By Antoine Catala

In the beginning was the word. The word that opens the doors to every story. “Abracadabra”, or the pumpkin turns into a coach, “EMET” and the Golem comes to life.

Today any word, thanks to a web search, can trigger the display of millions of images. With the use of 3D printers the same word can be associated with files which make it possible to print objects associated with it.

Thus, with the help of machines, a new physical equivalence has been established:

object = image = word

These machines, the server farms, which do the work of cataloguing images and objects, are located far from us and concealed, they are invisible. Those that surround us are their antennae: our cameras and screens. We live in symbiosis with machine-images.

However, these machines are constantly evolving, with each iteration aimed at presenting ever more realistic images and cataloguing our environment more thoroughly. They widen our repertoire of images – births, dreams, bedrooms, schemas, holidays, loves, work, partying, death…

In their quest to reconstitute the world they capture, in the most attractive and realistic way possible, machine-images make use of illusions, often with rudimentary (proto-cinematic) accents combined with hallucinatory technological innovations – reflections on a two-way mirror, projections onto vapor, tactile screens, haptic screens, 3D or augmented reality. The result of this is an increase of our symbiotic dependency on machine-images.

However, if machine-images are developed in this way then, paradoxically, it is not to depict the world as realistically as possible, but to mask the fact that such images are in fact our reality. In the representation of our minds, these images are just as valid as the appearance of reality.

The magical triad:
object = images = word

is far from trivial: it has decisive repercussions on our lives in the sense that if one of the elements in the equivalence is affected, the others are too.

Thus, to take one example: watching a film on a TV screen while slumped in a couch and watching the same film on the touch screen of a tablet changes our relationship with the image. This mutation of the physical relationship with the image alters our relationship with objects and words, metamorphosing us in return. On the other hand, through machine-objects such as scanners and 3D printers that allow for the cataloguing and printing of physical objects, the objects around us are now not as firmly deterministic or solid as they were after the second industrial revolution. Like the images before them, digital objects become temporary and malleable, they lose their link to the source of production, their origins, and even their copyright. The result is an interdependent, psycho-material conception of the world around us: thoughts transforms objects and objects transform thoughts.

To conclude, words imply language. The correlation between a word, an object, and an image in terms of the human psyche has been widely studied by philosophers, psychoanalysts and neurologists. For example, our techno-materialistic equation is reminiscent of this Lacanian schema:

symbolic – imaginary – real

Lacan thought he could see the working of the subconscious as a language in which:

a dream is a rebus

So what about these invisible machines, capable of weaving connections between words, objects and images for us? These invisible machines also reduce in their very nature, just like our own minds, both images and objects to language – like deciphering a rebus.

“Once upon a time…” is not a fairy tale, but a phantasmagorical fable about the technical principles and materials that structure language.