1:1 / Re-calculating Virtual Ratios / Transparency
Symposium | 13 November, 2013
“We fully accept that the divide between the digital and the real is meaningless.” This observation has become banal today, an object of consensus. Material (real) and virtual (digital) worlds have become inextricably interwoven. They’ve been mixed in proportion to each other, cross-pollinating across a now-invisible colon separating 1 : 1 entities.

The comingling of Physical : Virtual depends on their initial framing as symmetrical bodies, partners in a proportional exchange. Two people sit on opposite ends of a seesaw, and the plank remains horizontal. One click equals one behavior. One real person equals one online identity. Reality : Representation?

To collapse a dichotomy is to deconstruct the opposition between equally-weighted and formerly mutually-exclusive concepts. Yet there’s a prototypical philosophical problem at stake – deconstructing deeply-rooted value systems often entrenches them deeper. Is the separation (the colon : ) between material and virtual really gone, or has it just been made transparent? The cleaner the glass between you and your virtual existence becomes, the easier it is to forget that the virtual world is a construct that can be manipulated independently of physical existence.

Re-calculating the 1 : 1 ratio of material to virtual, of body to self, could make unequal, hidden power structures visible, even if it requires temporarily reinstating an explicit dichotomy that allows a ratio to be calculated. This is both a mathematical endeavor and a phenomenological one. Mathematical mutual exclusion may be inherent in the architecture of the internet – 0s and 1s – but by skewing the ratios we imagine and theorize, it is possible to rewrite subjective, corporeal human experience into the codes within which we exist. Experience is not math. The human body is not symmetrical

Organized by Evlia Wilk
Session 1 : Opacity

Participants include Olia Lialina, Beny Wagner, Asli Serbest & Mona Mahall (m-a-u-s-e-r) and Ben Vickers.

This dicussion coincides with a solo exhibition by Beny Wagner at Import Projects titled Invisible Measure, which explores how transparency has been historically used as a vehicle for ideological social reform. Through an investigation of the history of Plexiglas, the show questions the shift in the meaning of transparency once it was made shatterproof, exploring the implications of the term from its physical use in modern architecture to its semantic deployment by organizations such as Transparency International. Against this backdrop, the discussion will explore the implications of “material transparency.”

The contemporary image-based, corporate internet is an invisible architecture; a set of structures, infrastructures, measuring sytems, and algorithms whose barometer of optimum functionality is their very invisibility. While front-end interface design wants us to forget these mechanisms altogether – forgetting that we are users rather than equal partners in an experience – businesses and governments promote transparency between us and back-end systems as a political tool.

Yet transparency is not the merging of two spaces; it’s the persistence of a divider between them, a real, material separation between subject and object – only the separator itself is unseen. By creating the illusion of a transparent system, we make its mechanisms even more opaque. As Michael Connor writes in reference to Hito Steyerl’s recent video How Not to be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File: “Are the negative effects of anonymity/invisibility (lack of privacy, lack of agency) counterbalanced by the possibility that the internet could make visible those politically invisible millions?”

There are various ways to become invisible: one is to become transparent; another is to put up an opaque shield. The question is whether or not we can selectively control these devices. A transparent dividing line sets up a 1 : 1 ratio between what is on either side of the glass – the seer and the seen. This is the supposition of an equal power relationship on both sides. Yet more often than not, the glass is mirrored on one side.