Emily Lacy

It struck me recently, how I look upon the nature of things, and how they look right back at me.

The process of the realization of the Object through consciousness, in language, can be illuminating when we consider all the assumptions which take place in the construction of an idea in its first (impossible) vehicular rotation, here in a sea of minds and tongues.

It may be our calling to rip apart the very body of ideas in this age, so that we may see what structures or paradigms really benefit from alterations of thought to begin with, and what others may fall away, in the creation and negotiation of a "term" in itself. An experience I recently had while traveling in my city brings these ideas forth. I was at a stoplight headed north on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles, when I noticed an Image, and felt a sick distrust of it seep out from the base of me, through my skin, and across my lips, into a word, or set of words which are the basis for this whole progression. It is a strange thing how a word can surface in a time of need. The material of the rectangular sign which was the cause of this series of thoughts, the rectangular sign which actually functions near to a movie screen stuck in an engagement with one single frame, is a billboard for a Lawyer's services, which advertised itself to me across what has become the public space of my mind. To some Angelenos who know the image well, the face, the person, this Image is "The Accidente's Guy": a highly propagated and processed image of a man in a suit and tie advertising his skills in the litigation of automobile accidents, and especially geared toward a spanish-speaking audience. His face, if he even exists, has been digitally altered and he appears to be some mix or material or media which is slightly outside of Man. He looks and feels fake. The image is familiar to an Angeleno because it has adorned a great number of telephone book covers and billboards throughout the city over the last several years. I had never thought so deeply over an object of this nature, and never concerned myself so much with an ad that features an image of a Lawyer in another language, yet there was some great disturbing mystery to this image which made it stick in the mind. It is the digital quality of the advertisement and its close asymptotic resemblance to a Man, which makes the viewer respect the image with a kind of funeral-like attention. It is the image's close proximity to Man, yet space just outside of him, which makes the definition of the moment, its composition, seem somehow like a marker for an event which we should remember. Something about the image creates a mile-post in memory, because of the unique nature perhaps of its own objectification of a Man in such plain, rapid, free sight. As I looked into that Image upon the great rectangle, in the bright light of the city that day, what I felt most uncomfortable with was the awareness that the Image itself had been manipulated, and I could see so directly the affect of the Machine, of Technology upon its construction in time, in images, in Man. One could feel so deeply the hand in the image. The hand had altered the Image to a state past a conception of Natural, and that "stretching" was, in its own miraculous way, uncomfortable to my sense of self.

It amounted to representational torture.

I leaned to the woman next to me and with a sick taste in my mouth said "It's". As the driver and I stared upon the Image and then spoke out loud of it, the descriptive word I came upon to reach a physical conclusion to the sentence was this mysterious, somewhat nebulous term, "digital". What surprised me was not the feeling I got from the billboard which I had seen so many times before, but rather the word I arrived at when trying to finally articulate its desperate nature to someone else. The digital composition of the Object revealed itself to me with a new clarity, with a general feeling about what the term "digital" itself can entail, and that it can mean something simply about being composed, made, and effectively altered into being, somehow through machines, or through a mediated hand.

Digital culture has complicated and expanded the notion of the Self, and the Self within the world as it relates so closely to Images. Does a human produce images, or does an Image in effect "produce" a human? The space of the credible it seems, of that which is proven or asserted, seems to rest in the nest of visual accomplishment, visual space, increasingly produced through digital means (the internet, advertising, cellular phone communication, debit card transactions, etc.). We are a society which has become increasingly obsessed with photographic evidence of our own existence. However, with such a surplus of images at work in contemporary societies, proving anything at all becomes increasingly difficult, because the mediums we are dealing with are so fluid and malleable, and non-linear. Images will come and go, they contest one another for attention, but so little is solved, proved, or articulated in the current situation. The only thing that is sure is that there will be another Image tomorrow, and another, and another. We are only sure of the stream, we are only sure of Media itself. It is the presence of the medium rather than its content, which is delivering itself most prominently into our senses, our bodies, and our minds. Media itself, as physical energy and space, may have overtaken the People. This effect is visible within the nature of the mediums and images which surround us: They all begin to reflect this human-machine interface of which we are all a part. Thus when I looked upon that digitally composed billboard Object-Image, it looked back at me as an information registration of history, as a record of the constructions and structures evident in my own place and time, and my own architecture of Being. The Image affected me because it so closely reflected, or reminded me of, my own relationship to a digitally related, technologically oriented, interactive world. I saw no longer an Image outside of myself, separate from and creating a new reality, but rather I saw a reality where Image and Self are one: Where we navigate a sea of materials, all affecting each other, integrated through compositions, and related by hands that touch each other in a marathon.

To talk about this issue reveals prior notions of what may have been conceived in the presence of the Image in the first place. It seems clear that within the initial human experience of the photograph, and of cinema, was the sense that one was witnessing a reproduction of reality, or the closest one may have seen of an alternate reality within the "current reality" (outside that is, of dreams, that first space of artistic construction). It is the space of the "within", this key place of transference, caught in a linguistic trap, which is a most unique space of revolving thoughts, like a steel ball spinning above a fire, prodded into motion by an unknown hand. The idea that we believed in the authenticity of the Image in the first place is remarkable for the double-reason, in the life and death of the idea, that Technology offered us both an astounding analogy to real-life, and conversely such a glaring mis-representation of it. Simultaneously what fused were the concepts of an apparatus which could represent life, and also somehow stand outside of it. That we saw a break between the two things: 1) The Image, and 2) Reality, is relevant. Now it is the seamlessness between Images, media, machines, and ourselves, which is discovered. As the clothes fall off of time, and off of the frame, it is not a "reality within a reality" we can articulate experiencing when we view media, but a material I would suggest which is more and more actively interacting with our bodies, senses, and ideas, and where we can see those connections more clearly. Images may have first drawn out conclusions toward proofs, toward being, toward reality "represented", however like a typical Sartrian model, it has been the the thing's assumption at being in itself which has brought its own nothingness to the fore. Precisely because of my notions of the Reality or the authenticity of the Image, I felt a "lack", and thus distaste for the obviously digitally altered human face in the Accidentes ad. The idea of the Image's presumed reality, of its representation of presence, brings the feeling of its betrayal forth. The two ideas play off of each other, and many more, in the same moment.

Baudrillard and others have talked at length about how the initial trust of the Image has morphed into current situations and symptoms of a technologically dependent culture. Simulations declared that the simultaneous human desire for an Image to represent truth is a paradoxical endeavor, as every image is always a reproduction (I would say every Image could be called "contested"), and thus every Image is by nature not of "the present", but entirely in "simulation"(1). Baudrillard illuminated this fantastic logical loop, where we depend on something which is inevitably from the past to produce our "nowness", and thus our present. But what of the current state of things, where a digital composition may reign supreme? Who (and what) is trustworthy in the digital age? The digital age is not only the brainchild of the Age of Information and the whole life of the internet, but also of the existence of some of the most elaborate manipulations of information and identities conceivable. It is not only an age of great explanation right now, but also an age where great deception and corruption are possible. The digital age is a place where we can experience great motions and transformations of character, where several influences and collisions will comprise an Object. The digital age is a place where great proofs of a kind will emerge in terms of visual presence and identity, for businesses, ideas, and people, yet these visual information identities, these digital qualities will remain in a state of transience, as there is no end to the manipulation and erasure which is possible of any form of digital "content", or data. The concept of the ability for loss, "corruption" of a file in many forms, is inherent to the nature of the form in itself. Digital composition is fluid and changeable, with a remarkable capacity for falling off into invisibility. There are black holes in the technological terrain of our present.

Digital composition informs us of our uniquely integrated relationship to images and the world, where prior modes of representation and design posited a distance from the Object being represented. The "hand" constructing the Image becomes clearer with the digital age because 1) knowledge of the presence of the hand has circulated and accumulated over time with the abundance of media and images visible, and 2) because ways of using the hand are not only multiplied in terms of options and artistry, (and thus application), but also reproducible on mass-levels (we can make copies of anything in the digital era), even ourselves, as we live so much through numbers. You can be anyone, buy anything, go anywhere, with the right set of codes.

What are we doing but constantly trying to create a proof of ourselves, and a proof of our existence. This works on the idea of both our personal life and identity (proving and building narratives of the self based on internet identities and communication or media-representation), but also on the level of Commerce and the State. Why does one accumulate receipts at the ATM, other than to generate a proof, a personal tally to go up against any seemingly anonymous forces which may rise up reveal and reveal themselves (a faceless corporation or computer which does not believe one's word alone). The carrying of personal identification falls into this category as well. Why is it so necessary to pinpoint, and prove (increasingly through digital culture) who we are? Perhaps a reason why humans have been so inclined to see reality "within" the arts we have produced is because we want to believe that we ourselves are "intact". Prophesizing about the nature of the hyperreality of an object within the object-plane of another object really may only speak of the desire of the articulating party to exist as a "whole" entity in itself. What we admire in others we usually desire for ourselves. In the construction of the Image in the first place as a "real", as an "authentic", we may have only been seeking more complete containers for our own consciousness. Sartre could have been correct when he said that we connect with a sculpture, a song, a painting, precisely because it is not alive, and because it offers us something which is located in a specific place, which stops, which does not die, where we can go and be dead, see our own death for a moment safely. A sculpture Sartre would have said, locates our grief in a vault because it does not live, it is static. Plastic arts to a degree present an exit, because they are located somewhere tangible. Art gives us a place to stop a feeling which is otherwise running along a clock's always moving moment. We admire the sculpture precisely because it is stone. The nature of digital composition then, is by nature challenging.

Things which are digitally composed, such as either the advertisement Image mentioned at the beginning of this discussion, or a debit card transaction, challenge our sense of faith in the Object. Visibility falls away and also comes to the fore. In turn we are made more constantly aware of our own "composition". As more images are so obviously constructed, manipulated, and altered, increasingly digital, a natural thought-pattern then is to compare these compositions to the Self, to our own notions about who we are. Instead of re-enforcing models and ideas for ourselves as beings "whole" in nature, somehow separate from, and outside of, reality, and immortal (like cinema or the photograph) we have a model which is totally malleable and contiguous with all things (and hands) surrounding it. Perhaps we distrust the digital image because it reminds us so intimately of the interactivity of our own constant situation, of the interactivity of ourselves. We, like the Image, are highly susceptible to manipulation. We, like media, are rarely "whole" by ourselves, rarely proof-worthy; We mean little to each other outside of our relative networks and families, and it is precisely our relationship to one another, our faith in the of nature of those positions, which makes the connections clear and legible. The contract of ourselves can only exist when rendered in terms of a series of materials, and it is at the point where the materials touch that two things are created: Points of view, and arguments. In the structure of an argument there is only representation.

It struck me recently, how I look upon the nature of things, and how they look right back at me.

There is little difference between electronic voting machines and the latest issue of Cosmopolitan. They are vacuous, dark, anonymous spaces which are said to codify and represent me completely. However they both scare me to death, because of their inevitable anonymity. What I feel in them is only the medium, the nature of its construction, and its place which at first seems outside of me, and beyond Man. What is curious though is the exact inversion of this idea: It is the object's dual truth as both an empty representation and a full one which makes it define me. All this is to say that rather than it being outside of me, and outside of my body, it is rather a keen representation of my body within the culture, of the exact fusion of the materials of Machine and Self, of me within the world as represented through a digital image or a digital transaction. What follows then, is suspicion and distaste: I sense in it a distrust of my own body, and thus I conversely of it. Both can easily drop me out of a virtual window, out of the "picture" entirely. And they both do. And they both have.