Sunday, February 26, 2012

The mask encrypts the dancer, but the dance itself rises off the page. 
Each drop of the surface holds the secrets to the whole world. 
Penetrate it, and the translation is time itself. 
History unfolds through dimensionality. Choose a form. 
The key resides in your very skin, become an accurate description. 

1.   The manufacture of illusion is a game that involves diplomacy between two worlds, interior and exterior. It is a game involving boundaries and the horizon where a perspective shift takes place. One must decide whether she is audience or performer, but both exist simultaneously, and truly are one. Here in Los Angeles, we live perpetually on the boundary--a twilight junction where worlds divide. A curtain falls between backstage and show, and one must decide which part to play in the grand participatory illusion. The show itself is a completely different story depending on where you stand. 

It is in this relationship between observer and observed, between conjurer and enchantment, between material and presentation, that a strange, incomprehensible thing takes place. In a willful gathering and focusing of light, loosely-spun energy comes to occupy space, identity takes dimension. The act we perform here is like the creation of a hologram, and it is through this process that we become manifest. Like sacrifices to a great mirror in the sky, we beam self-descriptive messages into the ether on loop, projecting images on our screens, hoping for pleasurable responses in return that agree with our initial self-concepts. We always seem surprised when the images come back reversed, looking nothing like what we'd imagined. We modify and try again, arranging our faces with friendlier smiles, practicing pleasant formations, then recirculating these newer versions--like psychic headshots. We always seem to forget the transformative nature of the Great Mirror. 

And this is where we find ourselves in Los Angeles--somewhere in the midst of an interference pattern between the light in which we are seen and our own projections of ourselves. Never a solid identity, you become a probability amplitude--a likelihood of possible yous at any given moment, defined only in the presence of an observer, by the many screens that capture you, echoing your attempts at self-assertion in diminishing forms through the outer shells of smaller and less important worlds.

2.   Like a hungry ocean colliding with a stoic coast, you can exist as a process here, but never as a result. You will be subject to the colossal revision that’s come to define us, as one intricately-detailed set is torn down to erect another. That was almost indistinguishable from reality, you say, but how strange, suddenly you’ve woken up in Act Two, still surrounded by costumes and exaggerated facial expressions. You consider breaking character, wandering off stage, demanding to speak with the director, but instead you stay. You already seem to know your lines. 

What exists here in Los Angeles is limited only by our capacity to imagine it, and we are so far down the road of conceived dreams that we cannot find our way back to what is real. As a city we've abandoned our history and predictability. This is improv. The script rewrites itself with each new act. 

Physically arid canyon, psychically fertile crescent, we've discovered a rich, fantastical vein where every rumor, however vague, is given the chance to be true. Every story comes alive, living and walking in a bright parody of its own skin. Young and untouched by the scrubbed hands of puritan ethics, this land is spiritual frontier, a nugget in the rock, burning in the eyes of claim jumpers. As around any treasure, in any good story, there is a fight for control; the waters are brimming with pirate ships and the sky is darkening. There is psychic gunslinging in the sunset. They want the jewel in the heart of the lotus, they want to steer you into dark parts of the sea. 

One night, in frustration, feeling uncertain and unable to navigate by this mess of stars, you took a candle and burned a hole right through the center of your maps--to create a passage. It is through this dim vignette that you now see a stranger boarding your ship, carefully crossing the deck, making his way slowly towards the helm. Recognize this man, become familiar with his disguises. Often a healer with a blade, always an orator, he arrives in virtue and rags. Ultimately a fear wrangler, he is the product of the management system of your mind. His goal is mutiny. Will you be led?    

So who will guide us now that we're set adrift? This is a ghost ship, its steering column a Lorenz wheel. We are free-floating now, watchful of would-be captains. We sail on a string of events adhering only to each other. We cannot trust the integrity of the past, the future is incalculable from every divergence. What will become of us?

Like a shadow outside a diorama, you watch yourself performing from an audience, but you feel the emotions of the character. Like a cruise ship crashed ashore, you drift through gaudy wreckage, no memory of the wave of fugue that brought you here. You pick up pieces, turning them in your hands and holding them next to each other, remembering something but unable to assemble a plot.


