Chapter Four: Elements of Structure

Consideration of space and time is crucial for those who seek to create in the realm of the circuit. Even before the digital age, it was not possible to create outside of time, nor without a careful consideration of space. Today's electronic culture has seemingly obliterated previous concepts of space and time, and simultaneously created entirely new spaces and time frames. The circuit enables us to enter cyberspace almost whenever and wherever we like. We can move through imaginary spaces, held in the nearly unlimited memory of the computer, having removed the need for conventional movement of the body from one tangible object to the next. In cyberspace, our physical bodies stand still (in meatspace), while our minds move from metaphor to metaphor.

William Gibson described cyberspace: "The Matrix … a two-dimensional space war faded behind a forest of mathematically generated ferns, demonstrating the spatial possibilities of logarithmic spirals … a consensual hallucination experienced daily by legitimate operators, in every nation by children being taught mathematical concepts … a graphic representation of data, abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light arranged in a non-space of the mind, clusters in constellations of data."[1O]

Cyberspace is modulated space whose very essence is design, a design to help users navigate from one space to the next. It is an experience entered mentally and is delineated by metaphors drawn from all aspects of our creativity-whether sound, image, or word. Our memory reverberates with metaphors that allow our minds to move through this new creative space. The space itself becomes metaphor and carries with it the signals for functioning inside and outside of it. Cyberspace is nothing but a play between zeros and ones. Its design draws on the historical foundations of negative space and so allows the ground for composition and contemplation. The "space between" creates a counterpoint to what is said or drawn, as in music, where the pause between notes carries as much weight as the note itself.

In his article "Liquid Architecture in Cyberspace," [11] Marcos Novak draws compelling parallels between cyberspace and poetry. If poetry is an undergoing of experience with language and the quest for creating new metaphors that defy conventional logic yet give us new ones, then cyberspace is the mathematical conjuring of new experience through the algorithm, forcing on us an experience with no equivalency in the tangible world. Novak notes that poetry enables an inflection of language that produces an inflection of meaning, a push and pull that are applied to both syntax and symbol. In cyberspace, we push and pull together. Although this domain has fallen largely under the control of the technologists, is it not through creativity that the imagination renders space, challenging conventional perceptions of the world, thereby leading us to new insight?

Is cyberspace Cartesian or Einsteinian? In a sense, it is both. Its initial coordinates are laid out as a Cartesian grid-points in a systematic, repeating space. Yet the grid can mutate and shift in a relativistic manner to suit the point of view of the cyber pilot. Cyberspace is the blank interval between areas of our intelligence. We compose it in a multimodal act, and each movement in this virtual ether is a composition requiring us to design, and so define, space.

The circuit enables a serialization of image, sound, and text that allows for infinitesimal manipulation of time and space. While one used to navigate through space, one now navigates through time. Digital editing has responded to the pace of our lives in an age of speed, and editing has become faster and easier. Filmmakers no longer need to struggle with tape and scissors to restructure the time of their work: Digital editing tools have given the editor, and even the viewer, great facility in changing nearly any aspect of the work by doing no more than shuffling around its zeros and ones. The lack of physical substrate in the electronic media of video and television presents time as unfolding in a seemingly more direct, unedited manner. So-called reality TV strives to avoid the appearance of artifice or even editing, though certainly it is compressed to fit the needs of advertising or the attention span of the viewer. Perhaps this is a reaction to the hectic pace of images in the music videos of MTV whereby the music provides a temporal framework for seemingly disjointed images. Television confuses temporal focus by leaving us hanging in anticipation and by further disrupting and punctuating the narrative according to its own agenda, with commercials. Disruption is unfortunately a condition of our time.

Osmose, Tree Pond
Char Davies, Tree Pond, from Osmose, 1995.
Digital frame captured in real-time through head-mounted display during live immersive journey/performance.

Tree Pond is one of many environments the immersant travels through.

If we understand that the formations of time are metafora, we can better decipher the significant implications of creative practice in cyberspace. We cannot separate our sense of who we are from our sense of time and space. Today we understand our sense of causality, the relationship between the past, present, and future, in the context of the dataset. Our sense of the past and of history is archived in the networked library and helps us to tell stories about who we are in the present, while our concept of the future is dependent on our hopes, dreams, and aspirations and the creative management of the metafora of time and space in the dataset. Char Davies, in collaboration with programmers at SoftImage, created a virtual reality environment called Osmose in 1995. The user or immersant enters the "space" by putting on headgear that contains goggles showing the space on tiny CRT monitors, and a vest that helps the user to navigate. As a scuba diver, Davies knew that by breathing in while diving, the air in her lungs would create bouyancy. In Osmose, the vest enables users to move up and down through the space by inhaling and exhaling. There are a dozen "world-spaces" in Osmose, based on "the metaphysical aspects of nature". For Davies, the work is "a place for facilitating awareness of one's own self as consciousness embodied in enveloping space."



10. Gibson, William, Neuromancer.
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11. Packer, Randall, and Ken Jordan, Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality.
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Last verified: August 1st 2013.