Human beings have always had a drive to surpass physical limitations and to escape the confines of the earth and leave its surface. The song by May Day, 'Jump the World,' also expresses a desire to leave Earth behind.1 It is when humans began developing space technology, venturing into outer space and leaving Earth behind, that the image of the Blue Marble was formed. This Blue Marble image has shaped our understanding of planet Earth; and with its appearance, Earth has also
started being conceived as a floating object instead of being perceived through its surface. In other words, we have seemed to comprehensively see the entirety of the Earth from a detached perspective; and this solid image of the Earth has taken root in our mind as well.
From the Blue Marble to a Fluid Marble: The Technology of Objectifying the World
The Blue Marble image renders planet Earth visualized while manifesting a utopian imagination of the world. In addition, it is also a symbol of globalization― the azure ocean, vast continents and cloud swirls have shaped this sphere. From God's perspective, we have gazed at this tiny yet resplendent marble―our world and a glorified imagination of globalization. However, what the visualization of the Blue Marble has not exposed is the other part of the world. The seemingly harmonious image cannot really show the conflicts, inequities, changes and sufferings in the real world. Visual cultural theorist Nicholas Mirzoeff, when analyzing the Blue Marble image, also states that 'there is globalization in theory, which is smooth and easy. And there is the uneven, difficult, and time-consuming experience of globalization in practice.' 2
Coping with such a 'change,' in 2001, Google Earth emerged with the latest satellite technology. Comparing to the stable and still image of a single-sided, Blue Marble-like image of Earth, Google Earth shows us 'the full view' and 'changes' of this planet. It was at that very moment thar we entered the world of 'an uncharted world'―a world that is no longer stable, in which the full view of the Earth is not based on images but on superposition of dynamic changing layers and data; and the previously stable Blue Marble image has begun disintegrating into pieces that have overlapped and fluidly, ceaselessly changed.
A World Pre-determined by the Virtual
From 'the Blue Marble' to 'a fluid marble,' we seem to have shortened our distance with the truth of the world. However, this all-enveloping fluid marble produced with real-time calculation has also steered us away from the world, with our body becoming more detached and floating beyond the fluid marble. Meanwhile, we are now able to more accurately predict the world's changes using virtual technologies as well. Traditional theorists would argue that such detachment reifies humans, alienating them from the world and turning us into consumers that passively observe the world and lose the ability to act. However, the liquidation of virtual technologies (i.e. Google Maps and others) also relies on massively collecting user information. In fact, we are not passive observers. We (in the form of data) are simultaneously shaping and redefining the world.
During the period of the Blue Marble image, we were indeed passive observers that gazed at the beautiful planet without being able to take any actions. However, in the contemporary period of the fluid marble, we have become activists that intervene; and the subject and the object have become mutually permeating. The virtual and the real can no longer be differentiated since. It is not the virtual (technologies of cartography, video game, art, theater, film, etc.) that is imitating the real world in the traditional sense; instead, it is the real world that copies the virtual, even to the extent that the real becomes "pre-determined" by the virtual.
An Uncharted World Infiltrated by Technologies
The mutual permeation of the virtual and the real can be glimpsed in An Uncharted World curated by FENG Hsin. Based on the exhibition title, it becomes clear that the world's shift from the Blue Marble to the fluid marble indicates that all that is solid has become unstable (Marx's prognosis). Nevertheless, An Uncharted World does not stop at illustrating the changed worldview, the outdated Blue Marble analogy, and the invasion of the virtual into reality. The exhibition highlights the body that disappears throughout the mutual permeation of the virtual and the real and critically deconstructed the standard of cartographic technologies.
It is worth noticing that, regarding the control of technology, An Uncharted World does not aim to return to a past world untainted by virtual technologies and replace virtual technologies with the pursuit of a supposedly beautiful, authentic reality: to retrieve the stability of the blue planet. What An Uncharted World cares more about is to infiltrate into technologies and critically reveal the multiple, hidden, invisible realities therein.
