Monday, June 25, 2012

Space As A Keyword

I read David Harvey's essay, Space As A Keyword, a paper which (especially in the first half) covers a lot of content about definitions and representations of space. Below are some sections I picked out that I thought could be of particular use.

“If we regard space as absolute it becomes a “thing in itself” with an existence independent of matter. It then possesses a structure which we can use to pigeon-hole or individuate phenomena. The view of relative space proposes that it be understood as a relationship between objects which exists only because objects exist and relate to each other. There is another sense in which space can be viewed as relative and I choose to call this relational space - space regarded in the manner of Leibniz, as being contained in objects in the sense that an object can be said to exist only insofar as it contains and represents within itself relationships to other objects.” pg2

Absolute: Physical, Euclidean

Relative: Our own perception of space influenced by our own experience of time, distance and other factors such as social convention or emotion.

Relational: A subspace of relative space used to discuss the relationship between two objects or energies which interact with one another.

Harvey bases his ideas of those of Lefebvre but uses his own definitions of absolute, relative and relational space to discuss the concept. To me, the short comings of Harvey's ideas are that he makes no account for imagined space. This space is important in relation to interactive spaces as it is very much the imagination which 'fills in the blanks' of a constructed world. What could be useful is how these ideas could be applied to virtual space. His emphasis on the interconnectedness of time and space and the notion of processes creating their own spacial frames is in my mind, exactly what a virtual space entails as it is the relationship between the player and virtuality which creates an entirely new world in itself:
"The relational view of space holds there is no such thing as space outside of the processes that define it. Processes do not occur in space but define their own spatial frame." pg4
"it is impossible to disentangle space from time" pg4
We are not empirically defining space in its entirety, I believe such is beyond the bounds both what we as humans can imagine as well as what we are capable of expressing through language. What we are doing is conceptualising and compartmentalising aspects of space into different spheres, different sets of relationships so that we may better understand the role of space in relation to our own lives. Such descriptions are never exclusive, the energies of each are overlapping and multiple. In fact, what we call space is not really space at all, only our own ideas of what we believe it to be. Space is relational, it can never be filled just as it can never be empty, it is transformative, social and political - space is unfathomable.
"space is neither absolute, relative or relational in itself, but it can become one or all simultaneously depending on the circumstances. The problem of the proper conceptualization of space is resolved through human practice with respect to it. In other words, there are no philosophical answers to philosophical questions that arise over the nature of space - the answers lie in human practice. The question “what is space?” is therefore replaced by the question “how is it that different human practices create and make use of different conceptualizations of space?” The property relationship, for example, creates absolute spaces within which monopoly control can operate. The movement of people, goods, services, and information takes place in a relative space because it takes money, time, energy, and the like to overcome the friction of distance. Parcels of land also capture benefits because they contain relationships with other parcels….in the form of rent relational space comes into its own as an important aspect of human social practice.”
In the context of a virtual space, worlds are constructed via representation. I can draw an image of a tree, it is in no way an actual tree but as an audience we can relate the pixelated shape to its real life representation. Harvey considers the ways in which spaces beyond the physical may be represented:
"We can reasonably assume that the elements, moments and events in that world are constituted out of a materiality of stable and finite qualities. How we represent this world is an entirely different matter, but here too we do not conceive of or represent space in arbitrary ways, but seek some appropriate if not accurate reflection of the material realities that surround us through abstract representations (words, graphs, maps, diagrams, pictures, etc.). But Lefebvre, like Benjamin, insists that we do not live as material atoms floating around in a materialist world; we also have imaginations, fears, emotions, psychologies, fantasies and dreams. These spaces of representation are part and parcel of the way we live in the world. We may also seek to represent the way this space is lived through emotions and the imagination. The spatiotemporality of a dream, a fantasy, a hidden longing, a lost memory or even a peculiar thrill as we walk down a street can be given representation through works of art." pg8

In an interactive space the audience has a direct influence on the space which they perceive and because of this extra dimension of experience I wonder how some of the personal spaces which Harvey considers (emotions, fantasy, fears, imagination) may be expressed to a greater level or simply a different level to what can/has been achieved in a linear virtual space. 

Harvey, D. Space As A Keyword, Marx and Philosophy Conference, 29 May 2004, London