laser\net is an enactment of certain Mumfordian and McLuhanian effects. According to Darwin's theory of natural selection, species evolution is driven by adaptation to the environment; you cannot understand the form of a species without understanding its environment. Evolution could therefore be called the field theory of the species. Mumford takes up this environmental approach, inherited from Geddes, in his discussions of technology, and passes it on to McLuhan.
In Art and Technics, Mumford uses an inside/outside schema to define man's relation to the world. In Art and Technics, he says that man has a symbolic inside and a technological outside. Freud would call this relation projection. [Times change: writing for a generation or generations that straddled WW2, Mumford could assume a psychoanalytic literacy among his lay audience that would be unwarranted today. Similarly for Giedion.] The human subject projects its symbolic inner world - a world of thought, intention, emotion, drive - outward in the form of technology. Technology is outside because it is quite literally an extension of the body, and the body is outside and the body modifies the world.
Mumford's genius was to distinguish what he called technics from technology. (his neologism). Technics and technology are not the same. Technology refers to machines, technics to the ambient environment that machines make. Technology is an object or a collection of objects, technics is a space. It is technological space. It is the space that has to obtain, in order for technology to be possible. It precedes the machine and makes it possible. There has always been technics, because no matter what man's technological development, car, wheel, arrowheads, flints, rough stones, clenched fist, there has always been an external world because he has always had a body, and he has always put it to use. This means that the relation of the human subject to technology is not to be understood as the relation to an object, but to an environment. You can hold an object, eat an object, be in front of it, love it or hate it, throw it away if you don't like it. Unlike the object, you cannot accept or reject an environment. You cannot throw it away if it is noxious, but sometimes you can run away from it. You are in an environment; in order to survive in an environment you have to adapt to it.
When the environment that we project returns as an object. That's the mega-machine. Everything is a megamachine. The mega-machine explains why everyone knows that we are destroying our environment and yet nobody can stop it.
McLuhan picks up on these Mumfordian ideas when he claims in places and in ways too numerous to cite that media is the technological extension of man's senses, and that it is an environment. He is the one who claims that environments are largely invisible, unknown to their inhabitants, which is why it is so difficult to understand their effects upon us. He says in Culture is Our Business, 'Fish don't know water till beached'. And in a radio play, 'We don't know who discovered water, but we are pretty sure it wasn't fish.' [And what is much the same thing: W.C.Fields, 'Water? I never drink water, fish fuck in it.']
So here we have an attempt to create a media environment, or perhaps a mediated environment. It is not a virtual environment, it has nothing to do with the virtual, except the extent to which any gallery environment is virtual because it is a space taken out of circulation for the use of art. It takes the form of projection, necessarily so as it involves visual images and it is difficult to think of the visual image divorced from surface. It is a recursive space, in that it plays with the idea of the copy, the copy of the copy, different forms of reproduction. It involves ambient sound and sound images.
If laser\net has relevance for this workshop, for rethinking urban space, it has to do with how it explores our relation to recursive environments. Mumford's seemingly straightforward schema of symbolic inside/technological outside is infinitely complexified because it is a circuit, a feedback loop. The technological outside is known to the human subject in the same way that its symbolic inside is, as a continuous stream of representations. The human subject is nothing if not a vastly complex feedback loop. One of architecture's projects has been to base its forms upon the body of its occupant. In a sense what we are doing is simply to update this project by building an environment that addresses the human subject not as subject, but as a feedback loop. This space is a recursive loop because it involves ideas of original and copy. It is one space divided, two almost identical spaces, separated by a screen; each half completes itself by copying the other. In this world of copies - Baudrillard would call it simulation - there is only really one original and that is the human subject, which is paradoxical because this original, in so far as it is conscious, is a feedback loop.
In our laser\net blog site - which you should all visit - we discuss the possibility of a recursive urbanism or a re-mix, an urbanism that uses the design strategies of sampling and copying to create recursive, looping, feedbacking environments. These are the design strategies of the club vj/dj and other practitioners of contemporary culture, and if architecture, which is ever in search of the radical wants to incorporate the radical, it would do well to use digital design technologies not to produce those scintillating transparent blobular forms, which still adhere to very conventional definitions of the object, to the re-mix strategies of the vj/dj, which utterly break with these notions of object-hood and original.
To those of you who are familiar with the diagram that Lacan published of the psychoanalytic subject in what he calls the visual field. Lacan is the most important student of Freud, important because he lifted Freud's discourse out of its roots in 19th C biology and romanticism and placed into a 20th C structuralist discourse based on the structural understanding of language and anthropology. As an architect, this is my primary area of research interest, but I was intending to keep my Lacanian agenda quiet because in this project I had the opportunity to work with the agenda's of others. But here we have Lacan's screen dividing a space. It is a lacanian space proposed by others. When John Bell proposed this plan as a way of organising the space for projections, I just sat back and watched. It is a good example of how any project, art or research, even those that are not collaborations, has a life of its own, that runs riot with its authors intentions, something our students don't seem to understand about their own projects.
Two extraordinary things happened at the opening last night. My son said when it going to start. And people started waving to each other. This first comment, the only criticism we got last night, seemed for me to reiterate this idea of McLuhan that the fish doesn't know water. There are two ways to take this. Either: It has already started we just don't know it. Or: Anything with a screen has to conform to our TV expectations.
As for the second... People started waving to each other on either side of the screen, a sort of spontaneous group dynamic provoked by the fact that they were simultaneously separated by the screen which was precisely the device by which communication was made possible. We live in a mediated world. Laser\net is a study in how we represent ourselves to ourselves, and the sort of space we have to create in order to do that. Lacan formalises the intersubjective world - his visual field - with a screen. We are, in Lacan, a screen to ourselves and a screen to others. The feedback loop of consciousness is constituted of the ways that we represent ourselves to ourselves (think the mirror) and to others (think the window). Both are in effect screens. The 2-d surface is the space of communication. Maybe identity has always been an effect of the screen, but in the digital age, it most certainly is: virtually all identity interface is now a screen whether it be cash mach, pin point of sales, immigration and naturalisation, or NHS. Even when it is not literally there, the hardline Lacanian is trained to see that it is operating in absentia. The screen effect is always inter-subjective space, it is the definition of inter-subjective space, because it even if we took the screen down, we would still communicate across the space via the visual image, and when I speak to you, what I say is always met halfway by what you hear. Now this is not the forum for a primer on Lacan, I would like to bring this back to urbanism. One way to understand how the screen functions in this gallery is that it is the space within which we articulate our identities, in which we launch expressions of public politics. This relates it back to my earlier comments about needing to find new domains for freedom, and it relates it back to my comments here about the possibility of a recursive urbanism that would address certain fundamental aspects of subjectivity.