We are witnessing a growing hybridisation of physical space and the virtual sphere. This is the objective assessment to which digital technologies are driving us.
Standing in the underground carriage, I see four people who are seated, each glued to their smartphone: two are talking on the telephone, the third replying to texts, the fourth focused on an online poker game. To these four very real people, I have to add, as if they were superimposed, those people who are virtually present with us. Given the rate of those using their mobiles, my train abruptly gains at least 100 to 200 additional people… What an instant crowd!
I feel the need to exercise this real/virtual ‘double view” every single time I imagine people, telephones and computers. From where I am, I have to extend this to the entire underground network. Taking it even wider, I have to visualise Paris and all its suburbs in this subtle grid. Let’s imagine Paris by night, photographed from 100 km high: the electric lights are its visible aspect, the virtual networks its invisible aspect; a stunning set of speeds, lights, rhythms and colours superimposed on the city.
We have become familiar with these representations of the virtual sphere in which big cities find themselves swathed in a vivid and vibrant halo. With digital technology, the invisible has become a tangible reality. The invisible has a density, it weighs, it is heavy with content…
Let’s try to make a link, for this juxtaposition of the visible and the invisible has a precedent: that of (principally Chinese, Indian or Tibetan) representations of the human body.
In these Eastern traditions, the physical body is crossed by a web of energy, invisible to the naked eye, made up of major and minor centres. There are also thousands of secondary centres irrigated by channels of invisible matter.
At the beginning of the 20th century, these representations were brought up to date by Theosophical circles, and detailed plates depicting the human body were made by groups of “clairvoyants”. With this approach, all matter possesses an ethereal equivalent and groups, such as towns, nations, even the entire planet, must contemplate themselves in this double view: material and immaterial.
The artistic avant-garde was greatly influenced by these spiritual conceptions. For the majority of schools of thought (Impressionism, Expressionism, Pointillism, geometric or lyrical abstraction), the vision became that of a world plunged into a pool of vibrations, with light being no more than an exteriorised manifestation of these invisible waves which bring the world to life.
Through one of the most extraordinary shortcuts – that of digital technology – our age is revisiting these representations of a world in which the visible mixes with the invisible once more. Thus, the way of the “geek” and that of the “mystic” coincide surprisingly in their manners of seeing the world.
And here is the utopia: it is possible that this growing hybridisation with the virtual sphere will eventually stimulate our imagination and make us more sensitive to the way in which the visible mingles with the invisible. This increased sensitivity for the invisible realities could develop, directing to a large extent our science of tomorrow and our way of understanding the world.
In the next century, how will we view our towns, our land, our solar system and the closest stars? And will we see, like Vincent Van Gogh did in Starry Night (1888), a life force flowing between all these entities?