Body and Installation: Mutual Permeation of the Virtual and the Real
Entering the staircase space, audiences are greeted with LIU Chihhung's work, entitled Lost in the Light and Wind, which prismatically reveals multiple and overlapping light and shadow refracted from a scooter rear mirror onto a wall- mounted hydrometer. Nevertheless, what really makes this work intriguing is 'air,' whose intangible existence has been incorporated into the work―this refers to the audience's body (their breath and the air flow incurred by their movement) as well as the dampness and moisture of the space. These intangible elements also shape this work, causing variations of its 'humidity.' In other words, the audience's body and breath become part of the work―that is, we no longer view the artwork in a detached manner like when we view the Blue Marble (the subject and the object are separated). Instead, the body is unknowingly transformed into an active agent that molds the artwork (inter-permeability of the subject and the object).
Upon walking into the next white-box gallery, audiences can see CHEN Wei- Chen's work. The steps in the gallery create a familiar yet strange uncanniness in one's mind. The enveloping off-white atmosphere causes an illusory dizziness, and the seemingly cool, solid tiles are in fact painted wood in disguise. On view in the gallery are many objects commonly found in everyday life (metal poles, handrails, tiles, trees, etc.), but they are bizarrely distorted, overlapping state. These objects, originally solid and stable in real life, have become distorted and 'liquified' as if digitally manipulated via technology of computer graphics. If the world as the Blue Marble is preconceived as solid and stable, the fluid marble is contrarily in a distorted, superimposed state. The artist converts computer graphic material into a range of three-dimensional objects, which precisely foregrounds the fact that we have gone beyond the framework in which the virtual represents reality and must now face an era when reality is turned virtual.
Deconstructing and Reconstructing Graphic Perception
Whereas LIU Chihhung's and CHEN Wei-Chen's works focus more on perception and the body, CHEN Hsiangfu on the other hand tends to deconstruct our cognitive framework of maps. Using the deployment of the black box, she frees different maps from the confine of paper into a floating presentation in the gallery. Beyond Path reveals a blue sphere in motion (The Blue Marble, maybe? ), on which glowing lines constantly appear and disappear. The images shown on the sphere come from satellite images of China' s ' re-education' camps in Xinjiang, and the blue traces that are continuously fading out and superimposing onto one another indicate the place's complicated fate. The physical installation of Beyond Path is also worth mentioning. Audiences need to climb onto a platform to have a 360-degree view the sphere in an aerial angle (that is, in God's perspective and unbounded by the surface of the earth). Unlike the blue planet that provides steadily stable information, the information shown on this sphere is in a state of constant disappearance.
Another work, titled Illusion of the City.Taipei, demonstrates the relationship between ' illusions of architectural projects' and ' real income.' Audiences receive spatial layouts that are not representations of real architectural projects but rather collaged and reconstructed reconfiguration images based on changing income. From my point of view, the work is an indirect critique of deceitfully stable illusions fed by architectural projects (the blue planet drawn up by developers), and by introducing the element of real income, the illusions are reconstructed and altered.
Physical Perception that Brings Together Times and Spaces
As CHEN Hsiangfu tries to deconstruct stable cartographic fantasies to highlight the reality of cartography, WU Sih-Chin's Mt. Eliza invites audiences to collectively hike onto the mountains he has created. In the gallery, audiences see 3D modeling images of a mountain ceaselessly sliding towards them as if they were on a treadmill, whereas the sounds accompanying the images are small talks between a man and a woman during a hiking trip, with subtitles describing the imagination of their relationship with the mountain. In fact, the 3D modeling of the mountain view is based on Mt. Eliza that the interlocutors once climbed in
Australia, and the subtitles describe how they have felt during the trip at that time. The sounds, on the other hand, are recordings of hiking trips in Taiwan. Through his work, Wu transcends geographical and spatial-temporal limitations (manmade political borders) and brings together times, spaces and bodies across different regions (Australia and Taiwan).
The use of 'sounds' in this work should also be noticed. During the process of climbing the mountain, we notice the fast breathing and the difficulty of speaking. By amplifying the sound of breathing, introducing a bodily sense into the work, suggests breathing and physical sensations during intercourse, which indicates a 'non-perceptive' state that can hardly be verbally reduced and expressed. This in turn highlights the entwining corporeal experience between people and mountains. From the non-stop images to the sounds of breathing or flying flies that are normally considered noise, the work departs from the perceptual framework that has shaped the notion of the Blue Marble and introduces elements of impurities and the body that are usually rejected.
