“What if decay, dilapidation and other aspects of entropy were designed aspects of the human environment?”
This is the premise for the next Subtle Sci-fi, the next rule to play around with. It was something I thought would be fairly fun; to think of a company, perhaps, who had to build ‘beat’ environments. ‘Why?’ Well, the point of Subtle Sci-fi is to raise questions for the author to think about. Maybe the company design decay (etcetera) to make some places worse places to be in. This might sound odd, but they do this to enhance the value of luxury spaces. They are exaggerating the hierarchy of symbolic space. You know how it seems supermarkets make value brands intentionally crap, adding all kinds of stuff to some products that don’t seem necessary for economical production – something like that. But, in order to pursue this relatively ‘easy’ route, I found myself having to add additional provisos to the premise.
“Additional Remarks: Biological changes still take place so that all flora and fauna age and die. Large geological changes have taken place, tectonic plates have shifted and mountains have been wrought by moving ice and water. However, the world lacks surface patinas and changes due to ‘weathering’, sunlight, wind and humidity.”
I did this to limit myself to dealing with a world with smooth surfaces. I’d imagined it much like a computer game: clean, none changing, geometric. Maybe in this world there would be issues created by the fact that old products are as good as new etc. Then over the weekend I took a number of photographs of ‘entropy’ and realised that really my additional limitations had added a lot of complexity and my problems were just beginning.
The image above is taken of a façade of a derelict building near Broughton Road, Edinburgh. It looks like the kind of place that wouldn’t exist in the Subtle Sci-fi I was thinking about. Yet, when you look at a detail something else becomes apparent.
In this image you can see that something has been sprayed on the wall by a person. Then maybe an attempt has been made by another person to remove it. I’d not thought of limiting human action, yet quickly it seemed that not allowing ‘natural’ decay but allowing human action would present a real problem of distinction.
The image above shows layers of paint on a shop front, stripped back. There might be changes to colour due to sunlight, rain and wind, but effectively they are ‘man-made’ accretions. Most damage and marks to property are caused by the owners. True, conservators do have a legitimate job trying to guard against the deterioration of valuable objects, but it is a fact that the most peril an object faces is when it is being moved by people. Entropy and human action are completely intertwined. And of course this is because we are part of nature. I’ve not believed in the nature vs culture dichotomy for a long time – but with this premise I’ve essentially stumbled into a situation in which I’ll have to deal with it.
But then here’s another angle, a wee nudge in the dialectic. The image above shows the same ‘accretions’, only I’ve inadvertently included text here too. You might now argue that the text is ‘intended’ whereas the layered paint is not. Sure, someone ‘intended’ to strip the paint, but in terms of communication the sign has an ‘intended’ meaning but the ‘accretions’ just are what they are (the mirrored ‘shrine’ like objects are something I just cann’t explain).
Now, I have a lot to say about ‘intention’. But at this point in time I feel content using the term, it makes sense here. It helps me move a step forward with concept of the story. What I’m dealing with might not be a super-flat world (although I might simply create as a premise later: ‘the world is flat like a computer rendered simulation’) but rather one in which marks we usually consider ‘unconscious’, ‘random’, ‘happen-stance’ are made with ‘intention’. How do people deliberate over these markings? Would there be colleges teaching ‘entropic practice’? Ah… now we might have found another approach that could work. Didn’t dancer Merce Cunningham raise the question of when is a walk just a walk and when is a walk a dance? And we’re currently thinking along those lines.
I’ll finish here while my minds ticking – hope yours is too – and leave you with a few ‘accretions’ that seem like some kind of language. However, I think i’ll also have to go away now and read something like “The Concept of Nature” by Alfred North Whitehead to get some clarity on this. Keep it cooking and let me know if you’ve any thoughts on this challenging premise.