Ground Environment Déjà Vu

[Image: From the talk by Zebra Imaging at Studio-X NYC; photos by BLDGBLOG].

Last week at Studio-X NYC, we hosted Michael Klug of Zebra Imaging, whose 3D printable holographs I also had the pleasure of covering for the 2012 Year in Ideas issue of Wired UK.

The gist of Zebra’s work can be gleaned from that article, but a few things were mentioned at the event—including Klug’s reference to his company as engaging in a new form of “light control”—that seemed worth recounting here.

[Image: From the talk by Zebra Imaging at Studio-X NYC; photos by BLDGBLOG].

In the second half of his talk, after presenting the difficult physiology of vision and the workings of the human eye, Klug described the cartographic applications of his firm’s work. He showed several examples of streetscapes and building interiors that had been mapped via laser scanners and turned into—that is, printed as—3D holographs. Here, Klug used a military phrase—the Common Operating Picture (or Common Operational Picture)—as he showed us rendered slides of small combat teams attempting to understand an unfamiliar urban environment by way of detailed holographic prints. So this brings me to two points I want to mention:

1) At one point, Klug showed how a complete interior map of a laser-tag facility had been extracted from the movements of a SWAT team sent inside, in a kind of gonzo mapping exercise, to explore the building’s layout. Their movements through space, and the equipment they wore, generated the data for the map. Specifically, if I remember this correctly, sensors mounted with the SWAT team’s gear allowed a complete 3D representation to be created, producing manipulable point clouds of spatial data. The slide, I believe, was labeled “SWAT Team Wayfinding.”

While this, in and of itself, is not technically mind-blowing, the strategy of sending small teams of expeditionary soldiers out into unknown cities and neighborhoods in order to map, from the ground up, any and all routes, anomalies, events, and short-cuts, seems to promise a kind of militarization of psychogeography, as if the Situationist project has been taken up, albeit from an unexpected direction, by ground armies around the world.

[Image: From the talk by Zebra Imaging at Studio-X NYC; photos by BLDGBLOG].

If, as Eyal Weizman has explored, philosophers such as Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari have seen their work instrumentalized and turned into tactical diagrams for military strike teams, then we might also look at SWAT teams wandering through laser-tag facilities in the name of 3D cartography as a strange new, technically advanced chapter in Situationist practice—what McKenzie Wark, in his recent book The Beach Beneath the Street, calls a “calculated drifting” through urban space. Situationism means, Wark writes, “not only understanding but living the city otherwise.” The military holograph thus becomes a strange new site where these tendencies (ironically) converge. (Wark will also be speaking at Studio-X NYC this spring, on the evening of Tuesday, April 3).

2) In what was meant as more of an aside, Klug nonetheless said an extraordinary thing: that he and his colleagues have begun joking about what they call “ground environment déjà vu.” This remarkable phrase refers to the feeling that one has already experienced a 3D ground environment—an entire landscape, not just visually but immersively—due to prior exposure via holographs.

On several occasions, it seems, having recently printed holographs of a certain environment, the users of these holographs will experience a new kind of spatial familiarity with what would otherwise be a new location; they are able to know, for instance, accurately and in advance, what will be found around corners, where objects are located in relation to others, and even how far apart things are placed.

[Image: From the talk by Zebra Imaging at Studio-X NYC; photos by BLDGBLOG].

Again, in and of itself, this presents a scenario not hugely different from the assumed familiarity one might develop while looking at photographs of an unfamiliar location, then traveling to that location only to find it strangely recognizable, as if you have spent time there before.

But I’m captivated by the suggestion that new representational technologies—new ways of documenting and sharing spatial information—might come with their own cognitive implications: new memory disorders, new anxieties, new sources of identification or confusion. Put another way, what spatial or topographic disorders already exist—such as vertigo—and do certain representational technologies (like 3D film or even Google Street View) augment these disorders or keep them at bay? To use a somewhat absurd example, simply for the point of illustration, could something like 3D film be used someday as a kind of non-chemical cure for acrophobia? You’re prescribed a certain time of exposure.

Or, more to the point, will we see, in a world where holographic maps are found everyday—in guide books, on walls of subways—a new social concern with “ground environment déjà vu,” an uncanny spatial memory disorder that strikes whenever you encounter the emerging urban phenomenon of the familiar/unfamiliar location?

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