The Cat Seemed to Think There was Enough of it Now in Sight
The Cat Seemed to Think There was Enough of it Now in Sight
The interplay of disappearance and the coming into sight of the occluded or unknown against the regime of the all too visible provides one of the hidden patternings of history. This motif, of finding moments, apertures, screens by which things resolve into objects, chances or techniques, or fade into blurs, provides a means of bringing a thread of recent works by Knowbotic Research into view in a certain way.
The hope for escape, avoidance, to be unnoticed, is possibly a more widespread sentiment than the hunger for sudden fame that supposedly gnaws at the innards of all the denizens of this planet, and it is one that is necessarily less easy to portray. But the moment of transition towards it, the shifting and shuddering between back and foreground, the bleeds between subject and object, the generation of rumour and of ruses that may accompany such shifts constitute some of the most charged and demanding of those moments when aesthetics spring into life.
interference codes / camouflage
Disruptive pattern camouflage is used by armies, hunters, and evaders of many kinds. Using asymmetric and irregular patches of colour as a cloak it makes the exterior form of the figure crack up against its background. Sometimes such patterns may allude to the form of leaves, rocks, strips of shadow and light. Throughout the many kinds of siruptive pattern, there is only one consistency, and that is that outlines are smeared, bodies, ships, buildings, vehicles, bases, become bearers of colour particles which merge with others to form new particles and blobs of light. They “dazzle” the viewer. Dazzle is a technique used to break up surface coherence into different blocks, bending the features of an object against perspectival interrogation and generating the appearance of detached elements.1 What if they kept going, loosening themselves from the figure they protect from view or from targeting? The cause of the thing, the carrier of the camouflage, the hidden thing, warrior, nightjar, escapee, becomes its effect, symptoms that gain their own motility.
The other main strategy of camouflage is to blend, to merge into the background enough to be indistinguishable from it. This may be done through use of cloaking materials of an appropriate colour, or texture, or by the use of paints, soil, vegetation, or dungs. A problem with blending arises if the colour is too finely judged a figure can be owned rather than freed by the background: it must stay within the territory of the appropriate tonal range. To blend is not to conform, but to attain the hue of a water droplet against a background of mist, to be able to shift, but also to shift light.
Deployed as a means of dropping of sight, the Ghillie suit, worn in MacGhillie – Just a Void is nicely described as a ‘portable hideout’2 that both blends and dazzles. Because it is a three dimensional rather than flat camouflage, it makes multiple surfaces available to light at a multitude of angles, and as it does so it throws hundreds of patches of shade, each of which has its own shape given by the fall and fibrousness of the cloth strips. It allows for disappearance into the background. Normally used by snipers or spotters to blend into foliage to order to better carry out their seeing unseen, the suit provides a means of blurring the figure of the wearer. Brought into urban space, what are its effects? To gain the response of a shrug would be to elicit an over-reaction.
figure – ground flickering
A key point of articulation, a border crossing, in aesthetics is the relationship between figure and ground. This is a point of distinction, how something is drawn out of or pushed into its milieu, amassed or singularized, gains escape velocity or dissolves, stands transfixed or builds a plot between watcher and watched.
Famously, the Cheshire Cat of Alice in Wonderland, its smile, the place it appears, the air it hangs in, what it disappears into, sets up the face and the body as the background to the smiling mouth, the environment as its recursive framing which then discombobulatingly re-arranges, with the one part not necessarily preceding the other. The air thickens and there is a tail. A head may appear, a smile. And as is discovered, a head that appears unconnected to a body is unpunishable by means of the guillotine.3
This relationship is taken a few steps further by a section of a text by Daniil Kharms’ who describes a character, a red-headed man, who turns out to have no hair, nor many body parts that can actually be listed. His parts and charactistics are listed one by one, until “We don’t even know what we’re talking about” and “…we don’t talk about him any more”4. The string of words builds something up to reveal that there is nothing described except what is generated by the words, foreground and background, figure and ground, are not simply entangled, but an effect of words, their arrangement in lines and in their conjunction with the minds who read into them. The properly ordered predicates of a person loop, become a moebius strip, not in their strict order of disappearance but in that the mechanism by which they appear, that of language, manages to bootstrap itself into being, as nothing in the first place.
