QUESTIONING THE SUBJECTIVITY OF SPACE. Conversation with Marcos Lutyens

Published in Italien in Arch’it

Marcos Lutyens is a Spanish/English, LA based artist. His work is centred around consciousness, perception, language, space and new media. One of his on going project, Second Skin, explores, in collaboration with Tania Lopez Winkler and several students from the Architectural Association, strategies of emergence with the scope of architecture. In the last months he has been working as well in collaboration with Marcos Novak in Eduction: the Alien Within. [MLP]

I’m sure many of you have already been through this kind of thing… and as you are sitting down in your seats… it is as though you are taking a journey, a journey to another place and another time… a journey on the inside… Take a deep breath… and as you listen to the sound of my voice… I’d like you to hold your hands out in front of you… and I’d like you to focus between your hands and imagine there is a magnetic energy between your hands… Just close your eyes and focus between your hands….” Abstract from Marcos Lutyens induction in EDUCTION

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MLP – I don’t know how much importance you give this, but from my point of view, as an architect, it is quite interesting that your hypnosis induction begins by asking the people involved to focus their attention on the space between their hands…. that is, on a very special space, because it is both external to the body, and thus ‘real’, objective or under everybody’s eyes, but at the same time, it is a space ‘within’ ones hands, a space held by the body, a space in-between body and world, in-between the inner experience of one’s own ‘space of the body’ and the outer experience of the common, shared, visible space… Now, from this point of departure, the focus of attention starts as a physical spot in the visual field of the eyes and is immediately transformed into a point in the visual field of mind. What is visualised internally turns into a haptic sensation of energy attracting the two hands together… The empty space that is initially measured by the eye as distance between the hands, is now filled with the resistant strength of the weight of the body opposed to the attractive force moving each finger with a particular tension of its own…

It seems that hypnosis is basically the experience of a different space, a space within the mind…

M LUTYENS – Hypnosis as used, for instance, in the Krasner method of hypnotherapy is a vehicle for accessing various aspects and areas of the subconscious mind and implanting certain ideas through suggestion. The sphere of action usually takes place within rarely visited but nevertheless familiar areas of memory and experience and involves transformative mental processes, also known as individuation or reframing. “Eduction,” on the contrary, uses hypnosis as a tool for opening up the territory “without” or beyond our conception of mind, and uses the subsequent experiences of volunteers as a feedback mechanism for “fleshing out” and modelling an externalized virtual space.

If individuation is conceived of as the reintegration of differentiated consciousness within the unconscious, then “Eduction” is the nesting of both the conscious and the unconscious within an expanding and dynamic space of mind.

In the opening excerpt of the hypnotic induction used for the performance (see top), you’ll notice how even before I started to work with the imagined space between the volunteers’ hands, I had already drawn the entire audience’s attention to the seats they were sitting on. To alter a state of consciousness, it is necessary to begin to remodel what Joseph Von Uexkül referred to as the umwelt, the self-world, a kind of invisible bubble surrounding living organisms, that is delimited by each organism’s particular sensory percepts. By drawing people’s attention to their immediate self-world in the forms of touch, propioception and kinesthetics, we are beginning to reduce or enclose the bubble to the geography of reach.

Of course, as I act on the volunteers, their state of consciousness begins to diverge from the rest of the audience, as, in effect, I begin to push or sculpt their self-worlds inwards, opening up an interior architecture of mind, linked to the inner senses and the autonomous nervous system.

The engineering of this induction was built around a nest of symmetries: the exterior symmetry of the ancient church, divided by the nave, up and down which I walked, the mirroring of hands separated by an empty space between, the exterior and interior umwelt, delimited by the boundary of the body, and the inner symmetry of the mind in the form of the two hemispheres and what Jung referred to as the quaternity. This framework of symmetries was a vehicle to move the volunteers into a state of deep trance.

After this initial phase, we worked on detaching the mind from its familiar co-ordinates by establishing automatic responses between aural stimuli and propioceptive responses (the sensors), and reattaching the mind to an inanimate element (catalepsy). The final precondition for entry into the “Eductive” state was a stacking of suggestions related to amnesia and agnosia leading to the loss of self recognition, in other words the dissolution of the mirrored architecture of the self, and its substitution by automatic and unconscious core states.

MLP – Human perception of and relation to the physical space, at least in western culture, is deeply rooted in the sense of vision. But, in a way, the new technologies of vision repeatedly force us to question what is the meaning of seeing. From this point of view, the reflection about different dimensions remind us that to see an object –or a space- means to build a sort of imaginary shape or an ideal object within the mind. From the two dimensional images of the world on our retina that we are able to interpret as three dimensional, to the 2D configurations of lines we use to draw 3D objects, we have a special ability to ‘see in depth’… but, by analogy, we can also imagine a three dimensional retina able to see 4D shapes and so on… which reveals the presence of a sort of gap between vision and reality, again an in-between state or space open to our investigation….

