Issue X: Flat
For every mountain, a prairie; for every boss, a worker; for every server, a peer; for every body, a screen. Nearly every sector of our lives has a continuum with one end marked, if only through analogy, as flat. The list of the not-flat is nearly endless—sharp, bumpy, irregular, striated, hierarchical, shallow, unbalanced, dynamic, askew, lumpy. These terms play out in discussions about the distributed web and the future of the internet, best practices in interface design, the organization of political movements and companies, and our lived experience with a ubiquity of two dimensional screens. For thinkers like Hiroki Azuma, the flat (or hyperflat as he would have it) refers “to a characteristic that is thoroughly planar and yet transcends the plane. The hyperflat world, represented by the computer screen, is flat and at the same time lines up what exists beyond it in a parallel layer.” While for some, the flat is a paradise, a goal towards which we ought to strive, for others it represents everything that could go wrong. Either way, flat is always an absolute, always an extreme. The journal’s inaugural issue, Flat, will unpack these associations and ask how and where flatness lies in our world, functionally or dysfunctionally, shaping (or is it unshaping?) everything from visual culture, to politics, economics, and technological topologies.
What does it mean to be Flat? What is the not-flat? How flat is too flat? Where do the flat and the not-flat collide? What are the political expressions of flatness? How does flatness inform and influence design and art in both a contemporary and art historical context? What technological structures and forms of media question, deploy, ignore, or take advantage of flatness, and to what ends?
Issue 01: Halt
A year ago, we asked what it means to halt. We wondered if the concept of halting could be turned into a useful form of resistance or if it could provide some framework to cope with or understand our present moment. Then 2020 happened; the context of “halt” changed dramatically. Around middle school, we learn about the relationship between speed, time, and distance: d = r * t. We learn to understand speed through this relation. How far will we go in how much time? How long will it take to go X distance? Now, however, it feels as though time has lost all sense. It has fallen apart, a day takes an eternity, but a month passes in an instant. As for distance, we only have one unit of measure for that left, somewhere between 6 feet and 2 meters, and this measure is just to remind us of a space not to cross, a negatively defined measure of “away from.” So all we have left is speed. Pure intensive speed, unbound from distance, freed from time, an intensive quality that can only be understood relative to itself, faster-than, slower-than. Going nowhere and out of time, speed is all that remains.
The responses to our call, and its post-covid update, were overwhelming and stunning. Through a variety of media and styles, the artists and authors in this issue lay bare what is lost through the entwined processes of acceleration, globalization, and industrialization and suggest possibilities for resistance; they highlight how moving quickly and without attention transforms habits and default settings into ideology. Shot through most of the works is a concern with strange, beautiful, and often troubling relationships between our bodies, our selves, and technology, and media; from images that demand attention, to a beautiful misappropriation of machine vision, to a post-corporeal-ai-driven future, to the everydayness of screen-driven interactions.
Together these works form an image of the present, not as a deep-fake photoshopped collage, but as if through saccades, as an unmistakable awareness of what is and what can be.
— The Editors
Issue 02: Touch
As the human species renegotiates between presence and proxy, we are advised to “keep in touch,” despite being prepared for conditions that make the act of touching, whether each other or our shared surfaces, taboo. At the beginning of 2021, we considered how COVID-19 may have impacted touch—as a sense of perception, a language, and as modes of mediation. In a world where touch became tenuous, even precarious, we were compelled to examine it as insidious, as a language to which we had limited access, one whose lack filled our imaginaries as physicality We found refuge in distance. Collaborative digital environments, online meetings, messenger apps, channels, threads, feeds, streams, and virtual realities have been some of the ways we have made contact through these distances.
Of course, in reaching out, one first reaches a screen.
This is why it comes as no surprise that many of the works in this issue deliberate on digital mediation as a throughline. Though habituated now, many digital interactions that are interfaced through the flatness of our screens may be anything but flat. In A Robust Flatness, Natasha Chuk frames digital mediation as a multi-layered, sensorial experience. In shrouding the mediation process, Zoom’s dominance is predicated on convincing us that the boxes that house our names, our faces, and/or share our voices are the closest option to being in each other’s presence. By contrast, the artists and writers in this issue acknowledge the rift between the simulation and its referent. Recognizing the inexactitude between here and there allows covert cracks to open up into an entirely new field of participation and examination.
Understanding how touch has been mediated through digital interfaces requires us to step back and consider the body’s relationship to touch and the body’s role in perceiving touch. This issue contains work that grapples with whether touch and the body can be separated from each other and the ways in which touch might exist as a sense beyond skin-to-skin contact, dwelling in the sonic or serving as an extension of our emotions. We must also contend with the physicality of the artificial, from that of a prosthetic to interactions with artificial intelligence. What is it to touch without feeling, or perhaps, with a new understanding and experience of feeling? In an increasingly transhumanist existence, do the possibilities of how we share and experience touch necessitate a redefinition? Does the occurrence of touch and even pleasure by proxy provide a new framework for embodied experience? The works in this issue contemplate and provide clues to these questions but perhaps more importantly, provoke further consideration and new questions.
Here at the edge of one year’s end and another’s beginning, while still in the midst of a pandemic that has forcefully reoriented our relationships and habits, we welcome these new questions. Posed through image, lyrical prose, didactic observation, poetry, and haptically-charged audio work, they allow for numerous means to examine a concept that is at once expansive, intimate, and occasionally ineffable. The artists within offer the possibility of re-encountering and even redefining touch. We have accepted their invitation and offer you the opportunity to add your questions, encounters, and redefinitions to ours.
— The Editors
Call for Proposals – After Tomorrow
No doubt the thought that we live in end times has crossed many of our minds in the past few years. These thoughts are spurred on and compounded by any number of events and facts about the world, from war to environmental collapse. Our 4th issue of FLAT is AFTER TOMORROW. We want to think around the binary of optimism and pessimism as neither feels quite right and instead think about what we can and should carry with us across the boundary of the end, what should be left behind, and, most importantly, what is on the other side.
FLAT Journal uses a rolling submission process. We are currently accepting submissions for issue #0.3 AFTER TOMORROW