The end of Macbeth arrives when the Burnham Wood arrives at Dunsinane fulfilling the hags’ prophesy, a thing rooted into the background, impossibly starts to walk, becomes a figure, replete with arms. When things, people, creatures, processes that are assumed to be a functional subsystem, a background routine attended to by minions, cleaners, sous-chefs, porters, subroutines, assistants start to take foreground, systems of composition begin to change. What is attended to becomes blurry, or, from some perspectives, such as those of insubordination, starts to make sense.
artwork for scanning systems
To draw attention to the process of becoming invisible invites a paradox, however there are various kinds of viewers, various kinds of screens upon which things appear. A boat that does not appear in a harbour’s scanning system, as in be prepared, tiger! can not be said to be there by any reasonable means. Are the bare eyes of the watchers sufficient proof compared to the radar of the Harbour Master’s control screens? Documenting such work with a camera is done as a matter of flat recognition. The pictures do not indulge in the potential sleek glamour of stealth, the thing is just there, looking geometric, like something out of an eighties video-game exulting in wireframe 3D, but oddly metal and solid.
Scanning systems in media, which had their advent in the previous century, bring about new means of generating an image, but also of sensing the world. In display terms they start with the phylogeny of the cathode tube brought to life by the electron beam that sweeps across and enliven the dots of phosphor on the screen. As means of sensing, scanning systems operate by transmitting shorter or longer frequency waves of sound or electromagnetic wave through a medium such as air. By matching the signals that return, scattered against their expected degree of regularity, the size, possible material, direction and velocity of such an object can be inferred.
Such systems are in contrast to the saccades characteristic of animal eyes, moving around a screen or scene according to what is apparent as being of interest. The eyes of animals, humans amongst them, are thought to be too easy to distract by movement, colour, things that seem like faces, food or predators, or by that thing that is just outside of the foveal cone, that which keeps the eyes roving. Something methodical is better, relentless. The periodicity of a scanning system has such characteristics.
To make something disappear, a magician will distract attention from it, make something else appear to be happening. A technician, by contrast, will cover it in non-conductive surface materials, such as paints or tiles designed to absorb rather than deflect radio waves. Additionally, a thing can be shaped in such a way that it does not offer surfaces at angles producing the easiest to spot reflections. The boat’s absence of edges presenting themselves for radar to bounce off in an orderly perpendicular manner leaves it less likely to be picked up, even by systems arrayed to detect objects low over the surface. The boat therefore is shaped by the “politics of frequency”,5 as Steve Goodman puts it in his discussions of sound. Here however occurring primarily in terms of which frequencies throw up fog, make themselves difficult to apprehend.
aesthetics of insensible things
Becoming imperceptible6 implies the generation of an inverse structural coupling between what exists as unseen and what is yet blind to it, a mutual unfolding of nonsensibility in which each edges away, making sure not to overlap or to touch the other, not simply by navigating away on the basis of minuscule accidental encounters, by the observation of established borders and terrains, but by a blithe constitutional innocence.
Can a process of co-evolution occur in which a movement of reciprocal avoidance and blurring generate its own capacities of perception? Such impercepts may count in the fine grain of time characteristic of the millisecond scale of target acquisition and evasion or at a larger scale in the complex interplay of mutual failings and miscomprehensions of disciplines, polities, and translations, or be epitomized in the predator prey relations incapable of being established between wild creatures inhabiting the poles and the tropics.
