It began with Reassembling the Social. Inspired by the transformation of mere intermediaries into full-fledged mediators, we sought to create a representation of networks where connections would be represented with the same specificity as actors—and where the representation of either would bear the hallmarks of its material particularity. Taking additional inspiration from the role of photography in Latour’s work, we appealed to the photograph as a means of representing moments of contact, the sharing of physical space, and would-be autonomous entities both human and not. Refusing to distinguish between actors and encounters, our representations quickly took the form of an assemblage, and collected otherwise mediated detritus according to the forms of our labor and contact.
Instead of edges connecting such indices—and because those connection were themselves already represented—we wanted to signal that groups of encounters may be meaningful as a whole. Dissatisfied with links and other discrete relations, we tried to gesture toward this accumulation through a loose logic of proximity. Here again, we took Latour as our guide, and explored tensions between the work he terms synoptic vision and that of circulating reference. From the former, we took up the imperative to display representations side-by-side, as constellations in some two-dimensional array, so that they can be easily and variously compared, subject to neither hierarchy nor atrophy. Meanwhile, the notion of circulating reference justified forming some particular subgroups for inspection: as Latour writes in the glossary from Pandora’s Hope, it is only when representations are “cleverly aligned” that they produce knowledge (307). But we also wanted to give the spectator license to explore our visual landscape and detect the short circuits, the lapses in judgment, the utopian possibilities that a fully formed representation might dismiss.
For reasons of scale and access, we decided to document ourselves. Appealing to existing technologies of networked sharing (Twitter, Instagram, Gmail/Google Docs, Prezi), we created our archive through dissemination. We attempted not to shoot ourselves in the Instagrammed foot by interrogating, through practice, the affordances and limitations those forms of connectivity at once allow and thwart. This allowed our investment in waste, excess, and utopia to play into (and play upon) the very act of representation. Our eventual product became a narrative of representations, told through our encounters with and attempts at mediation. At the same time, we were suspicious of our own capability in this endeavor—of our ability to recognize what might be important in any part of our work. This suspicion made our archive an archive of waste: our materizations merely clusters of intensities, continually signaling to what is obscured and obliterated in their production. Here, we were consoled by Rem Koolhaas, whose notion of a “prospective archaeology” gave form to our indecision. Thus, we adopted his twin mantras: maintain the viable, modify only the untenable! In this way, the stages of our project elaborate schemes that are everywhere in contradiction with their result. But their culmination is not, for that, surprising.
Panoramas imply a degree of localization without having to map things.
Words helped us when the image did not. But we believe that what is more important is what is lost.
Koolhaas, Rem and the Office for Metropolitan Architecture. “Revision: Study for the Renovation of a Panopticon Prison.” S, M, L, XL. New York: Monacelli, 1998. Print. 235–53.
Latour, Bruno. Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1999. Print.
— . Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. Print.