"Every conceivable object of Nature and Art will soon scale off its surfaces for us. Men will hunt all curious, beautiful grand objects, like they hunt cattle in South America, for their skins and leave the carcasses of little worth."
Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., Essay on Photography 1859
Analogue came first. Then there was the digital. But before both, there was mud. Media and mud go back a long time. World Heritage site 198, commonly known as Monk's Mounds was a "new world-old world" mud communication platform. Mound and myth came together on this media platform. Built over 300 years between x and y, it was at the center of the greatest city north of the Rio Grand, for that matter the only city north of the Rio Grand, Cahokia. Cahokia was home to the Mississippian people, and to over 120 mounds. Monk's Mound was one of them, the largest ever man-made earthen plaza. With a series of terraces, a base of 1,000 feet by 800, and over 100 feet high, the mound rose above an ur-cityscape of 20, 000. This media platform is where the arbiters of the Mississippian myths; the high priests, ran it all, and ran it into the ground.
It was their job to keep the place going; listen and talk to sky venued Divine Beings, pay heed to their base, and then back and forth, and up and down. It was myth as management style for this side of the American Bottoms. This was how a media platform from our preliterate past was supposed to work; a communication node on top of a big mud pile. But those on top stayed up too long, didn't look down, didn't listen and when they did it was too late. The Mississippian's myth cracked. It was a spectacular media collapse. One that led to ecological misstep after misstep; planted too much corn, all in the wrong places, dammed up the wrong creeks, then tried to open them up: flood, fires, scarcity. Result, all scattered, left with a landscape of carcasses.
Given our cracked myths our long term prospects in any landscape, seem a little wobbly. But undeterred, and with the long view here are instructions, a survival brief. And step one is re-mythologizing our landscape by inserting digital media right into it.
A STAGE FOR NEW MYTHS - An Installation Report
Centrespace won't be confused as a landscape terrain. It is a research institute in a cellar, in a city. It is part of DCA (Dundee Contemporary Arts), one of Scotland's premiere centre for contemporary art. It was the site for laser\net, an interactive installation that the authors, and John Bell and Adam Covell, principles of FXV Ltd London designed. What we did in laser\net was grab things from outside, bring them downstairs, remixed them, and hope we could take it back outside, and use what we learned to build platforms to tell stories. laser\net opened a symposia sponsored by the Patrick Geddes Foundation. The Geddes Foundation brought researchers from the arts and social sciences together, to prod collaborations and examine how digital technology and media affects the design of new spaces, spaces where digital meets hard places. Patrick Geddes (1854-1932) had the long view. This utopian was a botanist, sociologist, educator, artists, and town planner. Geddes the synthesizer challenged fragmentation and specialization. Geddes the designer designed and built stages for this confrontation. He offered a recipe for utopia out of a "row".
At Centrespace we built a remix stage. Props were pulled from that outside ecology; the big eye, the big mouse. These are "the kind of props" that seeped inside us well before they seeped into that cellar. The eye was bino-man" Mr. Hoover, of the J. Edgar family, first director of the FBI, the man with all the files. The mouse was Willie of that SteamBoat line. This animated duo was laser\net's twin patriarchy. Together they set/framed a remix stage for the invited players, joe and jane public.
laser\net's audience moved thru a net of voices, movement triggering voices; that of legal theorist Lawrence Lessig and media sage Marshal Mcluhan. Their voices met on this remix platform. Lessig's voice was about hijacked voices and shoring up our collective creativity. It was his Supreme Court argument, a valiant but botched attempt to stop, what in the United States became know as "the Mickey Mouse copyright extension act" (but for that enlightened legislation, the mouse would now be out there foraging in the Commons). Unlike Lessig, Mcluhan doesn't argue, he maps sites. Mcluhan started mapping when he was only a ten minute drive from that big mud site, Monks Mound. He showed up there after leaving Cambridge. This is where he took Richards, Leavis, Pound, and Elliot. There is St. Louis, and it's where this student of the literati seized new criticism to craft maps. He used those Cambridge tools to chart new sites and to navigate thru the next iteration of Holmes's carcass strewn countryside.
And all of this was what we flipped and remixed on our Centrespace platform. But it wasn't enough.
Absent in the mix were Dundee voices. We wanted a survey carried out with the same numbing statistical rigor we use for soap, sex and war. We were hungry for digital audio samples, wanted voices about being watched and watching, mp3 compressed thoughts about "popular things" as mythic landscapes. We wanted to fling those voices out onto that platform with Lessig and Mcluhan, and then stir. We tried though not quite able to do it that Centrespace time, a matter of funding. But before it's too late we need to bring in the pollsters, the empirical social scientists. Put them on a platform, couple them with the remix artists and reboot synthesis, start the path towards a re - mythologized landscape.
In the shadow of the big mud mountain (1937-44) Marshall Mcluhan didn't work alone. He had a student and later colleague, Father Walter Ong. Like Mcluhan and Geddes before him, Ong wrote about synthesis and awareness. And for those who care about landscape he wrote about something else. He wrote about contest. He wrote about the arenas where agonistic behaviour, this biologically itch to contest, play themselves out. This Jesuit humanist made a connection between creative struggle and wakefulness, connections not unlike the myth master Roland Barthes. Barthes opened his "Mythologies" with the essay "Wrestling". In it he marks the sport as "the spectacle of excess", "where grandiloquence is found", "of ancient theatres" "a light without shadow generates \an emotion without reserve."... open-air spectacles". That's works for us as a good definition of landscape terrain.
THE LOVE THAT DARES NOT SPEAK ITS NAME the other spectacle
At least in the short run there will be a Digital Future Landscape Terrain. Those "every conceivable object of Nature and Art" will continue scaling off surfaces and dumping carcasses. And they're not going to be stopped by big, medium, or little sized books. If we care about terrains as much as we do text, we're going to need something more. That something more are new platforms and new collaborations, remix stages to frame contests and posses of designers, artists and social scientists to lay claim to these stages. But no snake oil here. No tomorrow guarantees about banishing numbness by programming the range as agoras for synthesis and awareness.
But landscape terrain is where we want to go with our new digital tools. It's the place to sort through the bewilderment, and we think the place to forge new survival myths.
Buckminster Fuller said "You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."