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Towards Technosophy

Improbable landscapes as future placemaking strategies. In: Towards Technosophy (2022)

Ruxandra Lupu and Yuval Levi

The context

In Into the Universe of Technical Images (1985), Flusser defines the value of a techno-image in terms of the amount of new information1) it conveys. This mode of analysis seeks to establish the complexity of messages by how much new information and redundancy they contain. This is how by means of algorithms, computer images of a four-dimensional cube appear as new and surprising visual constructs. These are not representations, but visualisations of calculations. In fact, for Flusser, “the mathesis of the emerging universe is the calculus of probability”2) , which means that the more improbable new images are, the more informative they become.

We3) took Flusser’s maxim – “the more improbable, the more informative”4 - to guide us through the creation of improbable landscapes, i.e. creating new information starting with the known in human apprehension of their surroundings. We were driven and inspired by our stay in Robion during the Flusser seminar in May 2022, where we started to think further about what places mean to us and how we experience them. Our audio-visual experiment that tapped deeper into the mediated experience of our surroundings (via our phones), derived from an initial reflection: the fact that we felt differently about Robion, ranging from sensations of familiarity and connection to feelings of estrangement and alienation. The reasons for which the owner of Flusser’s house felt attuned to the place are self-evident: having lived in the area for the most of her life, the owner ‘belonged’ to that place.

Although visiting Robion for the first time, the second participant in the experiment felt at ease in the place because of various reasons. In the following, she gives an account of her own sensations and feelings of the

I was looking forward to coming to Robion. I had been to Southern France before and was enchanted by the atmosphere of small villages, the landscapes, and the people. Nevertheless, I had never seen Robion before and I wanted to compare it to the rest. The small size of the place enabled me to easily find a relationship to the local context, the architecture reminded me of the Mediterranean structure that I was used to seeing in the small town where I was living in Sicily. As well as the hosts of the small B&B where I stayed made me feel as if I was integrated in the everyday life of Robion. They invited me to chat with them and their friends and even took me by car to another town to show me around. All this made a specific impression on me. I was also inspired to find small streets in Robion where nature flourished in the form of gardens or small patches of greenery and immerse myself into drawing the surroundings. This open dialogue with space, rendered Robion for me a more-than-human, co-habitable place, rather than a functional social and architectural construct with a clearly-defined purpose.

Also, the third participant, who was for the first time in Robion, offered a personal account of his encounter with the village:

Before participating in the Vilém Flusser summer school, I did not know Robion, have in fact never visited southern France before. I had no mental image of the town, no “idea“ what it might be like – except for a vague image of “Provence“ based on pictures from magazines, films, paintings, etc.: sunshine, blue sky, little pretty villages, vineyards,…
Arriving via the main D2 road that traverses modern Robion it appeared to be one of the small towns structured along the main road, without any unique urban or architectonic features. Only later my impression of the town was somewhat changed by the sight of the Luberon mountain, Robion clustered at its foot – adding a vertical dimension to what I perceived as a monotonous “flatness“.

Walking up a street leading to the old center of the village, Robion seemed in a way familiar to me, similar to other little towns in Europe I have been to with medieval nucleus, pittoresque streets, a main square… some “postcard“ vernacular architecture of a kind I have seen before-nothing makes it “unique“ for me. I felt like I couldn’t relate to Robion, nothing caught my eye, except maybe the romanesque church in the middle of the empty town square that has apparently become a part of the parking area, the cars parking right next to the walls and supporting arches.
These first impressions motivated me to challenge my perception of the town that felt in Flusser`s sense, programmed by the touristic way of photographing corresponding with the urban structure of the old part of Robion and with its pittoresque facades and views. I felt as if I was captured by this urban dispositive and the way I was supposed to look and move through the historic streets.

This meant that participants were seeking different things in the landscape. Could these things have any value for collective thinking about places and if so, could they make these spaces more co-habitable, rather than inhabitable? This pushed us to reflect on the sort of new information that a technically mediated vision of landscapes can reveal and the value it can hold for future placemaking strategies - both from an architectural and a social perspective.

