~e; EM snakes & crosses
brian carroll <email@example.com>
Sat, 5 Mar 2005 23:23:43 -0600
this is a post about an em artwork i made two
weekends ago, and i am going to describe it a
bit because i am myself trying to figure it out
within the larger symbolic context and have found
some interesting things i want to share, and also
it is fun to share ideas and works and i hope that
others who want to, please share their ideas too.
a long time ago i focused on the fact that the
electrical distribution was made of up of cross-
structures, called cross-arm distribution poles,
which vary from having one to several wooden arms
(such as the telegraph poles with many arms and
hundreds of wires besides railroad tracks, which
has become an icon of the railroad era). this in
itself probably did not register any great meaning
until looking into the streetlighting system, the
'modernization' of the electrical infrastructures
around the world with new standardized fixtures.
i forget where i have read about this project,
though i figure it is the reason why so many
countries share the same infrastructural design
and infrastructural aesthetics, such as with e-
poles, lighting, streetlighting, etc. it may be
tied into electrification during the 20th c. in
that countries chose which standards to develop,
including 50hz/60hz electrical grids, it seems.
in any case, there are similar streetlighting
systems in Baghdad, for instance, as in the .US,
and in Russia and Africa and South America, even
Antarctica remote camps have this same aesthetic,
and of the symbols, besides the wooden pole (with
or without cross-arm) is the gray metal luminaire
fixture, what is called in slang a 'cobra head'
streetlight fixture, made by American Electric
(exclusively, as far as I know, though maybe it
is copied as a generic design, surely this is a
lot of the reason the generics still carry some
of the meaning of the original). This meaning is
of a snake-head as a streetlight fixture, and it
often looks as if it plays the part, lunging out
from the poles by a tensile armature, a dynamic
form that completes a 'brazen serpent' icon in
the form of the basic electrical infrastructure.
in any case, there is some religious correspondence
to all of this, intended and overt, or subliminal.
so mediating this idea more than a decade ago, i
made a crucifixion sculpture of this idea, simply
of the cross-arm poles as a scene of crucifixion:
e-crucifixion-- electrical distribution pole
crucifixion scene. 2', metal, wood, and wire.
albeit too much for some people, the religious
iconography, this is a sort of litmus test (in
my experience) of how people judge things, as in
terms of the electrical grid, this is the simple
context in which the meaning of the design of the
components (cross and snake/pole and light) exists
within, the context it creates, whether privately
understood or in the secular realm it is a fact.
it is a fact that the cross form was used in the
crucifixion of people in ancient Rome, that cities
often had crucifixes outside, lining the roads to
a city (if remembering correctly, maybe even with
fields of crosses (ref: film, Jesus of Montreal)).
there are a lot of correspondences to be found in
the electrical grid, including anomalies such as
electrical 'crosses' are often absent in front of
churches, which is unique if considering then how
photographers (Walker Evans, Brad Brace, others)
connect the symbols by pattern matching crosses,
as was a recent example linked to on this list.
There is a language, a whole vocabulary of the
e-grid which is rich in such symbolism, and its
meaning is not entirely arbitrary. Poetry can
be found in the infrastructure, such as a wooden
pole that may be in the form of a Russian Orthodox
cross, for instance. Here's a graphic image:
the symbology of a cross-and-snake was largely left
alone because to this day earlier work has not yet
found relation and so going beyond it is difficult.
though one idea recently upon using clay was to do
something that cannot be done in words, and it was
very freeing to make a 'cross and snake' sculpture
to better clarify this idea that writing bogs down.
it says more than can be said in words, alone, imo.
it is believe, again, that this is not a religious
work but a public observation about the electrical
grid, its meaning, its normal state given inherent
and designed symbolism, and it is also world-wide
with greater or lesser meaning, also charged with
symbolism. it is not devoid of it even if without
a single author or a declaration of its meaning.
in this way it is culturally rich as architecture,
as it carries meaning in its built form, information
about the cultural order, economic, social, political.
that connection to Rome may not be lost to connections
with the classical orders which were a visual standard
in tying together various elements within a grid. it
is the same exact idea, millennia later, with the e-
grid and these poles, they are carrying cyberspace,
too. their detailing, like surveillance cameras,
lights, sensors, are like detailing on period-era
columns (ionic, corinthian) as are the cobra-head
streetlight fixtures. and it 'symbolizes' modernity,
no less, the (archaeological) connections of icons
as something shared, a common grid in the world.
maybe not 'meaning' but as a context, i would argue
yes, that it is an (technological/electromagnetic)
order that transcends traditional concepts of space,
time, place, and redefines them by recontextualizing
and placing things into one relation with eachother.
