Belinda Haikes, panel chair
Visiting Assistant Professor of Digital Design
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
In 1946 the first photograph of the earth was sent back from outer space. This moment in history, where technology allowed us to view beyond our senses marks the transition to what has been dubbed the era of the posthuman. This era, our era, is an era that like the Renaissance period is built upon our changing conceptions of space. The Renaissance, with its one point perspective created new perceptions for the work of art, and the post human era, with its omniscient point of view creates new understandings and problematizes ideas of space. It is through our understanding of space that we can begin to understand the implications of the limits and boundaries of our senses and our technologies. This paper introduces these concepts and frames the panel discussion for the panel “Space: The New Frontier”.
Fig 1: Unknown Author
Fig 2: V-2 Rocket Launch. Nasa archives, [link]
In 1946 from the White Sands Missile Range in the New Mexico desert the US Army sent a V-2 Missile into orbit. This missile equipped with 35-millimeter motion picture camera snapped a picture every second and a half on its ascent. As all things that go up must, the missile fell back to earth where the photos were recovered.
Fig 3: V-2 #13, View of Earth from a camera on V-2 #13, launched October 24, 1946 [link]
This moment in history marks the first photos from outer space penetrating the 100-kilometer point, breaking past the outer confines of the stratosphere. This momentous event changed the way humans understand space. For the first time in recorded history, humankind saw from outer space. Humanity saw with a technologically extended sight, a sight that allowed man to see past his physical limits and his visual field.
Fig 4: V-2 #21 Launched March 7, 1947
It was a vision as though a god high above the earth looking down saw a view no person before could even begin to imagine. It is within these photos that the shift from human to the post human condition truly begins in earnest. By no longer being subject to the limitations of the physical form and the body’s visual field, technology allows the human to transcend the body. Any previous confines in simulating the visual field are shattered. This transcendence repositions the body’s spatial relationships by making the body merely a receiver rather than the activator for visual-spatial information. The information is no longer limited to the perceptual understanding of the human form and the images received are not reliant upon the physical limitations of the body. The visual-spatial understanding does not duplicate the vision seen by the body, but rather we become disembodied, and the point of view of the human form becomes limitless, expanding past the visual field and breaking past the human stratosphere. It is this technological moment that signifies the repositioning of the self in relation to space and to the conceptual shifts that a post human spatial understanding entails. As Katharine Hayles tells us in “How we Became PostHuman”, the posthuman requires that “the erasure of embodiment is performed so that "intelligence" becomes a property of the formal manipulation of symbols rather than enaction in the human lifeworld.”  It is this moment in the New Mexico desert that begins the posthuman, and with it our changing conceptions of space.
The ramifications of this development for the work of art, and for the way we understand spatial relationships of the body within the work of art is not without its historical precedents. The post human is an era not unlike that of the Renaissance period. Both eras, our era, and the Renaissance are built upon our changing conceptions of space and both manifest this conceptual shift in the work of art. As the conceptual shift is manifested through the work of art, the ideology of the period is also reified through the work of art. The Renaissance, with its one point perspective created new perceptions for the work of art, and the post human era, with its omniscient point of view, creates new understandings and problematizes ideas of space as it is employed in the work of artists.
During the Renaissance, Fillipo Brunellleschi created new conceptions of spatial practice, in particular his development of one point perspective. Antonio Manetti, Brunelleshi biographer describes the infamous 1415 experiment in perspective  whereby Brunelleschi’s painting of the Baptistery in Florence had a hole in the center where the one point perspective reached a vanishing point. The viewer observed the painting from the unpainted side and the reflection of the image was viewed in a mirror through the hole, giving the illusion of depth. Although the painting does not exist anymore, it’s influence on the way Renaissance artists created space is without equal. The technology that Brunelleschi employed, dependent upon geometric models of spatial representation, created a repositioning of the viewer in relation to the picture plane. Gone were the multiple narratives compressed in space and in its place was a realistic simulation of the space that privileged the individual’s view. This privileging of the individual point of view tells of the Renaissance’s conceptual shift to the age of the individual.
Fig 5: Raphael, “School of Athens”, Stanze di Raffaello, Vatican. [link], visited 10/31/08. Copyright free image, modified.
By depicting the spatial view of one person, the work of art reveals for the culture an emerging preoccupation with the embodied experience of the individual. Man is singular, and the visual field becomes that of a single point of view within the space, clear and reasoned. It is a shift of momentous magnitude. The single point of view, the logic and formal understanding of spatial practice of the Renaissance as understood through Brunelleschi’s invention of one point perspective, writes a story of the ideology of the time period.
Much like the Renaissance period, the era that we now exist in is one undergoing radical change in the way we understand spatial practice within the work of art. Our era is like that of the Renaissance in that both eras use spatial understanding and the technological advances of spatial depiction as a way to understand the changing conceptions of embodiment.
This panel seeks to address how our changing perceptions of space have been influenced by technology and furthermore, how that change is affecting the way we practice, create and view the work of art. Whether an artist uses Google Earth or the spatial language of the video game, art practice has changed in the way it explores space through our technologies and as such has changed our understanding of the phenomenal world. The three artists here today, Robert Gero, Jenn Figg and Peter Baldes all approach the idea of post human spatial relationships in their work. Robert Gero currently faculty in the graduate program at Washington University, holds a Ph.D. from the New School for Social Research, and an MFA in sculpture from California State University. Robert’s exhibitions include the American Academy in Rome, solo exhibitions at Artists Space, the Venice Biennale, the Lab Gallery in New York, and an upcoming exhibition at the Abington Art Center in Philadelphia, amongst a host of others. In Robert’s work, technologically mediated spaces push the confines of embodiment and subjectivity. Jenn Figg holds an MFA from University of California, Santa Barbara, and is currently a PhD student at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Media, Art and Text Program. Her exhibitions include the Virginia Contemporary Art Center, Art-house at the Jones Center and Santa Barbara Contemporary Art Forum. Jenn’s practice investigates the convergence of 2D and 3D space as it is manifested through technology and particularly influenced by the changing positions of space in video games. And Pete Baldes, Associate Professor of Painting and Printmaking at Virginia Commonwealth University, received his MFA in Integrated Electronic Art at Alfred University. His work has been shown primarily on the internet including the Rhizome Art Database and as part of the Nasty Nets collaborative, which has had screenings at the Sundance Film Festival. Peter’s work investigates the temporal existence and ideological shifts of space as embodied on the Internet.
1. Hayles, N. Katherine, “How We Became Posthuman; Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics” ( Chicago, Ill.: The University of Chicago Press, 1999)
2. Antonio Manetti. The Life of Brunelleschi. English translation Catherine Enggass. (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1970).
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