Computing is partially defined by competition for resources: memory, processor time, space, bandwidth. The shift between foreground and background of processes can occur as an intricate dance of checking, cleaning, starting and swapping. This is part of what gives the sense of responsiveness to users or of lag and delay when that occurs. But forms of coordination that establish monolithic blocks of allocation also exist, swallowing resources whole. In either case, anything that is computed comes into view, by being allocated resources.
A problem of security therefore is how to dazzle the possibility of differentiation between figure and ground. This problem is one of shielding the apparent use of resources. Attention to security ineluctably means that we ask how may a process be run at the same time as a system is left looking to all intents and purposes as if only that which is expected is occurring? And in turn, how may something be watched without such watching intervening in the process by, in turn, requiring the allocation of resources?7 The problem of power is to enfold such recursions into hierarchies, to always maintain the decisive position of the last twist.
The traces left by an event, a process, or that come before it tantalizing attention or that dull it out, come to move on its behalf. Words cluttered together with ostensibly simple semantics, the series of acts, nods and winks that go into the generation of an event, carry their own forms of layering and propensities for occlusion. Each may be arrayed to bring a thing, a sensation or an object and the means it tangles together to the fore, sublating others. A rumour is not inherently a form of camouflage, though it may dazzle, but a thing itself that moves.
A further project of Knowbotic Research, Black Benz Race builds on these qualities of rumour, one that invents itself and become its own precursor. Such a state of life finds routes between the blockades of prohibition and that which is unnamable because it is unknown or deemed undesirable to make known. Actions seen out of register sliding from the corner of the eye to centre stage pass best by whisper, without advertising. Nocturnal things done by Albanians, the well-tended roads of Switzerland become a funfair ride, the clean sliproads of Schiphol yield to wheels cycling in contrary directions. Dreamers clad as taxi drivers start to move in unrequested ways. Who knows what happens?
The rumour of unprecedented events, secret cavalcades add magic to life, the idea that something moves somewhere in a way that doesn’t map across to the furrows worn into the surface of experience by repetition. Spreading a rumour of improper behaviour, the re-sorting of social patterns in a way that allows the ideas of freedom to be inhabited by those without the proper papers, loosens reality up to the generation of more than one kind of fabulation. The decades of rule by border and by bank balance have depleted the pockets of space available to dream, to make things up, to take things slowly, or at the right speed. At the same time as creative milieu are turned into factories, bring them from back to front in a way that disembowels them, spreading rumours, building up the material traces of their possible veridification re-populates reality, even if only tentatively with the possibility that things might move in ways other than they are supposed to.
proliferation of logics
Just as rumours slip out of their proper confines, become news, become old, become mutterings, so do logics or the formalisms that bear them. Underlying techniques rise to the surface, hidden ordering mechanisms sink into the depths. Art finds itself at the edge of disappearance into life. Art proliferates at the edge of disappearance into circuits.
1 See, Roy R. Behrens, False Colors: Art, Design and Modern Camouflage, Bobolink Books, Dysart, Iowa, 2002
2 Tim Newark, Camouflage, Thames & Hudson in association with the Imperial War Museum, London, 2007, p.48
3 See, Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, in, The Annotated Alice, Martin Gardner ed., Penguin, London, 2001, p.92
4 Daniil Kharms, “The Blue Notebook” §10, from, Today I Wrote Nothing, the selected writings of Daniil Kharms, trans. Matvei Yankelevich, Ardis Books, New York, 2009, , p.117
5 Steve Goodman, Sonic Warfare, sound, affect, and the ecology of fear, MIT Press, Cambridge, 2009
6 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, capitalism and schizophrenia volume two, trans. Brian Massumi, Athlone, London, 1988
7 In security discourse this discussion is around the quality of ‘non-interference’ formulated as: “A security domain u is non-interfering with domain v if no action performed by u can influence subsequent outputs seen by v.” John Rushby, Noninterference, Transitivity, and Channel-Control Security Policies, SRI International, Menlo Park, May 5th, 2005