With technologies like the Oculus Rift promising to make VR an affordable part of the consumer electronics landscape, it is more important than ever that we carefully examine the relationships between ourselves, our bodies and the increasingly virtual nature of the spaces we inhabit. Hector Llanquin’s works are oddly nostalgic in some respects, recalling the excitement and almost mystical fervour which early advances in 3D modelling technology engendered in the early ‘90s. Now that 3D graphics are so advanced, and 3D environments are generated in an almost disposable fashion for the games industry, it is hard to remember how novel the very idea of a computer-generated environment was in the early days of the technology, when a game like Myst could use still images of 3D environments as the centrepiece of its design. Llanquin’s works, such as The Neural Plasticity Webring (2014), bring to mind Henri Lefebvre’s description of “social space” as a space which “contains potentialities – of worlds and of reappropriation – existing to begin with in the artistic sphere but responding above all to the demands of a body ‘transported’ outside itself in space, a body which by putting up resistance inaugurates the project of a different space (either the space of a counter-culture, or a counter-space in the sense of an initially utopian alternative to actually existing ‘real’ space).” (Lefebvre 1992, 349)
For all of the public discourse devoted to dissecting the idea of “social media,” the idea of a “social space” in an online context, where the experiences of the “transported” body might actually be taking place, remains a relatively unexplored territory. A space which is “social” in this respect might be one where people interact with each other (in the sense of a multiplayer game, or other less structured multi-user experience like Second Life) but it might also be construed as a space which in some way reflects the social apparatus which surrounds and constructs it – in Lefebvre, “social space” always works to encode information about culture. The Mineneral Plasticity Webring sets up a kind of “social” dynamic, in the Lefebvrean sense, within itself. As a linked series of works, the webring suggests a dialogic connection between its elements, as well as with the viewer, whose consumption of the work takes the form of an inspection or browsing, each iteration of which will necessarily emphasise some elements and de-emphasise others. The work is comprised of a number of sites or nodes, each with its own identity. “GHOSTING” shows a multi-lobed object reminiscent of a cell undergoing mitosis, travelling through a space comprised of amorphous, shifting geometries, some of which resemble iridescent asteroids. The work is suggestive of genesis, formation and flux, occurring at a variety of scales; the cellular object suggests the (perceptually) vast spaces revealed within the everyday by technologies such as electron microscopes, while the asteroidal forms bring to mind the equally unfathomable depths of space. Elsewere, “BARRIO” depicts a blocky city-scape, suggestive of early 3D games, the name indicating that this is to be understood as a shanty-town or colony of some sort; an essentially Lefebvrean kind of social space, in the sense that it is, in fact, a “counter-space,” operating between the interstices of city planning and other macro-scale social architecture.
To put The Mineral Neuroplasticity Webring in its context, it is worth investigating some of Llanquin’s previous works, which deal with similar themes, but in a different manner. Wallmapu Worldwide (2014) depicts a solitary figure suspended in an infinite void, the pre-creation space of religious myth, or perhaps the uncreated, malleable space of a modelling software window. The figure and its environment seem to warp and fuse, attempting to call into being a tenuous, interdependent relationship between the physical body, its virtual avatar, and the space which it inhabits. This figure is, in a sense, Lefebvre’s “transported” body, struggling to realise the “counter-space,” a place which resists depiction or explanation. Much of Llanquin’s work is like this, depicting systems in the process of collapsing or being violently reconfigured, their end goal remaining obscured and perhaps completely unknown or unknowable. However, some of them depict structures which appear stable, but which undermine that appearance in other ways. There is an obvious metaphor about connectivity and power, but perhaps also of the insignificance and hubris of the user, supposing that the systems with which they engage are emplaced and directed entirely for their benefit. The user is positioned as both inside and outside the virtual system, and also as fundamentally alone in this space, in a real sense (given that the physical body is not present, it is an alone-ness which extends ultimately to the point of zero participants, not just one). In this situation, the activity which seems most relevant is the decoding of the space itself.
It is also worth remarking on Llanquin’s use of sound, which varies from ambient hums to brash, discordant noise, as well as voices, environmental sounds and musical elements. The artist uses sound as a way of bringing the sensorium of the viewer into contact with multiple, sometimes conflicting, conceptual spaces, at times seeming to invoke a kind of reverse-synaesthesia; a disconnect between object and sound which suggests hidden meanings and processes taking place beneath the surface. The sound-scapes of Llanquin’s work might in fact be more important than the visual elements, in terms of producing the experience of “a body transported outside itself,” but they are also darker, more impenetrable, and less amenable to analysis or explanation.
As made things existing in a world of made things, virtual spaces are not dissimilar to other artefacts of culture. However, what is fundamentally different about them, and the key feature which defines Llanquin’s work (resembling as it does tests or alpha versions of something in the process of coming into being), is that virtual spaces are constructed not just on the level of things, objects and their relationships, but on the level of the fundamental systems which allow those spaces and objects to exist at all. In these pieces, we see the underlying engines driving the production of virtual space not necessarily laid bare, but given recognition, cognisance and agency, and perhaps made a part of the conversation.
*Lefebvre, H. 1992. The Production of Space: Wiley.