“Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts… A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding…” — William Gibson, Neuromancer (1984)
Is TRON a good depiction of cyberspace, Gibson’s “nonspace of the mind”? I’m inclined to say no. Space in TRON is very physical and literal. On “the grid” time and space have their usual relationship: to get from point A to point B requires an amount of time proportional to the amount of space. There are concrete forms, buildings, hallways, corridors. TRON looks really cool, but it fails to capture much of the essence of computers, the internet or digital interaction.
The problem is that cyberspace is a misnomer. Almost every attempt to make our online experience spatial has failed. Chat rooms are not rooms; online “stores” are more like mail-order catalogs; the distance between any two points is the same: a hyperlink. Despite pervasive use of spatial metaphors, the internet is for all practical purposes simply not a space. Still, the idea of cyberspace persists, an alluring, romantic thought. What does our massive interconnected network of computers, information, and people look like? What is its shape, its architecture, its landscape?
220.127.116.11 [GEOCITIES99] from Victor Timofeev’s series Local Area Networks
This artistic question has certainly seen a variety of answers more nuanced than a Disney blockbuster. Victor Timofeev’s work (pictured above) is one interesting recent variation. Timofeev depicts websites as ramshackle structures positioned on an infinitely receding, flat and featureless ground, similar to the one used by the Surrealists. In both cases, this featureless ground is a cue for mental, not literal space.
The Melancholy of Departure — De Chirico, 1914
For me, one of the most tantalizing artistic questions about depicting cyberspace is how to create a spatial representation of something decidedly not spatial to begin with. One clue we might glean from Timofeev and De Chirico is their treatment of perspective. De Chirico intentionally plays with our expectations of perspective in order to better evoke the desired melancholy. The rising horizon on the right side of the canvas seems depressingly remote, further diminishing the two tiny figures saying their goodbyes. Meanwhile, Timofeev constructs a ramshackle stack of rooms in order to depict the chaotic personalization and incoherence of Geocities in the early days of the internet. By arranging the rooms at disparate angles, Timofeev denies us any unifying, central point of perspective, without resorting to flattening out the canvas. In both cases, the results violate our expectations of space, of perspective without going so far as to obliterate it entirely. (as for instance Picasso did)
However, both of these examples rely heavily on a fixed perspective, a fixed viewing point within the scene. Could we create some kind of interactive exploration of “the nonspace of the mind”? How might we manipulate perspective profitably in an interactive environment, or at the very least, in a video? What conceptual or emotional effect might these manipulations produce?