Visual research guru and author of the bestselling Visual Methodologies Gillian Rose was at the RCA last week. She gave a wide ranging talk about architectural visualisations generally and those for a recent Qatari development specifically. Her talk was about how they contribute to an emerging culture of visuality, design, and geopolitics. The kind of computer generated idealised urban scenes are very familiar from the hoardings, brochures and advertisements of London’s property market. They depict idealised families and stylish couples going about their business in the permanent sunshine among the environs of a modern, light filled, prosperous near-future city.
Far from being impressionistic versions of future developments they start life as slavish 3D versions of the CAD drawings supplied by global architecture firms. She explained how these mages are produced almost exclusively in Europe and the USA but are sent occasionally to Chinese render farms for rapid rendering – a digital version of global manufacturing. As the images travel from visualiser’s desktop, to a render farm, via the client, consultants. architects, and freelancers they undergo transformation. Their forms and meanings are subject to radical new interpretations by each new audience as they travel through a virtual industrial ecology of servers, hard drives, and networks. Gillian suggested Actor Network Theory could hold some light up to this movement of the actor through space. Latour‘s conception is that the network is present wherever action is redistributed i.e. as the images are circulated around the world in order to improve or render them they take advantage of network affordances. Latour goes on to say that moments of crisis are when the outlines of the network become visible. However, being able to identify this crisis depends on fixed relationships and stable objects. The theory does not handle unstable conditions very effectively
Searching for an equivalent to this crisis by which the network becomes visible, Gillian suggested Alexander Galloway’s idea of the interface as the place where dynamic effects are visible. Galloway says ‘Interface is an autonomous zone of interaction, orthogonal to the human sensorium, concerned as much with unworkability and obfuscation as with conductivity and transparency’. He leaves room then for mutability, mobility and multiplicity. This notion of interface is used methodologically to reveal relations between the images. Work has to be done at the interface to create the images, but also to facilitate production between actors i.e communication between client, visualiser and architect. In conclusion, Gillian suggested that the age of close semiotic examination of the text (image, fiction film, documentary, etc.) is over and the traditional approach obsolete. Meaning has migrated from the individual image, and consideration of the politics of representation, to populations of images in dynamic interplay with viewer, channel, software, and interface. The network and particularly its ritual interfaces should be what we see when we look at these images.
The idea of paying attention to the network effects of global image distribution has resonance with my PhD work particularly in the context of news images and how their meaning is transformed as they are transmitted. I will be pursuing further research in this field.