot air vertically up through the vents in the sidewalls. As the stack effect of heated air climbs the vents, cool air is drawn in at the base or from the voids created below ground. This form of natural solar ventilation helps maintain the lower and steady interior temperature of the nest that is required for egg laying and fungus farming.
Iridescence may not always be caused by pigmentation but by structural colour. Structural colour is a microstructure that refracts rather than reflects light. Structural colour is produced by microscopically structured surfaces that interfere with light. This is one of several photonic devices used by animals to induce and enhance colour. Some butterfly wings and birds feathers being common examples. e.g. a peacocks feathers are pigmented brown but reflect and refract iridescent blues, greens and turquoise. Morpho butterflies appear coloured with metallic blues and greens by using structural colour and not pigmentation.
The Yoko Towers are a generic office type designed to be located within the equatorial belts. The office towers are flattened spheroidal forms that align north south, presenting their narrow facades to the noon sun. The perimeter enclosure has two distinct layers. The inner skin is double-glazed. An outer tertiary skin has a thirty per cent photovoltaic frit allowing light through whilst collecting and converting solar energy. There is a 1200mm gap between the inner double-glazed skin and the outer tertiary fritted skin. This gap collects passive solar gain through the tertiary skin and uses the stack effect between the two skins for venting the internal offices. Deep below ground are the cooling tanks. Water is drawn up, to and through waffled ventilated concrete floor slabs combined with chilled ceilings. Air is drawn through these floor slabs by controlled vents that open onto the heat stack created behind the tertiary skin, this in turn cools the offices.
The building in section consists of six floor stacked ‘villages’ that each sit on a double height communal zone. The double height communal space is a water garden with excessive planting that assists to humidify and oxygenate the six floors of offices that sit directly above it. Below ground a huge cooling plenum and water storage space serves the water gardens. There are several stacked villages in each tower. The offices consist of a vertical series of concrete waffle floors enclosed by a double glazed skin. The external wings of the tertiary skin enclose the passive solar zone and heat stack that vents the office waffle floors. The heat stacks are in turn vented at roof level. At night or when the towers wish to retain heat, the vents at the top of the heat stacks are closed and the gap between the inner and outer skins becomes an insulating barrier. In plan the service cores are moved off centre to the façade that faces the noon sun forming a thermal defensive mass by day and a heat sink by night. The Yoko Towers apply the lessons learnt from the constructions of the termites.
The outer photovoltaic fritted skin converts the suns energy to electricity. Each floor has its own battery storage, distributed where required throughout the plan. The localised battery storage is fed during the day by the sun and at night by low cost electricity. Electricity is also produced via turbine generators driven by escaping air at roof level at the top of the heat stacks. The outer skin of the building attempts to mimic the structural colouration of a butterfly’s wing. In 1991 when the project was conceived, glass could not be etched at a micro scale so a coating was applied to attempt to achieve the equivalent colour refraction. It was assumed that the coating could be choreographed through controlled wave interference to refract light within a prescribed colour range. Exact intonation of colour would depend upon the lights direction. At night when the office lights are on and the skies dark, the refractive skin reverses to emit coloured light. The image is of an early maquette of the Yoko Towers with the offices against a night sky.
This project like many other personal projects included within the diary text were completed in my twenties and early thirties. Unfeasible at the time of conception the projects deserve review, as many of the ideas from which they evolved are as relevant today as they were unpopular when first drawn.
The Surrogate Twin
Images left to right. 1 Compass Termite Mounds of Northern Australia. 2 Yoko Towers.
291216 – Story Board – London, W2
Zaha Hadid, paintings, The Serpentine Sackler Gallery. It is impossible not to reflect on the influence of the AA on architecture during the 1970’s. It has been over thirty years since I last saw these paintings and with retrospect the AA and Zaha’s work are impossible to separate. There is the influence of Tschumi, Koolhaas and Zenghelis all plain to see etched across each canvas. Each painting is multi layered, a storyboard that builds the presence of the idea for a building. The drawings are elaborate sketches, they are produced before, during and after a project. They do not conclude but are instead thoughts in progress with notes from the margins all overlaid. A drawing may have two or three perspectives. The same drawing may be redrawn, recomposed using a different colour palette. The painting is the storyboard of this process but it is also a stepping-stone, it surmises and collates ideas about a project to a point in time from which the next part of the journey may begin. The drawing collates and inspires, it is fluid, has calligraphic speed it is poignant and expectant.
Traditional architectural drawing is a static conclusion of the work to date, it is slow and time consuming to produce and the drawing process often does not keep pace with the thought or development process. Traditional working drawings are also very much about resolving issues, structure, services, composition, context or massing. Zaha’s drawings search more for feeling, they are more intuitive, where intuition is the combined reaction of knowledge and experience. The space is painted as a sequential viewing, forcing the viewer to move back and forth as if they were walking around a sculpture.
But the paintings are also more than a storyboard. The shifting perspectives and the changing light capture the essence that space and time are intrinsically linked and that we experience space by walking through and around it. That space itself is a moving entity on a spinning planet orbiting a star that is its life-blood. As the space follows this trajectory it encompasses the diurnal range of light and dark, the seasonal range of hot and cold, wet and dry and the passage of time. The building ages and with aging its context is changed, both the historical context from which the space is viewed, the physical context in which the space is grounded and possibly also the utilitarian context in which the space is used. Through all these movements the space is slowly forever in constant flux.
In Zaha’s paintings we can see the influence of Tschumi, where space and event are a symbiotic filmic sequence. The paintings are optimistic, devoid of history, forward looking. The drawings are also a way to focus and direct the conversation by editing out all that interferes. Block colour simplifies the context to hue, light, shade and mass. Poetic license allows for the sweeping statement and through the sweeping statement we have access to the vision of what could be. Whole urban landscapes simply become faceted planes into which insertions are made (Zenghelis again). Then there is Koolhaas and the link to the Suprematists, the block axonometric that rides up the page like a medieval perspective. The Malevich Tektonik, the colour bock composition.
These are drawings of initial ideas and sketches, intuitively procured and then elaborately drawn by teams. They are large drawings that take time to set up as each is not a single drawing but is made up of multiple layers and perspectives. Some take months, the Trafalgar drawings would be one such example. They depict the Trafalgar Square project over a 24hour period, they show the square by day and night, from the back and the front, from near and far, they have elements that are transparent as both the inside and the outside are viewed. Zaha’s exquisite ‘eye’ for composition gives the paintings credence and beauty. Zaha’s aesthetic skill is one that few can match across an oeuvre of work that transcends so many mediums and scales.
The paintings are without question beautiful and are now very much part of brand Zaha, they surmise the direction, aesthetic and aspirations set by the designer. As tools for communicating a project they require considerable decoding, they are an additional language one needs to learn to decipher. Within the historical context at a time when all is ephemeral, transitory and evolving at such pace building a static representation of the movements and energies that shape a site may be, at this point in time, a necessary response. To represent the fluid is to build with fluid forms.
See also text 310316 – Zaha Hadid – London.
Images left to right – Details from -
1 Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935) 2-7 Zaha Hadid.
The Surrogate Twin
271216 – Distance – London WC2
We are off to visit the Caravaggio exhibition for a second time. As we turn the corner to approach Trafalgar Square from the west the low winter sun hits the National Gallery hard on its face; the lights beauty stops us in our tracks. The low sun brought relief to the moldings and cornices, adding definition, warming the yellow Portland stone whilst articulating all of the details of William Wilkins façade. It was a rare opportunity to fully appreciate a London building so often hidden by English overcast skies. Ruskin’s Seven Lamps promptly came to mind, Venice at sunrise or sunlit cobbles in a sleepy Italian hill town….but then there was a pause as I said that light had travelled 149 million miles to hit that façade. We Googled the travel time, light travelling at 186 thousand miles a second took eight minutes to travel from the sun to the National Gallery.
It is difficult to comprehend space speed and distance, 149 million miles in eight minutes, 18.6 million miles a minute. We understand space-time only from speeds that we regularly experience, long distances are most frequently experienced through car travel and this forms our all-encompassing concept of scale. At 60 mph, a mile a minute, quite fast and a legal speed, London to Bristol, 120 miles is 2 hours, London to Manchester, 210 miles is 3.5 hours. If we had lived in the 18th Century our all-encompassing concept of scale would be the horse and carriage with a speed of approximately 6 mph, London to Bristol 20 hours, London to Manchester 35 hours. Our experiential conditioning of space-time prevents us from fully comprehending our insignificance within the universe.
A light year, the distance light travels in a year, is six trillion miles, again a meaningless number, even more incomprehensible when written 6,000,000,000,000 miles. Our VW Golf is happy at 60 mph. one light year at VW Golf speed is 100,000,000,000 hours or 47,915,668 years. So in our VW Golf, assuming we would need a couple of sandwich breaks it would take 48 million years to travel one light year. The nearest star to the sun is Alpha Centauri 4.4 light years from earth, the Golf’s not up to it.
There are approximately 300 billion stars in the Milky Way, if, assuming 10% of them have planets, there are 30 billion planets in our galaxy alone and there are over 100 billion known galaxies in the observable universe. Our concept of space-time is so wonderfully inadequate and our present ability to cross such distances is so far out of our reach that it will be some time before we can ”boldly go”.
If Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity is correct and that energy and mass are interchangeable, speed of light travel is impossible for material objects that weigh more than photons. The energy needed to move a material object at the speed of a massless photon moves to an infinite requirement as it approaches the speed of light. Warping space to move an object instead of increasing its kinetic energy is a purely theoretical solution to the problem although one adopted by many science fiction writers. Star Treks warp drive is a scalable measure using the formula v=w3c where v is velocity, c the speed of light, and w the warp factor. Therefore warp factor 1 is the speed of light, warp factor 2 is eight times the speed of light (23) and warp factor 3 is twenty-seven times the speed of light (33). Warp factor 10 theoretically reverses time.
Discovering the means by which to cross such colossal distances will be the equivalent to the wake up that followed the Hellenistic astrologers proof that the world is spherical and not flat. (The world as a sphere was conceived by the Greeks in the 6th century BC and proven in the 3rd century BC). Until we are able to cross such immense space-time distance our only interplanetary explorers will be Hollywood movie stars, the occasional Vulcan and of course the suns photons.
Images 1-7. The National Gallery at Sunrise. 7 Robert Venturi’s Post Modernist Trace.
