Cloud archeology is, in Frederic Jameson's terms, archeology of the future, or science fiction. In the framework of this semantic oxymoron, the archeologist of the future becomes a decipherer of enigmatic objects, or researcher of post-apocalyptic extinct culture. In his novel Snowcrash − computer lingo for system crash, wherein the perfect pixel grid is fragmented in such a way that it turns into a twirling blizzard — Neal Stephenson describes information as precious commodity not because of its scarcity, but because of its overflow which makes its sifting ever so harder, complicated and dangerous. The future archeologist will have to replace his or her traditional search for concrete artifacts with extracting virtual details that were scrambled by snowcrashes or were buried intentionally by interested parties.
In the time span between the digital and the mechanical, the visible and the invisible, between the anachronistic and the relevant, the real and the virtual, Inga Fonar Cocos constructs an archive comprised of relics of material modes of knowledge representation. The book, the disc, the vinyl record, the map are among the "archeological findings" presented in the exhibition. Their instrumental nature of these exhibits as conduits of information, knowledge and memory and, simultaneously, as fragments representing archaic technologies highlights the quandary about the not so far future, when information would be read in its digital format and its material source would become redundant.
"One question: If this is the Information Age, how come nobody knows anything?" wonders the caption of a New Yorker cartoon )April 20, 1998(. And on a more serious note, in his interpretation of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, media theorist Neil Postman observes that more than fearing those who would ban books, he dreaded that there would be no reason to ban them, for no one would want to read a book.
Leaving aside for a moment sentimental, romantic or fetishistic views of the role of books and the experience they provide, in the digital age of Big Data and growing technological availability of information, the progressively eroded status of books reduces them almost to an anachronistic rumor.
In his dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury portrays futuristic society fed on and drugged by unified and empty television contents. The novel's title refers to the temperature at which paper burns and by extension to book burning and ridding the world of all books, which by their complexity threaten the standardization of people's consciousness. For practical reasons, rather than the complete eradication of books, their burnings throughout history represented a cultural-political statement of totalitarian regimes and was also etched in the moral consciousness of the world as such. In contradistinction, it is doubtful whether a collapse of digital information systems would elicit similar public outrage, unless it would be accompanied by economic repercussions.
It is for this reason perhaps that the only readymade Fonar Cocos chose to present in the exhibition is a volume of the Hebrew Encyclopedia into which she had drilled a number of holes. The diameter of each hole is that of a small drinking glass, as though they were cupping glasses attempting in vain to revive the dead.
Drilling holes through the alphabetically layered entries of an encyclopedia simulates the act of archeological excavation. Encyclopedia, in and of itself, presupposes a principle of compilation and structuring of layers of information akin to the stratigraphic principle according to which man-made relics that had piled up on top of each other in an archeological site allow for their periodization and classification and the build up of a chronological body of knowledge.
Destruction serves well the archeologist; human devastation left by natural disasters, wars and conquest facilitate the absolute dating, classification and sorting of material findings. In the age of digital reproduction when books and documents are increasingly digitized and stored in a cloud in order to save on storage space, it seems unlikely that in the wake of a crash or collapse of computer systems, we and the scientific world would be left with any meaningful archeological site.
The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more 'literary' you are. That's my definition, any way. Telling detail. Fresh detail. The good writers touch life often. ]…[ So now you understand why books are hated and feared? The shoe the pores in the face of life"
Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2013, p. 79
Fonar Cocos used graphite to "burn" on a sheet of paper drawing of a huge disc, the diameter of which corresponds to her arm span, and entitled it "Digital Memory Map," as though we are dealing not only with data storage and backup device but also with a substitute for human memory. Having manually cut the paper into hundreds of identical strips similar to those created by mechanical paper shredder, she then reassembled them in a way resembling earthenware restoration.
In this work, therefore, she assumes three roles – that of a creator, that of a destroyer, and that of a restorer. Aware of the structurally predetermined failure of any attempt to restore a thing whose material traces were corrupted, she pieces together the fragments which become a sort of geometric, monochromatic, architectonic hybrid referencing Fritz Lang's dystopian, mechanical city of Metropolis. In terms of form and content, the constitution of class society in this futuristic, leviathanic city was made possible by the montage editing technique that was employed by the filmmaker to disrupt the flow of the plot. This disruption results in the breaking up of spatial and temporal continuity and allows for scenic rearrangement, or as Walter Benjamin puts it, a "reconfiguration," which exposes and emphasizes aspects of reality that are often overlooked by the human eye.
While it would seem that digitization condemned the printed book to a slow death, it would appear that the vinyl record was summarily executed. For this reason, perhaps, Fonar Cocos presents a "fossilized" record — plaster cast with disrupted stamp of a record. Nevertheless, recent consumer researches indicate a considerable rise in book and record sales; as for the latter, some even depict the trend as a renaissance, or at least a comeback. Just as eBooks have failed to quench the desire of many to hold in their hands an actual book and turn its leaves, to all appearances the CD has also failed in its attempt to provide us with listening experience similar to that offered by its predecessor. To be sure, the future of the analogue format is to a large degree contingent on economic-commercial-marketing interests of the music industry, and its partial return should not be interpreted too optimistically. The debate over digital versus analogue sound may go on forever. However since the beauty of sound is in the ear of the listener, the reports of its death may have been greatly exaggerated.
Albeit randomly homophonous and etymologically different, the two denotations of the Hebrew word mapa, tablecloth and map, share a common motif – that of covering. However, whereas the former indicates a functional-aesthetic usage, the latter suggests, by definition, a scientific, seemingly objective, perception expressed in mathematical precision of absolute value.
Seeing is Believing, one of Fonar Cocos maps made of wax, net and pins, succinctly thematizes the relationship between the visible and the invisible alluding to the dual way in which mapping on the one hand expands our knowledge about the world and on the other hand structures our conceptions of it. In the age of Big Data, almost every aspect of our lives – e.g. our physical space, the human body, mental and emotional processes, fields of knowledge – is reduced to a map transforming mapping and diagramming into indispensable means of abstraction. But it's a double edged sword, since, beside being universally accessible sources of useful information and offering the subject new possibilities to constitute his or her own physical space, they also veil the political- economic nexus between the control of mapping mechanisms and the control of knowledge resources. In this context, covering and concealing is already inherent in the very essence of the increasingly popular layered-reality technology that combines physical and virtual spaces. This technology not only enables one to add layers to and appropriate areas and spaces into the virtual space, but also legitimizes the user to delete flaws and by doing so to veil the ailments of actual reality.