and that this basic fabric has been laid down over
the last century through electrification programs.
on the Design-List (version 2, now) which i admin-
ister, there was discussion about the 'early cross'
and i went to do research as in looking at the e-grid
and the snake-and-cross (parti) logic, it made a new
connection to earlier manifestations of the cross as
a built structure, e.g. what was the first cross, etc.
a few interesting things happened in conversing and
learning, one of which was a further connection to
other crosses (beyond western Christianity) and also
my earlier work in looking at the grid as a giant
tensile system of wires and poles, tied into early
boatmaking and boat masts, which also have crosses
and are approximately developing at the same time.
ideas flood my mind when looking into this type of
thing, such as then finding out what early boat
masts are like, with their sails, and then to now
make sculptures of these as distribution poles, as
another of the meanings or interpretations of the
structural yet also cultural system, to enlarge it
beyond one symbolism and into another of many. as
such, Phoenician and other early boat designs could
possibly inform 21st century electrical infrastructure
design by having poles in these forms, if the tensile
structures would work. Or for that matter, the work
of Claes Oldenburg could be borrowed with alphabets
and make Chinese Characters into E-pole designs,
among other things (such as geometrical shapes).
Something I am focused on doing with these ideas is
to make small scale sculptures of wooden masts with
rigging, looking at early boat designs, as proposals
for distribution poles and sculptures in themselves:
especially with the idea of middle-ages ships, with the
large agglomeration of sails, rigging, lines, to then
imagine a series of distribution poles based on this.
i have a few materials prepared to try this idea out.
with the major idea being a larger organization of
sails and masts and rigging in some composition, like:
still, in doing this research i came across a book
that still brings this evolution of the sailing ship
back into relation to 'the cross' as a religious symbol,
and that is also a reason for writing, as while it is
one of many meanings in the e-grid, it is also part of
the meaning of ship masts (in the west, at least) as
can be shown in the following two images from the book:
The Evolution of the Sailing Ship, 1250-1580. Greenhill.
the first woodcut is of a religious context of sailing
with some angel above and devil below, sailor in-between.
the second image, towards the end of the book, which is
full of normal sailing imagery, (masts.jpg above, etc.)
then continues this religious iconography of the mast
as a cross, as with the mast broken on a ship wrecked
vessel, the missing mast is replacing by a crucifixion...
i found these to be really powerful images in terms of
the aesthetics of tensile structures, the electrical
infrastructure referencing crosses and snakes, and a
relationship between sailing structures and tension-
structures used to moor-up the poles which hold up
all the navigators of cyberspace, including the ones
who guide the 'ship of state' which also tied into a
metaphorical story-line about these very same things.
in any case, i find it all curious, as the context is
one that is secular, yet too easily judged to be a
private agenda or contusion that anyone would want
to see crosses and snakes-- it is not an opinion,
it is a fact that this is the significant symbolic
meaning of the standard-issue electrical grid, as
it is designed. to ignore this, and many seem to
be able to relegate such ideas to 'religious art'
or ideas, and thus irrelevant, is to miss a larger
and more complex point about the context of today's
infrastructure, and the culture it is representing
in these built forms. it is meaning-rich, it is
malleable, yet there is still a lot to understand
and it can be fascinating to consider the meaning
of such things. or many meanings. yet to dismiss
this cross-and-snake symbolism are purely private
imaginings is to be too quick to judge something
that has developed over thousands of years as a
ubiquitous form. this information creates context
and an environment in which things are mediated,
and can be a new realm of interacting, such that
maybe 'public art' today could be having a mirror-
coated distribution pole on a line of regular poles,
or a fire-engine red e-pole as public art. it is a
whole language. and even for the religious aspects,
in the way that may be meaning-rich to symbolism
in this way, a work such as the following could
be reinterpreted beyond 'religious' context to
imagine those lines, and that pole/mast/cross,
may actually be the e-grid referenced, overtly,
or otherwise, for what it's worth. em art....
Judah Ivy - Reality
Picture of the spiritual reality that constantly surrounds us
* it should be noted that issues like these are
relevant when seeking to show such works in a
secular context, yet not have the ability as
basic facts about the grid do not yet exist, as
ideas can be believed acts of conviction alone.
* further along this same thinking gets to the
metal transmission towers and their aesthetics
being found in larger vessels, such as aircraft
and battleships which have these types of masts
for radar and weaponry. it's ceaselessly amazing
this EM aesthetic material/structural continuum.
comments, critiques, criticism welcome.
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