The Mad Conferences of Professor Ma
Professor Ma is an artist-cum-scientist of not too well defined origin, known to have lived in Shanghai between the two World Wars. A Chinese scholar by training, he established contacts with prominent members of the foreign communities, mainly Russian, British and French, who opened up his mind to a different form of reasoning and analysis. As a member of diverse vibrant intellectual communities, he was exposed to the latest scientific developments taking place on the other side of the world. By the time World War Two was declared, he had successfully associated, compared and blended his Chinese scholarly and spiritual traditions, in particular Taoism, to his newly acquired Occidental knowledge, helped in this daunting task by his fluid and intuitive elegance, the result of a life long practice of Taichi. All this exploration and experimentation eventually took the form of a new school of thought and practice, which he named The Other Way.
His whereabouts during and after WW2 are unknown, but we know that his mastery of Taoist alchemy enabled him to appear as a younger being in Singapore in 1988. This is when he presented his first Mad Conference, performed for a private party held by Dr. Robert Liew. Aware of the groundbreaking dimensions but potentially dangerous aspect of this performative piece of scholarly interaction, he decided to further his studies for a while in the hope of coming to a clearer enunciation of his task and process. This undertaking was achieved by travelling extensively in various continents to observe the effect of photographic recording on diverse natural and/or societal ecosystems, as well as devoting enough time for a substantial study of Javanese Mysticism in Solo, Java, Indonesia, to vary the types of teaching contributing to his spiritual development. By 2004, he could state in all certainty that from then on his work would be devoted to the study of the uncharted potential found in the phenomenon of recording, and more specifically photographic recording. This focus, eventually led him to speculate that photography when perceived as 'recording' should be understood as a new force (or energy) acting on time and space in a way very similar to the action of Gravity on physical bodies, albeit a force acting in the intangible and increasingly virtual dimension of emotions, ideas and identities. This seed of a theory was already given some concrete ground that same year with the practical observation of a phenomenon at work in societies all around the world, which he called the Constant Self-recording Mode, a term that defines much of his thinking and theorising since 2004.
Pr. Ma sees the invention of Photography as having triggered a process of recording that had no equivalent in the past. It is to visual representation what the phonograph turned out to be twenty years later when it allowed for the first time to literally hear sounds from the past: a radical change of paradigm. In the case of photography however, this revolution in our relation to time and space is made slightly less self-evident than in the case of its sonic equivalent by the fact that traditional pictorial representation in the form of a drawing and mechanical reproduction in the form of photographic recording can look so similar to one another that their occasional being mistaken for one another is generally regarded as an artistic and technical achievement, and acknowledged as a compliment for both the artist or the photographer who managed to fool the viewer's perception. It might be artistically great for a drawing to look like a photograph and for a photograph to look like a drawing, but this shouldn't divert our attention from the fact that in truth, their phenomenological essences are worlds apart: the first one is a representation that only shares the narrative of the artist's presence in his relation with the thing represented. The second is a clear and straight recording that shares the very electromagnetic dimension of the thing recorded as a result of the action of light. Known as 'photography', this decisive shift in our relation to the sensorial world was initially restricted to visible light, but Recording quickly extended its action to other aspects of the physical world, to eventually cover the full known spectrum of both electromagnetic and mechanical waves. The world is now engaged in a process of constant recording, taking place in all forms and at all places and all times. These recordings are designed to duplicate natural phenomena and occurrences of all sorts through diverse technological devices that produce fragmented replica à l’identique of the initial segments of the time-space continuum of which they were a part. In fact one could say that “the process of recording turns the continuum into quantum”. From a phenomenology point of view, these recordings have nothing in common with the inevitably interpretative nature of the reproductions based on human perception acting through the manual procedures of the past. This being said, it is also evident that these technological recordings are in no way any more reliable or “true” than their manual predecessors, since a striking result of their increasingly invasive action over time has been to make Reality and Fiction look, feel and sound the same. The latest finding on this topic is that it might in fact be all fake news.
In 2005, the second Mad Conference introduced these concepts to the public in the context of Gilles Massot’s exhibition Retro Specks Future Pixs, staged in the art space Sculpture Square, Singapore. From then on, public talks became more frequent and the possible connections between these ideas and various other topics made him extend his exploration to the fields of analytic history (This is Not the End of the World, Al Jilani Restaurant, Singapore, 2012) and ethnology (The Malay Allocution, in collaboration with Rubbin Ashim, Substation, Singapore, 2013). The core of his research however remained focused on the phenomenology of photographic recording, the apparition of which he began to see as having heralded the later development of the puzzling quantum interpretation of the world. This idea was part of the paper titled To Cut or Not to Paste, that Is the Question, written in 2009 for the conference Computational Photography and Aesthetic, organized by Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. In 2010, the phenomenon of photographic recording was explored for the first time in its relation to performance art with the lecture Performance in Frame organised in collaboration with Jeremy Hia in the Srinakharinwirot University, Bangkok, Thailand. In 2012, it was given a fuller interpretation with the performance Photography and Performance v.1.1, as part of the cycle of lecture-performance the Lecher of Art curated by Zack Razak and presented by The Substation, Singapore, in collaboration with Ruben Pang, Mark Wee and Lim Sheng En. In 2013, the Constant Self-recording Mode was given a new identity as COS•MO, the result of a brain storming session held with the Russian philosopher Oleg Korovin, while searching for a slicker title identifying the group exhibition on that topic to be presented that same year by the Institute of Contemporary Art, LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore.
