In the era known as the Anthropocene, such issues
have become increasingly urgent, since we poor
humans—or rather earthlings— remain perplexed
as to how to find our place among phenomena,
which are at once immensely vaster than we are,
and yet subject to our affect
“By the optical expedient of threading a series of scenes one through the other, this film claims to materialize a near-continuous shift, from the infinitely large (the galaxy), down to the infinitely small (atoms), starting with and returning to the everyday situation of a couple enjoying a picnic in a park in the center of Chicago on a fine, sunny day. It is a movie in which everything is at once true and false. True, since, on every occasion, the images present exactly what is revealed by some device (telescope, satellite, microscope, particle accelerator), not to mention the movie camera filming the couple. Yet at the same time, everything is also false, because the position allotted to each image is completely implausible. Where could we stand to view the Earth from another galaxy? What laboratory would we have to visit to observe cells from the skin of our two amorous picnickers?” -Bruno Latour
“It is also unlikely that one is able to shift in a few seconds from microscope to particle accelerator. The supposedly “educational” space-time portrayed in Eames’s film is in fact a figment of the imagination. In the process of exploring the socalled “scientific image of the world” it betrays just how unrealistic this image is. To actually mirror the path taken by the eye through each of these scales would require a prolonged, continuous movement, both extremely complicated and exorbitantly expensive—one that would wander through all of Chicago, from laboratories via science institutes to academies, and even then one would not manage to thread all of these various “space-times” like pearls on a necklace.” -Bruno Latour
“To access data of different natures originating from various pieces of apparatus and belonging to totally distinct disciplines, and yet to avoid immediately organizing them in accordance with the disastrous metaphor of the zoom, requires the creation of an arrangement tailored to some other principle.” -Bruno Latour
The least complicated alternative would be to order the data in accordance with the principle of connectivity—a principle that has the distinct advantage of not distinguishing the question of time scale from that of space (the whole difference between time and space being itself a figment of the zoom—or, as Henri Bergson puts it, of the cinematographic view of experience). In practice the data (better called the information “sublata”) is always composed of connections (a table with figures in columns, a sequence of sentences, pictures placed side by side, and graphs, to name a few). In truth, it is these connections that are subsequently projected in various formats to provide the impression of describing a particular space and time (in fact, it is always a matter of space-time; a route or trajectory). The point (a philosophical one, but we cannot help that) is that one should not confuse projection with connectivity: the data are richer in connectivity than are the (inevitably limited) projections used to organize them. This is just another way of saying that maps (projections) should not be confused with what is obtained in the field; that narrative (invariably another format of projection) should not be mixed up with trajectory. Simply put, a projection cannot equate to the path followed to acquire the connections.
The order is then always the following: first identify the data sets, then locate the connections, then reconstruct the pathway and figure out a projection, and, finally, select the maps and/or narratives.
There is no reason to fall for the opposite trajectory, which is solely designed to convince us that we can describe changes in position in space or time by using the notionally fixed points of a chronological timeline or the pseudo-Euclidean metric of a map. Data sets do not occur in space or in time: instead, space (maps) and time (forms of narration) are schemas used to display and to present—either mimicking the ordered arrangement of the subsets of the hierarchy (those of nation states, or, as in Eames’s film, of scientific disciplines), or, on the contrary, seeking to rearrange the data so as to undermine or circumvent these hierarchies. Artists who take inspiration from the sciences are right to pour into this breach; luckily, they also often appear reticent to swallow the putative “scientific image of the world” whole. For when it comes to images, artists have more than one trick up their sleeve: they are unlikely to be taken in by zoom effects.
The Anthropocene has gradually eroded such distinctions. Thus, to fully comprehend the dimensions occupied by humans, or rather by all earthly creatures, it has become necessary to devise new methodological principles: connectivity, yes; scale, no. This is the lesson in orientation I draw from the course in disorientation, provided by Eliasson.
Trevor Paglen blurs the lines between art, science, and investigative journalism to construct unfamiliar and at times unsettling ways to see and interpret the world around us.
Paglen’s photographs show something we are not meant to see, whose concealment he regards as symptomatic of the historical moment we inhabit. His objects act in opposition to what his images have exposed, imagining another and potentially different world. Paglen is a conceptual artist with activist intentions. Helping to better see the particular moment we live in and producing spaces in which to envision alternative futures are among his chief concerns