Unreal Nature

June 9, 2016

Without Thinking

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

… ‘The details are not details. They make the product. The connections, the connections, the connections.’

This is from the essay ‘Enclosed by Images: The Eameses’ Multimedia Architecture’ by Beatriz Colomina found in Art and the Moving Image: A Critical Reader edited by Tanya Leighton (2008):

… The idea of a single image commanding our attention has faded away. It seems as if we need to be distracted in order to concentrate. … Rather than wander cinematically through the city, we now look in one direction and see many juxtaposed moving images, more than we can possibly synthesize or reduce to a single impression.

[line break added] We sit in front of our computers on our ergonomically perfected chairs, staring with a fixed gaze at many simultaneously ‘open’ windows through which different kinds of information stream towards us. We hardly even notice it. It seems natural, as if we were simply breathing in the information.

How would one go about writing a history of this form of perception?

… Take the 1959 American National Exhibition in Moscow, where the US government enlisted some of the country’s most sophisticated designers. Site of the famous Kitchen Debate between Richard Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev, the exhibition was a Cold War operation in which Charles and Ray Eameses‘ multi-screen technique turned out to be a powerful weapon.

… instead of discussing ‘missiles, bombs, or even modes of government … [the two leaders] argued over the relative merits of American and Soviet washing machines, televisions and electric ranges.’

… It was for this context that the Eameses produced their film, Glimpses of the USA, projecting it onto seven 20-by-30-foot screens suspended within a vast (250 feet in diameter) golden geodesic dome designed by Buckminster Fuller. More than 2,200 still and moving images (some from Billy Wilder’s Some Like it Hot, 1959) presented a ‘typical work day’ in the life of the United States in 9 minutes and ‘a typical weekend day’ in 3 minutes. Thousands and thousands of images were pulled from many different sources …


[ … ]

… The circus was one of the Eameses‘ lifetime fascinations — so much so that in the 1940s when they were out of work and money, they were about to audition for parts at a circus. They would have been clowns, but ultimately a contract to make plywood furniture allowed them to continue as designers.

Charles was on the board of the Ringling Brothers College and often referred to the circus as an example of what design and art should be — not self-expression but precise discipline:

Everything in the circus is pushing the possible beyond the limit — bears do not really ride on bicycles, people do not really execute three and a half turn somersaults in the air from a board to a ball, and until recently no one dressed the way fliers do. … Yet within this apparent freewheeling license, we find a discipline which is almost unbelievable. … The circus may look like the epitome of pleasure, but the person flying on a high wire, or executing a balancing act, or being shot from a cannon must take his pleasure very, very seriously. In the same vein, the scientist, in his laboratory, is pushing the possible beyond the limit and he too must take his pleasure very seriously.

The circus, as an event that offered a multiplicity of simultaneous experiences that cannot be taken in entirely by the viewer, was the Eameses‘ model for their design of multimedia exhibitions and the fast-cutting technique of their films and slide shows, where the objective was always to communicate the maximum amount of information in a way that was both pleasurable and effective.

… The audience drifts through a multimedia space that exceeds their capacity to absorb it. The EamesNelson team thought that the most important thing to communicate to undergraduates [via the short film A Sample Lesson] was a sense of the relationships between things, what the Eameses would later call ‘connections’ among seemingly unrelated phenomena.

… Structure, for the Eameses, is organization in time. The details that are central to Mies van der Rohe’s architecture are replaced by what the Eameses call the ‘connections.’ As Charles said in a film about a storage system they had designed: ‘The details are not details. They make the product. The connections, the connections, the connections.’

[line break added] But, as Ralph Caplan pointed out, the connections in their work are not only between such ‘disparate materials as wood and steel’ or between ‘seemingly alien disciplines’ like physics and the circus, but also between ideas. Their technique of ‘information overload,’ used in films and multimedia presentations, as well as in their trademark ‘information wall’ in exhibitions, was not used to ‘overtax the viewer’s brain’ but precisely to offer a ‘broad menu of options’ and to create an ‘impulse to make connections.’

… Their highly controlled flows of simultaneous images provided a space, an enclosure — the kind of space we now occupy continuously without thinking.




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