Lucas Gutierrez & Robert Lippok — Non-Face
Text by Natalie Koerner
Getting sucked into a black hole, spinning on the inside of a twisting torus, dodging a stream of breathing rocks: these are some possible associations triggered by the immersive Fulldome piece Non-Face. The video- and soundscapes by sound artist Robert Lippok and digital artist Lucas Gutierrez evoke abstract landscapes as much as compact bodies. The rendered objects, dipped in red, blue, or black light, ripple like waves, densify, coalesce. At times the objects zoom past us, spiraling fast; at other times, the bodies take on a sluggish quality and move languidly, like bodies floating in a viscous substance: in lava, or crude oil, or honey.
The art work is immersive, enhanced by the nature of the Fulldome, which is otherwise known only in the context of planetariums. As a novel medium for artistic work, it is still mostly free of visual preconceptions and expectations. Non-Face also immerses the audience by continuously keeping hold of the viewer’s mind. As with complex patterns, riddles, anamorphoses, or autostereograms, one constantly readjusts to the shifting audiovisual content: digital objects with a fleshy texture and impossibly thin surfaces that the camera regularly infiltrates, and whose shapes seem familiar and alien at the same time. Non-Face is composed of impossible objects and impossible sounds—geometries and compositions that look and sound realistic but could not exist in the physical world. They occur as mesh mistakes in three-dimensional animations, but are hitherto unexplored as spatial environments.
Digital objects consist of data, which is often described in terms of an all-encompassing set of binaries: zeros and ones. Philosopher Yuk Hui reminds us that the term data is of “Latin origin, as the plural form of datum, meaning ‘[a thing] given.’”¹ Hui then wonders: “if data are the ‘things’ given, then what is it that gives data?”² In the case of Non-Face, the data-giving entity withdraws into the flexible constellation between computer program, geometric and acoustic idea, rendering error, artist, audience, and projection.
The virtual world, converging with the “real” as much as with the “imagined,” creates a manifold digital milieu beyond binary concepts: “it is another world, a strange world, one that is simultaneously artificial and natural.”³ With Non-Face, Robert Lippok and Lucas Gutierrez explore the more-than-binary nature of digital objects and their milieu. Gutierrez describes Non-Face’s digital bodies as strange entities he cannot fully control. He designs them so that they retain a degree of autonomy. For example, he cannot predict their precise movements, and instead observes them in order to familiarize himself with their trajectories—in his words, their “raw moments of freedom.”
This approach, which creates spatiotemporal scenarios that are then recorded, connects the visuals with the audio. Robert Lippok understands sound spatially. Sound waves respond to openings and closings—rushing through, bouncing back, reverberating. The audio topography of Non-Face ranges from deep rumbling to shallow ringing, from the near-infinite flatness of the medium beyond the bodies, as audible space ripples. Like the surface texture of the (non-)bodies, the sound melodically oscillates between micro and macro. The sound intensifies the illusion of an enclosing architecture or object, which is really just a dense surface simulation. Engineered to simulate an impossible space, the sound plays with reverberation behavior to conjure up the permeation of imaginary virtual walls and the effect of the rendered non-bodies’ impossibly thin surfaces. This is what it sounds like in a non-body with an infinitely thin surface, where inside and outside are ideas without reality.
THE CAVE AND THE CLOUDS
The idea of impossible bodies inevitably brings to mind Plato’s allegory of the cave. To explore the pursuit of “truth” as opposed to the mere consumption of the world, Plato imagines a complex scenario—indeed, an immersive spatial construct. He asks us to picture prisoners sitting inside a cave. Since the prisoners’ birth, their bodies have been constrained to ensure that their gaze is focused on the cave wall, which is marked by animated shadows. Behind them is an elevated stage in front of a large fire. Here, unbeknownst to the prisoners, wooden props are being held up in front of the fire to generate shadows on the rock wall. Only one prisoner, who manages to look back (and later escapes), realizes that the shadows and the flat wooden props are simulations of the three-dimensional objects they represent. Instead of being compelled to stare at a cave wall, the audience of Non-Face is drawn into full immersion in the Fulldome. We are seduced not by two-dimensional shadows animated by the restless movement of the flames, but by light projections animated by the data infrastructure that governs their movement across the dome.
