Welcome to the e-era. Hang up your jacket, take a seat. We’ll do everything to make it as comfortable as possible.
It took a roundabout route, via the invention of the light bulb, the telephone, the battery and the personal computer, but you are there now: in the e-age. In a period in which electronics have become a modus vivendi. You know precisely how it goes. You write and speak by e-communication and e-mail, you provide yourself with food and clothes via the e-shop, elect urban and state governments by means of e-voting, educate yourself via e-courses, obtain services from an e-service provider, and arrange bank and insurance matters via e-banking. That is a minimum. You are, possibly, the last in your street who does not yet manage his time with a palmtop, still listens to records and cd’s instead of wearing an Ipod around his neck, still subscribes to a newspaper in paper form, and still has social and sexual contacts outside a chatroom. But even then: we live with an electronic ‘means’ within reach for practically any act or need.
In the future, this integration will be even more seamless. The magic word is ambient technology. All apparatus can be linked to one another and to the Internet via wireless connections (e.g. Bluetooth). Next time, we will be communicating with you in a boat out at sea.
“Morse code (dot-dash-dot) and binary system are precisely the same. Telex and fax, television, telewhatever, they are all usually faster versions of the telegraph.”
Matteo Galiazzo, Cargo, 1999, p. 282.
It is a simple system: dot-dash-dot or 0 and 1 and 0. By setting the switch to the one or other position, a certain instruction is carried out. With today’s computers, this means minimal movement that is imperceptible, or almost. But the implications of the spread and expansion of this system are inversely proportional. An enormous force is taking two directions: outward and inward.
The e places us in a global environment, takes us everywhere.
A great many electronic operations are stored in a memory, so-called e-databases. Without being aware of it, let alone having control over it, there are all sorts of personal information ‘out there’. We are in countless databases. Difficult to estimate who has access to them, or what they are used for. Boundaries become shifted, legislation tries to keep pace. ?What is in the various databases and what may it be used for? What information do customers give away when they use an (electronic) customer card? What interesting information comes to light by coupling different databases to one another? Why is there confidentiality of the mail but not, as yet, of e-mail?
At the same time, everything seems to implode with that same e.
The whole globe lies at our finger tips. Images and texts can be exchanged in seconds. The Library of Alexandria pales next to the mastodon bookless archive. Stimulating thoughts and ideas present themselves just like that, incessantly, without having to take a detour via sensory perception. Experience seems able to stand detached from time and distance. This also means that it is nearly impossible in the meantime to barricade our doors. The world can no longer be kept out: advertising, viruses and spam inundate our inbox. And the more we associate with the Internet (and we do), the more difficult it becomes to keep a careful watch over boundaries.
Yet, also in a more literal sense, everything is becoming smaller. The digital medium normally requires less space than paper or vinyl. And a player with an internal hard drive (like the Ipod) replaces hundreds of cd’s. In a little while we will run up against the boundaries of the silicon-based pc. (You can give chips only a limited minimum size, because the contacts would otherwise be too weak.) A successor is already under development: the quantum computer. The normal bits are replaced in a quantum computer by qubits. A normal bit can have 0 and 1 as a value; a qubit can also have something in-between or a combination of both. The qubits are made up of qudots, small groups of electrons. You are able to compute with them by moving those electrons from one qubit to the other. ?The advantage of this is that you can do computations in parallel. You can imagine each qubit as a processor. Since a quantum computer is made up of thousands of qubits, it has a computing power of thousands of computers. These will be still a lot smaller and more powerful than our present machines.
All that makes it possible to create more open space for ourselves. Or to live with more in a limited area, depending on how you want to look at it. In any case, it means that we will organise our living and work spaces differently.
Our ‘mental space’ is also under pressure. Being alone is no longer in tune with the times. With a gsm you are always reachable and (as already the case) visible. Our mailbox and voicemail are accessible at all times. We are filmed unnoticed. In the bank, and also in the street. We can reach everyone, and we are permanently available.
Our boundaries are permeable, leaking on all sides. We are running out like ink.
If we are indeed going to experience boundaries differently, our experience of space will also alter with it. A boundary is, after all, a demarcation of private space in relation to public space. If it is true that our boundaries have become permeable with the ‘e’, what sort of demands do we still wish to place then on our private space? Considering the effortlessness with which we frisk around in the e-era: scarcely any. This is distinct from the fact that we still have to react from that one ‘object’ in space to which we are firmly attached: our body. The body has a certain size, normally moves upright through space and, in doing so, is constantly subjected to gravity. We interpret what we encounter in the world based on this information. In relation to the scale of things, man is literally ‘the measure of all things’. The nature of our boundaries is, quite definitely, of vital importance for that body. A decisive question is whether the boundary protects us, for example.
