[-empyre-] -empyrean- space

Christina McPhee christina at christinamcphee.net
Thu Feb 21 09:18:27 EST 2008

dear -empyre-

I 've been under the weather and under a lot of work this month, but  
finally have a chance to come up for air and look around.   Our topic,  
Stations, Sites and Volatile Landscapes, is still active til the end  
of February. Melinda will begin a new topic March 1.

In any event,  I've been thinking about -empyrean- space and process--  
how it is or could be a space and a work of art, and how its  
processual editing prcoess works via  all concerned (moderators and  
writerlyreaders and readerlywriters) .Here are some off the top  
thoughts and images -- perhaps you guys can help me out.  Comments,  
riffs, declamations welcome.

I’ve been interested in the remix like everybody else in new media.   
but it seems important to try to do something beyond just  
recontextualizing information. There is no dearth of opportunities for  
communicating online so it’s really about what makes people want to  
contribute, to write, even formally, or more conversationally,  in an  
open self generative work that still stays somehow grounded.  It seems  
so important to get past the tyranny of presets in digital media, the  
multiple choice aspect of everything web 2.0-- and so the leanest most  
minimal structure, or rules of the game, seem delightful and even  
fanciful-- if there is not a ‘formatting’ issue or a cgi interface for  
selection among predetermined choices, will people want to play? So  
the whole idea of empyre has til now been to keep things really  
nonvisual, focussed on the word, on a sort of expanded even trippy  
aesthetic of letter-writing.  Its so old school it’s almost Jane  
Austen. Much virtual ink is bled over the problem of how to establish  
transborder dialogues, how to create a public ‘heterotopia’  and this  
is a desire with more than political and aesthetic overtones, indeed  
reaches into the realm of magical thinking: as if, we wish to believe,  
we can overcome the loneliness, isolation, and profound distraction  
secondary to the media glut, by the strange harmonics of a  
conversation through as archaic and nonvisual a medium as the lowly  
email. I subscribe wholeheartedly to these fantasies. Or they may be  
the symptoms of an incipient delirium-- a fever of desire for some  
harmonics across a spectrum of human speech far wider than the normal  
audible range of the internet.  Wider in the sense not of bandwith but  
of the human spirit--I hope for a kind of expansive mood of play to  
take hold amongst this self selected, mostly silent group of a  
thousand readers/writers.  For me as artist and editor this hope  
carries out through seduction and juxtaposition.  I try to entice  
special guests to give of their time and to meet and respond to other  
guests whom they probably do not know personally, or have never met,  
and who are not necessarily likely to share a common argot. I remind  
them to post often and with generosity, and without expectation of  
response from the elusive -empyrean- readership, whose silence is the  
norm.  The silence is a kind of nurturing presence: you get the  
feeling, when you write on -empyre- that many are paying close  
attention, or that perhaps your thoughts are winging into their  
drifts-- as they access email on high speed bullet trains via  
blackberries and pods.  Or there is another kind of space on -empyre-,  
at times, a not-slient, ricochet space like a handball court where  
furious volleys rebound and strike. =empyre- is not a space of  
understanding, it does not explain itself.  It does not require  
cooperation nor endorse neutrality. Posts, like hard balls at high  
speeds, smash at each other.  Often on my watch this condition of  
almost violent play erupts unexpectedly.  There will have been long  
silences on the list, practically nothing happening, and then someone  
takes up the game, and then more than one, and then, in the space of a  
few hours, a plethora of hits-- but not ‘hits’ like the random visits  
of bots and spiders and occasional humans to websites--rather hits in  
the sense of blows, coups, counting coups.

   I ‘ve been thinking a lot about Ant Farm lately. The late sixties/ 
seventies subversive architecture group was, in their own view, a self- 
described “art politics”. Asked to comment on “Media Burn” , an  
installation in which Ant Farm members drove through a wall of flaming  
televisions using only a video camera mounted on the back of the car  
hood for guidance through the flames, one Ant Farm member, “Uncle  
Buddy” responded with reference to a kind of detournement of cars and  
televisions into a (literally) explosive transposition: “the idea of  
looping back into television the destruction of television.”  *Like  
Ant Farm whose interest to break up television in order to release, as  
it were, video for provocative deployment, using the old industrial  
image of wrecked and flaming cars,  =empyre- declines the apparent  
totalizing affectivity of the internet just by  exercising (or  
exorcising?), post upon post, the literary style of the brief (the  
formal letter), if anything a communication that reaches its  
apotheosis in eighteenth and early nineteenth Romantic writers at  
least, sort of like stacking a string of wrecked cars.  As one of  the  
producer of this latter-day ‘media burn’ I just try to light a couple  
of fires on peoples’ laptops and see who drives through and what  
happens when they do., The ‘image’ or ‘afterimage’ is the witness of  
the hypertext itself.

*The quotes and context are from Felicity Scott's new book,  
Architecture or Technoutopia, Chapter 8, "Shouting Apocalypse," p.  
138.  MIT Press 2007

Christina McPhee

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