If an observer were to stand outside a black hole and watch an object getting sucked in, the object would appear to move infinitely more slowly; it would appear to stop, frozen just on the edge of the black hole forever. But if the observer were strapped to that very object, it would perceive and have the experience of falling into the singularity. This perceptual boundary caused by a gravitational warping of spacetime is called an event horizon. In Los Angeles, we call it a sunset.


3. People like to talk about the lack of a physical center here in L.A., how it shapes the psychic landscape. In a sense it's true. The clusters of energy that gather to form this city--both the observable and tactile, and those invisibly congregated in our collective thoughts--are like the opposing sides of a Rorschach. Following a haphazard curve, hunched and malformed, they reach crookedly into the distance through space and time, jutting and retreating, clinging always to the highest peaks, mirroring each other over miles and years of convex plotlines and dramatic outcroppings. But though they appear to run parallel, there is a crossing--a junction at which conventions blur and boundaries go strange. Bending around a great body of darkness within, the mirror begins to distort. The relationship between the physical city and its imagined rendering becomes unpredictable and can no longer be measured or traced. The boundary becomes porous; the two sides fuse into an ongoing process of mutual translation. It is not that we have no center, but that we revolve around a dense and heavy absence. 

Boundless and shifting, etheric Los Angeles is an open mouth feeding on the rest of the world, growing in size and influence. Its perimeter is impossible to define.  It swallows towns, cultures, dreams, histories and behaviors into its vacuous shape, then regurgitates them as flatter versions, suitable for the screen. Newcomers are tentative at first; they occupy what they imagine are the edges of the dark silhouette of the city, considering themselves spectators. Unknowingly, they're already standing onstage. Everyone is in on the act. In supporting roles for the city's emergence, we build the framework for her reveal; each night as if it were the first, a startling debut. With a jeweled mask and a wave of a feathered fan, with flair, seduction and a pulling of wool, Los Angeles exerts herself beyond all proposed boundaries, geographic and emotional. With a simple formula that always delivers, she conjures novelty from the scraps of recycled culture and wears it like a rare fur. Upstaged, we are relegated to the corners and left in doubt, questioning our own star power. Displaced, we are forced to stand outside ourselves.

Now this thing we've created is beyond the sums of our imaginations, and it grows. Mystified, we watch in awe and sometimes terror as our bodies mimic and trace the outline of this monstrous figure in frightening detail. What is it? The Blob, The ThingThem.

French theorist Jean Baudrillard said of Los Angeles that it is a “network of incessant, unreal circulation—a city of incredible proportions but without space, without dimension.” Like a black hole? My friend Scott claims this is a fact. "Los Angeles is a supermassive black hole eating and and destroying everything it touches," he says. 

I think about this often. There is indeed a great amount of distortion here, something unnatural in the way reality comes together, a crux in the way the dimensional axes intersect. Space, time, depth, nothing works as expected. Lines collapse in on one another here, the consequent spaces cannot be trusted; the walls of reality are made like cheap paneling. I try to imagine this literally,--LA as a black hole. I picture the city from above: the shimmering cartesian grid of L.A. at night is suddenly swallowed, bending to an impossible degree around a giant void, as the lights blink out one by one. It’s a romantic thought but, of course, not the way it would work. If the etheric monster we’ve made from our city is the great gravitational body from which nothing can escape, then the physical city must be the event horizon, bending our perceptions in a dimensional warp around its core. In other words, we are purespun illusion, leftover light, a phantom halo forever hung on the eve of destruction while the real city is already long gone, obliterated by its own infinite density. 

If you want to know about Los Angeles, follow the life of a star. A radiant giant hellbent on burning brighter and hotter than the rest, she consumes everything around her with an insatiable hunger that will lead her to slowly eat herself. Los Angeles is the model of karmic energy debt the rest of the world is starving to follow. We are the prototype for twice as bright / half as long, and we describe where civilization might find itself in the next few decades as, like a dying sun, we burn through our fuel and resources and are forced to finally bear the weight of ourselves. A body in the grips of starvation begins to lose muscle mass. The heart begins to shrink, and eventually fails. The freeways and highways cross and cross each other, traffic clogs in endless orbit around nothing, attempting to get closer to---nothing—the destructive center we are somehow drawn to.

