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Virtual Worlds Apart

Our field of vision has a projection screen for its horizon. Its perspective makes it preferable for most things to be presented cinematically. The running film has been prerecorded to impart an unmediated appearance. There are a few glitches of encounters frozen in time but when socializing in virtual meeting rooms, avatars run into each other and converse in a respite from the multi-video-conference screen awaiting response. Luckily, another tab on the virtual reality browser displays a page from “Ways of Enlichenment”, Trevor Goward’s and Jason Hollinger’s website, framing an altogether different grid, a table of thumbnails that link to the profusion of their extensive photo gallery, documenting the mycelial vicissitude of countless specific settings.

A grid is a contextless habitat. An effort at containment. If self-effacing, easily reproducible and if camouflaged, persisting in variation. A collapsible homemaking device, devoid of context in order to encompass any. A fishing avatar reels in a catch out of its live context and into the antiseptic net of a disincarnate harness. A live fish cannot swim through its rows of abscissas and ordinates. Nor when the grid turns into the hologram of a braided basket and the fish twitches into a dead and collectible commodity. The grid is a giant cropping device that acts locally, with individual pincers that pigeonhole each ambiency - to extend the environmental component of agency - into a multi-screened net, apparently animated but molecularly dead.

By contrast, the sheer diversity of lichens and their ever-varied formations is a living testimony to the multifarious abundance of life. Between what we distinguish as dead or alive, they pervade the threshold that links the mineral to the organic, quiet reminders of their immemorial continuity, obfuscated by our arbitrary divisions and pecking orders. Their anonymous authorship is ratified by the fact that thousands of species do not have scientific names because they do not fit our criteria of identifiable classification. An effervescence of shapes and colors, an ebullition of boundless formation and inexhaustible mix of fermenting variation. Think of them as such a fizzy froth, overflowing the cup of creation.

As reality becomes a matter of pixel density, nano aps construct a Metaverse in which alter-egos are frenetically developed and launched. Currently in high resolution 8K, stereoscopic 360-degree 3D with ambisonic spatial audio, the surrogates are able to develop relationships over time, in hubs touting to host the next level of events, the petri-dish venues in guise of environments for budding meta-organisms. Unlikely to ever run out of virtual real estate, there seems to be no end to the possibilities of “interior” design, for even the experience of the outdoors has become labyrinthine and open environments are only the fancy skins modding a maze of algorithms. Still the vicarious milieus promote conviviality if not outright distraction but sometimes, more than the fancy settings and decorations, what holds most fascination is the random peripheral activity perceived through the simulated windows and doors, keeping the comforting promise of an ambient reality unfurling somewhere, out there.

The duality of organism and environment is exceeded by lichens who do not observe that boundary. But it is fundamental to humans, alterity misunderstood as the relation of self and other, when this other is the plane of possibility that sustains their interaction. Thus, the malediction that befalls individuals comes from making kin their polar other, when it is the very factor that determines their repartition, the meeting ground of multitudes that could not come in contact otherwise. The medium of exchange is the other pole of the most fundamental duality proper to an object, misguidedly deemed apolitical because non-dialectic and a-subjective, occasionalist ether or will of god, catastrophic nature or common threaded ground, it is the duality that invalidates all oppositional dichotomies. Politics in this respect, neither private nor public, loses its dialectic grip and becomes a matter of sustaining a horizon loyal to multiple perspectives, an environment produced by organisms that continue to differentiate themselves through it.

TopoFilia, a new immersive game across VR platforms matches topographic milieus to a user’s mood from data it gathers through the metering of brain waves, via the responses of the pupil to subliminal stimulus. Like a matryoshka doll or multilayered onion, it converges contexts from the peripheral outer ring of a portentous macrocosm, through a succession of “worldings” that ultimately roost into a pre-natal cocoon. While striving to fulfill one’s utmost desires, a contingency code maintains the element of surprise with just enough of the unexpected as not to cause a paradigm change. For those willing to go that route, an expansion pack with transversal individuating options will soon be available. Targeted for those who are “fiercely loyal to place”, TopoFilia hopes to alleviate some of that homesick blues.

It is not surprising to feel intimate towards mycelial networks, even within arid city walls because unlike all the other simulations that keep us connected to a world, we are actually it in some form, albeit in a diminished capacity and like a droopy plant that revives after a little watering, we snap back when transposed to a setting that leaves mycorrhizal sprawls unfettered. This is not a representation or metaphor but quite a literal occurrence, as a few days without bathing is enough to palpably sense the growing presence of fungus in our bodies. Rock tripe of the genus Umbilicaria is as the name suggests, intimately related to mineral life and stitched to it with mycelial filaments. Stone Ear, its literal name in Japanese, is highly susceptible to pollution and only grows in the purest of atmospheres. This mineral to organic link is the first to appear on post-glacial rock, and like the moss that covers cemetery stones, will in all likelihood overgrow any grid’s final permutations. Fungus is indifferent to a human teleology that chops down a tree to make its coffin. A biodegradable one by the name of ‘Living Cocoon’ has recently been developed by a Dutch startup and is made of mycelial fibers that facilitate the body’s decomposition and its passage to soil nutrients. “From landfill to forest”, begging the question “Are you waste or compost?”, Loop’s mission is to transform “dead organic matter and pollutants into key nutrients for new seedings”. This resourceful answer to human teleology is also a reminder of its birth from a mycelial mesh that is no less than the cradle, maker and tomb of civilization.

