Space re-inscribed and camouflaged
With the demarcation line conclusively drawn to separate the 'authorial' art from that of the 'performative', the creative being is unhinged from ontology (of being) 'in favour of spatio-temporal dynamics'. Thus a given space becomes the defining site whereupon the active/involved/interested bodies emplace themselves to contemplate the transformation, re-creation of that very space. To understand the procedure(s) of the bodies/performers involved in challenging and transforming the existing spatial matrices, which are actually the locales where the collective will/self meets that of the individual, is to get an apparent glimpse into the geo-bio-social conglomerate that sets off a sequence of 'doings' – witnessing, reading , interacting and creating or making, etc.
Spaces are made up of 'expressive' and 'operative' elements; if the former stems from what the Dhaka cognoscenti is wont to refer to as 'the soil', replacing the commonly used word 'habitat', the latter primarily results from the social 'will' to reorganize, re-orientate the 'given'– be that natural, geographical or pre-existing social conditions. The actor/performer, or call it the active body, is the unit through which we observe the world/society generating its transformative energies and ideas. Yet the concept of an isolated individual acting/creating as a societal unit independent of the context is a gross misrepresentation of truth; it is a result of a (mis)reading that takes no heed of the spatial-operational web from which the body/self can never be isolated. Trapped in self-other, inside-outside dualities we often lose sight of the 'complex' represented by the framework of bio-geo-social composite.
Space as a field of expression/operation is a space in transition; and with technological advancement and its corresponding emergence of the virtual sites alongside elements that re-inscribe that very space, it degenerates into 'hyperreality', and progresses towards 'virtualization' (tropes coined by Baudrillard).
Launching our discourse from the ground meritoriously ploughed by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, we may read the expressive and operative elements of space in relation to the processes involved in transforming the surplus value of code (knowledge) into the surplus value of flow (traditional Marxian surplus value). Products, irrespective of their use value, are thus splintered into too many subdivisions while their nature remains firmly anchored in a single centre of gravity – irrationality. The dovetailing of the mode of production with the mode of expression has now been complete, and the former (mode of production) is about producing the goods, while the latter contemplates the ways to camouflage the same goods. In the social-cultural sphere camouflage has assumed a form unto itself, thereby often threatening to displace the actual with elements of the virtual. Even space – social (ritual architecture, or cultural space), or industrial (office buildings) can easily be placed within the continuum of the actual and the virtual to re-examine them as social-cultural codes, or even pseudo-codes (those that are self-referential).
The lie we live is apparently inscribed in our spaces and built structures – the way they belie our existential realities by overlaying them with the mask of visuality/virtuality. These visual freights or codes are a curtain drawn on reality, often hiding the actual exchanges that transpire between producers and consumers, active players and passive recipients. The very phenomenon echoes the media's constant transmission of information in the guise of truth.
When knowledge/information/cultural products are turned into goods and are measured only in relation to monetary value – each salable item may come in a package that conceals the content – like an ordinary building hidden behind a grand steel and glass façade. This is the very paradigm through which virtualization takes effect, which, in turn, gives rise to 'an “automatic” means for passive interactivity', to quote Baudrillard.
When the actual space itself becomes exhaustively layered and seems as transient as a chimera, what does transient architectures of ritualistic, or virtualistic dimension seek to attain? Is it a way of improvising the scenic setting by installing a transient model – a colourful multiform of a construction with frills and fictive signs invested with the power of kitsch – one that is unconcerned about established taste but is here to serve as a façade to yet another unknown, but not unknowable, reality? The aesthetic force it unleashes remains stationed in a line of vision which is non-transformative, anaesthetizing, thereby mostly serving a social-psychic purpose of assuaging the masses. These architectures may have once been culturally coded, or even theosophically loaded, but now have been elevated to a set of value-free freights – showing a marked tendency to be wrapped in an exotic robe, to hide the purpose of their existence.
Neon signs as well as neonized gates or façades, seek not to correspond to the event/ritual they represent. Like standalone installations, they are a glowing tribute to our collective amnesia about our alienated existence. They manifest explicitly the ultimate self-referential forms or multiforms, and as a result often spill over into the 'outside'. Such an extensive, decorative conceit negates nothing in order to be itself – like a self-contained, self-defining structure that redesigns the existing vista, operating solely on the basis of the principle of visual expressivity.
Hans Ulrich Obrist once said that, 'The exhibition is a very democratic and liberal ritual where the viewer decides the duration of his or her stay.' But the exhibitionism in the form of any exhibition, for that matter, is powered by a deviating practice – one that glosses over the act of staging and pushes it into the whirlpool of virtuality. This fact is writ large into today's space. Thus, as we unpack space as a social-cultural site where codes are being constantly written and re-written in the form of buildings and/or their facades, the new dogma that emerges seems to have once been clandestinely launched, taking its cues from the manual of a masquerader.