In other words: while we are, on the one hand, very much attached to the freedom of a boundary that is like a permeable membrane, we have, on the other hand, the compelling need for the boundary to be impermeable. Unless we revert to the way of thinking before Descartes (the ghost in the machine), that can, in the very least, be referred to as a conflicting interest.
The above, perhaps, appears to have little immediacy for your daily existence. Life happily tends to go only as fast as people are able to live it. And so you have possibly succeeded in fitting in all the above more or less as something obvious in your life.
That does not apply to Italian author Matteo Galiazzo, nor to Nigerian-Belgian artist Ola Dele Kuku.
Galiazzo (1970) leads a double life: he writes both novels as well as computer programs. His two talents meet together in a view that, as it were, looks through the physical to the virtual world, and the other way around. It’s all a matter of having faith in an optical illusion: you see something by focusing on something else. His novel, Cargo, appeared in Belgium in 1999. ‘An open-hearted novel’, according to the half-title. A group of characters tumble over each other and over a whole battery of theories from the natural sciences, mathematics, biology and semantics. Every time you try to concentrate on one of them, another one distracts your attention. But on the final pages all the fragments and bits fall into their proper place and you, the reader, can finally look through the grid.
‘The bare walls of the cabin are studded with bolts, whose heads stick out from a couple of layers of mouldy white paint. A long series of bolts. But if you take a closer look, you will see that they are not all bolts. Some of them are obviously some kind of white plastic caps. Instead of asking himself what is hidden behind those caps, the young man keeps on staring for ages at the general ordering of the bolts and the caps. He discovers that there is a remarkable logical sequence. Cap cap bolt cap, bolt bolt cap, bolt, bolt bolt bolt, cap, bolt cap, gat, bolt bolt bolt, cap, cap cap cap, bolt cap bolt, bolt bolt, bolt cap, gat, bolt bolt cap bolt bolt, gat, bolt bolt cap bolt, bolt bolt, cap bolt, bolt bolt, cap, bolt cap
close quotation marks.’
Matteo Galiazzo, Cargo, 1999, p. 287-288
For Ola Dele Kuku (19??) too, the new questions and developments of the e-era are no laughing matter. As an architect he always returns in his work to the proportions of the human body and their relationship to the space around about. His ‘buildings within buildings’ stand as witnesses, for example, the Teatro dell’ Archivo from the series Opera Domestica. This circular writing desk sits on a platform, like a wheel. The circle consists of pigeonholes with little doors, in which books and other valuables can be stored away. The hub of the wheel also consists of pigeonholes. It’s not by chance that there are references here to the studiolos of renaissance monks, or to the drawings of Leonardo Da Vinci, in which man is the measure of all things.
Ole Dele Kuku is fascinated by the fact that electronics is becoming all-pervasive, and that its repercussions on our needs for physical and mental boundaries are become more and more concrete. Because that is architecture: redefining your living space; giving it an identity. Even so, he was finding the label of architect constricting. Only as a free artist can he find the freedom to pursue his enquiries. He looks for new methods using drawing, texts and computer simulations to define the layering and interference between virtual and physical reality.
So it was that the two of them found each other in Milan and in Antwerp, in a vast network of ones and zeros.
During his working residency in Antwerp (November 2004), Matteo accumulated a huge stock of documentary images: digital photos of the city. In the meantime, Dele was making architectural simulations and drawings of the e-era. These became like collage buildings or ‘built drawings’. The two approaches had to converge into a three-dimensional installation consisting of pillars of images. The dimensions, positions and inter-relationships of the pillars were determined by a matrix with ten digits: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9. Why choose this method? Because the digits form the most every-day and most commonly used connection between physical and virtual reality.
What do a calculator, a telephone, an alarm system, the engine immobiliser in a car, a mobile phone, a fax, the lock on a door, a cash dispenser and a remote control have in common with each other? A keypad with ten keys.
What’s more, these ten figures bring age-old meanings with them. They not only unlock the door to your hotel room, but also to our cultural history.
The number zero is a very special number, because it only made its entry into the Western world around 1300 AD. Its real origin goes much further back. Researchers believe that in the ancient East (circa 3000 BC) a kind of double slash was already used to signify the absence of a digit at a particular position in a number. The number zero appeared in India around the year 600 BC. The Arabs took the number zero with them to the West two centuries later, but we had to wait for centuries before it was really used. Despite the fact that the Church had a lot of problems with the pagan zero, traders saw the usefulness of zero, so that the number zero finally started to be used in the 14th century (business is business). The number zero does not appear in nature; it’s a number that has been invented by human beings to make counting simpler. It is, therefore, an entirely fictitious number.
This is supposedly a sacred number. It holds an unchallenged position as the first number of all and is considered the symbol of life, creation and the one single creator god or primordial unity. The indivisibility of this number strengthens this view further. Number one is the masculine, generative principle, the symbol of good, of friendship and of perpetuity.