Whereas an entire world is printed along X, Y and Z coordinates, time and space have already fled the scene. Because rather than subsisting as bounding containers, warp and curvature coefficients are secreted by the object themselves as they create the time and space of their interaction. An instance of the rule changing with the game, of the absolute at the hinges of double relativity. The arbitrary structure of the Vitruvian atomization of the Cartesian grid comes into evidence in contrast to networks of irreducible nodes, joined by links and clustering in hubs. With the prodigious capacity of scale-free networks to simultaneously maintain complexity and proximity, each node is only a few links away from another node, no matter their number and relational density. Such a mesh is at work in the mycelial biomass that envelops the globe, through which the genius locus of spatiotemporal contiguity unfurls milieus that are no less site specific for being decentered. Simultaneously but in contradiction, a superimposed regime crops local intensities into a cognitive average that comes back to frame each and every cell, now only free to stretch within those universally bound parameters. At regular intervals, to draw energy and reinstate integrity, the grid pixelates into a stalwart tree of life. The organizing metaphor naturalized into an arboreal manifestation, then avidly draws nutrients from an undergrowth compost of its own mirrored distortions. Roots meld with branches in a 360-degree panorama that edits out its point of entry into a seamless capture. A simulated rhizome thus spreads as its subsoil below a threshold from which it detaches itself by way of a transcendental trunk. Hidden from view like a secret control tower but sometimes showily reconstructed as the giant shaft of Yggdrasil, the all-mighty and sacred tree of Norse cosmology, around which worlds orbit in quasi equanimity, saving humanity with the unsung possibilities of eco-reconstructive engineering.

In micro-biology as in quantum physics, static containment models have dissolved to make room for confluent and mutualistic assessments of being in the world. This quickening is happily expressed by the literary efforts of scientists, reaffirmed by artists taking interest in the paradigm-changing discoveries of the natural sciences. Pressing concerns over the environment which has lost its ready-to-handness because of misuse, prompt the question of its constituency and relation in regard to the organisms it subtends, which in fact can no longer be thought of as autonomous agents presented on a static tray. The atmosphere is not so much the envelope of the biosphere as its own emission. What an organism comes to face is the product of its ancestrality, a living continuum to which it must also surrender. A mutual overlap of container and contained since they can only be thought of in terms of each other, thereby abolishing their duality. The reversibility between subject and space, the environment and the living imparts a general immersion in a simultaneity of separateness and confluence, climate controlled since, as stated in the end user agreement furtively dismissed, laws have no universality outside the protectorate of its practitioners. Just like mitochondria that entered Eukarya and never left, virtuality is here to fill every cell with immersive and emergent aquatic metaphors.

Notes

“TopoFilia” is entirely fictional whereas “Loop” is an actual company in the Netherlands producing and marketing the “Living Cocoon”. url: loop-of-life.com

Trevor Goward’s and Jason Hollinger’s website at: www.waysofenlichenment.net is a resource for lateral thinking and inspires much of this text. Twelve readings on the lichen thallus is a series of essays by Trevor Goward. His humorous example of Wittgenstein’s duck-rabbit drawing (Essay I; Face in the mirror) illustrates well the human difficulty of entertaining two perspectives simultaneously, in contrast to lichen’s “unsettling capacity for transmutation even at the slightest shift in perspective” which he exemplifies with an unexhausted list that includes “lichen as controlled parasitism, lichen as mutualism, lichen as fungal architecture, …,lichen as culture chamber, lichen as symbiotic phenotype, lichen as organism, lichen as ecosystem, lichen as emergent property.” In Essay VIII, Theoretical, writing about networks of nodes and links he states that “…scale-free topology is, in effect, a byproduct of the underlying order of things; that it presses up hard against the basic organizing tendencies of the universe itself; and that it is less likely to be a consequence of evolutionary process than a precondition for it.” Adding “What’s hardest to grasp …is that this scale-free network, this multi-dimensional system of system of systems, is fully interlinked. Every node within it is capable, almost instantaneously, of communicating with every other node….”

Deleuze echoes Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World when he exclaims that Control Societies will no longer operate in zones of confinement or modes of incarceration, subjecting instead decentered and rhizomatic notions such as Manuel DeLanda’s Emergence and the “everything is in everything” doctrine of Emanuele Coccia’s Immersion to a Debordian inversion. (Last paragraph)

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