Saturday, May 30, 2015

Formless non-shapes in 3D

Joanne Lee has published a wonderful meditation on chewing gum. Not just chewing gum but also artistic creation, project management and aesthetics. You can order the booklet, read the PDF or listen to the essay on Soundcloud. One of her subjects caught and focused my attention on shapes and especially on formless shapes.
She writes:
... I’ve found myself increasingly preoccupied with the conceptual category of the ‘lump’. The OED tells us that it designates, ‘a compact mass, especially one without a definite or regular shape.’
And I cannot resist thinking of H.P. Lovecraft:
There were geometrical forms for which an Euclid could scarcely find a name—cones of all degrees of irregularity and truncation; terraces of every sort of provocative disproportion; shafts with odd bulbous enlargements; broken columns in curious groups; and five-pointed or five-ridged arrangements of mad grotesqueness.

In more detail:
I explored its synonyms: there is of course the idea of a piece of material, communicated through words like block, wedge, slab, cake, nugget, ball, brick, cube, pat, knob, clod, wad and hunk; wetter stuff is suggested in dollop, glob, gobbet and gob; and then there’s the sense too in which it refers to a swelling, bump, bulge, protuberance, protrusion, growth, outgrowth, nodule or hump…  
And again H.P. Lovecraft:
Never were things of such size seen before, and they held strange colours that could not be put into any words. ... and began to weave itself into fantastic suggestions of shape which each spectator later described differently ...
 How to get a grip on shapelessness? And could it be even worse? Let us speculate:
  • In The Violet Death Gustav Meyrink speculates about a word that cannot be uttered without turning the listeners into violet cones.
  • In The funniest joke in the world the Monty Python team speculates about a joke so funny that it kills its listeners.
  • In Snow Crash Neal Stephenson describes a viral graphic pattern that wipes a human brain.
Could such noxious shapes exist? I'm afraid not, because they would have been weaponized and we would have been wiped out. Our evolutionary existence disproves the hypothesis.
More speculation:
  • Want about invisible shapes? Shapes designed to leave no trace in memory? Shapes that force you to forget or repress their existence?
  • Or shapes of such extreme ugliness that you turn away in disgust?
Joanne Lee has already noticed this effect:
In fact, excrement is probably the lumpiest stuff I can think of ... surely the most definitively lumpy is the dog log that fractures into nodular sections as it is expelled ... the dismembered chunks we find in parks and pavements remain pretty irredeemable ... dog shit, deposited onto a perfect lawn (and against a backdrop of orange nasturtium flowers) perfectly catches the true aesthetic horror. 
But here it's not the shape itself, it's the other sensations that cause disgust that are associated with the shape. It's unclear if a shape - all by itself, without additional layers of meaning - could cause any significant effect.

Let me postulate one more speculative shape, one that really could exist and that I'm currently looking for. See the pictures on this page:
  • The unfathomable shape - A shape so shape-less that it erases the memory of its own creation. A shape created by some unfathomably complex series of actions, by conscious creation combined with random accretion and erosion. A shape that combines artificiality and naturalness in an irritating manner.
  • The indescribable shape - A shape that cannot be summarized into a simple description. A shape that fits no simple mathematical function or set (circles, squares), that cannot be summarized by deterministic fractal mathematics (Menger sponge) nor by stochastic fractal mathematics (clouds). A shape that inhabits some in-between world of Kolmogorov complexity.
I believe that such a shape could be found in geology, detritus or art. I'm looking for it right now.


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