The Non-Face cosmos and the space beyond the cave in Plato’s allegory can be imagined as what French philosopher Quentin Meillassoux calls “le grand dehors”: an utterly removed, barely imaginable great outdoors. Meillassoux’s term emerges from his discussion of precritical thinkers who still had access to “the absolute outside … that outside which was not relative to us … that outside which thought could explore with the legitimate feeling of being on foreign territory—of being entirely elsewhere.”⁴ The dome, as architecture’s approximation of the sky, also seeks to access the “entirely elsewhere.” By imitating that vastest of all entities, the dome attempts to dissolve notions of inside and outside. If the architecture of a dome is a kind of imitation of the sky, watching the non-faces spin in and out of view, morphing and disappearing, is a kind of cloud-watching. It is a close-up, accelerated cloud-watching, like from an airplane: that in-between time when you cross the cloud threshold, when you are visually disconnecting from the ground and its tiny houses, gleaming rivers, and roads, just before you enter the abstract sky space, white below and blue above.
Leonardo da Vinci, who was an avid cloud watcher, described clouds as “bodies without surface.” Spatially, a cloud is an ever-actualizing threshold. It formulates no end and no beginning, no inside or outside. As the camera in Non-Face zooms through the artwork’s impossible objects, we too fly through them, passing through varying fields of density from thin veil to total whiteout. The Non-Face objects—like clouds ever in motion—do have a surface, but it is a texture more than a surface. The immaterial spatial threshold evokes the work of architecture historian Gottfried Semper (1803–79), who describes the evolution of architecture in terms of Vergeistigung (spiritualization). For example, he points to the thin layer of colorful paint that masks the solid materiality of marble in ancient Greek temple architecture. For Semper, the dematerialized paint layer is a pinnacle of perfection in the development toward an increasingly dematerialized wall-cladding that began with textiles and wooden, clay, metal, or stone cladding. At the end of this trajectory, only the colorful projection of the idea of a wall, thin as paint, separates two spaces from one another.
The texture on the Non-Face objects is situated somewhere between the dematerialized paint layer of a Greek temple and the surfaceless body of a cloud. A Non-Face object is marked by an infinitely thin surface—the idea of a surface, clad in texture data. There are no walls, but there are still separate spaces. As the objects in Non-Face recoil from definitive delineation, geometrization, and classification, they introduce us to the experience of a spatiality without inside or outside.
“Go in instead of look at!” This instruction by American artist Allan Kaprow (1927–2006), remembered for his “environments” and “happenings,” is the mantra of the Immersion program. With Meillassoux’s great outdoors in mind, Non-Face invites us to go out. Like Plato’s escaped prisoner, who ventures into the unknown sunlight, we stumble into a realm on the edge of imagination: impossible spatial scenarios with a multitude of “-sides.” The non-bodies and the sonar architecture guide us through the layered complexity of spatial enclosures, openings, filters, and amplifiers of an “entirely elsewhere.”⁶ Gutierrez and Lippok invite us to imagine the Eigenleben of digital objects and their milieu, which cannot be directly translated into space as we experience it. As they question our preconceptions of inside and outside, they grant access to the great outdoors of purely digital space.
¹ Yuk Hui, On the Existence of Digital Objects (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016), 48.
² Hui, Digital Objects, 49.
³ Hui, Digital Objects, 48.
⁴ Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, trans. Ray Bassier (London: Bloomsbury, 2008), loc. 175, Kindle for Mac.
⁵ From Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, cited in Hubert Damisch, A Theory of /Cloud/:
Toward a History of Painting (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), 218, 124, 141, 218.
⁶ Meillassoux, After Finitude, loc. 175, Kindle for Mac.
Robert Lippok & Lucas Gutierrez: Non–Face
Video: Lucas Gutierrez
Music: Robert Lippok
Cello: Elif Dimli, Anil Eraslan
Curatorial consulting: Natalie Keppler
The New Infinity
Concept: Thomas Kraupe, Thomas Oberender
Project management: Kathrin Müller
Programme management: Adrian Waschmann
Project coordination: Lisa Tietze
Head of fulldome production & technology: Sascha Kriegel
Fulldome coordination: Ralph Heinsohn, Jakob Laugs
Spatial Sound Mixing: Johannes Scherzer TAUCHER Sound Scenography