Interface I, system tension and complexity


There is no software, at least not here for us to see. Instead we encounter an infrastructure, a system, tethered together with motors, string and elastic, set in motion by chance, generated by the naturally occurring ambient radiation of our earth. Baecker’s Interface I is a tangible thing in the world – transparent and spectacular – under the influence of its surroundings as well as of the logic of its own materiality, and subject to the laws of physics that govern all other material entities. Two interacting systems face each other vertically, connected via string at their centres. Each system is powered by a motor that pulls these systems in opposite directions. Baecker created tension and complexity in this system by his attachment of elastic bands that couple each string with its neighbour. The motion and behaviour of the total system is influenced by random signals from Geiger Mueller tubes that transmit vibrations. Thus, the system behaviour unfolds over time as it negotiates and responds to material and entropic fluctuations. Interface I draws our attention to a multiplicity of things: to internet infrastructure and its relationship to geography; to protocols, packets and routing of information; to economic markets, risks and calculations; to electricity and communication grids. But Baecker’s intention is not to speak to such a direct interpretation. Instead his deliberately minimal aesthetic aims to elaborate implicit understandings of sensation and perception that pertain to the connection between technology and geophysics. What he renders here is a new type of image, one that seeks to portray a system that includes its processes and structure. An image of an arranged complex, entangled with environmental and geopolitical conditions, that is actively involved in its own configuring. He suggests a critical shift away from the analysis of the interfaces alone and toward an understanding of how they connect and are shaped by movements in the world. This mediation on the temporality of interfaces opens up a space for speculation about the material scope of technology and its cultural construction. But what might we gain from a critical analysis of such a system? How might we think about the construction of interfaces and the varied scales at which they operate? First, an expanded understanding of an interface and infrastructure brings to the foreground the processes of distribution that have been overshadowed by processes of production and consumption. This moves our thinking about interfaces across different scales, a shift from thinking about them as rigid and inflexible. Instead we recognise them as part of multivalent socio-technical relations that involve critical analysis of the standards and formats necessary to route information across them. Secondly, it brings into focus the unique materialities that are required to shape, energise and sustain the distribution of information across various systems and environments. This brings new settings, objects and concerns into focus, and opens up a critical distance to consider other ways of looking and thinking about interfaces. At a time of political uncertainty and of machines, maybe critical distance is really what we need. Nora O Murchú


Ralf Baecker – Interface I