This is generally a negative number. In ancient Greece it was believed that uneven numbers were masculine and therefore good, while even numbers were feminine and bad. Two was therefore the root of all evil. Often it is a symbol of death or for evil in general. This is also the number for dualism (yin/yang), which concerns two things that go together, such as man and woman, heaven and earth, day and night, good and evil, black and white, rich and poor, fire and water.
In ancient Greece the number three was the peak of perfection (‘omne trinium perfectum’: all trinities are perfect. This number appears over and again in the Old and New Testaments as the symbolic appearance of the sacred Three-in-One Unity. Consider the three wise men from the east too. The English royal coat of arms has three lions, while the coat of arms of Amsterdam has three crosses. We cheer three times and we have the expression ‘three times lucky’. In fairy tales things often happen three times. When Simon Peter said three times that he did not know Jesus, the cock crew three times. Jesus was resurrected on the third day. Three is the symbol of the three dimensions. Three is represented as a triangle.
Four was also a sacred number to the ancient Greeks, because four is the first square. Four also doubles the duality of two. It also stands for the four elements of water, earth, fire and air, and the four directions of the wind: north, east, south and west. If you want to be a little more far-fetched, 1+2+3+4 makes the perfect number 10, where the number four completes the series.
In China it’s an unlucky number; in Cantonese, ‘four’ sounds almost the same as ‘death’.
Five is the number of books in the Torah, the number of knowledge. The symbol of five is the pentagram. A human being has five fingers on each hand. Five is also seen as the same as marriage, because five is the sum of the male 3 and the female 2.
Six is the number of Man, because he was created on the sixth day. It stands for balance and peace. Mathematically speaking it is also a perfect number, because 1+2+3 make six. The symbol that goes with six is the hexagram or the Seal of Solomon and the Star of David.
Almost as popular as the number 3 is seven. The number seven stands for a group. It often appears in the Bible, such as in the seven days of the creation, and the seven fat and seven lean years. There are seven virtues and seven deadly sins. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, the seven colours of the rainbow, the Seven Wonders of the World, and the expression ‘seventh heaven’ are well-known examples. The Jews have their seven-branch candlestick, the menorah, and seven weeks after Pesach (the Jewish Easter) they celebrate Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks.
Seven is a special number. In the Bible it signifies: ‘abundance, a great amount’. Seven is also a prime number (it can only be divided by itself and by 1) and is therefore supposed to represent chastity.
For the ancient Greeks, the number eight was that of justice, because 8 = 4 + 4 and 4 is again 2 + 2 and 2 is again 1 + 1. Because it is also the first cube (2 x 2 x 2) it also became a symbol of abundance. The resurrection of Jesus is often considered the eighth day of creation: this is reflected in the many eight-sided fonts. In Roman art, we find the eight-pointed star and the eight-pointed Maltese cross. Also Buddhism is based on the Eightfold Path.
The number nine is related to darkness; it also stands for snakes or the womb. The mother carries a child in her womb for 9 months. When Jesus was hanging on the cross, it became dark at the ninth hour. In Jewish history, many disasters have happened on the ninth day of the month. Still, the number nine is also a favourable one, because 9 is the cube of 3. In ancient Egypt, the gods were classified into groups of nine; in ancient China, the number nine played an important role in the I Ching and the book of Rites speaks of nine ceremonies.
With this simple matrix the writer and the artist were able to experiment with the layout of the city. To start with it was a matter of cautious practice. They had it clearly in mind that these numbers could be implemented. Matteo’s photos were to be printed and stuck to a base that would be resistant to bad weather conditions. A framework would be needed to hold the images together. As regards materials, the budget and the limited time to carry out the production had to be taken into account.
But in December their work broke loose from any practical anchor. What had started out originally as an almost true-to-nature representation of the heights of buildings and of distances, now became a game. They can now freely combine dimensions and surfaces. Not only have they said goodbye to the reference points of the City of Literature project, they have also let go of the limitations of a particular place and time, such as gravity, surroundings, the difference between day and night. The interpretation is mostly left to the observer. In some versions there are piles of blocks. The blocks have a clear picture on every side, almost as good as a postcard. The whole is a cubist but friendly view of the city. Another version presents a labyrinth of perspectives. Here you see Antwerp as a composition of pipes, girders, planes and holes. Another version still zooms in on office buildings, shop windows and walls. A perforated layer of glass in front of a layer of concrete with holes in front of an iron grille. Here there is a thin line between structure and chaos. In other versions the blocks are simply replaced with series of numbers. Strings of codes run from the sky to below the ground.
Galiazzo and Kuku are drawing further away from Antwerp as they go on. The city could now be any city anywhere. There are no boundaries holding them now.
biographical note: Saracore231279 is an autonomous e-Me. What was intended as an electronic identity card has transmogrified into an electronic identity. It is impossible to prove that it does not really exist, given that the entire function of the card is to prove an identity (signature, social security information, address documents).