Recombinant Images in Los Angeles

The Collapse of Experience

The historical precedent for recombinance is found in the twentieth century avant-garde. For the avant-garde, the metropolis served as the raw material and specific site where instantaneous and radiating events set up the possibility for a new experiential field. The metropolis seen as total theater, simultaneously violent and poetic, gave both the idea of the hybrid man-machine, which played the dual role of the city’s constructor and slave.

A heuristic logic evolved out of this new amplified urbanism in response to the ever increasing fragmentation and de-centering of culture and the concurrent loss in axiomatic meaning. The avant-garde’s development of the collage and the superimposed image, ostensibly meant to reintegrate art back into the praxis of life, became the method of exposing and ultimately proposing the emerging new world. An additional item on the agenda of the avant-garde was the desire to deprecate the institution of art itself and to remove the artist from the production-consumption cycle in an attempt to free him/her from the bondage of the self-referential status of art in bourgeois society.

Moholy-Nagy’s first and most important film script, Dynamic of the Metropolis, written in the early nineteen-twenties and first published in MA in 1924, became a pivotal piece in his attempt to unite all the avant-garde tendencies into a total Gesamtskunstwerk. The film script itself includes a variety of images depicting the life of the metropolis: industrial installations, highways, and various diagrams exhibiting movement, direction and modulation. There images are placed together with a text to form Typophotos that are structurally reminiscent of Dada poetry:

Building construction with an iron crane
Use of special trick effects-line drawings-melting
slowly into the filming of nature.
Crane for construction:
shot from below
from above
elevator for bricks
revolving crane

As it stands in its final configuration, a film script such as this one is very closely related to photomontage, as both images from different periods of time and verbal descriptions of disparate events are collaged into a unity in which everything is presented simultaneously rather than chronologically.

Recombinant Images

The camera as a machine-eye registers a series of images. the scramble syntax implied by these images radically breaks the normative praxis of linear single image cognition. The screen space of the recombinant image acts as a collector and homogenizer of all events, allowing for the coexistence of the possible with the impossible. These images embrace chance and the found object for their absolute aesthetic absenteeism, but more importantly their purpose is to unveil the metropolis in a complex and simultaneous manner proper to its character. From the production-aesthetic point of view they depend on the superimposition of found urban artifacts pulled from their functional context and treated as ‘fragment’ and empty sign. As analogical constructs they posit a virtually collapsed space-time synonym, a real scene, a synopsis of actions, produced by originally unrelated space and time elements with demand recognition. Ultimately they are quite unstable images.

Duchamp’s coinage of the term inframince, the combination of two french words, the prefix “infra” (under) and an adjective “mince” (thin), in English becomes infrathin. For Duchamp the meaning of the word “thin” is stretched to accommodate a multitude of spatial, erotic and metaphysical phenomena. In his own words describing “The Large Glass”: “Painting on glass seen from the unpainted side gives an infrathin.” We can assume that infrathin means not only physical thinness, but signifies a plane of interference and or simultaneity in communication(s) where phenomena are subjected to various recombinant forces.

Kind of a Sub-Title
Delay in Glass instead of “picture” or
“painting”; “picture on glass” becomes
“delay in glass”-but “delay in
glass”-does not mean “picture
on Glass”

The superimposed layers of the recombinant image share the similar thinness of Duchamp’s infrathin. These layers exist in a collapsed (discontinuous) space and time, that unstable plane where disparate elements are forced to coexist. Phenomenally, this collapse results in the compression of experience; experience that has been erased in the final image except for its traced memory, understood as that which is the in-between the between.

Karlheinz Stockhausen’s musique concrète opus, Hymnen composed in 1966 at the WDR Studio for Electronic Music, incorporates the phonic ‘ready-made’. As with Duchamp, Stockhausen depends on the latent meaning of the found object and its reuse in a new context to posit new meaning. Stockhausen divides Hymnen into four separate pieces. Each of the four center around a specific set of national anthems and each is dedicated to a specific musician (Boulez, Pousseur, Cage and Berio). In addition to national anthems, further found sounds, such as recordings of public events, recorded conversations, sounds from short-wave radios, demonstrations, the christening of a ship, a Chinese store and a diplomatic reception have been used. Restructured and modulated by electronics, sound or ‘noise’ in the most basic sense now become the basic raw material for the piece itself.

When one integrates known music with unknown, new music in a composition, one can hear especially well how it was integrated: untransformed, more o less transformed, transposed, modulated, etc. The more self-evident the WHAT, the more attentive the listener becomes to the HOW.

Hide what you compose in what you hear
Cover what you hear.
Place something next to what you hear.
Place something far away from what you hear.
Support what you hear.
Continue for a long time an event you hear.
Transform an event until it becomes unrecognizable.
Transform an event that you hear into the one you composed last.
Compose what you expect to come next.
Compose often, but also listen for long periods to what is already
composed without composing.
Mix all of these instructions.

Ron Golan
Eric A. Kahn
Russell N. Thomsen

About Russell Thomsen

A founding partner in the award winning Central Office of Architecture (COA, 1987-2008) and IDEA Office (2009-2014), Russell Thomsen formed RNThomsen Architecture in 2015. He has been a licensed architect since 1989. The office provides a full range of architectural services. In addition to directing the practice, Russell is also a senior design studio faculty member at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) in downtown Los Angeles. The work of the office has been internationally recognized, exhibited and published. The office has received several awards including the Architectural League Prize and Emerging Voices, both from the Architectural League of New York, and the Best In American Architecture Award for the Saitama Residence.