The Experiment

The experiment consisted in exploring a specific path in Robion that connects Flusser ‘s house with the heart of Robion, La place de la Poste, using the phone camera as a perceptual instrument, moving it around loosely, twisting and turning it, carrying it around like an extension of the body and mind. This amateur approach to recording images enabled the 3 participants in the experiment to interact in an instinctual and spontaneous manner with their surroundings. In total, three participants engaged with the place in this manner – the two authors of the experiment, both visiting Robion for the first time, and a third local participant, currently the owner of Flusser’s house in Robion.

The authors had different feelings for the city. For one participant, the place felt alienating, for the other, instead, it felt welcoming, while the local person was deeply enmeshed and connected with the place. This triple perspective created an interesting combination of viewpoints: one characterised by the unfamiliar, perceiving the surroundings with different degrees of openness, and the other dominated by the habit of being used to seeing these places every day. The owner of Flusser’s house had a very precise and focused approach to filming the area, using delicate movements and stopping at times to zoom into details. The second participant who felt in tune with the place used a vertical recording modality, which limited the wide angle on the landscape. The verticality can be interpreted as a disregarding of cinematic standards, but also in metaphorical terms as a rooting into place. The movement of the camera was much faster than that of the first participant, indicating a perceptual curiosity and openness to different multisensorial stimuli. To this was added a quick rotation of the camera, which often produced a sense of loss of visual balance and equilibrium.

The third participant tried to avoid his pre-programmed perception, changing the focus of the camera to disrupt the touristic gaze and shake his own perception and the town. “Playing against or with the apparatus” - responding to Flusser’s instructions on how to gain freedom - he tilted the camera horizontally and vertically, switched from macro to micro perspectives, used panoramic views and close details, tried to switch in between and “invade“ private and public spaces, to mix “artificial“ objects and “nature“ and to play with the reflections on surfaces like car windows as a kind of mirror of his own gesture of filming, attempting to disrupt his “programmed“ perspective, and in order to rediscover the complexity of the town and its different views and layers of meaning.

Using editing software, we brought these 3 visions into dialogue with each other, intersecting perspectives and creating a sort of improbable landscape. From these newly-formed landscapes, where spatial orientation is lost and shapes intersect and merge into patches of colour and movement, a new ordering system of information emerges. This is governed by a new language that does not belong to a personal mode of reading, but rather to a collective one.


The following is a discursive analysis of our audio-visual experiment that can be accessed at the following link:

In our experiment, we tapped into the apparent intangibility of digital production of images through a process of forensic investigation, where the method is based on playing with the software generating of the technical image (i.e. its code). For Flusser, understanding the code of the apparatus is essential in creating alternative aesthetics that allows us to visualise information. In this experiment, we used the language of the editing software to support the investigation of that part of the technical image that is invisible to the human sensorium. Following Flusser’s idea that the apparatus can exceed what human beings are able to perceive through their senses, this experiment tapped into the potential of the mass of whirling particles (pixels) to form new visually sensible spaces that present us with more than a representation of our surroundings. This potential was brought to light through editing. Using editing software, we overlapped the 3 videos and applied the ‘difference’ blending modality, which is one of the 27 blending options provided in Final Cut software. This choice was determined by the search for that degree of (mathematical) freedom in the technical image where that which escapes visibility can emerge. Using this method of techno-imagination, the blending process involved subtracting the bottom layer’s custom values (insider perspective) from the top layer’s custom values (outsider perspective), in order to achieve a net positive value (i.e. a perspective liberated from habit). In the last step, we watched the entire edited piece and stopped the video at specific moments (5 in total) that we found ‘revealing’, as they presented us with unexpected effects, improbable landscapes. We then increased the duration of the specific frames that captured our attention, to offer viewers the necessary time to make sense of these images.

