Geography Collapsing

It’s strange how things rise and sink in the internet. I first saw this many years ago, then lost it. Over the last few months it’s been cropping up all over the place.

It’s a map produced apparently by Paramount Studios in 1927 showing locations in California that could perform as the backdrop for much more exotic – and expensive -locations.

But there is a subtext to this map beyond the practicalities and financial restrictions of early movie making. It also talks about the way media transforms space: through representation and broadcast it reshapes geography. This is an idea I explored in an old essay Everything Counts: The Sound of Geography Collapsing. Its key argument concerns the relationship of the open plan to media: Mies and Marconi are cast as together as figures who are intrinsically linked. The traditional narrative of Architecture and industry is recast as architecture and communication. An excerpt:

A little after midday on 12 December 1901, three bursts of electromagnetic radiation travelled above the Atlantic ocean at 186,000 miles per second …beep beep beep, from Poldhu, in the South-western corner of England to Marconi’s cabin on top of a hill in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada. Three beeps that spelt ’s’ in Morse code. These beeps were radio transmissions connecting two geographically distant people who, just before lunch and breakfast respectively, experienced something unique. They heard the sound of geography collapsing. Marconi had delivered with an induction coil and a spark discharger an experience previously promised and faked by mystics and shaman. Three beeps in Marconis headset, louder than bombs.

While Marconis beeps sped across the Atlantic, proto-Modernists had their eye on the tail end of the industrial revolution. They were enamoured with the formal characteristics of new machines, vehicles, and industrial structures. These became the mainstays of the Modernist source book and part of the pseudo-functionalist quasi-logic of Modernist rhetoric. But it is possible that there was a subtext to Modernism which wasn’t part of this rhetoric. A subtext born of wireless communication. Something that reaches out to us across a century of exponential development of radio communications and broadcasting.

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