ML – Experiments comparing hypnosis with ordinary states of consciousness show that the same parts of the cortex respond in exactly the same computational pattern to a hallucinated experience as to a real experience. What is tantalizing is to be able to exercise the cortex in such a way that states of experience and being which would otherwise literally be inconceivable, become familiar. This exercise or process, almost akin to a mental vaccine, may take effect within a hallucinatory state of hypnotic trance. In this state, the mind becomes completely familiar with the new simulated territory, whether this is an extra set of limbs as in Stellarc’s third hand, hyper-extended web consciousness, or a visceral conception of polydimensionality, and so when the subject is returned to a normal state of consciousness, she is psychologically enabled to handle the added scope of consciousness, and is not as likely to provoke an unconscious rejection of the extra sense, organ or limb.. This I believe has relevant applicability to the psychological “naturalization” of alien extensions to the human body and mind, in terms of implanted chips pioneered by Warwick, electronic prosthetic smart- limbs such as the C-Leg, and neural ports that allow our minds to connect directly to artificial intelligence networks, all of which lie beyond the familiar parameters of space, time and body.

MLP – In a previous project you have been working with blind children, trying to explore possible ways to allow them to have a ‘physical’ experience of words, a haptic sensation to give body to sounds… When one thinks about how, for people able to see, closing our eyes is like the first step to going inside, in your experience did you have any feelings about the different relation between real and mental spaces in blind people?

ML – The mental space for a blind person, as generated by their umwelt is completely different from that of a seeing person. The perceptual bubble moves around predominantly to their auditory sense, which to a certain point substitutes for the lack of visual cues. In the same way, the collapse of the exterior visual space seems to be compensated for by an amplified interior world that is then projected back out into the unseen real world. In a sense, blind people are experts at reversing the normal process of perception to conception, back outwards in a reverse vector, or as Marcos N would say, as an “eversion.”

Wordscapes”, a collaborative project with the University of Southern California and the Foundation for the Junior Blind, becomes an intermediate platform between the interior world of the blind person, built by cues of sound and speech -coincidentally the primary two tools in hypnosis- and the outside world of solid objects. By making words and sounds solid to the touch (remaining curiously invisible to seeing people), we form a bridge between the blind person’s interior and the exterior world that is beyond reach. The use of the kinaesthetic sense of touch is particularly important as most blind people suffer from what is termed “tactile defensiveness,” that is, a resistance to exploration by touch.

Of particular interest is extracting a digital/mental phrase or word enunciated by the blind person, breaking down the words into phonemes and sounds, and converting these into analogue equivalents of form and texture. In other words, we move back from semantics to phonology, and syntax to protosyntax to gesture. Again, this trajectory of turning a mental conception into a profoundly experienced albeit modified reality is parallel to the process of “Eduction” within the context of deep virtuality. Marcos Novak contributed to this project by writing the program that translates the speech into these 3-D haptic forms.

MLP – In “Emogens: the self at large” you have been working again around the mapping of consciousness within the context of deep trance… this time, looking at the new Webness we are living in…

ML – This project is an offshoot of Eduction. The idea behind “Emogens: the self at large” is to find a dynamic correspondence between micro-consciousness and the term coined by Derek de Kerckhove, “Webness”. The project seeks to establish a series of traits that form a key or bridge between the individual and the vital, interlinked mass of global intercommunication and exchange. The word “emogens” is a merging of the word “emotion” and the root word “gene” (gene-sis, gene-tics, re-gene-ration) which together imply the evolution of a new kind of growth, one that ties into ideas of fitness, feedback and mutation, embedded within the extended nervous system and manifested at the primary level of the emotions. The forms that are extracted from volunteers who submit to a 15 minute pre-recorded hypnotic induction could be likened to the axial system of a crystal, which, as it were, pre-forms the crystalline structure in the mother liquid, although it has no material existence of its own. The importance of extracting these forms under a state of trance ties into the Gestalt psychology ideal that phenomenological exploration must be, as Wertheimer said “undebauched by learning”, and biases such as personal values are put aside or “bracketed” in a state of hypnosis.

The current “emogens: the self at large” show at Postartum has involved the creation of 2-D and 3-D forms rendered from the subconscious, and followed by questionnaires asking about specific traits of the visualised objects. The 3-D rendering material is silicone based and has the curious property of returning quickly back into its original pleroma-like mass.

A live performance involved a Butoh-trained dancer, Asako Tsunoda who descended through the three storey space and on reaching the bottom floor, her dress spread out to form a screen on which was projected a real-time navigable 3-D world controlled by an audience member in trance.

She became enmeshed not only in the physical space of the building but also in the psycho-virtual space of “Webness”, embodying an exteriorised counterpart to the inwardly experienced worlds of the volunteers.

MLP – Can we go deeper into this ‘webness’ concept? Can you just explain a bit more what is it about, or how do you use it in your induction… are you looking for traces of an ‘extended’ consciousness? To make my question more clear and more focused: you talked about “interlinked mass of global intercommunication and exchange”, but where is this ‘interlinking’ happening… what ‘space’ are we looking to talking about webness? In other words, are we talking about a new kind of relationship between outer and inner space? Or do you see the change into the inner space just as an effect of an ‘outer’ or material Webness?

