We need, I believe, to engage a different kind of violence, a violence that is neither spectacular nor instantaneous, but rather incremental and accretive, its calamitous repercussions playing out across a range of temporal scales.
The design of so-called bodies, territories or organisms, and of narratives which outline difference and The Other, impose binary separations. They produce slow a-temporal resonances throughout time, systematically replicating a western epistemology of management and control. These constructions allowed the contemporary technoscientific management of the environment and of our bodies, producing and reproducing algorithmic and systemic discrimination, which reveal different forms of structural differences and hegemonic fictions.
With-technology, “we” emerge as “us”. A hybrid human-machine-electron-organism, a planetary/time-space where cables, rare earth, bodies, soil, entities, liquids, particles, atmosphere and outer space are increasingly interconnected in a techno-organism that is speedily evolving, but which gathers in its source code a historical continuum of feedback loops.
In his book Slow Violence, Rob Nixon describes processes characterized by violence that occur gradually and often in invisible ways. Perhaps we can say that the parametric disassembling and reassembling of bodies and territories, is a process of slow violence that brings these problems to the present through their uninterrupted and increasingly sophisticated implementation.
The scientific revolution, understood as a sociotechnical momentum in which the values of Modernity where implemented across western science disciplines, brought a transformation of the way the world was understood, starting off a massive taxonomization and abstraction of the environment. With processes of fragmentation, repeatability and simulation, the splitting of behaviors and organisms into data permeated into the volumetric design of bodies and territories. Since then, we find them embedded in computational software architectures, technologies which relentlessly scan matter in search of new forms of intervention. Hence, so-called bodies, territories, organisms, the organic and the inorganic can be managed for an efficient extraction and manipulation of materials and data, unveiling different forms of possession, property, rights and conflicts.
Statistical techniques of averaging and correlation from the nineteenth century introduced new photographic methods into their analyses, to catalogue organs and matter into static and isolated units. The pictures were organized and categorized by similar units in comparative tables, as for example Alphonse Bertillon’s bertillonage, or Francis Galton’s composites, where images, as slices, were overlapped to reveal a standard for disease, criminal type or race. Reading Volumetric Regimes, we can see how these techniques, initiated by the science of criminology, are nowadays introduced in the form of scanning and modelling technologies to disassemble and reassemble reality. Thus, these us-devices construct artificial borders, isolating groups of archetypes in a desperate will to contain nature’s behavior, analyzed and fixed through parametric systems into physical and digital technoscientific containment architectures. This provides a fantasy of enclosure, preventing the release and spread of an-Other’s influence. A system based on behavioral speculation and probability that creates both new threats and objectives within a retroactive system: a knowledge of the future by probabilistic determinism that continuously feeds a feedback loop of fears and threats, which shapes and reshapes our entire sociality.
In Volumetric Regimes we find, as a kind of resonance chamber full of case studies, an inventory of techniques used in the context of 3D computing to artificially design humanness, referred to as so-called bodies, so-called earth or so-called plants. Mechanisms such as rigging, agential cuts, slicing, dividing, dimensional axes of power, x,y,z, simulated environments, processes of modelling, capturing, rendering, printing and tracking unveil how scientific knowledge incorporated in computational tools is still based on dividing, separating and creating boundaries in a fictional composition of the tangible, in which the world is bounded and organized according to categories of hegemonic fictions. Through this organization, objects and organisms are disintegrated within extreme division and classification, and the isolation of the parts for their analysis erodes the uncategorized interrelations. Imposed official landscapes and bodies disregard the intra-actions “as a dynamism of forces in which all designated ‘things’ are constantly exchanging and diffracting, influencing and working inseparably.”
Nevertheless, as the book also points out, new results concerning the origin of matter can lead us to reconsider older categories. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle states that one cannot simultaneously know both the exact position and exact momentum of a single particle. In addition, quantum entanglement means that the quantum state of each particle of a group cannot be described independently of the state of the others, including when particles are separated by a large distance, and so, also measurements affect the entangled system as a whole. In this picture, matter moves increasingly toward a hybrid, ungraspable state. Quantum physics defies the system of observation born with the Modern project. Therefore, concepts such as uncertainty or entanglement, fundamental properties of the very elementary particles of matter (paradoxically resulting from splitting and smashing them to build the provisional Standard Model), can provide us with new generative possibilities and forms of social imagination.
Although liminal matter problematizes the matter of facts, “bodies” are still, and increasingly, locked within a regime of Modernity. As this book shows, this regime quietly and systematically spreads through contemporary 3D computing. Possible Bodies explores in Volumetric Regimes what the imaginary produced within that ontological and epistemological status of computational volumetrics does, and how it intervenes into power relationships. At the same time, they offer us a new imagine-action to rethink previous categorizations, by renaming them. “Languaging” is one of the main tactics for unsettling Modern assumptions and rigidities. Vocabularies, verbalizations and discourse articulations provide with a rich realm for suspending the probable and extending the spectrum of what’s possible. “In other words”, language is understood as a mode for keeping complexity close while not aligning with the manners and grammars of a damaging world setting.
Perhaps, following the bug reports included in Volumetric Regimes, we can try to rethink the semantic layer of computational processes. As the image at the beginning of this text suggests, at the basis of computational design, we have mathematical code, a text which, as Possible Bodies proposes, we might need to re-imagine and re-write from scratch.
- Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2011).
- “Feedback occurs when outputs of a system are routed back as inputs as part of a chain of cause-and-effect that forms a circuit or loop. The system can then be said to feed back into itself. Simple causal reasoning about a feedback system is difficult because the first system influences the second and second system influences the first, leading to a circular argument.” “Feedback,” Wikipedia, accessed October 28, 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feedback.
- Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor.
- Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Half Way (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007).
- Quantum Entanglement, Wikipedia, accessed November 1, 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_entanglement.
- Imagin-action (Imagina-ação): imagination as intervention in reproductive systems and invention of worlds; The “faculty”, or the operation of imagination in its collective and performative character of intervention in the world and not as a mere abstraction or pure speculative activity. In Portuguese, the word for “imagination” is “imaginação” and it contains the word “action”, “ação”. In this sense, thinking about the activity of imagining as an action, “ImaginAction” is an ethical, ontoepistemic and pragmatic approach, since it can lead us to other ways of conceiving the activity of imagining. Amilcar Packer, Office of Political Imagination, Brazil, 2016-now.