A year later, Pr. Ma came to a surprising conclusion: beyond its pictorial nature, the daguerreotype, which in 1839 had initiated the general public in the sensation and notion of a photographic recording, could also be regarded as a manifestation, or at least a telling reflection, of the quantum behaviour now well known and observed at the particle level, and recently slowly emerging at the molecular level, a short stone-throw away from the macro level of common reality. One of the defining characteristics of the daguerreotype is indeed the impossibly dual nature of its image that seems to float on its surface, an image both negative and positive at the same time, an image made-up of a fundamental duality that only collapses as either positive OR negative under a specific and precise angle of incidence between the eye of the observer and its surface. It dawned on him that this behaviour is so strangely similar to that of the famously perplexing behaviour of the photon in the physicist’s laboratory that it cannot be easily ignored: both present the same in-built duality made-up of nothing but probabilities that only collapses in a state of single certainty as the result of an interaction with an external observer. But this striking parallel has yet to be perceived as such by the scientific community. Photographs are so generally taken for granted and regarded as common facts of modern life, that even the supposedly inquisitive scientific community uses the recording phenomenon producing them as an ordinary research tool, without putting any thoughts in the mysteries that still surround this mercurial and esoteric energy, and in the case of the daguerreotype an energy directly inherited from ancient alchemy. Yet, in view of the deep unsettling effect that the medium has had on human society as observed in the widespread and often problematic use of images in today's social media, it might be time to acknowledge that this medium first perceived as the epitome of unfailing realism, one that simply "could not lie", has done nothing but actively blur the boundaries between facts and fictions from the moment it started operating. In truth, Barthes was probably right to suggest as he did in the introduction of Camera Lucida's last chapter, that we had, and still have, no other way but take photography for granted for fear of going mad if confronted too openly and directly with the depth of its shadowy and frightening haunting mystery.
One of Pr. Ma's main achievements in this research so far is possibly the visual theorem devised to prove the proposition concerning the true nature of the daguerreotype. Interestingly enough, this theorem was first performed on the occasion of the conference The Incredible and Probable Adventures of Sir Photographic Recording and his Associated Versatile Possibilities, presented in 2017 in the gallery Art + Shanghai, Singapore. Eloquently reflective of the blending of scientific and artistic procedures at work in the Other Way, this innovative piece of performative scholarship found itself incidentally associated to the city where his quest had started, as if he had indeed come full circle. Following the stimulating questions that followed this well-received presentation, and trusting once again his ever fluid proactive intuition, Pr Ma decided to collect the scattered bits of developments that had taken place since the 2013 COS•MO exhibition, and gather them in the form of a mathematical equation encapsulating his theory. The resulting equation presented below intends to provide a formula to calculate the amount of still-unamed-energy found in any photographic recording after its quantum stabilisation in the form of a “photograph”. This is achieved by making it a function of the amount and quality of information it contains, and by tweaking this amount of information with the application of two variables quantifying the influence of social and cultural aspects on the event’s identity, first prior to its gathering by recording, and again in the ensuing (mostly digital) dissemination.
This first and provisional draft of the equation reads:
Ip is the amount of this still-unamed-energy contained BY the recording (not to be mistaken with the energy MAKING the object that supports the recording, namely the object on which the image seats, in most cases the atoms making-up a sheet of paper coated with chemical coloured substances).
The energy contained in the photographic recording affects time-space in the form of a curvature that intersects with the matrix of Emmogity. Pr Ma suspects that once calculated, the value of Ip will prove equivalent to the radius of the curvature and thus become a concrete point of entry for the study of the elusive experiential dimension gathering emotions, memory, imagination and their combined collapsed forms: Identity.
uX is the statistical probability of the event.
uN is the comparative uniqueness of the pictorial quality of the resulting quantum, commonly designated as a photograph.
a is a variable taking into account the effect of the initial aura of the event (or subject), prior to its recording.
d relates to the amplitude of the dissemination of this quantum in the public sphere.
As in the case of any theory, concrete experiments will be needed to prove or disprove this theorem, and it will clearly take quite some time for this to become possible. The value of Ip can only be the outcome of massive calculations based on virtually infinite qubit computations of datas found in the COS•MO dimension and gathered by the ever-growing web databank. The web databank has entered a phase of unstoppable exponential growth due to the worldwide multiplication of social media usage and users, all things providing the very material from which the figures needed will be extracted. Only incredibly powerful computers, unfortunately not yet available, can make the calculation and resolution of this equation possible one day. Pr Ma can only hope that the much anticipated era of quantum computing rising on the horizon will soon lend a helping hand to assert the adequacy and veracity of his speculation.
This equation eventually became the basis of a theory attempting to define the action of the photographic force on the virtual dimension of emotions, ideas and identities, a theory to which he gave the name White Space Theory in regards to the strange shift of the third dimension of depth occurring in the course of any photographic theory, a shift expressed by the formula:
The space of a photograph exists in the depth of its time.
For the full paper expending the content of the White Space Theory, please click here: