Picturing the Universe: On Scale, Calculation, and Composites
￼SAT, 22.10.16 | 1pm
The universe has always been mediated; it has always been an image, a virtual universe. How are images and conceptions of outer space transformed by the use of high-performance computers? What remains invisible? The presentation will trace technology’s determining influence on the image of the universe, its agency, and its creation of artifacts. The composite images of Charles and Ray Eames’s film Powers of Ten (1977), like current images of the universe, depict space without time. While Powers of Ten is informed by photography, today’s images of the universe require the pixels of digital sensors and high computer performance. Digital applications have normalized the manipulation and manipulability of data and enabled the handling of it in bulk.
Whereas Charles and Ray Eames organized the “world” in two dimensions, partitioned in structures and grids, Google Earth is based on networks and algorithms. Powers of Ten’s showstopper was its isomorphic depiction of celestial bodies in space and atoms within the human body. Within the universe, there’s once more a macro- and a microcosm. Powers of Ten depicts forty steps from 1024 to 10-16 meters. Amounts of data like “petabyte” and “exabyte” express powers of ten as well. And physicists can count backward until 10-43 seconds after the Big Bang. These are unimaginable magnitudes.