The map’s inmate and two moves towards an archived Earth

Google Earth landscape

In a tedious, bureaucratic manner combined with a somnambulist’s unwavering intent, some live, navigational data archive is composing the planet’s landscape in pages accessible on the Internet. As far as the ascendancy of this particular way of organizing the world goes, the assertions which follow, take up no moral position. The mode in which the landscape is produced as the construct of a live, navigational data archive, is no longer newsworthy or a source of surprise. We are summoned to live within that field, to either survive in opposition to it or be organized by its structure. Some pre-view or post-view of “the” space or “the” places based on archive works constructs the lived experience of these places. Archived and archivable data “build” the experience of spatiality which we are in the habit of designating as “space-in-itself’. The places of the earth are to be imminently mapped out or have already been so. Certainly, the activity of digital archiving impacts on its material references if any such reference is still solid enough outside the archived object: on occasion -with increasing frequency, in fact – we have a hard time establishing a demarcation between the two. In the past, we used to have recourse to the map if we happened to lose our bearings. The present habitation within the map’s interior is organized as a loss of the loss. We shed light on the construction of the present-day landscape in the course of pursuing this specific condition: in what ways is loss being lost? What sorts of moves take place “without” loss? The conflict between the habitual and the extraordinary, the commonplace and the exotic, acquires new significations. It is here that some nodal point survives of local particularities on the map: the landscape in the navigation system offers a special condition of contemplation whereby the distinction is eliminated between the map and the mapped-out: within that landscape is also included (or could be) the surveying viewer. This observer of the landscape will now be designated as “incarcerated in the map” or “the map’s inmate”. He will be “part of the landscape” insofar as the landscape is defined in this manner. This will, then, be a landscape without a perception of its frame.

traversing and escaping

The landscape-archive does not lend itself to escapes. It provides closed, mapped-out sets, interconnected via closed off corridors: the navigational system of the metro network in large metropolitan centres is an analogue of the experience of the Earth: in like manner, the map’s inmate moves from mapped-out place to mapped-out place. An escape from the landscape-archive cannot describe a flight nor can it avoid inclusion in the map. At a first level, the mapped-out world is organized on the basis of entries accumulated in situ: geotagging). Information is stored in appropriate slots and fills out the mapped-out places. Furthermore, some function of locality is organized out of this particular filling out. A location does not merely appear as identical to the information concerning it, which has been collected and stored: it appears, rather, as a void structure which can be filled out. Nor is this a proposition which might specifically concern anything, either. Rather, it characterizes “a world without lack”. Without loss and without lack: in such a world, questioning” is replaced by a series of answers and a series of substitutions of those same answers:
we do not ask “what?” but, already, we answer “somehow”. We do not question the specific but already offer an analog. The founding of a culture which revolves around redundancy appears more stabilized than ever. Moreover, as has already been mentioned, the escape from the navigational data archive is describable as a reentry into new, closed, areas of data and a renewed obeisance to the data archive. “Escape” merely spells a change of location in the interior of the digital archive. The planet-landscape appears as a catalogued, closed-off space, articulated as a population of zoomable fragments. The live mapping-out of the “Earth” on the internet, now presents a categorized and catalogued planet: every question concerning it, would be answered by an additional click which offers one more zoom. Present-day man moves about the space of his own experience as if he were moving from one “archive region” to another.

The experience of the world is tantamount to the lived experience of a videogame or some virtual, military operation. In addition, this experience is constructed in a different way for each one, which is to say, though it is based on shared information platforms, it is “personalized”. And what about the places where humans gather? What about the communities of the people on the map? Those, too, are constructed out of stored thematic units which are recommended rather as platforms with common traits: these platforms are the town squares of the modern-day world’s netscapes.

Return to places through key-words.

With the experience of travelling subverted, without thresholds to cross and with moving towards situations – information platforms, reminiscent of a video-game set up, the definition of the map’s inmate outside of the map, is based on his moves on the map. The archive works, the management of data, substitute from the outset the places of which the data provide evidence and references; ordinary shared data repositories are accessible by means of key-words or tags. Every area of the world-map is filled out by images which provide “information” about the particular location as well as a “collection of experiences of it”. To start with, the experience is predictable on the basis of representations already existing or added at future times. The world of experience has been turned to a world of representations due to the ease of the cataloguing of representations, due to the quality and quantity of representations and, also, due to the capacity of archiving “in situ”.

First move towards the archived landscape

The map’s inmate is faced with the choice of abandoning the archived Earth, as a move to avert boredom. At the same time, the demand for the abandonment of the archived Earth seeks nature in something which is no longer on the Earth. Nature is a lost memory and, today more so than ever, it is organized as a construct. Nature’s regenerative cycle has been interrupted by some “degenerate” human action: this strange assertion reflects a powerful constant of the human imaginary, to which we can ascertain a variety of returns. Some “post apocalyptic”, but also “primordial” sin is intrinsically related to the planet’s destruction: concerning this, man appears immersed in guilt of a theological order. The recent sin of “the destruction of nature” also leads to the idealization of nature, the fact notwithstanding that we no longer know precisely what we mean by the term “nature”. At the same time, we only have to look for nature in artefacts which will imitate nature, not as we see it now, i.e. in the aftermath of its destruction, but “as it should be”: perfect, like an image of mourning, and idealized in the naïve, theological manner of the planet Pandora in James Cameron’s movie Avatar: in this movie, we encounter the magnificent paradox of the return to nature as a hallucinatory entry into some fabricated, artificial landscape of a non-existent planet. Paradox does not feature in the commercial movie in question: it is a precondition for navigating in archived landscapes of planets which we have constructed on different platforms and down slopes of concerted sliding. The component of exoticism is crushed by archiving in the course of the planet’s organization as an activated map. Yet, a new fabricated archive can supplant the experience of the exotic. The virginal landscape which was lost from the archival banks can be reconstituted, again through a new archive: we can induce exotic impressions with new, fabricated images, through the use of active, three-dimensional representations and by navigating around new data. This experience of “the exotic element” is organized on new platform levels. It seeks the experience of the first time and leads to other such, which may be constructed on each occasion, for yet one more first time. If the experience of the Earth cannot be authentic on Earth, another equivalent experience is constructed. The new, authentic experience is constructed in a fashion that, on each occasion, suits the denial of the inauthentic, fallen Earth. Though experiencing such a constructed, exotic condition would certainly not qualify as an authentic experience, at least the awareness of its inauthenticity will be presented in an “authentic” manner.

A first move towards the exotic archived landscape requires that we understand this transformation of landscapes and visitors as a substitute for the exotic element: we need the 3-D glasses and the exotic look of an avatar in order to enter the portal of an exotic video game. A mask and a technologically generated landscape, organize a new map which is intended as an exotic locale, appearing for the first time.

Understanding the exotic in this manner, we may take a look at reality: its naïve “authentic” aspect has turned tedious, invalid and fake, bound to some weak and, always already annulled idealism. If the inauthentic is, for the purposes of this argument, that which is enclosed in advance within a particular representation of itself, we can then say that the exotic, unfamiliar aspect of reality (which has been frequently connected to authenticity and has also been presented as that opening-out which cannot be contained in advance by any kind of enclosure), is now substituted by a sum of inauthentic, enclosed formations. It is thus possible that the inauthentic aspect, cognizant of its limitations, introduces us into some other kind of limited authenticity: though it continues to be defined by boundaries, the awareness of those, renders them insignificant right from the start. Post-Internet pleasure may appear limited by comparison to pleasure within any of its open, dangerous versions. The post-Internet exotic experience includes enjoyment / jouissance and is articulated as a pornographic fixation on representation. Pornography, which exemplifies the dire opposite of situationist logic, promotes, in the place of active engagement, some sort of passive pleasure deriving from a conscious substitution. Conscious substitution is also at the centre of the avatar experience: it constructs a hidden subject with no responsibility, enacting a self. While pornography is increasingly occupying the territory of experience with its easily metabolised representations, we wonder how it would be possible for political features to be developed within communities of avatars or masked users. Can an avatar pose radical questions in relation to itself or its environment? It acts within determined conditions and each time, its actions are limited by the platform where the user’s presence is organized at any given moment. Within the avatar experience, the map’s inmate acquires the consciousness of being the substitute of himself.