The Surrogate Twin
251216 – Xmas Reflections – London
Christmas is so many things to so many people, to some a religious festival or a winter ski holiday, to others blatant marketing and commercialisation. I have a very neutral opinion in that it just exists like every other calendar event that has little meaning or relevance to my life. I neither dislike or like it, as a period of reflection and reassessment of ones values it is worthy interlude from the relentless business world. As such I have little to comment on Xmas so instead have included a link to an FT article that better explains the magic that makes some people so wonderful. The ability to see is a rare gift, here in this article, when some see humble fairy lights others see progress, cosmopolitanism, ecosystems and opportunities.
Happy Xmas John Gapper
231216 – Abstract Expressionism – Royal Academy, London W1J
1946 with the World Wars over, Europe is on its knees, derelict and destitute, it fights for its own survival as it struggles to return back to normality. The mending journey would take 15-20 years, Europe then financially crippled, with a bombed out infrastructure, a severely diminished labour force and left with enormous US debt. America did well out of the wars, it found its second wind and with it grew to dominate world Industry and finance, oil and resources, media and politics and with this the world became more American. Excess was the consequence of this new found wealth, glamour shifts from Paris to 1950’s Hollywood, big dresses, 6m long cars, palace sized houses with full fridges the size of a British terrace house box room. America is a country confident in its newfound strength, it is brash, forward looking and opportunistic. Old world order is finally smashed, improvisation and experimentation is the order of the day, New York Jazz, Cigarettes, Beatniks and Abstract Expressionism. Coltrane, Kerouac and Pollock.
Spontaneous, subconscious, automatic art put New York at the centre of the 1940s and 1950’s contemporary art scene. The canvas, a space of enactment, an event captured and contained, where paint is liberated from the values of morality, politics and opinions. The studio floor replaces the easel, paint is dripped and splashed without traditional brushstrokes and all of their tonal values, the unstretched canvas is attacked from all sides. The very changes of approach and production influenced numerous painters for the following decades freeing up techniques and attitudes. Post War, when all progress that had preceded the wars led to catastrophe, new directions were unclear and could no longer be philosophically prescribed, experimentation was the only way forward.
Colours are players, sax and drums, swish, jab, scrape and slide, feel don’t think, move when it moves, beat and scale, adlib, react, follow its lead, let the conversation begin. Blue wipe shrill African forms, mud and primitive, primates on piano, beat the poet, open up within, express and distress, emotive control, follow the senses not the mind, staccato on a drip drip solo. Bohemian hedonists take their Naked Lunch, On The Road as The Dharma Burns, wave and overlay. “Angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night” Wet pavements and Greenwich neon, out there man, in the distant basement Howl like Ginsberg where the saxophone screams for those ‘Beat’ down. Build up the layers, colour on colour, a constant progression of an un-choreographed stooping dance. Flick flick and swing “tomorrow is a drag man,” “turn your eyes inside and……..dig the vacuum.”
231216. The Abstract Expressionism collection on display at the Royal Academy was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see so many influential works together in one extensive exhibition. The work on display is of the most influential of the period, it is simply incredible, the show, sadly is not. The RA has long been a dusty old backwater forever waiting for a well-needed rejuvenation. Whether this has been due to decrepit internal politics, lack of confidence, vision or simply lack of ability is uncertain. The Abstract Expressionism exhibition is the most undersold show of extraordinary art works ever to be seen. We spent as much time redesigning it room by room as we did looking at the work on display. When one recalls and compares this to recent V&A shows, such as Alexander McQueen-Savage Beauty, the Abstract Expressionism exhibition is a national embarrassment delivered with colloquial intellectual myopia. Everything was wrong, the design, the lighting, the pace, the grammar, the composition, the juxtaposition and the grouping. How can an art based institution put on an international exhibition with such banal mediocrity. Dear RA if you ever have the opportunity to put on such an exhibition again or even if you wish to do a post mortem on this exhibition as it comes to a close please email as you need help and this is not difficult work.
Images left to right. 1-3 Jackson Pollock, 4-5 Willem De Kooning, 6-7 Arshile Gorky.
Further recommended links
The Surrogate Twin
211216 - Electronic Gallery – London c06/1992
Flock Project June 1992.
Invented in 1904 the air curtain is a pragmatic form of invisible non-material boundary. A sheet of energy separates two temperature zones with a fast moving airflow screen preventing the internal and external air pressure from equalising. The air curtain is a primitive form of invisible architecture, a type of force field protecting an interior enclosure.
In the late 1960’s the work of Super Studio montaged an architecture that had been reduced to pure energy, there are no buildings or monuments, no borders or boundaries but instead environs that facilitate and enable life. These were politically conceptual projects conceived for an idealised continuous space, the space of John Lennon’s 1971 Imagine.
Architecture is organised simplistically, usually with serve and servile zones punctuated by service cores that provide for and support programmes. It is possible to organise a more liberal architecture directly from the programme by deconstructing, re-writing and overlapping programmes. Destructed programmes form compositions that are multi-layered like a musical score, the resulting spaces more liquid and transitory. Flock swarming or fish schooling describe types of organised collective motion of numerous individual members that move as a combined whole. This is usually used as a means of defence by magnifying the spatial consequence of the colony. The flock or school move together with equal speed and direction, instantly and collectively responding to events, actions and dangers. The swarm or school is a kinetic spatial organisational system producing a fluctuating architecture appropriate for software driven spatial typologies.
The Light Flute was an initial experimental maquette, it was deliberately shaped like a flute, one end was held and from the other streamed ‘notes’. The ‘notes’ were interchangeable transparencies on stems. Hold the Light Flute to the sun and light through the transparencies modulates the physical space upon which the light falls. The purpose of the Light Flute was not to throw image onto surface, although that was part of its function, but instead to represent the dualism within the concept. When the Light Flute was offered to someone, they would hold it, study it, enquire about its purpose but almost always eventually hold the Light Flute to their mouths and mimic playing. Here without any causal or rational reason an object had directed the behaviour of the user. The Light Flute is an instrument that both modulated space and behaviour. The Electronic Gallery is a larger instrument of the same type.
Film space is an instantaneous scale less space, it can compress and extend time, slow it down and speed it up, it can advance or recede the picture plane expanding and collapsing our perceived physical enclosure. In film space the subject may be viewed simultaneously from several directions, close up or from afar and as such it portrays space as a group activity or a collective Borg experience. The space may also be described by the experience of the subject, the dog running through the woods, the bullet cartridge being discovered. Film space plays forwards and backwards, it loops and replays, it zooms in and out, becomes focussed an unfocussed, it can be colour intense or de-saturated. Film space is a constantly narrated and orchestrated space, well edited and cropped, perfect, hyper-real as it makes public the most intimate whilst normalising the most brutal. Film space is a ride, the viewer is carried through a sequence of pre-determined events, shown what to see, when to laugh, when to walk away. The space is shared, emotions shared, fear as a group activity, we are dragged into the fight; we stand alongside the assailants, within the circle of aggression. The viewer experiences the car chase, the motorbike ride, the crash and the inevitable recurring death. The death can be experienced from inside the subject, as all focus is lost, eyes slowly close and the skies turn black. Through constant saturation we have become immune to film space we accept it as a normal interpretation of physical space, yet it is nothing like the real space we inhabit.
The Electronic Gallery set out to explore the impasse between our understandings of film space and physical space, between conceptual synthetic space and real space. It set out to explore the synchronistic potentials within the simultaneous experience of both spatial types. The Electronic Gallery reinterprets a real time walk by wrapping it in a swarm of choreographed spatial sequencing. The brief questioned both the cinema and the traditional gallery as an appropriate typology, it made a pragmatic shortcut into an abstract meander with a spliced array of alternative spatial experiences en route. The architecture was to be reduced to the liquid medium of film. There are no service cores, no secondary programmes, there is no enclosure and the structure is removed from the immediate spatial experience. Each picture plane, a two-dimensional surface, becomes a tesseract of evolving spatial types working in isolation or together as a hive mind collective. The synthetic space of the picture plane modifies the physical space through its discourse. A building consists of hardware and software, form and event, the Electronic Gallery moves towards the presentation of pure software, the space as energy, liquid, volatile, a womb or an abyss.
The space of fire is a space created by pure energy, it has its own dynamic, is self-forming, it is not a space of enclosure, skin or structure. The Electronic Gallery is a self-morphing space fuelled by the energy of information, sequenced interactive software. It can be fire, water or woods, it can be macro or micro, inter planetary travel or journeys through nano landscapes. The space can be subjective and personal, augmented solely for private consumption. As architecture becomes more kinetic, responsive, space modulating, the system that organises it will need to be more fluid. The Electronic Gallery would be an ongoing experiment, an instrument, a spatial research tool for assessing space-time juxtapositions.
Synthetic space is a timeless medium, it can represent a space that is happening elsewhere simultaneously, represent a space that happened several years previously or be a space that has never existed at all. In it one can listen to spaces from other times, smell fields and factories, interact with it, push through the synthetic forest to discover past or future worlds. In synthetic space the real world has been decontextualized, manipulated, edited, tempered. This hyper-real intensity makes the synthetic space more real, more violent, more exotic. There is a constant dialogue and discourse between real and synthetic space, as synthetic space intensifies to become more real, real space emulates it to catch up. The fictional and the real interact, one directs the other. As real space tries to imitate its super-intense fictional counter part, the fictional space increases its intensity to further distance the real. The fictional synthetic space has been edited and recomposed to deliver hyper-real intensity. One subjectively and subconsciously edits real space-time to align with the concepts and expectations of constructed synthetic space-time. Real and synthetic are mutually interactive, influential and directive this is a self-propelling cultural relay loop.
The early maquettes of the Electronic Gallery explored the spatial ideas of swarm organisation and were left clear. Other early maquettes employed the use of a previously created synthetic space, Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) paintings of Marie de Medici, Queen of France. These were painted as a series of twenty-four four meter high frames that depict events throughout the Queen’s life; by default they incorporate time and could easily have been a storyboard for a film and of course they were pure fiction. Marie de Medici was an unremarkable person with an unexceptional life. Rubens paints her as a divinity taught by the Gods, a French heroine of extraordinary adventures, noble deeds and fearless undertakings. Thus immortalised this is the image that history adopts and with the adoption of the myth her real world powers increase.
In a world that is a copy of a copy of a copy, that is simulated and re-assimilated there is little attachment to anything natural. i.e. strawberries not tasting like strawberry drinks, that in turn make suppliers genetically modify strawberries to taste more like strawberry drinks. This is our world, the world in which we live and architecture and film should explore this space.
