act of god, 1999
Five exposed photographic/lithographic plates/data glyphs and encryption
Production: Advanced Lithographic Plating, Dr. David L. Hecht, Xerox PARC
Mies Van der Rohe’s “glass house,” commissioned by the nephrologist Dr. Edith Farnsworth as a weekend home, is considered to be an architectural masterpiece. Its uniqueness lies in part in the way that its glass-curtain façade makes its structure invisible, so that the inhabitant seems to be living without mediation within the landscape—or afloat, when the neighboring Fox river floods the site on which the house is built, near Plano, Illinois. The inverse is also true: the exterior comes to inhabit the interiority of the building. At times this exterior included uninvited architectural students, trespassing on the property to see firsthand the ingenuity of the building’s creator.
Unless one makes a pilgrimage to a site like the Farnsworth House, photography is paramount to the dissemination of architectural design. The body of work act of god grapples with this problem by attempting to encode as much information as possible in a reproduced and distributed image; at the same time, paralleling Mies’s destabilizing the notion of what a house is, it questions what a photograph is at its deepest levels, chemically and materially. Carroll contacted Dr. David l. Hecht at xerox’s Palo Alto research Center in California, the scientist who developed dataglyphs, which create a visual image by redrawing it with “glyphs,” or lines, that represent ones and zeros, the basis for all digital technology. Hecht’s glyphtones resemble halftones, but the printed pattern that produces the image is actually encrypted information about the image: the information becomes the image itself.
The images in act of god come from photographs taken by Mies of the Fox river site. As for the information to be encoded, Carroll received permission from the Farnsworth estate to use Chapter 13 from Farnsworth’s memoirs, in which she details the difficult working relationship between herself and Mies. Hecht took this text and the original site photographs and turned them into glyphs. The glyphs were then encoded onto lithographic plates, in order to make the process of printing apparent, and positioned so that they simulate the photographic perspective from which the images were taken. The blue tone of the image comes from the emulsion of the exposed plate and is not a color per se. Colors mentioned in the memoir became a part of the individual titles and are the color of the ink that the plates must be printed in if the owners of the edition choose to have the plates printed on an offset press. One image was not coded and becomes the placebo in the entire process.
In the end, the work attempts to establish an equivalency between the structures of memoir and memory. Its title alludes to the potential for the Fox River to flood and the “miraculous” way that the outside of the house can become its inside. The legal term of art, referring to events that are beyond human control, can also be applied to a photograph’s moving beyond the pictorial plane and becoming pure data.