The world is closing in, getting smaller, hotter, denser, faster, more crowded. But the strange thing is, while the rest of the world follows our example into consumptive suicide, we in Los Angeles are one step ahead down the path of chasing limitless desires; we have already reached the point of no return (superluminal escape velocity) and somehow we're still here, in one form or another. Following this analogy to its natural end, one would conclude that perhaps it is not death we are hurtling towards--as we draw closer to the initial collapse of a civilization going supernova--but simply adaptation. 

So, what sort of adaptation? What happens to a physical mass when it enters a singularity? Well, no one can be entirely sure, but after much debate, experts now agree that even in a black hole total and complete annihilation is not possible. Information still escapes, and proliferates through time in ever-increasing complexity. According to the holographic principle (a prominent physics theory sprung from the study of black hole thermodynamics), an event horizon bears on its surface the gravitational description of everything that could have existed inside. As the black hole absorbs mass and energy, the horizon increases in units of Planck area. In this way, the horizon scales with the increase in entropy; information about the interior states of the black hole is entirely encoded two-dimensionally on its outer boundary. A reduction in dimensionality takes place, whereby four-dimensional information is translated, or fully encrypted in two dimensions. In accordance with the known laws of the universe, even a great and powerful body of incredible gravity that warps space and time around it cannot erase history. There is only translation, and an ongoing interpreting and re-interpreting of the story through different lenses, or from different perspectives.

What does this mean for L.A. and for the future? Well, perhaps it means that something will remain, even as we destroy ourselves. As we approach this great unknown, this tipping point in history at which our need for domination requires us to dominate our own humanity, we may be forced to move into the next phase of existence, and to take on another form.  As information proliferates and physical reality grows thin, perhaps we will be forced to create ways to store ourselves in compact regions of space. A light particle entering a singularity, from the perspective of the particle, is destroyed. But from the point of view of one observing from outside the horizon, the particle is stretched over the horizon and exists there forever. This is what is happening as we abandon our bodies and become our representations of ourselves.  

Here in L.A., with the rest of the world in tow, we've become experts at representation, masters of the plausible fake. We are winning the game of creating pictures, populating our screens, creating images and recordings and snippets and relics and fervent renditions of ourselves. Why? Are these newer versions of ourselves more adapted to live in the dimensional matrix of our future, where space may be sparse and the natural resources we require for physical survival have long been obliterated? Will the world of the imagination be the only fertile frontier left to claim? These secondary images, these digital flatlanders--existing from bits and pixels and remnants of sound and light, like classic flatlanders, have no digestive tracts, need nothing, subsist on pure nothing. In L.A. we thrive on nothing; we are experts at creating pictures in light--from nothing. 

So perhaps the identity crises we now undergo as we scale and compress ourselves to fit the world we're creating will serve a useful purpose after all. But we should be wary of our verve and cautious of turning ourselves into ghosts. In the onion skin of representations--from God (or essence) to human to shadow to lonely sun that once made shadows of living things, we should be leery of anything that places us further out in the layers. Before we obliterate ourselves, we might try striving to be human again; it might not be too late.

As I write this, I'm hoping you'll listen and offer me some space closer to the center. I present this image of myself--thin and impotent, a collection of words on a screen, a cut-and-pasted rendition, a collection of pictures and clips and ideas I picked up here and there and assembled into some form--in another attempt to hold your attention. With your approval, I could be human again. With your attention, I could be unfolded and begin to take up real time and space--beyond the screen you're reading this on. 

As it is, we exist on a boundary.  No one knows on which side you stand. There is no clear distinction between observer and observed. It is only with your observation and attention that I occupy a form. And even if I were to move, and step across a boundary into another world, from the eyes of those watching, I may hover on the edge for eternity. If I cross the threshold, no one will see me go. My image will stay behind in an illusory circle of light--smiling, drinking, laughing, attending pool parties--while I, myself, plunge into an infinite void. 