See also Fruit Pastels 161216
Images Left to Right. 1 Herrings School, 2-6 Electronic Gallery, 7 Starlings flock.
The Surrogate Twin
061216 – Lessons – London
Mankind’s ability to produce and assimilate knowledge is increasing exponentially along with the products and technologies associated to this newfound knowledge. This has left many of the world’s population socially and intellectually displaced and has been a catalyst for the political unrest across the globe as people pursue popular political doctrines. This new knowledge is mainly used to create fiscal products and efficiencies that in turn increase pressure on global problems such as population and capital consolidation. Progress moves forward at ever increasing speed whilst not tackling the issues of priority urgency. The world’s ability to be able to support the human population is running close to maximum capacity, there is a requirement to slow down to buy time to better manage and direct future development. With access to plentiful resources and energy mankind has achieved via brute force, he now needs to achieve with balance a fully sustainable agenda that has scope for equilibrium and longevity. This will include a managed global fiscal/population, terraform earth projects that allow us to inhabit ever more extreme regions, a move to a fully solar economy and the beginning of space colonisation. Ever increasing computer power is slowly decoding the complexities of molecular and genetic biology. As our understanding of bioengineering increases our control over its uses and applications will increase. Initially this knowledge will be used to repair and prevent medical issues, gene strengthening will lead to gene splicing which in turn will lead to complete remodelling and genetic design for specific requirements.
Man still has much to learn from natures millions of years of R&D. To inhabit ever more extreme environs, including space, man would do well to maximise on nature’s millenniums of development. Perhaps at some point in the future man will take control of his own evolutionary path as he continues to adapt and evolve in relation to the ever more extreme environments in which he will inhabit. This short accumulative essay on the marvels of the natural world lists nature’s considerable achievements in living within extreme environments. The list has no particular order and will be added to as time permits. The purpose of the essay is based on the premise that humans living in extra-terrestrial environments will evolve independently from earth-based humans. The human species will split and diversify to accommodate the new imposed conditions of their chosen future environ. Science will enable and enhance the speed at which humans evolve through bioengineering, fine-tuning each human strain to its new or predicted environ. All life on earth is genetically similar as we have evolved and diversified over time from common ancestors. During the evolution process a multitude of natures wonders have developed unique and very specific skills many of which would be beneficial to increase the pallet of the human bioengineer. The list below begins to sample possible source traits.
Thermoregulation - The Flamingo thermoregulates keeping its body at a constant temperature regardless of the surrounding ambient temperature. This allows the flamingo to inhabit regions of severe diurnal range where day night temperature may vary from -30 to a day temperature of +40 °C. Using a system of counter current blood flow heat is efficiently recycled and not lost, extremities such as the long legs and large feet are highly vascularized and these can be used for either cooling or conserving heat. The body works as a heat pump so heat loss is minimized when the ambient temperature is cold and heat gain minimized when the ambient temperature is hot. A flamingo’s legs are primary heat conductors. It will stand on two legs when the ambient temperature is hot so as to aid heat loss and on one leg when wishing to minimize heat loss. The efficiencies gained through thermoregulation allow better use of energy during other activities such as flight where flamingoes have been known to travel up to 600km between habitats. Flamingos are also able to use evaporative heat loss methods such as, cutaneous evaporative heat loss and respiratory evaporative heat loss. Cutaneous evaporative heat loss lacks efficiency in hot dry climates due to moisture loss during the evaporative process. Respiratory heat loss, panting like a dog, is a more efficient method of cooling. The flamingo’s respiratory system, its long neck, trachea and membranes within the neck are all part of a sophisticated cooling system.
Osmoregulation - Flamingos inhabit hyper-saline lakes with high alkalinity, often called soda lakes. They ingest food with high salt content and mostly drink salt water, whilst also being able to drink fresh water at near boiling point from geysers and volcanic springs. The flamingo desalinates this water with the use of its kidneys, the lower gastrointestinal tract and its salt glands, these work together to maintain the homeostasis between ions and fluids. Although salts from food and water pass through the kidney first it is dissipated via the salt glands in the flamingos beak. As such the flamingo is an organic water conservation and desalination plant.
Many mammals hibernate, some much more efficiently than bears but the principles are the same for each. When food and resources are limited and environmental conditions harsh lowering ones metabolic rate conserves energy over prolonged periods. When the bodies metabolic rate is lowered the body temperature drops and the heart rate and breathing are slower. The hibernating body exists on reserves of stored fat built up before hibernation. Whilst hibernating bears are able to recycle their urine and proteins, this stops muscle atrophy and the need to urinate for many months. Bears also have cubs during hibernation and the cubs also hibernate until warmer weather arrives. If humans fully understood how hibernation works and how to induce it in humans this would have many uses including medical and space travel.
The Artic Wood Frog
Many insects, reptiles and fish posses a level of freeze tolerance but the Artic Wood Frog is the master and can be frozen alive. Up to two thirds of the frogs body water can be frozen and it will still live. When frozen, the Artic Wood Frog stops breathing, its heart stops beating and it can endure this state for many weeks with temperatures as low as -16°C. Upon thawing the frog returns to a healthy life. The Artic Wood Frog uses cryroprotectants that lower the freezing temperature of the animal’s tissue to protect its cells. Cryoprotectants include urea (usually excreted in urine) and glucose (blood sugar). Being able to freeze living human tissue without damaging cells would have immediate medical implications including its use for organ transplants. If humans could survive an induced frozen state this may be useful for space travel and space survival.
Many mammals, birds and fish use bio sonar or echo-location. It is used for navigation and hunting.
Microbats such as Townsend’s big-eared bats are masters of echo-location. Man-made sonar is multi beam. Bio sonar has one point to transmit sound, the mouth, and two points to receive sound the ears. Bio sonar is extremely efficient at analyzing size, speed, distance and surrounding environments these can all be sensed using bio sonar with incredible accuracy, microbats hunting moths being one example. Microbats use sound waves above the range that humans can hear, ultrasound. For humans bio sonar would be useful for mapping, modeling and navigation.
Starfish, sea urchins, the Mexican axoloti, newts, some lizards and frogs can all regrow body parts. Every species is capable of aspects of regeneration but this regeneration can be complete (total replacement) or incomplete partial replacement or repair where full or total regeneration is prevented by fibrosis. The salamander can regrow its tail but not its limbs whilst closely related frogs can also regrow their limbs. Sharks regrow teeth throughout their lives, something humans are unable to do, and deer annually regrow antlers. The planarian worm has impressive regenerative abilities, chop them into tiny pieces and each piece will regrow a body but a small marine creature the hydractinia can better all this and regrow its head. The key to regeneration is the retention of embryonic stem cells for life and it is possible that humans may have this form of tissue regeneration but it is genetically dormant. The embryo has the genetic structure to fabricate a body and its associated parts to maintain complete regeneration throughout ones life one would need to retain this ability at a cellular level. The bodies ability to fully self-repair would have immediate use wherever our future explorations may lead, however distant we are from the nearest hospital or donor bank.
Abalone shell, spiders silk and tooth enamel are all tough. Tooth Enamel is the hardest substance in the human body and is 96% mineral. Abalone shell an extremely hard ceramic composite (see entry 071116 Composites) made from platelets derived from chalk and glued together with an elastic protein. This combination of rigidity and flexibility gives the shell its unique characteristic and its strength. Spider’s silk is also a composite that combines the properties of two spun proteins. Spiders produce three types of silk each with a different purpose. Dragline silk forms the diagonal spokes of the spiders web, bridgeline silk the point of connection to the webs support and a third more elastic silk that is used to create the continuous spiral of the web itself. Dragline silk is the strongest of the spider’s silks and has a tensile strength of 1.3 GPa (gigapascals). Steel by comparison is 1.65 GPa but spiders silk is less dense and therefor much lighter than steel, so weight for weight spiders silk is 5x stronger than steel.
Limpets are molluscs that spend most of the day scraping their food from the surface of rock with their teeth. Limpet teeth have replaced spider’s silk as the strongest organic material known to date. Limpet teeth have a tensile strength well beyond most alloys at 3.0 to 6.5 GPa. The teeth consist of a protein base interwoven with a tightly packed webbing of nanofibers made of an iron-based mineral called goethite. Like all of nature’s materials it is fabricated at ambient temperature from readily available materials. If we understood, at a molecular level, how limpet teeth are made (grown) we could make (grow) body armour stronger than Kevlar and perhaps eventually use that knowledge to build spaceships and space stations.
Barnacles, a crustacean, have two natural larval stages, the first nauplius is common to most crustacean, it swims freely once it hatches out of the egg feeding on the plankton. The second cyprid larvae stage is unique to barnacles. The cyprid larvae searches for a surface that is exposed to water flow, either a moving surface such as a boats hull or whale torso or a surface within strong tidal flow. The cyprid larvae attaches itself to its chosen surface for the rest of its life and from here feeds on passing plankton.
Barnacles are fixed with an excreted cement. Most bio-adhesives consist mainly of proteins such as gelatin and carbohydrates such as starch. Barnacles adhere by first excreting an oily substance that clears the water from the rock or surface to which it wants to attach, it then excretes a phosphoprotein adhesive (a protein containing phosphorus). Proteolytic activation of structural proteins help bond the protein with other proteins and the chosen surface whilst transglutaminase cross-linking reinforces cement integrity. It is believed that this is similar to blood clotting so the barnacles cement bond is a form of wound healing.
If we understood exactly how the barnacle bonds we could adhere in moving wet conditions with an environmentally benign glue. If the bonding process was fully understood the reverse would be easily achievable creating surfaces to which the barnacle was unable to attach. This would have priority for ships where friction efficiency equates to more speed with less fuel consumption.
The Gecko is renowned for being able to climb vertical smooth surfaces such as glass, it can even hang inverted from such surfaces, and yet its feet are neither sticky or use suction to adhere. The gecko’s feet are a type of dry adhesive using millions of fine hairs as contact at a micro scale.
The gecko’s foot spreads wide for maximum contact with the underside of each toe having a series of ridges that are covered with uniform ranks of setae (fine hair). Each setae subdivides into hundreds of split ends with flat triangular tips called spatulas. A geckos’ satae is approximately 110 micrometers long and 4.2 micrometers wide. The spatula end is about 0.2 micrometers long and 0.2 micrometers wide. There are about 14,400 setae per square millimeter on the foot of a tokay gecko, over 3.2 million on its front feet. The geckos feet work by attraction and repulsions between atoms, molecules and surfaces. A molecule is a group of atoms bonded together, the smallest fundamental component of a chemical compound. Atoms consist of protons and electrons. Positive atoms are attracted to negative atoms and this is the basic principle of molecular bonding. The geckos’ feet do not bond as in the chemical description to a surface but use this attraction to grip.
