[iDC] Beyond the blob

Christiane Robbins cpr at mindspring.com
Thu Sep 28 17:34:25 EDT 2006

Dear Mark –

Thanks so much for your clarification and the differentiation which you 
are seeking to address in your forthcoming conference.  While I also 
appreciate your bifurcation of screen based digital design and 
pervasive/embedded/locative/context-aware technologies (computing as 
environment,) I ask if this binary is as firmly ensconced as you may 
presuppose? Or, conversely, is it really necessary?  I embraced the 
digital realm as one from which to negotiate and re-negotiate 
conventional boundaries and territories – whether they be technologies, 
media or cultures themselves.  I sense that you would agree with that 

However, your bifurcation is one that invokes an aesthetic legacy 
inherent to “electronic arts” (now that certainly is an old phrase 
dating back to what - the ‘60’s!) Relative to digital-time, this 
division seems simultaneously antediluvian and totally appropriate to 
the early 21st c.  It is a division that couches itself in the cover 
stories attributed to the categories of digital, generative tools (as 
aides to structural elements of the materialization of “things” – i.e. 
CAD, digital cinema and graphics) and to a modernist notion of 
technologies, which are (arguably) deemed intrinsic to technology 
itself.  And, I have to admit that I find this designation somewhat 
arbitrary.  I also find it a curious division that might evince an 
older, covert academic and socio-economic bias of science and 
engineering as opposed to the humanities  – a bias that we see played 
out time and time again in our cultures.  The disparities inherent in 
academic funding is but one clear example of the differing exchange 
rates in currencies brought to the table.

Be that as it may, I believe the importance to look at legacies 
informing your conference cannot be underestimated.  My disclaimer here 
is that, as Trebor is aware, for some reason I am not receiving all of 
the IDC posts and, as such, may be working with only partial 
information, as in the case of citing Laura Kurgan.  I’d like to think 
that , as opposed to that I might not be reading these posts as closely 
as I should!

It strikes me that there is a wealth of experimental projects/research 
that has transpired prior to 1997 that could be helpful to this 
discussion.  By way of example, Douglas Davis’s book from 1973 “ Art 
and the Future” (not easily accessible to be sure!) takes a look at 
Gyorgy Kepes, and the “environmental exhibition” which he organized at 
the Center for Advanced Visual Studies, or groups such as ZERO and GRAV 
and see that their practices predate and greatly inform the work that 
is being put up as examples on this list.  EAT’s Pepsi-Cola pavilion in 
the 1970’s World’s Fair in which they designed the “environment within 
and without the Pavilion from the cloud that floated above the dome 
(designed by physicist, Tom Mee) to the responsive sound, light and 
mirror systems inside, most of them triggered by the movement and 
behavior of the spectators.”
I guess this is all to say that we have always gone along for the ride 

These “futurists” seemed to have envisioned large-scale installations 
which draw very strong parallels to, what is termed here as, 
interactive architecture.  Theirs was primarily for entertainment, 
leisure or tourist services and attracted the backing of such corporate 
entities as Pepsi-Cola.  Today the merging of these elements can be 
seen in the widely-accepted appreciation of such forms in the 
commercial theme parks such as Disney or Universal where interactive 
environments and role-playing are scripted by central casting.

I don’t intend to hang myself on what may appear to be an argument of 
technological determinism that argues that these technologies 
unilaterally inflate the hegemonic control by a technocratic elite.  
That’s a tired, if not totally inoperable refrain, to be sure.  Without 
doubt, technologies have a limited agency in our world.  But at the 
same time, one cannot deny that these technologies are inscribed with 
specific cultural narratives that resituate dominant power relations 
and dynamics, as do the topologies in which they are situated.  Hence, 
when I am discussing notions of “situated technologies” these are two 
aspects to which I refer.

