Zevgar Variations

(…) At some time around nineteen seventy Bogdan Bogdanovich, a professor at the architectural faculty of Belgrade University, began attracting students, especially those who liked hearing unexpected things in lectures, and not so many of those – the majority – who had clear expectations of what they wanted to read in books and hear at lectures. (…)

(…) At that time, there were two students from Baghdad, two step brothers, a certain Abu Hamid and Ibn Jazid Termezi, attending the course of Grand Master Bogdanovich (he liked being called that ). (…)

(…) They were rich and beautiful, which is why they shaved their heads to keep women at bay while they immersed themselves in their studies. They had brought two spotted desert dogs (…) and a shared nightmare with them to Belgrade. This nightmare was passed down from generation to generation in their family and they called it “Zevgar”, which means ox yoke, since it has been borne by all the male members of their family. (…)

(…) News travelled quickly about Bogdanovich’s unorthodox and almost mystical specialisation seminars held for final year students in which architecture was seen as a language and cities the dictionaries of this language. (…)

(…) Abu Hamid and Ibn Jazid Termesi chose a strange dictionary of rectangular architectural signs. (…)

(…) The signs (…) were actually not plans for architectural units or map details of settlements, but letters taken from the oldest alphabets ranging from the hieroglyphs and Greek shorthand to the Slavic Glagolitsa blown up into multiple dimensions. The blown-up letters that they presented one by one created the impression of floor plans for buildings. At the heart of Bogdan Bogdanovich’s method was the realisation that the architectural language of a given culture and the written form of this language can be identified in the alphabet of this culture. (…)

(…) The alphabet Ibn Jazid and Abu Hamid chose was their land’s archaic cuneiform script, the script of the Sumerian civilisation, which can be linked to the ancient Babylonian cities of Ur and Uruk, located in the territory of present day Iraq. This realisation imparted a mysterious energy to the brothers. (…)

(…) They identified the text as being from the ancient epic of Gilgamesh and the line they were given to build their city with as being from the clay tablets with the description of the flood. The line that served as the foundation for the settlement and the words of which they used to erect buildings with described the deluge that destroyed all life. (…)

(…) They named it Zevgar after the nightmare and hoped that by so doing they could defeat it. (…)

(…)-At times it seems to me, said Ibn Jazid Termezi, that in my past the days and nights do not fall into the same order in which they greet me.
In my memory, each one of my past nights melts into all the rest of my past nights, and days are connected to days; it is like when you are looking at a chess board aslant, from the side, and you link the black fields with the other black ones and the white fields with the white. That’s the only way you can see the past, if you look at it aslant, as the queen and the bishop do, and you arrange the nights and the days into separate lines. The present, the changing of the days and the nights, can only be seen from the perspective of the king, the rook and the pawn. In fact, the king, the rook and the pawn see nothing else but the present. Of course the queen sees the same present; she is the only piece with a dual vision. However, the future is only known to the knight. It turns towards the present with two thirds of his field of vision and towards the future with one third… Alas, we are not horses. (…)

(Milorad Pavič)

The above excerpts are from the short story “Two Iraqi Students” by Milorad Pavič, and the plan of the utopic city seen in the images are constructed from the superpositioning of the Babylonian city of Ur and one of the lines from the Epic of Gilgamesh (“Immortality is conceived in water and destroyed by water…”). It is a hypothetical reconstruction of the “readable” city whose designs Ibn Jazid Termezi and Abu Hamid worked on.

Two states of an architectural model. A translucent structural state and an illuminated state. The texture of the image is created entirely by software manipulation.

Considering their modus operandi, the “Zevgar variations” is a digital painting and, defined by Lev Manovich’s concepts, a characteristically meta-media (reworking) project.

At the focus of this technique is the contemplative aspect inherent in slow change. It creates the illusion that we see the same image, while it de facto changes, and is in perpetual transformation, with every moment being a transition state seeking form. It is a kind of formal nomadism, somewhat similar to how things are usually born and perpetually altered by memory. The huge number of possibilities for change turn the image into a continuum, as if time had stood still.

I have always been interested in the possible borderline territories between genres, thus in the relation between static and motion pictures too. How can – let’s say – temporality be introduced into a static image but not in a narrative (literary) way but as formal narration, which is none other than a recorded form seeking act. The objective of this technique is to generate sequences of static images.

Earlier on I discovered that dynamic motion can be better represented in static than in motion pictures. If I take this phenomenon and apply it to architecture (architecture can be seen as a static image) I can attain a form-seeking method that I can later use as a source of inspiration.

This method is mainly based on forms coming into being through the condensation of time that can at most be guessed at but which are not calculable. In other words, in this case the algorithm produces results contrary to its function: algorithms are usually designed to generate the same output for the same input, but since in this method the speed of the animation and the saturation of the image can be parametrised (even in a randomised way), there will virtually be no repetitions in the sequence of images. The huge variability takes the form-seeking process into a direction where the surprise and irreality factors are amplified. It is interesting to see how we can apply a method to generate inspiring and emotionally suggestive prefigurations. For me this game has some kind of visual spell, which surprises me since I’m not a slave to form. Probably, it all works because I’m actually not doing this whole thing. I simply generate and set into motion a process I cannot fully keep under control in the later stages. After a little time passes I can easily forget about my own personal involvement so it is as if I am given something ready made. At this point I can chose those pieces from a (virtually) infinite sequence that best suits my purpose and after narrowing down the spectrum I am able to use them as a real source of inspiration for the next step. Here the emphasis is on the act of selecting (deciding) and not on direct production, which makes drawing an analogy with the ready-mades – a unique and for me important and attractive form of translation and system-based attitude – seem natural.

The relation between image and time emerges as a fundamental issue. The emphasis is on the formula (algorithm) that the operation of the work is based on and without which the work itself cannot exist. The formula is as follows: the input is a sequence of images (in our case drawings) and the output is an almost static painting-like image. The algorithm plays the image sequence in the background at a parametrisable speed. During the painting process a light-brush always copies a small part from the constantly changeable sequence of frames running in the background onto the visible interface, resulting in a temporal and formal shift between the scene that you see and the one that you do not. However, since only small bits of the visible image change, the whole image is perceived as a static one. Another good analogy is scanning, with the difference being that unlike in the case of everyday scanning – where, copying the image line by line, the read head moves evenly and in one direction – the scanner here performs a Brownian motion, which resembles random movement. To borrow an image from nature, the brush moves like moths in the light of a lamp. We might perceive the movement of a moth as flitting about, but it is actually continuous in space. If we set a parameter (slowing down and speeding up) for the motion of the brush (read head), the quality of the painted image will change.

To sum up, the image has a small, active part – where the brush is “in action”, and it has a seemingly inactive, more extensive surface which is the continually melting sedimentation of the path the brush has “traversed”. The image in perpetually overwriting (painting) itself – only has states. The painting can be started or stopped but the work can never be completed.