Human design application of this knowledge would include gloves, suits or any interlocking surface that needs an immediate on/off.
I will continue to add to this text when time and relevance permits.
The Surrogate Twin
231116 – UK Infrastructure – London
It is a point of national embarrassment that UK politicians are famous for their endless indecision. Brexit has further diverted valuable political time away from more urgent global concerns and these include: Climate Change, how to reduce the UK’s dependence upon fossil fuels especially the immediate reduction in the use of coal and UK infrastructure, the need to replace and update the UK’s outdated Victorian infrastructure. The two concerns are inter-woven; infrastructure and the decentralization of the UK energy supply should be tackled holistically. Decisions of this type are long term and should be made outside the remit of the four yearly political cycles. The Infrastructure Commission is a start and one hopes that they will have the power to do more than just churn reports.
Fortunately for the UK the most qualified to provide infrastructure solutions have their main office at Riverside on the Thames. So when Foster and Partners offers the UK a solution to its infrastructure problems the UK would be wise to listen. Foster and Partners have been consistently providing quality infrastructure solutions for decades their CV is beyond reproach. Thames Hub is Foster’s solution and although strategically I differ on how best to deliver this, (see the 2014 letter to City Hall copied below in the postscript) the UK needs to make this call. An airport is the gateway to and from a country. As a building type it is beyond a pure utility, a machine of logistics, but also is a built representation of a countries values and ambitions.
Foster’s early approach to airport design was to capture the excitement of the pioneer open grass airfields. These were little more than tents around a field but the sequence of arrival, boarding and the visual connection to the planes has been a generating concept even in the largest and most complex of Foster’s airports. The ground plane is kept clear and uncluttered, all air conditioning and services are removed from the roof scape and ceilings and natural light floods the forecourts. All of the mechanisms that make an airport work are below the ground plane and out of sight. This enables the mechanisms that facilitate the utility component of an airport to be contained within an efficient lower level metaphorical black box whilst freeing up the ground plane and the architectural component. This concept is not new and can be seen in Mies Van Der Rohe’s Berlin National Gallery but applying and delivering such a concept with clarity to extremely large and complex airport projects is no small achievement. It is this clarity from concept to execution that makes Foster and Partners apt at infrastructure design. As a design consultancy they have the ability to assimilate huge quantities of data, statistical, political, financial, engineering, architectural, logistical etc. and from it deliver a coherent, rational, achievable and poetic conclusion. Additionally to this Foster and Partners are able to see further opportunities and potentials that can be incorporated into a fully all-inclusive design solution.
To be able to do all of this and still deliver an architectural poetic is extremely difficult and very few practices attain such skills. The gem of the gems is Beijing airport as it not only resolves the complex issues of airport design but it is also has incredible culturally site specific personality.
The images above provide seven reasons why the UK needs to replace continued indecision by making the right decision so that she can remain a country of ambition and conviction.
The Surrogate Twin.
Postscript. Letter to the London Mayor 080914,
The past year has seen the debate over how to improve Britain’s airports fall into unproductive disarray with each protagonist fighting for his corner. Business, Contracts, Licenses, Capital allocation and Politics have taken all clarity from the underlying problem of how to prepare Britain’s infrastructure for generations to come. This is most apparent in the fight for individual airports and not how best all airports may serve the countries needs.
Historically the two principle airports of Gatwick and Heathrow have developed South and West of the capital. This has been due partly to the available space and sensible location of the original recreational and military airports and later reinforced by surrounding affluent and educated market catchment areas. These conditions have changed dramatically as demographics have moved east along the Thames corridor. The building of Stansted acknowledged this demographic shift and for two decades London has been served by three airports Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted all working together. Each airport provides an overlap with its neighbours in catchment area and services provided. The triangulation of the airports around London and the influences on the areas beyond has provided a balanced infrastructure organization. However this balance has now dramatically changed as population density increases along the Thames corridor replacing redundant industrial sites and disused quarries with housing, offices and retail centers. The growth eastward will continue for decades to come and the balance of the serving infrastructure needs to accommodate this.
There is of course an additional need to better link the North with the South with an improved railway spine to revitalize the ’Industrial North’ that has been neglected by successive policies favouring service industries over manufacturing industries. There is also a need to link and encourage collaboration between the main university and research centers of Cambridge, Oxford and London as the UK’s IT, Robotics and Biochemistry development and procurement has fallen behind the US and other developed nations.
Looking at how to best improve UK airports without having to steer through the thick political fog one may well note the following points:
It is understandable that UK politicians have neither the confidence or the finances of the Victorians………..the Empire is long gone.
Increasing flights to Heathrow is at best unwise. Heathrow is a major international accident is waiting to happen.
There is only one London airport that was designed from the outset to accommodate growth and potential future increase in flight traffic and that is Stansted.
And arrive at the following conclusions:
Stansted should be allowed to increase capacity as this would provide the most efficient short-term fix.
Simultaneously Thames Hub to be developed as a two Phase scheme with 50% of the proposed scheme developed as Phase one.
On completion of Thames Hub Phase One flights to Gatwick and Heathrow would be diverted to Thames Hub.
Thames Hub Phase Two to commence.
All flights from Gatwick diverted to Thames Hub and Gatwick closed and the land re-developed.
On completion of Thames Hub Phase Two the majority of flights from Heathrow diverted to Thames Hub. Heathrow to continue but with much reduced capacity. Heathrow could be developed as a new short haul airport west of the reservoirs with its existing buildings and land re-allocated for industrial/office use.
The then three remaining airports of Thames Hub, Stansted and Heathrow would be better balanced to serve the infrastructure needs of future Britain. Valuable land re-claimed from Gatwick and Heathrow would contribute to infrastructure funding.
Not using Foster and Partners to develop a credible infrastructure plan could be the UK’s greatest mistake.
211116 – Cloud Gate 2 – Sadler’s, London EC1
Taiwan’s Cloud Gate 2 Sadler’s Wells. The performance was split into three acts Wicked Fish, The Wall and Beckoning.
Cloud Gates acts 1 and 2 were a frenetic, manic, complex choreography with the dancers working as a unified swarming mass. Weaving, layering, swirling they laid a mesh of movement across the stage that formed a rich uniform texture. Dark costumes and dark lighting set the mood. The dancers worked off of each other their execution fluid, skilful, quick and precise. The first two acts were the dance equivalent of a Jackson Pollack painting, an energetic canvas covered with undeviating fluid intensity from edge to edge.
If the first two acts were Pollack’s the third was a Kandinsky. The lighting was lifted and the costumes pure colour. The choreography more staccato with bunched group work, flying solos and dancers following a line all working within a sparse canvass. The composition continually takes the eye back and forth moving from areas of dance or mix colour conglomeration to isolated points of energy in vibrant colour.
The Contemporary Dance / Pollack comparative is also contextual. When the narrative, meaning, moral, hierarchy and emotive are stripped from a performance the free flow abstract of movement or paint are limiting. This pure abstraction of paint and dance had a purpose in the 1950’s and 60’s but its relevance is questionable today. Contemporary dance now requires additional layers of meaning, rationale and investigation. The Cloud Gate 2 performance was youthful, competent and complex but lacked the magic of either intellect or virtuoso. As an interpretation of swarm Wicked Fish was the most interesting and for the purely visual aesthetic Beckoning shone.
The Surrogate Twin
161116 – Fruit Pastels – c09/1991 London
Fruit Pastels - When will my apple taste as good as my apple drink?
Aspirational Living and the Predator House Project September 1991.
In the early 1970’s we ate Instant Whip in day glow bright orange, greens and pinks, we wore platform shoes finished in metal-flake purple fauve leather with snakeskin toes and heart shaped buckles, we listened to Glam Rock and lengthy concept albums. The Bounty bar arrived from its tropical island delivered by a dusky mistress of the sun. A would be Bond risks life and limb to transport his gift of Milk Tray. Manikin cigars, those that make ‘you’ the real man, are hand rolled by a husky voiced exotic Amazonian, she’s curved with ample everything. We dressed as genderless rock stars, we jacked up our cars, added false bonnet scoops and spoilers, covered our seats in leopard print. We were sold the dream of this aspirational life and we soaked it up as the reality of the 1970’s with its poverty, unemployment and endless strikes was just so bad. The 1970’s were escapist and fake, a dreamland created for a society that needed diversion from dissolution. This aspirational life became our reality. As our presold dream always outperformed our real life we soon began converting reality to daydream and in this, and only in this space, could we bare to exist. Club life, football life, fanzines and groupies anything to replace the soulless decanting of the nine to five. The TV screen became the primary habitable space. Decades on the separation between reality and imagined lifestyle continues to grow, it blurs and strengthens until the line between real and unreal is so normalised that we all now live suspended within the dream hoping for a better tomorrow.
How can we exist in a world where our dreams by far exceed our obtainable reality without falling under the blanket of depression weighed heavy by our own obvious inadequacies. Our expectations are pre-set so high that life is now solitary as one is never quite able to meet the ideal, perfect in everyway partner, the one we were supposed to meet through our TV ad compatible surrogate.
Predator House explored the potential of these issues to create a house for those that enjoy being marginalised and disenfranchised. With the adaptive camouflage of the chameleons skin, LEDs in the glass mimic the surroundings. Above ground the house does its best to be invisible, an anonymous wallflower, the critic in the corner, the shadow. The outside world is viewed at a distance the house offers a safe arms length third party lifestyle. The Predator House hides as a Rene Magritte’s Le Blanc-Seing, a visual static breakdown, a glitch in the system, the home of a misplaced, misled, misfit. The space above ground, the glasshouse, has no intent to be lived in but instead is the guise of the voyeur, a hidden space from where reality can be viewed. It is below ground where one inhabits ones preferred well-edited, non-confrontational, aspirational realities, the daydreams. Space here is in constant flux, it adapts to ones moods, it can be pre-set and predetermined, its intensity can be turned up and down as wished, just as one sets mood and volume for music. The space could be left on constant shuffle or instead explore a pre-chosen compilation based around the theme of happy yellow or whatever one wishes. The virtual plan of the below ground far exceeds its physical enclosure as it can be both room or landscape, a country walk or a comfy sofa. The space is a virtual space that exists in real space-time blurring the edges of what’s real and imaginary. It is the celebrity space I want and not the mildewed, rental, rat infested, HMO micro pad, four jumpers and a set of thermals, space that I got.