And to your last, point, my own work has involved issues and 
technologies associated with what you are termed interactive 
architecture and what Karmen so thoughtfully offered on embodiment.  In 
2002-3, my project, Blue-Screen_MOTO received a COLA Individual Artist 
Fellowship award ( descriptions below) but the interactive part of this 
was sidelined by Disney which is actually  quite a story!  In any case, 
my current project, I-5_PASSING had a beta installation in the group 
show, Edge Conditions, at the San Jose Museum of Art which some of you 
may have seen during the recent ISEA 
(http://01sj.org/content/blogcategory/65/84/) or at the Beall Center 
Technospheres show that just closed.  The more developed large-scale 
installation and public siting is scheduled for premiere next year in 

Most importantly, thanks for the on-going discussion, Mark et all –

All best,


On Thursday, September 28, 2006, at 09:52  AM, Mark Shepard wrote:

Dear Christiane,

I wasn't suggesting that anyone (other than myself, maybe) was pointing 
to the starchitects. And I did so in order to attempt to highlight the 
differences between the discourse in architecture over the past ten 
years surrounding the "digital" (which the so-called "Non Standard" 
conferences and "Digital Hybrid" book are products of), and what we are 
looking to address in the upcoming symposium. As I see it, there is a 
big difference between screen-based, "digital" design and fabrication 
environments (the computer as tool) and 
pervasive/embedded/locative/context-aware technologies (computing as an 
environment). The symposium is concerned with the latter.

You ask: "who is to say that evolving mobile and locative technologies 
will not (reciprocally) inform us as to how a building is built or 
permutates throughout a lifetime."

I'd say they would. And when looking at the city, mobile and locative 
technologies are particularly informative. Some threads of the July 
discussion on mobile, networked sociality, and the August discussion on 
locative media and the city touched on this (I referenced Laura 
Kurgan's "You Are Here: Museo" in this context, who, yes, is at 
Columbia now and heading up the Spatial Information Design Lab. Her 
project "Architecture and Justice" is also currently on display at the 
Urban Center). Frank Ancel pointed to the Real Time Rome project at the 
Venice Biennale - http://senseable.mit.edu/realtimerome/ - which builds 
on an earlier (2002) project by the WAAG society, Amsterdam Realtime - 
http://www.waag.org/project/amsterdamrealtime . These attempts at 
mapping the hertzian space of cities are indeed valuable in helping us 
understand contemporary urban dynamics. But it sounds like you've been 
working with these ideas for quite some time. Maybe you could share 
with the list some of your work on mapping?

You also note that buildings already are embedded with a plethora of 
technologies, most notably surveillance and security systems. I'd add 
to that the range of Building Environment Management Systems (BEMS), 
which are becoming more "responsive" to fluxuating environmental 
conditions. An early example would be Jean Nouvelle's southern facade 
for the Institute de Monde d'Arabe in Paris. More recently Wired 
reported on research into Smart Buildings - 
http://www.wirednews.com/news/technology/0,71680-0.html?tw=wn_index_1 - 
which is apparently still engaged in the (ever fundable) 
optimization/efficiency agenda, a point Michael Fox raised earlier this 

So … is it, once again, simply a question of a re-purposing of 
technologies generated and handed down by the military or corporate 
America.  Or, as it seems you are suggesting, is it that 
architects/artist need to advance these developments ahead of the 
military –industrial curve?

I'd say definitely the latter. Though not necessarily "ahead", maybe 
"alongside", "against", or "despite".

Best regards,


A cross-disciplinary project
©Christiane Robbins, 2001-04

One of my current projects - "Blue Screen_Moto" - is an allinclusive 
cross disciplinary project and virtual performance space - somewhat 
akin to a computer gaming space. Based upon the narrative complexities 
and geometric topologies of theworld(s) in which we find ourselves 
living - especially those of us living in Los Angeles. "Blue 
Screen_Moto" renders the "special effects" collision of our material, 
cinematic, virtual and telematic
conditions and, hence explores the complex relationships between 
architecture, film and photography in the urban environment ... 
specifically in the city of Los Angeles.