Books that were referenced or were influential in the above piece: The Universe in a Nutshell by Stephen Hawking, The Black Hole War by Leonard Susskind, QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter by Richard Feynman, Simulacra and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard, Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Dideon, Flatland, A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin Abbott 

images, top to bottom: 
1: cityscape by Dennis Ekstedt 
2: unknown  
3: geometries by Dan McPharlin
4: string installation by S├ębastian Preschoux 
5: mannequins from Alexander McQueen retrospective at The Met, unknown photographer on right. 
6: partially taken from the cover of the book The Master Game by Robert S. De Ropp 
7: unknown 
8: unknown
9: unknown 
10: unknown 
11: cityscape by Dennis Ekstedt 
12: unknown 
13: Dan McPharlin 
14: collage of unknown artists 
15: unknown artists 
16: Enceladus by unknown 
17: city reposted from the blog Post Traumatic Urbanism, artist unknown 
18: Hollywood sign, unknown, 
16: unknown 
17: painting by Susan Chrysler White

Saturday, February 18, 2012

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Little Story    
by Lily   

From particle to hurricane, life is built on the expansion of information. 
From the miniscule to the monstrous, creator and created abstract                                          
A dream within a dream within a dream, one dimension parallels another to define you. 
Graceful hologram with your grieving and seeking, little child with your tear-streaked face turned up to the stars, 
you want to know why everything suffers, you want a hand to hold in the black, black night. 

Listen. There is only one message, but it must be worded exactly for you. 
It will spend your life translating itself to reach you. 

It will conjure heavens, demons, just to catch your eye.

You turn page after page, finding them blank. 

This must be the wrong book. 

The imps surround the castle, the path is overgrown. 
You escape into the garden, a hall of mirrors. 
Clever girl, you outsmarted them, to your detriment.  
Your language is so strange, it would take a masterpiece to touch you now. 
Veiled in layers coiled in serpentine layers
Who could find the words?                                                                                

Now as accidents and hardships chase you around the world, 
you simply keep running from one side of the maze to the other

like a bird trapped in a room, unable to remember the open window.

Little animal, you claimed you wanted God. 
Now your world is like an electric fence and there is only one direction permitted. 

The voltage increases with each misstep. 

This last cycle you wandered 
far from any shepherds

In some distant rooms a nightmare enclosed you. 
In a red light, you woke to someone dying. 
You held his wrist without a pulse, you had no words to guide him. 

The medics and police and priest and firemen made frantic circles on the ground, 

all of us helpless in the shadow of a rising soul. 

The grieving resonated in the yard, the trees grew crooked wings.
Into the bowl of darkness we threw ourselves.

Little creatures, so confused 
playing games with each other
trading blame while the real work goes undone. 

No one told the spirit how flee. 
No one held the keys or illuminated the gate. 
No one untied the path.

And what if he stays forever in the garden,
folded in time like a boy trapped in a mirror?

If I were to draw you a map, my friend,
a thread that led like a shortcut out of the story 
like a dozen blades slicing through the fabric of space, like parting water, 
like a drill bit through each page of the book itself
I would reach through your ceiling into your reverie
and in a fervent whisper, in a sinister tongue, 
with the threat of horrors unnameable in my range--loud enough to make every fool a believer, 
and every believer the most precious kind of fool,
I'd tell you
Love deeply while you can.

The sea eats the sand, the forests burn. 
Everything vanishes. 
Still this matters. 

I open another book, this one about surrender. 
It's an instruction manual featuring poorly drawn pictures 
of figures rising and reclining in poorly constructed beds
with dusty curtains parted to reveal meager circle moons
this one is a palindrome
and this one is a Russian doll 
with ancient scripts for hair
they all end the same,
with a beginning:

Oh Mother, 
What can I offer you that is worthy of the gift of this world? 

All I ever had was a handful of laughter and fist full of tears. 
When the day unravels and time winks out, 
when I finally return from play in the currents and poppy fields, 

I will bring you the prize of the game-- 
A jewel wrought in the carving wheels of life,
all my dreams and memories captured inside--shining on each surface-- 
its facets the shape of everything I was:
a divine exchange of love and fear 
in every color and combination the raw dust of this universe provides

at play, for you. 

We’ll laugh together at how we did this. 
We'll make up new rules to the game, 
just as we once did, so long ago.
For now, 
if you must hold me by the hair, my head under the water, 
still choking after all these years
how can I resign myself to be the passage and the bridge? 

I want my arms to make a tunnel, the telegraph wires for your disembodied message,

clicking in the dark.