See also 211216 The Electronic Gallery
Images from left to right. 1-3 Predator House; 4-6 below ground Synthetic Space, 7 Rene Magritte’s Le Blanc-Seing.
The Surrogate Twin
151116 – Kathak Giselle – Sadlers Wells, London EC1
Between 1983-85 The Electric Ballroom in Camden London had a small upstairs room hidden above a Hip Hop floor that can only be described as African tribal, it was male, black, physical, fast and violent. A mixture of adrenalin and fear dripped from the ceiling. The African drum and the aggressive percussion of Art Blakey made for a heady cocktail. When The Electric Ballroom closed Congas and Afro Cuban rhythm could be heard at Dingwalls and the Blue Note club. When Drum’n’Bass took off in the mid 1990’s The Blue Note became the home of Metalheadz. The Shoreditch clubs soon introduced dancers to Tablas and Indian rhythms, by way of Talvin Singh and The Asian Dub Foundation among others, and with it introduced club dancers to Kathak. The professional voice, if your feet and hands can be the voice, of Kathak was Akram Khan.
The semi-professional club dancers throughout the eighties and nineties were scavengers nothing was sacred. Dance moves would be taken from The Nicholas Brothers and Westside Story just as easily as from Capoeira or skateboarding. Each re-appropriation choreographed next to the equally unexpected annexation. A dance step would be taken without reference, a pure phonetic movement to be interpreted as one wished. The delivery and sentence flow of the moves was both the test and jury. Club dancers are intuitive improvisers, no sooner had a move been appropriated it is then given a further idiosyncratic interpretation, mixed into a new combination and as such evolves into something innovative and unique. One only has to compare a 1980’s break dance video with a 2016 world champion competition to see how far and how fast a new language of dance can evolve. The semi-professionals that inhabit the club dance scene are raw and unpolished, they play as much to each other as to an audience. Yet it is this microcosm of popular culture that provides much of the upfront R&D for the dance High Arts. Language development and adaption is intrinsic to both.
I have seen numerous works by Akram Khan, most were solos or duets in Khan’s contemporary Kathak rhythmic style. Kathak is story telling through dance so it was of interest to see how Khan would translate the 1841 Giselle classic? The story remains much the same as the original here it includes migrant factory workers, a love between caste and class, betrayal and condemnation, and eventual redemption. Khan’s Giselle was not as expected. It exceeded all preconceptions and is indeed the work of a mature director and equally competent and brilliant team. Visually stunning, complex and intricate, seamlessly weaving contemporary and classical ballet, heightened by the exquisite delivery of the dancers. With the set and costumes by Tim Yip (of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) the razor hipped translucent filigree Mantua dress was a timeless couture piece. The music by Vincenzo Lamagna sometimes reduced to static and looped radio interference created a haunting space in which to perform. Costumes, musical score and narrative all drew heavily upon the original. Professionalism exudes from exemplary teamwork with each contributor lifting the entirety of the final piece. Within this process it is impossible to fully identify who contributes what as the creative process is itself a dialogue of proposals each informing the other, Dancer to Director, Choreographer to Composer, Production to Performance. This creative process evolves semantic interpretations of previous accepted language. At the professional High Arts level the sources are heavily referenced and authenticated and more often refined as opposed to improvised.
The dancers, migrant workers, in Act 1 performed both the mechanisms of work and the movement of the machines that facilitated the work. This impression was that of mechanical weaving where the soloists were free flowing bobbins flying back and forth through a hypnotic repetitive tapestry. It provided the texture through which one could experience a life of cyclic toil. In this story of love and betrayal, Giselle is a peasant girl who is in love with Albrecht an upper class disguised incognito. Hilarion a jealous rival exposes Albrecht’s secret and by doing elicits tragedy, sending Giselle to madness and death. Simple gestures throughout the performance have significance. Giselle’s cupped hand held over the stomach is read as a pregnancy. Open hands on top of each other pulsate as a beating heart. Madness is a sea of undulating bodies that slowly disperse to reveal Giselle’s lifeless corpse.
In Act 2 Giselle walks amongst the Wilis. The Wilis are beautiful female sprits that exist between here and the afterlife. They are also fierce witchy warriors, suspicious of mortal men. The Wilis work en pointe for almost an hour. At the beginning of the act the performers emerge on mass out of the darkness. The effect is icy and poignant, creating a performance, which is both cold and haunting. The Wilis with their wild long hair are angry, footless, hovering, all moving as one army of spears. In this piece Khan has subverted the classical language of ballet where en pointe work is the height of delicacy and beauty to represent instead eternal damnation and suffering.
The language of the arts is in constant flux it is forever re-used and reinvented. It’s re-writing is as persistent in the High Arts as it is in popular culture by feeding off of each other. There is a semiotic cultural loop where misrepresentation can be absorbed and be as positive as deliberate re-contextualising. Language like culture constantly evolves. The information age has proliferated the speed at which culture is dispersed and adapted and it now operates in many layers and at many levels. This is as true in art as it is in dance. The evolution of language is a measure of societies ability to adapt to the ever-changing circumstance that determines our existence.
The Surrogate Twin
Cesar Corrales plays the jilted Hilarion. Formerly trained classical ballet dancers often look wooden when trying to convey a contemporary piece. Corrales is Mexican Cuban and moves with the inherited DNA of Afro Cuban, Tango and Latin. He delivers with feeling and has an on stage presence and maturity way beyond his age. He is a rising star and a dancer to watch.
Stina Quagebeur as Myrtha delivered the faultless and perfectly evil Queen of the Wilis.
121116 – Rauschenberg Static – Tate Modern, London SE1
The radio is stuck between channels in the vacuum not yet immersed with signals. In and out of range drift the nearest stations as if somehow the wind blows one nearer or further from the receiver. This ether, the zone between, is the static of the yet to be known. It is outside of my control and its sequence as yet unwritten. A blues riff can be heard then silence, a rose tinted love ballad, a news clip about rockets, war and space, an ad for soap, celebrity gossip then more interference. Over this I hear a distant aircraft, a clanking metal fence and the wind through the trees. If one could capture ten minutes of this static and compress it to a picture plane, the space created would be a Rauschenberg. It is the space of here and now, the space of today made from the fragments of memories and experiences of the moments that make that period of time. This compressed picture plane recalls events, the word recall is subjective as we chose what we recall, good and bad, relevant or pointless. We weigh each of these clips, some monotone, some vibrant, some clear and over powering and compose them. There is no one concluding narrative, no story to tell, just a period of time taken from the confused discarded past in which we lived.
Place and event was never the picture perfect still photograph. We never occupied the conventional photographic space as it cuts a slice of space-time that is far too thin and too precise. We instead inhabited the woolly blur of a past that was driven by choice in a space that was determined by others. The consequence of these events with all their spontaneity and contradictions, neither controlled or ordered, not random or improvised but somewhere in between are captured on a Rauschenberg canvas. In Rauschenberg’s work there are overlaps and confusions, there are sharp and blurred edges, some images stand clear in the void, clear in the static, but there is always impurity. These compressed picture planes are hypersensitive screens or filters offered up for others to interpret. The art interacts with the viewer, the observer, through their own subjective valuation of image and their associated recall. The art further interacts with the viewer by having objects jump off of the picture plane and into the space of the gallery. The office fan or the taxidermy bird sit in the real space of the gallery in front of the compressed space of the picture plane but physically tied back to it, part of it.
To my students I would say that Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol were the last relevant artists where arts role was to mirror life. Art as commentary or as the conscience of society in which the artist lives, a mirror to the world, real or metaphorical. Rauschenberg described himself as a reporter. Art beyond this date becomes something else as it is so closely linked to popular and celebrity culture its only objective is to garner fame and capital. It has become a brand-based commodity.
In the era of mass communication where the airwaves are saturated by TV, radio, advertising, newspapers, comics, fiction, and film, one can flip through channels as easy as turning pages, but the meaning is lost. A war is represented with the same emphasis as the coke bottle. Genocide and washing powder have equal footing, or a story about genocide is repetitively interrupted by adverts about washing powder and this makes for a very strange world. With time reality, fact, fiction and ultimately values become blurred. When constantly experiencing the world through the third person, the mediums of communication, everything turns to fiction. In this world without scale, where fragments are de and re-contextualised, associations enable a wide subjective interpretation of fact. Marketing collates the majority subjective interpretation and helps establish this as a mainstream truth. The world is collaged, condensed and flattened, subjective emphasis helps enhance the story we wish to read, the image we wish to see. Rauschenberg’s work dives straight into this static, where meaning through association are loaded and biased. A world where careful editing may re-write history but here it represents an existential world where there is neither right or good, it is just there.
The narrative in a figurative painting tells a constant story to those enabled, through education, to read its signs and symbols. Semantic content is made lucid through the use of composition, light and line. The meaning is the mere assemblage of its parts. The collage is non-directional. It first presents itself as a texture in which one can recognise familiar occurrences. These recognised occurrences are strung together with a subjective construal based upon personal values. The collage may tell differing stories to its varied audience but more appropriately the collage is how we receive information in a world of mass media. Time is no longer linear but fragmented, scale less, fed to us in clips, with each clip already removed from its original source by framing, speed, saturation or some other form of manipulation. In Rauschenberg’s world this representation of space-time is not only recorded by the use of image but also equally represented by artefact, the found and the discarded. In any existential art there is, by definition, no moral or meaning it just exits. Perhaps this is why art after this period seeks accreditation through popular appeal and capital valuation.
On 041216 to see the Rauschenberg exhibition at the Tate Modern held an unexpected surprise. The compressed picture plane in combination with the use of ready mades that free stand within the gallery space had the most unexpected presence. The Rauschenberg two-dimensional work captures a pocket of space-time from a now distant time zone, this is a painterly space, a virtual world. The ready mades sit in the gallery in real time, they invite the viewer to interact, they are part of the viewers space occupied in the present. Working elements such as lights and fans enforce the suggestion of occupied present time. This space immediately in front of the picture plane forms a transition zone an area of space that is the ‘in between’, both part of the virtual world and part of the real world and simultaneously part of the 1960’s/70’s and part of the present. The effect is subtle but a precursor for the new spatial type that we experience regularly today and will become a more prominent spatial type as VR increases in mainstream usage. For now we’ll call this space Wii space after the computer game, as this is the most obvious dislocation between inhabited and experienced space. Where the inhabited space is physical and in the present and the experienced space is virtual either purely virtual or jointly occupied by other users that could be located geographically anywhere. Augmented space explorers such as the Pokemon player inhabit this zone. Platforms such as Improbable SpatialOS (recently bought by Google), where infinite virtual worlds sit within the cloud, these can be simultaneously occupied by thousands of users and will soon become everyday.
As we spend forever higher proportions of our time occupying semi virtual space with new markets and experiences opening up within the created virtual worlds, we continue to occupy the ‘between zone’ or ‘Wii space’ and become ever more divorced from reality. In many ways urban life has already moved us one step from natures reality. We occupy cinemas, libraries, retail parks, offices and stadiums, each focused on an isolated activity often deliberately escapist and unworldly. We move between these disconnected spaces without a second thought, out of the cinema, across the transportation zone, into the café, where each space is given a specific activity and purpose. We forever continue to compartmentalise and subdivide and with each subdivision the transition from each spatial type to the next becomes absorbed as normality. Natures space is continuous and fluid, perhaps it is this lack of subdivision that makes natures space so daunting as we prefer everything boxed and mono-purposed. Our very idea of order begins first with compartmentalisation something so very alien to symbiotic nature and now so irrelevant in a world that is becoming ever more interconnected.
Rauschenberg’s work was never constructed to offer solutions or critiques it simply captures a period of time, with all its influences and confusions, and simply reflects that this is ‘us’ now.
The Surrogate Twin
101116 – Caravaggesques – National Gallery, London WC2
Beyond Caravaggio at The National Gallery.
The impact of Caravaggio’s painting in the early 17th century was both profound and brief, lasting approximately 30 years. Numerous artists admired and copied his work and style. The accepted idealised images to be used in paintings containing concepts of perfection and beauty are laid aside for the grubby reality of the poverty and muck of Rome. Artists from Italy, France and the Netherlands indulged in this newfound realism in which light and drapery are used to emphasise and frame the narrative. Street vendors in contemporary costumes take their place in the epic scriptural paintings of the Baroque. Biblical stories painted with graphic contemporary realism in the taverns, basements and the back streets of Rome.
Caravaggio is a favourite artist and the Caravaggesques are worthy disciples of the chiaroscuro techniques that give this style such drama. The work is well covered both in exhibition reviews and conventional art and bibliographical text so I won’t elaborate further here. Instead I enjoy and offer seven fragments of life, grime and suffering.
The Surrogate Twin
Images left to right, details only
- Dirck van Baburen (1595-1624). Cimon and Pero (Roman Charity). 1622
- Michelangelo Merigi da Caravaggio (1571-1610). Judith Beheading Holofernes, 1598
- Michelangelo Merigi da Caravaggio (1571-1610). The Incredulity Of St Thomas, 1601
- Jusepe De Ribera (1591-1652). The Martyrdom Of Saint Bartholomew, 1634
- Michelangelo Merigi da Caravaggio (1571-1610). Basket Of Fruit, 1599
- Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1656). Catherine Of Alexandria, 1635
- Jusepe De Ribera (1591-1652). Saint Onupbrius, 1630
071116 – Composites – London
BMW i3 i8
A recent article in the FT praised the uptake of composites, especially carbon fibre, as a material to be used for mass-produced cars. Both the author and reader’s comments were enthusiastic for the wide spread application of composites for mass production. The planet supports 8 billion people and is already carrying at least 3 billion, possibly 6 billion, too many. Each of these would like a car. Many in the west own more than one. It is estimated that the Chinese alone will buy 40 million cars by 2020. Cars are multiple reoccurring buys, car manufacturers benefit from maximising this reoccurring purchase. Vehicle obsolescence increases the number of reoccurring purchases. Obsolescence in the car industry can be as fickle as colour, style or the addition of some unnecessary new electronic gadget. Style generated obsolescence is key to mass-market consumerism. The landfill sites are full, the oceans adrift with acres of discarded plastic. When the carbon fibre car body replaces the plastic drink bottle where will we throw the waste? The FT article, the author and all of the readers comments were oblivious to the fact that man pollutes by the decisions he makes at the point of manufacture.
To cut car emissions manufacturers are keen to reduce a cars weight. Electric cars are heavy due to the batteries carried. Hybrid cars are heavier still as they carry two power sources, battery packs and fuel storage. This additional weight is partially offset by reduction in body shell weight and carbon fibre is a proposed alternative. The BMW i3 and i8 are beautiful and sophisticated pieces of engineering design. They have the wow factor that will provide a short-term lift in sales but they are simultaneously examples of irresponsible industrial design at a corporate level.
Carbon fibre is a unique material. Its strength to weight ratio is many multiples higher than steel or aluminium. It can be moulded into many complex forms essential for efficiently distributing loads through highly stressed junctions and intersections. Carbon fibre’s place in Formula One or the aircraft industry is well earned but as a medium of mass production it is an inappropriate material.
Carbon fibre consumes 14 times the amount of energy required to make steel. More than 90% of the energy needed to manufacture carbon fibre composites is consumed in making the carbon fibre itself. 90% of carbon fibre manufacture is derived from polyacrylonitrile made from acrylonitrile, which is derived from the commodity chemicals propylene and ammonia. The process of making carbon fibre requires multiple ovens used in sequence. The first two ovens are at temperatures of 200-300 degrees C but carbonization is achieved by putting the fibres through another series of ovens ranging in temperatures from 700-800 degrees C, then 1200-1500 degrees C and finally 3450-4500 degrees C. Alongside the energy intensive heat sequence is the chemical washing, doping, catalyst forming, cleaning this with acids and ammonia. Some of the chemicals used throughout the process include dimethyl sulfoxide, dimethyl acetamide or dimethyl formamide, zinc chloride and rhodan salt, itaconic acid, sulfur dioxide acid, sulfuric acid or methylacrylic acid. These are all highly toxic pollutants that the FT article is promoting if carbon fibre is mass-produced.
At end of use carbon fibre is even more problematic as it does not biodegrade or photodegrade. – EVER – it will sit in landfill for millenniums. Carbon fibre cannot in anyway be usefully recycled. There are two ways to re-use carbon fibre one of which involves burning without oxygen (pyrolysis), but this is an intensive use of energy and produces a brittle material. The second is shredding and reusing the by-product as fill or aggregate. In both scenarios it is more expensive to recycle carbon fibre than produce it from virgin material and the recycled material is severely downgraded and has very little use, quality or properties of the original composite material.
Abalone is the name of a group of large sea snails or molluscs. The shell is made of nacre a composite. Nacre is composed of hexagon platelets of aragonite, calcium carbonate (chalk) glued together with proteins and polysaccharides (sugars) to form elastic biopolymers. Abalone is twice as strong as any known ceramic. Its layered composite structure prevents shearing and provides compressive and tensile strength. This shell material deforms under stress and behaves like a metal. Abalone is an accumulative secreted medium a process similar to 3D printing and this technique is perfect for fabricating complex forms.
Nacre like all of nature’s products is manufactured at ambient temperature using readily available non life threatening materials, here sugar and chalk.
Nature has an ordered hierarchical structure, weaving from the atomic level to the macroscopic. This repetition is applied to all scales and provides the materials unique strength.
Structures built from a molecular level up have an inherent logic that dictates what bonds to what and how. This forms a pre-coded system of self-assembly.
This coding allows nature to work with templates that are site and condition specific. It builds exactly what it needs to the specification needed. There is no waste of either time or material.
At the end of its life the Abalone returns all it has used back to the sea. Its production cycle is fully cradle to cradle.
Material scientists are still unable to replicate the process of growing perfect crystalline structures and even further away from them being applied to mass production but the direction of future production is clear. The complex forms that can be constructed from secreted natural mediums will be far superior to processed sheet materials or toxic chemical moulds.
Aluminium is approximately 5 times more energy intensive than steel to produce although this only adds 15% to the cost of production over steel. Car manufacturing in aluminium requires additional tooling with increased complexity throughout the production process and this adds a total of 60%, including raw material production, over the cost of producing steel cars. However aluminium is 100% recyclable, it does not downgrade through the recycling process and uses 95% less energy to recycle than to produce from bauxite. Aluminium also weighs a third of steel. Complex shell moulding and bonding techniques can provide all of the protection and crumple zones required in a modern car. Aluminium can also be 3D printed to create complex crumple zones. There are many advantages in using aluminium for mass production including, availability, lightweight, corrosion resistance and the ability to recycle without downgrading. The additional cost of aluminium over steel is offset by efficient life cycle use and as aluminium an inherent high raw commodity value at the point of recycling.
Until we are able to understand how to build cars in a similar way that nature constructs the mollusc, from the molecular level up all at ambient temperature, aluminium is the transition medium of choice to be used for lighter mass produced cars just as gas is the transition medium as we move from coal to solar.
The Surrogate Twin.
011116 – Westworld – London
The 2016 TV series Westworld written by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy Nolan loosely based on the 1973 Westworld by Michael Crichton has taken the place of Game Of Thrones as the must see TV series. Both Westworld and Game Of Thrones are by Time Warner owned HBO. Like Game Of Thrones, Westworld has an excellent story line and script and both shows have secured many positive reviews. Westworld is now showing Season 1 episode 5 and is proving to have the higher intellectual narrative and of the many points touched three stand out of interest.
- The concept of circular time
- Is machine AI a plausible reality?
- Man’s relationship to the machine
One of the driving concepts of Westworld is the idea of re-enactment. The robot hosts of the Westworld theme park live on a repertoire of scripted text and scenarios. The robots have a limited ability to improvise around the scripts to suit and respond to the requirements of the clients. The human concept of time is linear and non-recurring. In Westworld time is circular and forever recurring except with each session there may be minor adjustments and interventions. This allows the visitor to equally re-visit the same scene numerous times. During these revisits, they may decide to view the event from another perspective or to take on a different role within it or experiment with both the dialogue and the outcome. Reoccurring experience eventually establishes ones concept of truth or fact. At Westworld as the client selects and in some way directs recurring events they in turn create their own truth.