The Body Leaving and Connected to the Earth
While WU Sih-Chin combines virtual 3D modelling with the corporeality connected to the earth, HUANG Wei-Hsuan's imaginative virtual journey is extensively departing from the earth. In his video characterized by splendid particles, audiences can see how the artist has imagined embarking on a journey that has been canceled due to the pandemic. The video comprises views from transportation, Google positions pinned from God's perspective, reserved transportation tickets, etc. This entirely 'decorporealizing' virtualization also makes the body afloat. The accumulated time counted in seconds marks the real duration of the journey from the beginning of the journey to the very present. Consequently, audiences can vividly perceive the tension between the past expectation and the present time. Having said that, the work concentrates more on the working of the representational logic while confirming Google Maps's virtual 'logic of decorporealization'―we do not need to leave the house to travel the world and can now experience a journey without the body.
After the pre-perceived journey of departing from the earth presented by HUANG Wei-Hsuan' s work, NANONANO' s work on view in the corridor once
again pulls us back to the ground and the live scene. NANONANO's site-specific creation responds to the issue of MoCA Taipei's space, blowing physical debris of the museum architecture (red brick, wall paint, metal, nail, glass, etc.) into a perceivable and abstract image installation. Walking amid the installation, the audience's body also moves through the installation while encountering and passing by the (existing yet invisible) body of MoCA Taipei. In a period of social distancing dictated by the pandemic, NANONANO instead uses the work to bring the audience closer to a point of even constantly and bluntly bumping into the work in the corridor. This approach makes visitors more reflexively aware of interactions between the space, the body and the images while paying more attention to their body in movement.
Re-orienting the Force-Field
From the Blue Marble to the fluid marble, from static to dynamic, from virtual- real separation to virtual-real permeation, we can perceive the instability of the world in An Uncharted World whereas the aesthetic expression of the featured artworks also awakens the body that has disappeared in our habitual use of virtual technologies (e.g. Google Maps and so on). Whether the Blue Marble or the fluid marble, what is more important is how the body is reoriented from decorporealization to corporealization. It is however a shame that the overall arrangement of An Uncharted World seems rather mild and gentle without taking a step further to engage in issues related to the invisible mechanisms of neoliberalism (algorithm, manipulative image, surveillance and politics). Furthermore, the demonstration of the 'dynamic' also indirectly affirms the operation of virtual technologies without offering powerful critiques.
What An Uncharted World has done is to highlight interactions in a force-field rather than simply unveils a clear perception of the world. From LIU Chihhung's use of moisture, CHEN Wei-Chen's distorted space, WU Sih-Chin's use of sounds, to NANONANO's installation, the blurriness utilized in their works foregrounds a force-field of interactions between the audience and the space. This reminds us of cultural theorist Alberto Toscano's statement― 'the mapping or figuring of capital is not a question of accuracy or resemblance, in which aesthetic form would be a mere instrument for knowledge, but constitutes a kind of force-field in which our conceptions of both modes of production and aesthetic regimes are put to the test.' 3 This is to say that the force-field mapped out by the artists is not for accurate cartographic representation but instead to challenge our existing modes of aesthetic and production regimes.
The dynamic force-field evoked in An Uncharted World also resists the ubiquitous imaging technologies as well as the reality pre-oriented by technologies. The reorientation of art tends to be 'disorientation'―'among the first products of a genuine striving for orientation is disorientation, as proximal coordinates come to be troubled by wider, and at times overwhelming vistas.' 4 In the constantly changing technology of algorithm, An Uncharted World steals into the crevices of virtual technologies to destabilize the homogeneous reality shaped by both the Blue Marble and the fluid marble. By re-mapping multiple latent realities, it redirects the drive to depart from Earth to the ground and the live scene to further reorient the dwelling place of the body.
1 Hannah Arendt, in the preface to The Human Condition, analyzes at the very beginning the issue of technologies for 'leaving the Earth's surface' and towards the outer space. Such technological development is closely related to the development of the satellite image technology, which has become the standard approach of measuring the world today.
2 Mirzoeff, Nicholas. How to See the World: An Introduction to Images, From Self-Portraits to Selfies, Maps to Movies, and More. Trans. Lin Wei., Taipei: Editions du Flaneur, 2016, p. 20.
3 Toscano, Alberto and Jeff Kinkle. Cartographies of the Absolute. Trans. Zhang Yan., Wuhan: Changjiang Literature and Arts Publishing House, 2021, p. 37.
4 Mirzoeff, Nicholas. How to See the World, p. 43.
Published in "The World is yet to Come", 2022