Missing Mass

Catalogue

 

Catalogue: The Theory of Missing Mass 
Catalogue text:
The Theory of Missing Mass by DX Raiden 

 

 

Catalogue: The Theory of Missing Mass
Published by Gallery 44: Centre for Contemporary Photography, Toronto, Canada, 2005

 

 

Catalogue text: The Theory of Missing Mass by DX Raiden
From the Missing Mass catalogue
Published by Gallery 44: Centre for Contemporary Photography, Toronto, Canada, 2005

Recent KIT projects have dealt with three interrelated themes: the crash as the ultimate spectacle, the symbiotic nature of the media and modern day disaster, and notions of occidental sacrifice. Many of the projects KIT has completed and toured in the past have been large-scale installations that reflect the interests iterated above.

The set of twenty-four prints that constitutes Missing Mass is an extension of the Architectural Developments in Escape Units (A.D.I.E.U.) [2000] digital print project. These twenty prints are also on view in this exhibition, however, Missing Mass represents a theoretical shift from the semi-pragmatic approach adopted for the A.D.I.E.U. work.

A.D.I.E.U. proposed the construction of ‘Escape’ or ‘Ejector’ units for high-rise buildings within the city. It concerned itself more with the objective imperatives of the structure itself rather than the subjective motivations of the engineer. New buildings strewn with sensors can detect their own stresses and weaknesses. They adapt accordingly through enhanced networks of sensors analogous to a nervous system, and in cases where the integrity is compromised, then escape pods launch away from the structure. For this series of works, KIT used the roof as a plausible space to examine ideas based around the millennial urge to escape and the ‘end of the world’ narratives of eschatology. Here the roof is presented as an alienated landscape and the launch pad that enables one to jettison from the contextual structure. These ideas are contingent with and a reflection upon the theoretical trajectories of much technology-based writing. Specifically they reflect upon the ideological developments of two specific occidental programs: the Space Program (the collective human urge to travel into the heavens), and the Virtual Reality Program (the collective human desire to live beyond the confines of the somatic). It is no coincidence that both of these pursuits locate the desired state beyond the realm of what is now anachronistically called the human physical boundary. As such, A.D.I.E.U. proposes vectors and reflections upon the desire to escape the paranoia and neurosis of living in the modern city. It is from within this state of paranoia that we witness technology building up to achieve what Mark Dery calls, ”an escape velocity” through the ”theology of the ejector seat.” (1)

Extending the notion of ‘tragedy,’ Missing Mass focuses upon the ‘disaster site’ and strips away the context of the narrative to produce a series of fragmented floating signifiers. However, this work hardly relies on semiotic readings to decipher its intent. There are three sets of images within the Missing Mass series. The first set presents slices and parts of crashed aircraft—dissected like a body might be—a mechanical anatomy of disaster.

The second set of prints are images of various different scanners from Australian hospitals. These machines, capable of rendering interior landscapes of information, hold a huge weight of expectancy for the patients who interact with them. The body, which we are used to reading through its surface appearance, is exposed and mined by the scanner. It subsequently posits both the machine and the body in a landscape of paranoia and surveillance. It is the direct relationship between the two sets of images (of the crashed planes and the medical scanners) that sets up the dynamic of the project. In the visions of the crashed aircraft, we see technologies that inevitably fail us, whilst also recognising failings of the body through interaction with the scanner. The architecture of disaster or tragedy in western culture is constructed through a fear of loss and with that, a fear of loss of meaning. The images that are presented have a self-imposed loss of meaning through their denial of landscape or context. A celebration of the loss of gravity is suggested, and with it an acceptance of the accident and an embracing of acts that we perceive to be out of our control.

The third set, consisting of four prints, acts as the ‘thirdspace’ within the dynamics of disaster. In the past decade many authors have opened up the textural analysis of ‘thirdspace.’ Writers such as Edward Soja expanded the psycho – geographical understanding of this notion in his book -ThirdSpace. Michel De Certeau’s writings depict the ‘thirdspace’ of communication and the notion of noise as a third component of all communications. At its most basic, the traditional dualist conception of language exchange between two people is a one to one conversation. It is precisely here, he writes, that the third element – the chaos of noise - is always trying to be silenced and replaced by what we understand as organised meaning. Foucault’s notion of heterotopia (which has subsequently been reinterpreted by writers, artists and architects amongst others) (2) is an earlier idea of a ‘thirdspace,’ which can open up the duality of language and space - from the entropy of presence and absence - to the notion of refracted meaning which exists in many locations at once. The images in this third series depict architectural settings, which have witnessed violent crimes. One particular image is of a building in Tasmania where the Port Arthur tragedy occurred. If one doesn’t count the total slaughter of indigenous peoples in Tasmania, this was the worst single-gun killing spree in Australian history. The building was gutted and left as a bizarre architectural monument to the slaying of 35 people, a hollowed remembrance to pre-meditated, constructed and finally, abstracted violence. Abstract violence and the mechanisms employed to build upon it pervade in the narrative dynamic of Missing Mass.

Architectural monuments of disaster construct very purposeful agendas for how we should read space and the monument’s presence within it. The scanners and crashed planes have a similar course of reading in that they are prescribed by our culture. Yet very few courses of action are available that offer understanding and acceptance of the wider ideas of sacrifice to our cultural ideals of technology, speed and violence.

Reading tragedy through sacrifice is a strategy that offers an alternative set of narratives to be considered. The process of violent sacrifice becomes a ‘thirdspace’ from which to read the transformation of the body from one state to another. We are not used to reading death through sacrificial narratives as sacrifice is viewed in the west as ‘uncivilised’ and therefore has become anthropological territory where ‘social scientists’ attest to ‘findings’ about tribal communities. This is done whilst reminding the reader that the collective ‘we’ have progressed from this socially ritualistic function. Yet if we read statements by well known anthropologists, they start to sound analogous to processes undertaken after a crash, shooting, or discovery of terminal illness. For instance, Hubert and Mauss noted in their classic texts about sacrifice - ”In a sacrifice the circle of participants are segregated from the outside world. There is a bonding of the community when the sacrifice happens and subsequent actions of support occur.” (3)
Another quote from René Girard from Violence and the Sacred is informative here, “Sacrifice as practiced among the Dinka and Ndembu is a deliberate act of collective substitution performed at the expense of the victim and absorbing all the internal tensions, feuds and rivalries pent up within a community.”

There is still much potential re-reading within the discourse of tragedy. KIT does not believe that western culture has moved on or away from enacting such sacrificial events. They suggest that the industries of inevitable violence (eg. airline, rail or motor) industry and networks of ritualised mediation (reports on television, printed media and Internet) form a significant and cohesive culture of sacrifice. As a culture, we offer bodies and lives to the gods of technologically enhanced progress and speed. We know there will be thousands of people killed every year in ‘accidents’, we just don’t know the precise time they will happen. Since we accept this loss of life before it occurs, then maybe the word ‘accident’ should be reinterpreted and rethought. If occidental culture could come to recognise that our religious desires have been redirected instead of secularised, then we would understand that there is no ‘senseless loss’. There is nothing senseless or random about the accident. There is the inevitable drive of progress to create collision and still we cannot conceive of disaster in a celebratory or functional manner, even though the accident is promised to us by our ‘Gods’. Rarely is it ontologically, epistemologically, or practically discussed outside of its 'designated territory' of loss. And thus, the mediated landscape of disaster remains a potentially divisive and subversive territory, an ethical minefield of grey areas awaiting navigation.

Notes:

(1) Mark Dery, Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of the Century (New York: Grove Press, 1996)
(2) The notion of Heterotopia was introduced by Michel Foucault in “Des Escape Autres,” and was published by the French journal Architecture /Mouvement/ Continuite in October, 1984. It was the basis of a lecture given by Foucault in March 1967. Although not reviewed for publication by the author and thus not part of the official corpus of his work, the manuscript was released into the public domain for an exhibition in Berlin shortly before Michel Foucault’s death. Translated from the French by Jay Miskowiec.
(3) H.Hubert and M. Mauss, Sacrifice (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964)