NXT Space for Visual Thinking

An Experimental Cyberlab

How to Cite

Mayo, S. (1998). NXT Space for Visual Thinking: An Experimental Cyberlab. M/C Journal, 1(4). https://doi.org/10.5204/mcj.1722
Vol. 1 No. 4 (1998): Space
Published 1998-11-01

"Space, the limitless area in which all things exist and move." -- Merriam-Webster Dictionary(658)

Can we determine our point in time and space at this moment of pre-millennium anticipation? The evolution of our visualisation of space as a culture is shifting and entering the critical consciousness of our global village. The infinite expansion of space's parameters, definitions and visualisation remains the next frontier -- not only for NASA, but for visual culture. Benjamin's vision of loss of the aura of originality through reproduction has come to pass, so has the concept of McLuhan's global village, Baudrillard's simulacra, and Gibson's cyberpunk. Recent technologies such as digital imaging, video, 3-D modelling, virtual reality, and the Internet have brought us to the cusp of the millennium as pioneers of what I call this 'NXT space' for visual thinking, for artistic expression.

The vision being constructed in pre-millennium culture takes place in an objectless fictionalised space. This virtual reality is a space that is expanding infinitely, as we speak. The vehicle through which access is gained into this layer takes the form of a machine that requires a mind/body split. The viewer probes through the intangible pixels and collects visual data. The data received on this or that layer have the potential to transport the viewer virtually and yield a visceral experience. The new tools for visualisation allow an expanded perception to an altered state of consciousness.

The new works cross the boundaries between media, and are the result of virtual trips via the usage of digital imaging. Their aesthetic reflects our digital society in which people maintain extremely intimate relationships with their computers. This new era is populated by a new generation that is inside more than outside, emailing while faxing, speaking on the phone and surfing the Web with MTV on in the background. We have surpassed postmodernist ideas of pluralism and simultaneity and have produced people for whom the digital age is no revolution. Selected colours, forms and spaces refer to the pixelisation of our daily experience. We are really discussing pop for ahistorical youth, who consider virtual reality to be the norm of visualisation via digitally produced ads, movies, TV shows, music videos, video games and the computer. The term "new media" is already antiquated. We are participating in a realm that is fluent with technology, where the visualisation of space is more natural than an idea of objecthood. (At least as long as we're operating in the technology-rich Western world, that is.) The relationship of these virtual spaces with the mass audience is the cause of pre-millennium anxiety. The cool distance of remote control and the ability to remain in an altered state of consciousness are the residual effects of virtual reality. It is this alienated otherness that allows for the atomisation of the universe. We construct artifice for interface, and simulacra have become more familiar than the "real".

NXT space, cyberspace, is the most vital space for visual thinking in the 21st century. The malleability and immateriality of the pixel sub-universe has exponential potential. The artists of this future, who will dedicate themselves successfully to dealing with the new parameters of this installation space, will not consider themselves "computer artists". They will be simply artists working with integrated electronic arts. Digital imaging has permeated our lives to such an extent that like Las Vegas "it's the sunsets that look fake as all hell" (Hickey). Venturi depicts the interior of Las Vegas's casinos as infinite dark spaces with lots of lights transmitting information. Cyberspace is a public/private space occupied by a global village, in that it is a public space through its accessibility to anyone with Internet access, and a social space due to the ability to exchange ideas and meet others through dialogue; however, it is also an intimate private space due to its intangibility and the distance between each loner at their terminal. NXT needs a common sign system that is seductive enough to persuade the visitor into entering the site and can act as a navigational tool.

People like to return to places that feel familiar and stimulate reverie of past experiences. This requires the visitor to fantasise while navigating through a cybersite and believe that it is an actual place that exists and where they can dwell. Venturi's model of the sign system as paramount to the identification of the actual architecture is perfect for cyberspace, because you are selling the idea or the fiction of the site, not the desert that it really is. Although NXT can not utilise object cathexion to stimulate fantasy and attachment to site, it can breed familiarity through a consistent sign system and a dynamic and interactive social space which would entice frequent revisiting.

NXT Space, a home for the other? "Suddenly it becomes possible that there are just others, that we ourselves are an 'other' among others", as Paul Ricoeur said in 1962. If one were to impose Heidegger's thinking in regards to building and dwelling, they would have to reconstruct NXT as a site that would promote dwelling. It would have to be built in a way in which people were not anonymous or random. A chat room or BBS would have to be attached, where people could actively participate with one another within NXT. Once these visitors had other people that they could identify with and repeatedly interact with, they would form a community within the NXT site. Mortals would roam not on earth, nor under the sky, possibly before divinities (who knows), but rather through pixel light and fiber optics without a physical interface between beings.

If the goal of mortals is a Heideggerian notion of attachment to a site through building and building's goal is dwelling and dwelling's goal is identification and identification is accomplished through the cultivation of culture, then NXT could be a successful location. NXT could accommodate an interchange between beings that would be free of physiological constraints and identity separations. This is what could be exchanged and exposed in the NXT site without the interference and taint of socio-physio parameters that separate people from one another. A place where everyone without the convenience or burden of identity becomes simply another other.

NXT could implement theory in an integral contextual way that could effect critical consciousness and a transformation of society. This site could serve as a theoretical laboratory where people could exchange and experiment within a dialogue. NXT as a test site could push the parameters of cyberspace and otherness in a real and tangible way. This "cyber-factory" would be interactive and analytical. The fictional simulated world is becoming our reality and cyberspace is becoming a more reasonable parallel to life. Travelling through time and space seems more attainable than ever before through the Internet. Net surfing is zipping through the Louvre, trifling through the Grand Canyon and then checking your horoscope. People are becoming used to this ability and the abstract is becoming more tangible to the masses. As techno-literacy and access increase, so should practical application of abstract theory. NXT would escape reification of theory through dynamic accessibility.

The virtual factory could be a Voltaire's cafe of cyber-thinkers charting the critical consciousness and evolution of our Web-linked world. Although ultimately in the West we do exist within a capitalist system where every good thought leaks out to the masses and becomes popular, popularity creates fashion, fashion is fetishistic, thereby desirable, and accumulates monetary value. Market power depoliticises original content and enables an idea to become dogma; another trophy in the cultural hall of fame. Ideas do die, but in another time and place can be resurrected and utilised as a template for counter-reaction. This is analogous to genetic evolution -- DNA makes RNA which makes retro-DNA, etc. --, and the helix spirals on, making reification an organic process.

However, will cyberspace ever be instrumental in transforming society in the next century? Access is the largest inhibitor. Privileged technophiles often forget that they are in the minority. How do we become more inclusive and expand the dialogue to encompass the infinite number of different voices on our planet? NXT space is limited to a relatively small number of individuals with the ability to afford and gain access to high-tech equipment. This will continue the existing socio-economic imbalance that restricts our critical consciousness.

Without developing the Internet into the NXT space, we will be tremendously bothered by ISPs, with data transfer control and content police. My fear for the global village, surfing through our virtual landscape, is that we will all skid off this swiftly tilting planet. The addiction to the Net and to simulated experiences will subject us to remote control. The inundation of commercialism bombarding the spectator was inevitable, and subsequently there are fewer innovative sites pushing the boundaries of experimentation with this medium. Pre-millennium anxiety is abundant in technophobes, but as a technophile I too am afflicted. My fantasy of a NXT space is dwindling as the clock ticks towards the Y2K problem and a new niche for community and social construction has already been out-competed. If only we could imagine all the people living in the NXT space with its potential for tolerance, dialogue, and community.

Author Biography

Sherry Mayo