ML – There have been many interpretations of “webness,” and historically it is an outgrowth of world trade and shipping patterns. This network of international exchange was one that was largely based on the transfer of material goods and the movement of people. However, in the last 150 years this network became increasingly more to do with invisible communication and exchange with the invention of the telegraph and wireless systems of communication. The network became more to do with intercommunication and less to do with transfer of goods. A good example of this is the transfer of money: originally gold had to be shipped physically from region to region, but this was replaced by the wire transfer. The exchange became electronic and immaterial, as opposed to molecular and cumbersome. Of course this network has now turned into the ultimate means of intercommunication in the form of the www. In the “Atlas of Cyberspace” (by Martin Dodge and Rob Kitchin) there are many charts and maps that try to define the “space” and territory of “webness”, and there is a heroic attempt to quantify and illustrate the processes of the www. However, all of these attempts fail to capture the essence of “webness” which is more to do with a relationship of “quality” than “quantity.” In short, “webness” is the new inner-space of the exterior world, very much equivalent to the inner workings of our own consciousness. When we try to describe either realm, we find that our descriptions freeze the picture, and we can only describe a static and partial view. The challenge of “webness” is to build a fluid link between the inner space of mind and the inner space of the web, in the way of a direct feed-back mechanism between the two, connecting not just information and knowledge, but emotions and feelings.

MLP – In a now in progress project/workshop with a group of engineering students, you are looking at a sensorial mapping of a real city, Cagliari. What did you find in this perceptive measuring of the city?

ML – Strategies of urban design were radically challenged by the Situationists in the 1950’s when Guy Debord developed the idea of the “dérive”, or a mapping of the city based on chance experiences, rather than the surveyor’s theodolite.  With the “dérive”, the new type of mappers were expected to drop their usual work and leisure activities, as well as all their usual motives for movement and action, and wander through the city, attracted by certain traits and encounters that were recorded so as to make up a “psycho geographic” terrain. With our project, Cychopolis, the participants were not just asked to drop their usual habits of behaviour, but more especially,
their acquired habits of thought, so as to view the city from a completely personal and embodied point of view.

In order to map the city from a vantage point that is uncontaminated by externally formed ideas given to us through peer-pressure or assimilated through education, the 30 engineering students were asked to emotionally evaluate the terrain directly from the unconscious. The students were
divided into groups and asked to choose 6 different points in the city of Cagliari. Each point corresponded to one of 6 different categories: commerce, circulation, public spaces, public buildings, private spaces and green spaces. Each student then listened to a short hypnotic induction in the selected places. The audio hypnosis made the students undergo a temporary lapse of acquired knowledge and memory, followed by commands to open up the senses to the location. In trance, the students drew, or imprinted their impressions, and upon awaking, precisely described their
experience.
Although the individual experiences were interesting in themselves, often revealing surprising and almost synesthetic or narrative emotional textures of the locations, what we were most interested in was finding common patterns, or emotional nodes or vortexes that run through the city. In order to build up a psycho-sensorial  map of Cagliari, we asked the students to evaluate each location according to the four basic parameters of experience as established by Carl Jung: sensing and intuition, feeling and thinking, as well as whether the experience seemed embedded more in the past
or the future. The students were also asked to grade the impact of their experience on a scale of 1 to 10. This gave us an enormous set of data which could then be mapped back into the city of Cagliari. We began to see that certain areas or zones elicited a strong, intuitive response, whereas
other areas or zones seemed, for instance, to arouse feelings. In this way, the map of Cagliari begins to distort itself, with larger values or topographical “humps” emerging where students responded most strongly, and locations of weaker psycho-sensorial response begin to shrink. This type of mapping seems to mirror the idea of the “homunculus”, or the mapping of the senses on the cerebral cortex. Just as hands and feet have more processing power devoted to them in the brain than let us say the shoulders, and as an extension our hands and feet occupy a larger sensorial terrain than our shoulders, so our mapping of Cagliari, inaccurate to the eye of the surveyor and the theodolite, is, in a certain sense, a more accurate measure of how the city is experienced.

At the media and architecture festival “Image”, in Firenze this October we are displaying a servo-controlled, interactive, moving map that reflects the changing psycho-sensorial terrain of the city of Cagliari… perhaps the installation itself will spark a chain of psycho-sensorial associations within the city of Firenze…1

MLP – As a last question, I’d like you to say some more words about the relationship between space and mind, that is, about the spatial dimensions of the mind and the mental dimension of space….

ML (…Pause…silence…he holds out his hands and stares at the space between…)

1 Cychopolis was developed by Daniela Frogheri and myself, with
the
collaboration of Prof. Giovanni Maria Campus, Oliver Hess and
Cristina Clar

About paesaggisensibili

Architect and senior fellow of the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology of Toronto University, I'm a member of the board of directors of the Italian National Institute of Architecture (IN/ARCH) in Rome, where since 2003 I am in charge of the Institute Master Programs. My studies are rooted in the fields of architecture and philosophy of science with a special interest in biology and anthropology. Key words for my research are: Man, Space, Nature, Technique, Webness, Ecology, Relations, Interactions, Resources, Energy, Landscape, Footprint, Past and Future. My goal is to build critical understanding of the present to suggest useful strategies to build the future.

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