Circular time is intrinsic to gamers of all types but specifically integrated into the world of digital games where the gamer replays the same game over and over to achieve a higher score and to move onto the next level. In Westworld, Logan (Ben Barnes) is a typical gamer. The theme park is never real to him and is just an expensive extension of the video arcade. The repetitious nature of gaming is addictive, there is an emotional security in repetition, in which humans see order and build confidence. As confidence grows micro adventures into the next level are explored. In search of forever more immersive experiences the frequent visitor Logan pushes the extremes of the Westworld landscape where the stakes are higher and the game is more real. This would be the normal route of the addicted gamer. To escape the repetition of circular time its intensity is increased. Circular time is also an evasion of reality it is comforting as one revisits the preferred experience infinitely. Reoccurring events become ingrained as dominant memories. To the gamer real time and game time are never confused but the latter is preferred. Real events are slowly displaced and used solely as a means to finance gamer recurring events with a forever-higher proportion of time spent in reoccurring or circular time. To the gamer circular time sustains a self-denial of the real world.
In Westworld circular time ‘the loop’ is intrinsic to the narrative and the audience is uncertain if they are viewing circular time as a lineal sequence. Westworld has been open for thirty years and the robot hosts have experienced a continuous loop throughout. The robots have flashbacks, memories of previous loops their sequence unknown. The show follows various visitors each experiencing their own time inside a loop. Each visitor’s loop doesn’t necessarily exist at the same time as the other loops within each episode. The nameless Man In Black (Ed Harris) could well be William (Jimmi Simpson) thirty years later. If time forever recurs ones place in it becomes confused and shuffled, the urgency of now is lost.
It is presumed that we will soon have AI and it is indisputable that machines can problem solve better than humans, have better memories than humans and can consume never ending quantities of data? Using these vast quantities of data Machines will obtain General AI (GAI) and then reach the point of singularity when they surpass mans intelligence. Intelligence is a loaded word, which I use here to mean clever or smart in the analytical sense. When GAI is reached it does not imply that the machine is self aware or conscious.
At the core of the Westworld narrative is the principal issue of AI; can a machine have consciousness? In Westworld the hosts all look human, act human and participate in human activities and yet these activities and responses both verbal and physical are scripted. Emotive states such as grief, happiness, despair and anger are over laid filters or better described as ‘Ford’s reveries’, gestures tied to artificial memories. Each host could reencounter the exact same script with either or any emotive filter but takes cues from its immediate contextual environment as to which filter to apply. The host can read emotive states and using this they have a limited ability to improvise mixing or reinterpreting stored scripts intended for use by others. This is a type of role-play but is a long way from consciousness.
Intelligence has no definitive translation. Intelligence does not necessarily transfer across a range of disciplines. One could have analytic, creative or emotional intelligence but not necessarily all three. It is easy to conceive of a machine having analytical intelligence, even in having creative intelligence when the act of arbitrary association is applied but emotional intelligence is difficult to comprehend. Intelligence could be described as the ability to perceive information and to retain it as knowledge. This is then applied towards adaptive behaviours within an environment or context.Emotive intelligence requires knowing ones own emotive state and how it interacts with others. Creative and emotional intelligence requires feelings and although machines may emulate feelings, they are not felt. Feeling and compassion set up the value systems for right and wrong. Complex problems, the answers to difficult questions are rarely purely objective. However, feelings are only a form of sensory overload and perhaps these can eventually be installed or experienced by a machine. In Ex Machina, Nathan Ava’s creator explains to Caleb that everything in nature is gendered, that all thoughts and actions are (on some level) driven by a reproductive urge, and no biogenetic impulse exists without a priori acknowledgment of attraction. For a machine to attain the status of “singularity” (the point at which the human and artificial become indistinguishable) it must have a sexual component. The machine must have gender. Nathan later describes Ava as having AI as she used self-awareness, imagination, manipulation, sexuality and empathy to persuade Caleb to help her escape. The machines at Westworld have gender but as machines are still genderless.
The Westworld hosts are guided by keywords to trigger scripts and role-play. Keyword referencing is used by chatbots and these are used extensively throughout the internet, for example as customer service providers, Siri, Echo or dating agencies. Chatbots are based upon the software languages of ELIZA, PARRY, ALICE, Jabberwacky having been refined over decades with many self-learning. We interact with them without a second thought; they are the voice at the other end of the phone the text in a messenger service. We rarely question whether we are talking to a machine or a human as we want to believe that we are receiving personal service. Chatbots that provide a service are just a personalised interface. One asks a question and the chatbot provides an answer. The chatbot in a dating agency however differs slightly as its first task is to befriend you and gains its information by building up a sympathetic reciprocal response to ones needs.
In Westworld the chatbots have human form and the clients interact directly with them. When a chatbot exists within a humanoid entity the relationship to that entity changes, there is an immediate sympathetic emotional connection. In Westworld the gun fighting hosts and the saloon girls are service-providing chatbots, however Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) is the dating agency. The dating agency chatbot has no opinion but instead follows ones interests guided by keywords and phrases. The client using a dating chatbot, here Dolores, is in effect talking to himself and generating answers that he wishes to hear. The longer the conversation the more refined the answers, the more sympathetic, the more like the client the chatbot becomes. The film Her comes to mind. Software exists that is able to read an emotive state, Emotient and Soft Banks Pepper. The Westworld hosts constantly respond to the visitor’s emotive state and use this as a similar cue to keywords. Westworld profiles its visitors prior to their visits by compiling and analysing their online search histories and from this it knows their desires and preferences. Cloud based facial recognition software would make this information available to all hosts and therefore cue differing responses for each and every clients.
In Westworld Dolores is the machine in which the fundamental issues of AI will be portrayed, a computer given human form and emotive response. She is fragile and vulnerable, she searches for something that she does not fully comprehend yet it is supposed to lead her to a better more fulfilled life. These are qualities that humans can relate to. There are many similarities between the relationship of Ava and Caleb in Ex Machina and Dolores and William in Westworld. Both men know that Ava/Dolores are machines but in each case form a relationship to that machine on the belief that the machine is self aware, both men then assist the machine to self-discovery and to find ‘freedom’. The audience is being led through the relationship of William and Dolores to eventually form an opinion about the essence of AI. Is Dolores self-aware? The Imitation Game and the Turing Test are represented here as popular culture.
The reality of Westworld, the chatbot in a human form, is already on our shelves. In 2015 Mattel introduced Hello Barbie, an interactive doll designed using keyword search to befriend any child. As yet it has no means to read the child’s emotive state but the days of buying something closer to David in Steven Spielberg’s AI are not far away.
Mans Relationship with the Machine
If one ‘owns’ a horse or a dog as a pet and over time one builds memories through experiences and adventures with that horse or dog and a bonding occurs that could be described as love. The horse and the dog as pets are domesticated and as such are biological prosthetic extensions to ourselves through which we increase our sensory landscapes. Machines also extend our sensory landscapes. It is possible to bond with a car or bike in the same way that we bond with the horse or dog as we bond not with the car or bike as object but instead through the memories of experiences accumulated. Our relationship to an object increases with intensity and longevity. Anyone who has taken a motorbike to the limits of either machine or rider will understand experiential intensity. Whilst travelling at speed, moving ones body around a motorbike tank, transferring weight back and forth and feeling the effect on traction, balance and stability whilst only inches from the roads surface is a symbiotic experience. There is a sense of oneness between man and machine, man and the prosthetic sensory extension. Violinists, snowboarders, yachtsman would be typical examples of sensory extensions but experiential intensity increases the bond, the Samurais sword, the gunslingers Colt 45.
Love is an emotion that we use specifically for human to human experiences. We cannot love objects that are dead or innate and yet the experiences generated through the prosthetic extension of the tool or machine are just as real as human to human experiences. In Westworld the machine has a human form, accumulated experiences with that machine would be indistinguishable from human to human experiences. In our search for an ever more intense perfect experience the desired machine would be hyper-real and/or super-intense and the experiences with this hyper-real machine would exceed human to human experience. The hyper-real or super-intense is explored and exported daily from porn sites, to photoshopped ads, to colour saturated slow motion film clips, all well edited and enhanced. The hyper-real machine described here is not only the prosthetic extension of our sensory landscape but equally an extension of our imagined or desired landscape built in real time and space with which we interact.
In Westworld Dolores is the machine through which mans relationship to the machine is explored. William is aware that Dolores is a machine, he is aware that he is within a theme park and that he has paid for specific adventure. The relationship between William and Dolores is ambiguous in that there is uncertainty whether Dolores is responding to inputs from William, acting as she is programmed, within her loop, or whether Dolores is manipulating inputs and known client data to lead William. Either way as their shared experiences increase their bond strengthens. It is interesting that none of the human visitors to Westworld have any interest in instigating relationships with other humans. Equally interesting that no human has impersonated a robot host to gain access to the fantasies of another human. At Westworld the human to human experience is of little interest when compared to the human machine experience. As mans technical ability improves within the areas of robotics and virtual environments, man’s relationship with and to the machine will intensify and may one day be the preferred experiential environment. The definition of Hyper-reality is the inability of consciousness to distinguish reality from a simulation of reality. At that point of ‘inability’ does the distinction real to unreal matter if all experiences are recorded and stored as neurological equals? In Matrix 1 Cypher prefers his virtual steak.
Science Fiction is a useful means by which to explore aspects of possible futures. Many of the themes explored in Westworld are of the near and not too distant future. In the search for the essence of AI the error is that the ‘machine’ will be the medium through which it is created. As GAI is reached there will be an explosion of biological progress and discovery. Eventually from this man will build his self-aware metaphorical ‘Frankenstein’ but I doubt it will have any mechanical components or any of the imperfections of man.
Between 1768 and 1774 Pierre Jaquet-Droz, the Neuchatel watchmaker, made three automata dolls as a means of promoting the complexity and sophistication of his work. One of these, The Writer is a small-automated doll that is comprised of approximately 6000 pieces. The doll writes with a quill pen using real ink. A forty-cog wheel operates cam selectors. The cams work three at a time and in turn operate levers. One cam operates left to right, one up and down, both work on a horizontal plane. The third cam alters altitude, the lift and pressure applied to the quill pen. By creating this movement in three-dimensional space the doll is able to write and punctuate text. Spacing is achieved by moving the paper across the writing plane. The right hand of the doll regularly dips the quill pen into an inkpot, then applying pressure with the quill onto the paper to start each letter and providing tail off lift to end each letter. The left hand of the doll moves the paper across a board to separate each letter. The cogs on the forty-cog wheel are inter-changeable and therefor can be programmed. This 248 year old doll is a distant ancestor to todays computer and robot.
Image 1. Pierre Jaquet-Drox The Writer 1768 – A 248 year old, 6000 piece automaton.
