Forums Home : Enfolding and Unfolding :
During my most recent visit to the room at the Louvre devoted to the Mona Lisa, I was struck less by the enigmatic grin of da Vinci's subject than by the enigmatic behavior of a fellow museum patron, who paced slowly in front of the painting, peering at it through the lens of the video camera mounted on his shoulder. What could it possibly mean, I wondered, to videotape the Mona Lisa?
Laura Marks's project helps me to reconsider that experience from a new perspective, as something more than a literal performance of Benjamin's "Work of Art" essay or a tool for thinking about the relation between vision and touch. She offers "an aesthetic model for the information age," which moves beyond questions of authenticity and reflexivity to focus not on the fixed "meaning" or location of a sign but, instead, on its mischievous fluidity. She encourages us to trace the migration of any given sign through a triadic diagram she describes as "Experience : Information : Image," in a process she calls "enfoldment/unfolding."
Her conceptual diagram and its visual expression (including Raegan Kelly's mesmerizingly liquid line drawings) elegantly and playfully evoke Deleuze's (Liebniz-inspired) concept of the fold. She tracks the movement of a given image as it's "plucked" or unfolded from experience, migrates into information and/or image, and is enfolded again. Her thoughts on the way surveillance footage, a child's crayon drawing, a family photo, and interactive installation art (web-based and otherwise) move through those levels or dimensions of meaning make my fellow museum patron's videotaping of the Mona Lisa retroactively much more interesting.
I'm curious about how this style of analysis works with non-visual signs, and also how it handles the thing-ness of the unfolded experience/information/image. Marks's critical writing has always embraced experiential qualities of the image—things like texture, density, intensity, warmth, and decay—so it seems natural that they have a place here, in this more abstract argument. It strikes me that how a sign or image moves among the three levels or dimensions is related in some way to its visual, aural, and tactile qualities.
The piece also gets me thinking about how visual/critical writing can and should "illustrate" and/or "enact" the concepts at hand. In some ways, the design of this piece actually enacts enfoldment/unfolding; in other ways, it illustrates. The time-based examples are quite effective: because it takes time for each to unfold fully, and because each user will explore the interactive examples at their own pace, results will always be different. However, I found it strange that the "Unfold" option beneath the introductory essay and the links to her eight examples should be hotlink "buttons," as opposed to some sort of layer that's to be grabbed and peeled away, or something that "sticks" to a user's cursor when "moused over." Marks's examples enact enfoldment/unfolding more provocatively than the hotlinks do.
I had also thought, initially, that as a whole the piece might reflect more closely the fluidity and unpredictability of "unfolding." I imagined what it would be like if each IP address only had access to certain examples at certain times, for example, or if the order of the examples constantly shifted. But I quickly realized that a designer can't "program" enfoldment and unfolding; and that, given any single structure and navigational path, the experience for each viewer will unfold in different directions and patterns regardless.
- Jennifer Barker, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 11.29.2006