Active navigational archives construct the Internet’s geographic locations are tantamount to constructed landscapes: platforms, game levels and a hierarchy of moves are on offer in three-dimensional depictions. With the high technology of representation, entry into the depictions, simultaneously becomes entry into the time of their eventuation. The map’s inmate experiences some sense of control with regard to the time unfolding at a particular platform. The feeling that it is possible to determines the moves within a map, is, to an extent, correct. The abandonment of the Earth signifies a distaste towards the inauthenticity of the fallen Earth and, simultaneously, characterizes the vacuous idealization which that same denial implies. “The planet is bankrupt” and every platform with false mappings and technologies of substitution, has the place of Cameron’s Pandora. The designation of lost nature as “Pandora” is not only due to the fact that the film treats the subject of nature’s loss and extols, in a naïve manner, its “wise” function: every entry into digitally created applications of the active archive is tantamount to a denial of nature and/or a construction of the exotic: every such digital application is a simultaneous reproduction of the supposed denial of inauthenticity. Starting with this first move towards the landscape, Earth is defined as a redundancy of information data. Earth could be anything that stills resists the transformation into information. Thus, the Earth of the avatar would be organized as a mere base of operations for launching the novel illusions of the archive It would be the necessary auxiliary space for the flights to take place towards new archival worlds. Earth is thus proven to be a place of infirmity and bodily restrictions. Following from this viewpoint, the landscape would be constructed on the basis of some bifurcation between the world of the archive and a world that resists its transformation to representation. The map’s inmate is either situated within the vast substructure which positions him in the world of the map, or, he is outside the map because of the limitations of his “real” body.

Second move towards the archived landscape

Outside of the digital archive, the traveller (accustomed to the experience of teleportation among the worlds of the map) is permanently an invalid. The planet’s landscape is reminiscent of a mere carapace which the map’s inmate drags along, by necessity: the landscape of the planet is not another possible point of return among the rest in which he immerses himself: it evinces harshness, lack of plasticity, overbearing constants and many other kinds of inflexibility. The drive towards the digital archive and its facilities is a major determinant for the map’s inmate: he is defined by the representations which he has made his habitat.

Yet, the world of experience is radically affected by the differentiations taking place within the digital archives. We have referred to the construction of reality as bodily constraint and as difficulty to assimilate to the Internet archives. This “reality” encapsulates the lived experience of some form of incapacity. It necessitates periodic returns to base and leave-taking from the exotic platforms where the map’s inmates are defined as avatars. We might contemplate this experience of returning to the real world by analogy to the experience of sleeping. The avatar is asleep when inactive, when it is residing back in its owner’s body, which is to say, back on Earth. From the position of this present-day return to the body and its needs, which is equivalent to a new kind of sleep, already an impatience is expressed for a mapping out, a demand that the “real world” operate as a digitally constructed mechanism. That is the moment of the augmented reality. Faced with the phenomenon of his own bodily resistance against remaining forever inside the exotic map of constructed landscapes, the map’s inmate seeks in his experience of ‘reality” the structure of the illusory spaces which he has come to know as an avatar. In spaces where the possibility of connections with the active archive is not provided, some augmentation of may reactivate the relationship to the archive and the illusion. Specifically, the scenario of supporting the illusion by means of the “normal’ sensory pathway, is telling of the difficulty of making one’s way in reality in the absence of special effects. The world “itself” is not enough anymore. Furthermore, the world’s impressive construction is built as a layer of reading of reality through representations which entail it. This is where the grand aspiration is located of ‘augmented reality”: to transform “natural space” and, by extension, the world, into a mechanism auxiliary to the project of representations: into the skin that could support a variety of possible projections. In ‘augmented reality” the hypothesis of incarceration inside the map is presented in its most extreme form. Man asks to remain inside his representations, inside a world conceived and constructed by human means.

