Studio ENYO

Late capitalism nostalgia


Unlike the grammatical morpheme of the word monument - both in Greek and Romance languages – that refers to memory, the practices of maintenance and restoration of monuments are 'future- oriented'. Perhaps a headlong rush into the future is a way to avoid turning 'the triumphs of civilization' into 'the studious collection of encumbrances which finally stifle the possibilities of adaptation, movement and effective  improvement, and lead to its [the city’s] ultimate downfall’ as Mumford writes in 1937. If that is the case, then there is nothing new in the assumption that if the monument is an object of the future, then it passes through practices of prefiguration, ultimately entering into realms of representational order.

Vision over objects

There is also nothing new in the assumption that vision prevails not only over the other senses, but also over objects and concepts, since image appears as a widely used metonymy. Bergson describes the object of senses as images, through which relations of action between alterities are established, the Frankfurt School names Denkbild the short abstract prose that breaks down the gaps between literature, philosophy, journalism and criticism while Latour describes 'different patterns of image rejection and image construction' as 'image wars'.

Production of images makes conspicuous a future under construction. This is why proliferation of visual techniques (3D, VR) do not constitute a virtual reality but rather simply a reality. Representation belongs to reality. The more the visual experience is cut off from the tangible and tactile qualities of space, the more some kind of projection emerges. A future dominated by representation, makes us think of contemporary material civilization as nothing less than archeology: a future archaeology of late stage capitalism- ruins, artifacts, spolia and documents.

An episode of intensive  materiality:

It is a well-known hypothesis that the diffusion of electronic projection would lead to the demise of hard copy documents, namely of printing production. However, this never happened, because despite the proliferation of projection techiques, it was the availability of affordable printers that led to an overall increase in printing output, and consequently to an increase of paper consumption. From this incident of conflict between materiality and virtual we can firstly deduce the sheer prevalence of the former over the latter and secondly speculate on some of the possible reasons that led there. Perhaps the most obvious one can be identified in a given inertia of social practices that inhibit innovation, as a new product needs to conform with already existing trends and habits of the consumer-user8. Secondly, it is possible that a universe of tangibility can be identified here: the need to make the visible or virtual, tangible and accessible, or make the image resemble to an everyday use object. If  digital representation can't restrict paper use, then how is it possible to imagine memory without monuments?

An episode of monumental  tangibility

Following a similar logic: the interplay of image and  monument is at the core of the science of archeology: sketches, drawings and photographic material consist some of the basic means of documentation. As an extension of these, a virtual archeology, which, based on findings and assumptions, visually reconstitutes objects and architectural forms in their original / authentic state, is already widespread and accessible: diorama, hologram, 3D representations. However, the tangible and tactile use of the monument isn’t deprived of its significance. In August 2019, 550,000 visits to the Acropolis were recorded9. Although it is one of the best documented and represented monuments, physical contact seems to be unable to be replaced by the representation.

“The Parthenon Marbles”

“The gold and ivory statue of Athena”

These banal expressions, often found in educational textbooks, illuminate a special relation between monumentality and materiality, which is structured around the indestructible of specific materials. The chemical composition of its material is a sine qua non for the monument to be valued as such.

If the concentration of objects from all times and spaces to a singular time and place, according to Foucault, is to a large extent an invention of modernity, then an object is elevated to an artifact due to its perceived durability. Organic, mechanical and chemical inertia is at the core of contemporary politics of memory. Therefore, the museum piece appears as the realization of the indestructible in, at least two often interrelated ways. First, it is protected and maintained so that it is not exposed to exogenous risks of damage. Second, it is chosen from the very beginning based on its mechanical and chemical tolerance, which might be the reason why the archaeological museum is dominated by rocks rather than metals.

Beyond the museum and back to metals: the indestructible of gold isn’t to be found only in its mechanical tolerance, but in its resistance to oxidation. The value of gold is not the same in every epoch, and that’s because cosmetic value is intertwined with exchange value. However, the establishment of gold as a universal trade measure or standard for the calculation of exchange rates even between already represented quantities (currencies), transfers its value from the material domain to that of representation. Similarly, the ability to protect against wear and tear hosts the museum's exchange value.

Now, if the persistent ingredient of memory is persistent materiality, then what will the monument in a future dominated by representation look like?

Let's assume the following scenario:

VR takes over – In the course of time AR and VR technologies are perfected, their hardware parts become mass produced and therefore made accessible for all.

Synchronously, the ever-expanding scarcity in natural resources, already present since the latter half of the 20th century, leads to radical changes in artificial human habitats. For example, as access to building material diminishes over time, conventional structures are substituted by larger building blocks, cladded internally and externally only by reflective projection surfaces, suited to convey image and visual effects that simulate the long lost experience of tangible space -the minimum material element. Nature takes over what was known as the anthroposphere.

The immersive experience of the virtual is enough to keep what remains of humanity content. Yet, it is  not long before boredom, this 'mallady of happy people', takes over. Boredom, fueled by repetition relegates visual experience to banality.

As materiality is revalorized, the remnants of material civilization are elevated to artifacts. Common items, the same that 'suffered humiliation in human hands' as Adorno used to say, are invested with totemic functions, set apart and safeguarded from non-human biological and geological agents. Alongside the great material monuments, in enclaves dedicated solely to the preservation of memory, ritual assemblages of everyday items are exhibited as archaeological findings attributed to the turbulent, yet transformative late capitalism period.

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