Images 2-7 Westworld 2016.
The Surrogate Twin
191016 – AI.viation – London
Mans obsession with flight goes back millennium from the mythological Icarus who unfortunately flew too near to the sun, to the flying machines of Leonardo Da Vinci. The Montgolfier Brothers first took to the skies in a hot air balloon in 1785 and the first successful parachute jump was made by Jacques Garnerin in 1797. These were men who’s ideas were ahead of their times and ahead of the capabilities of available technology. At the turn of the twentieth century technology had caught up and the ascent to flight was tackled in earnest.
Many early flying machines were driven by little more than the belief in an idea. There were those that flapped, beat, whisked and scooped at the air hoping to gain lift. Many a full size craft were built too quickly following a sketch with almost no development testing and brave men died trying to prove their invention. Early on two approaches developed scientifically, one from box kites and the other from gliders. The box kite approach culminated in Alberto Santos Dumont’s tail first box kite of 1906. The glider approach rigorously researched by the Wright Brothers with first flight achieved in 1903. Some of the early flying machines have an exquisite beauty and fragility being as delicate as a dragonfly wing.
The work of the Wright Brothers shows the clarity of their problem solving technique and is a lesson in strategy for all designers. Aspects of flight are isolated and first resolved independently, slowly and methodically and over time each component is then assembled into a working whole, a total aircraft. There are four main aspects that are tackled scientifically. Lift, pitch, roll and yaw. Early work focussed on lift with flying glider wings over Kitty Hawk beach. The beach had constant winds and these would aid the experiments. A bi-wing tethered to the ground hangs motionless in the air as wind moves through it. Once the understanding of lift had been accomplished the control over each of the three axis of movement was undertaken. A front rudder was developed to control pitch, a rear tail to control yaw and wing warping to control roll.
The design inspiration for control of roll famously comes to Wilbur Wright whilst selling a bike inner tube in the brother’s bike store. As the inner tube was taken from the box Wilber notice that by holding the end corners of the box on opposing diagonals he could squeeze and twist the length of the box. On a bi-plane a similar technique could be used to wing warp and create roll. To test the idea the Wright Brothers built a bi-winged model glider with a short stabilising tail. By attaching strings to the wing tips top and bottom they could warp the wings and roll the craft from left to right. The Wright Brothers understood the concepts of the centre of gravity and balance, moving the front rudder, responsible for pitch. If too near to the main wings this made the craft too responsive and when further away less responsive but more stable. This would have been very similar to their work on bicycles, for example when shortening or lengthening the front forks with regard to steering. The Wright Brothers built wind tunnels and studied the effects of moving small weights across a frame. They made small incremental changes to their designs and tested and recorded the consequences of each. The work was hands on intuitive and methodically logged and appraised. This approach formed the foundation for understanding controlled flight.
It is interesting to note the conceptual simplicity of the Wright Brothers approach to flight and of The Wright Flyer of 1903. This is that the plane is a glider with an engine and that flight is achieved with the engine pushing or pulling the glider through the air in one direction, forwards. The plane is not a humming bird, a bat, a falcon or a dragonfly and has none of the manoeuvrability of any of these. This conceptual simplicity of a glider with an engine is still very much relevant today and covers most aircraft. The skills of the humming bird, bat, falcon or a dragonfly are still beyond our technology but recent experiments with computer controlled drone flight should soon be transferable to responsive aircraft. With recent advances in robotics and AI, vertical take off and landing (VTOL) craft that are emissions free, autonomous, computer controlled and have a radically simplified interface, may soon be an option for the everyday commute.
Of all of mans great technological achievements from the invention of the wheel onwards few had the impact of mans conquest of the sky. Flight shrunk the world by linking isolated cultures, opened up new trade routes and added another horrific dimension to warfare. The very first flying machines were only achieved one lifetime ago. In 1903 Wilbur and Orville Wright flew just over 36m in 12 seconds at a speed of 10.9 km per hour, whilst by 1976 the record aircraft speed had increased to 3530 km per hour and manned rocket speed to 8281 km per hour.
The exponential curve of mans technological progress is well known but needs to be forever re-quantified to give context to the ever increasing speed of change. At ten million years ago man first uses tools, he learns to control fire 1-2 million years ago, he first wears clothes around 50000 years ago, begins agriculture 11000 years ago, first uses iron 6000 years ago, invents the wheel 5500 years ago, invents paper 2000 years ago, invents gunpowder 1100 years ago, eyeglasses 1000 years ago, printing 500 years ago, telescopes, mechanised farming, steam engines, all arrive 300 years ago, electricity, radio, food preservation, early medicine, 200 years ago. Mass produced cars, washing machines, TVs, refrigerators 90 years ago, nuclear power 70 years ago, satellites, lasers and computers 50 years ago, CD’s, mp3s and the world wide web 30 years ago, cell phones and touch screens 10 years ago.
From the point where man first used tools it took a further 10 million years just to learn to get dressed. Technological development was graphically almost horizontal for a further 50000 years with most of mans technical innovation happening in the last 100 years. This is the Law of Accelerating Returns. The speed of change has left our social and political systems behind, our education systems are woefully inadequate and we are all ill prepared for what is about to happen next with the coming of AI (Artificial Intelligence). Every innovation that man has made to date has been a tool that he could control to carry out a specific task whether that has been a flint axe, an aircraft, a computer or new medicinal drugs. This is about to change.
Mans closest evolutionary cousin is the chimpanzee. On equal weight terms the chimpanzee is twice as strong as a human. The only reason that man dominates chimpanzees is due to his superior intellect. This intellect has allowed man to become the dominant species on the planet. With the invention of AI man will build a self-learning silicon based machine that will be his intellectual superior. This will be the first tool that man has built that will have the ability to supersede his own knowledge. It will also be the first time that mankind has not been the superior intellect on this planet.
Technological innovation is driven by communication. The invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century had minimal effect on mankind as the distribution and understanding of knowledge was limited. It was not until the twentieth century with the inventions of flight, TV and telephone that the distribution of knowledge and the reciprocal progress in technological invention took off.
Sci-Fi’s depiction of the future provides interesting analogies. The character Iron Man, from the films based on the Marvel comics, designs his new inventions through polite conversation with J.A.R.V.I.S. his super AI computer. The superior intellect of Tony Stark (Iron Man) instructs the computer to perform certain tasks en route to designing some new innovation. It is a one sided dialogue between man and his servant the machine. In reality it is far more likely that Tony Stark would not be instructing J.A.R.V.I.S. but instead trying to keep up with J.A.R.V.I.S. Tony Stark would be asking what have you just done, can you explain that again, lets start from the beginning and please break it down into small steps so that my carbon based organic brain can comprehend. Pseudo science has often been inspired by the popular press, the sci-fi comics of yesteryear or the science fiction films of today. The difference is that the science fiction films today are so well academically researched and politically connected that many of their projections are very credible. J.A.R.V.I.S. as trusted ally will always be a subject of conjecture.
The popular conception of AI is of something in human form such as the Terminator, Ex-Machina or the robots of Jonathan Nolan’s Westworld. Mankind has spent much of the last 30 years developing and integrating the worldwide web. Over 40% of the planet can now wirelessly connect to the web with that figure rising to 75% in most of the developed world. We have spent the same amount of time creating a global and logistic world. The planet is run by systems and AI will be a system, a controlling network. As an innovation AI is no longer a prosthetic device, the tool as an extension of ourselves but instead due to the global net it is an extension of our relationships to all connected others. The cloud becomes a stream of shared consciousness.
There are three states of AI.
ANI or Narrow AI. This has specific skills in one subject.
AGI or General AI. This has developed human equivalent skills across all subjects.
ASI or Super intelligent AI. This exceeds human intelligence.
Once AGI has been reached it will self learn and redesign itself at such speed that it would soon be way beyond the powers of human comprehension.
The world already runs numerous ANI systems, Google ‘Search’, Amazon ‘you also might like’, Facebook friends, Siri, numerous apps and chat bots, high frequency financial trading, logistics firms, management firms. ANI are used to increase efficiency, they generally lie dormant until asked to perform some specific task. ANI are already part of an intrinsic network within our world. AGI would quickly interconnect all of the existing ANI systems to make one whole controllable network, it would then use that data to self improve and develop. It is estimated that we will have full AGI by 2025 - 40, within nine to twenty four years. Reaching AGI is hard to forecast as development is exponential but once AGI is reached and all existing ANI system are absorbed they would then all be self learning and self improving systems. One estimate suggests that it will take a decade for a computer to reach the human equivalent of a four year old, another hour to be of Einstein’s equivalent and another hour and a half to be 200,000 times more intelligent than all humans. We still mistakenly think of the computer as a single object and of a smarter computer as a larger more powerful single object but that is not how an intelligent computer would allocate resources. ASI would split its learning tasks to numerous computers around the planet and collectively share that information as it grows creating a whole series of development and feedback loops. There is no finite limit known on the level of possible intelligence but what is certain is that this organisation will be an ecosystem and not a humanoid object. Mankind has never before confronted a superior intellect and no one can truly guess the outcome of that conversation. Conversations are based upon values and who can guess what values AI would hold? Even objectivity needs a starting premise.
At the beginning of this text the intent was to compare AI with our first explorations in flight but this now seems inappropriate. Anthropologically personal computers could be compared to flight, both came out of the garage workshop and yet had global life changing consequences; both open up new cultural exchanges whilst simultaneously shrinking the world; both evolved with incredible technological speed; both will be remembered as part of the list of key events that shaped mankind. AI moves way beyond this and is more comparable to the space exploration we have yet to undertake, a very large unknown indeed. What is similar to the days of early flight is that it is driven by lot of hope, belief, trust and blind faith and recalls the day man first stepped off of the cliff and into a head wind hoping to spend time with the birds. There is still a lot to learn from the slow incremental approach of the Wright Brothers where risk is minimised and each step recorded.
The commercialisation of the Internet over the last 20 years has seen a disproportional consolidation of wealth and power into the hands of an ever-decreasing minority. This same minority own the large R&D workshops developing AI. Whoever controls AI will also control all of the patents produced from AI including an increasing number of medical and biological patents. At the same time more and more jobs will be automated meaning wealth consolidation and wealth disparity will also move along an exponential trajectory adding further to existing social problems.
Images:The Wright Brothers test an early glider at Kitty Hawk beach, Louis Bieriot's XI monoplane 1909.
The Surrogate Twin