The information which will be henceforth added to the lived experience of space, aspires to a living digital archive which will no longer appear as a separate world. The Internet no longer constructs exotic platforms that are external to lived experience but aspires to structuring experience itself, as a construct offering itself to predetermined readings. Some parallel, contemporaneous development of the archive’s dynamic is already achievable with the technologies available today, “directly” in experience. Information, structured in tandem with a particular representation is presented “immediately” alongside the mundane, lived experience of the world.

The mundane and the map

Some contemplation of the mundane due to investments in the empirical world which lie ahead of us. In the exotic logic required by the world of the avatar, or, yet, in the stage- sets of augmented reality, the investment in representation, though different, retains a number of common traits. Even if the former constitutes a denial of the Earth’s empirical world and the latter an investment in the empirical world, they both provide ideal environments for the map’s inmate. The hope for a world that is not mapped out or where some details, at least, remain uncharted, is presented as a need for the mundane. A bare world emerges as a possible demand. Yet, is bareness a plausible perspective for some subsequent world? This has no interest as a “real” question. However, the map’s inmate might answer in the affirmative, in two different ways: on the one hand, by understanding bareness as a constructed, false condition organized around an untouched new landscape which would no longer be the Earth or, by asking for a restoration of the Earth, as if it were human beings who would determine its fate in its entirety.

In the first case, he will invest in a novel, naturalistic regime, different each time. A new nature reminiscent of Cameron’s false planet, Pandora, realizes the idea of the end of planet Earth by means of moving to another planet. Behind this drive of the map’s inmate for a new bareness, lies the renewed discovery of the New World. Existing planets, like Titan, might become realized imaginary destinations for future man, needing to abandon a bankrupt planet.

The map’s inmate might also comprehend bareness as a “return to the Earth”. This is the official rhetoric of guilt for the planet’s abuse. There, however, remains to consider what meaning is possible for this notion of “return”. Let us not lose sight of the way this tends to be construed at an imaginary level. In that sense, some archaeological restoration of nature would, no doubt, be foremost in the world’s organization plan. Yet, the map’s inmate cannot restore intimacy with nature in the way he imagines. It is no longer possible – and this has been the case for some time – to regard nature in the way of the past: nature is no longer the environment where the human species longs. The map’s inmate worships nature as something about which he is already in mourning. On the Earth (or, in nature) man is no longer like water is in water. His return to nature, therefore, would be, at most, a successful stage management. The need for no distance is not sufficient to annul the distance between man and nature, a distance built out of centuries of human labour. Thus, the alternative case for this particular return, requires the construction of yet another world which would thematize the notion of return or enact it. Nature is constructed by man so that it can be played out in some sense, though without it being something in itself. Nature, as something we seek on Earth or beyond it, requires – in a different way today – sophisticated techniques for its construction.


Aristide Antonas is an architect and writer, associate professor in T.A.M. (Volos School of Architecture, University of Thessaly, Greece), post graduate seminar director in the National Technical University of Athens, co-founder of the plural academic persona Gregorios Pharmakis and of the curating group Built-Event (spatial practices for architecture, art, curating and urbanism), lectures in Massachussets Institute of Technology (MIT), Instituto Universitario de Architetura de Venezia (IUAV), Architectural Association, London (AA), University of Cyprus Program of Architecture, University Jose Cela, Madrid, Fine Art Academy of Gyumri, Armenia. Essays mostly published in the Internet, 6 literature books in Greek, 2 theatre plays performed by éclats d’ états, France.


ID: 1200
Posted: 17 September 2010
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TEXT: Aristide Antonas


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