1. Contained containers

We selected this first image because of the way in which it reversed hierarchical order. The natural (plants) and human (garden as a human construct) are not clearly distinguishable anymore, to the degree that the container (garden/human construct) becomes the contained.

2. Gateway

We chose the second image for its initiatic symbolism: the gate not as a boundary between the here and there, but as a structural part of the surrounding.

3. Naturally artificial

The third image is interesting for its capacity to reveal human-nature constructs. The electrical cables pierce through the landscape, as if trying to connect the natural (bush of leaves on the right-hand side of the image) to something else, which remains invisible.

4. Outgrowing binaries

The fourth image selected manages to deconstruct the human-nature duality through a very interesting transition between the natural and man-made shapes.

5. Alchemy

We see this last image as a sort of alchemic gesture, where out of the three different perspectives, something new emerges. This new element represents an opening towards a different world, organised according to a (technical) code that we cannot yet read.

Adopting the technical code as a language for writing (conceiving) images favoured a rupture with the descriptive reality of the place, leaving room for unexpected landscapes to emerge. According to Flusser, technical images are fundamentally different from traditional images (drawing, painting) insofar as their meaning cannot be controlled and channelled through writing like in the case of traditional images. This is because technical images potentially store more information than linear, alphanumeric text. This excess of information is presented in the 5 selected images that emerged through a self-referential coding process: it is not by translating the image into another language, but by using the code of the technical image itself to re-write the image, visualising that information. Such an aesthetic apparatus does not help the user to orient themselves in the world anymore but is oriented by something else, creating a context for reformulating film’s capacity of representation.

The future

What potential for placemaking do these improbable landscapes hold? Although these processes allow us to experiment with new ways of defining and valuing the way human beings make and share the meaning of places, the realisation of the previously abstract possibilities is difficult. We need a new imagination, one that not only works through the calculative abstraction of the apparatus, but through “an open dialogue with the whole of humanity in search of a truly intersubjective knowledge, and thereby methods to live fully.”4) How should this new imagination5) operate then?
To answer this question, we return to Flusser, more precisely to his essay Into the Universe of Technical Images. Towards the end of the essay, he tries to envision a world where images (i.e. not only visual images but also musical and tactile constructs) are used creatively, in dialogue. In doing so, he generates a rather extravagant vision of what this might look like: musical improvisation in multiple dimensions, sensitive to harmonies and dissonance, to the strengths and weaknesses of players, culminating in the suspension of self-awareness. A parallel vision to the one presented by Flusser and related to placemaking might include: people using telematic prosthetics to record their surroundings, projecting these images in real-time upon surrounding architectural elements, culminating into ever-expanding, self-renewing, and self-referential surfaces. This vision generates new information by recombining already existing information and opens up the possibility of moving towards a dialogue with places and the promise of a co-habitable future.

For Flusser information is the bringing of order in a chaotic world. Nevertheless, the process of ordering (into shapes, images) is not a sufficient condition. As a result, information needs to be generated by means of a code (e.g. information is encoded in an image). Images and shapes are thus encoded and can be decoded by those people who own the code. New information is thus the result of writing new codes. They have at their root new ways of thinking that are able to come up with a different ordering system.
Vilém Flusser, “Ins Universum der technischen Bilder” in Kommunikation zwischen Spannung, Konflikt and Harmonie, eds. Ulrich Lohmar & Peter Lichtenberg (Bonn: Stiftung fur Kommunikationsforschung, 1991), 18 & 39.
“We” refers to the two authors of the experiment, Ruxandra Lupu and Yuval Levi
Vilém Flusser, “What One Can Wish For” in Forum zur Genealogie des Median Denkens, vol. 2, eds. D. Irrgang, K.D. Haensch & I. Neick (Berlin: UdK-Verlag, 2014), 180.
Flusser’s conceptualisation of imagination shifts throughout his thinking, passing from the term techno-imagination to new imagination (German: Einbildungskraft), where he demarcates it etymologically from the traditional sense.
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