The cinematic/special effects term " Blue Screen_Moto "
functions as an analogy for the way that information, via the
unfolding narrative(s) of film and media, have been increasingly
mapped onto the built environment, material reality and memory,
thus radically shifting the manner in which an individual
experiences the passage of space and time. It further deliberates
upon the ubiquitous layer of Cartesian space which envelops not
only the virtual realms of cyberspace and computer games, but
increasingly, forms the basis upon which our material reality is
structured via the CAD programs of architects and engineers. The
slippage inherent in these newly configured relations of our
material and virtual everyday lives have fantastic implications for
the way that the brain processes data, information and not to
mention, reality(s).

This slippage has become even more exaggerated through mobile
telephony which has increasing become the world's means of
accessing and utilizing digital space, whether through the muchhyped 
wireless web services, the more popular (and populist) form of text 
messaging/SMS, or the more straight-forward and ubiquitous act of voice 
communication.  Moreover, mobile telephony has transformed

a cross-disciplinary digital media project
© Christiane Robbins 2001-2007
" ... to go nowhere, even to ride around in a deserted quarter
or in a crowded freeway, now seems natural."
Paul Vir illo, "The Aest het ics of Disappearance"

I- 5 Passing is a journey ... a journey of aesthetic inquiry across 
disciplines, across cultural discourses, acrosspersonal narratives, 
across regional perspectives and across the mythos of California 
itself. I-5_Passing combines the seduction of the road trip, 
documentary, fictional and remediated cinematic images/ narratives, 
with a recombinant use of data, locative, surveillance and distributed 
media and technologies. I-5 presents us with an imaged, telematic and 
nomadic experience which is at once branded and familiar yet somehow 
embodies a viscerally alien presence.

I-5 Passing captures a distinct, synergistic moment – the unprecedented 
growth of the urban / suburban population spread into “our nations’ 
breadbasket - the San Joaquin Valley, CA - which is now one of the most 
highly polluted regions of the world. In tandem with this environmental 
perversity are the distended simulacrum of iconic urban spaces which 
are improbably embedded into bedroom communities; the ubiquitous 
presence and trace of the automobile and future mass transit such as 
the high speed railway; the rapid adoption of Bluetooth mobile devices, 
and the widespread influence of wireless and locative technologies 
roaming across the wide open topographies of our psyche and landscape. 
We find ourselves traversing the brave new valleys of the Interstate 5 
corridor bisecting the 400-mile stretch between the San
Francisco Bay Area and the greater Los Angeles Metropolitan area. These 
are ordinary scenes whose very ordinariness make them subversively 
utopian. It is this very ordinariness which unleashes a flood of 
historical nostalgia – a warmth and comfort to a past that we have 
never really known.

The interstitial space between pressing environmental concerns and 
cultural practices is constantly invoked, riffed and (re) created 
within the presence of this project. With a nod toward artists Ruscha, 
Frank, Calle, Smithson and Baldesarri, I-5_Passing addresses and images 
cultural and environmental concerns, conceptual art and the legacies of 
narrative/documentary media practice. Its conceptual underpinnings 
embrace issues endemic to historical land-use and its representations; 
contemporary adaptive re-use of the land, nomadic conditions and the 
market / exchange value of commuting; to the personal narratives and 
subjectivities that unfold through the experiences of travel & 
commuting themselves.

I-5_Passing is an experimental cross-disciplinary digital media project 
that explores the ways in which speed (ie. automobiles) alter one's 
experience of space and time. The title references both vehicular 
motion and questions how motility induces mind travel itself. Our 
databanks of memory, themselves transport devices, destabilize the idea 
of linear time and fixed identity.

© Christiane Robbins

Christiane Robbins

J e t z t z e i t
Los Angeles  l  San Francisco

... the space between zero and one ...
Walter Benjamin
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