Theory of Missing Mass
Catalogue text: The
Theory of Missing Mass by
The Theory of Missing Mass
Published by Gallery 44:
Centre for Contemporary Photography, Toronto, Canada, 2005
text: The Theory of Missing
From the Missing Mass
Published by Gallery 44: Centre for Contemporary Photography,
Toronto, Canada, 2005
Recent KIT projects have dealt
with three interrelated themes: the crash as the ultimate
spectacle, the symbiotic nature of the media and modern day
disaster, and notions of occidental sacrifice. Many of the
projects KIT has completed and toured in the past have been
large-scale installations that reflect the interests iterated
The set of twenty-four prints
that constitutes Missing Mass is an extension of
the Architectural Developments in Escape Units (A.D.I.E.U.)
 digital print project. These twenty prints are also
on view in this exhibition, however, Missing Mass represents
a theoretical shift from the semi-pragmatic approach adopted
for the A.D.I.E.U. work.
the construction of ‘Escape’ or ‘Ejector’
units for high-rise buildings within the city. It concerned
itself more with the objective imperatives of the structure
itself rather than the subjective motivations of the engineer.
New buildings strewn with sensors can detect their own stresses
and weaknesses. They adapt accordingly through enhanced networks
of sensors analogous to a nervous system, and in cases where
the integrity is compromised, then escape pods launch away
from the structure. For this series of works, KIT used the
roof as a plausible space to examine ideas based around the
millennial urge to escape and the ‘end of the world’
narratives of eschatology. Here the roof is presented as an
alienated landscape and the launch pad that enables one to
jettison from the contextual structure. These ideas are contingent
with and a reflection upon the theoretical trajectories of
much technology-based writing. Specifically they reflect upon
the ideological developments of two specific occidental programs:
the Space Program (the collective human urge to travel into
the heavens), and the Virtual Reality Program (the collective
human desire to live beyond the confines of the somatic).
It is no coincidence that both of these pursuits locate the
desired state beyond the realm of what is now anachronistically
called the human physical boundary. As such, A.D.I.E.U.
proposes vectors and reflections upon the desire to escape
the paranoia and neurosis of living in the modern city. It
is from within this state of paranoia that we witness technology
building up to achieve what Mark Dery calls, ”an escape
velocity” through the ”theology of the ejector
Extending the notion of ‘tragedy,’
Missing Mass focuses upon the ‘disaster site’
and strips away the context of the narrative to produce a
series of fragmented floating signifiers. However, this work
hardly relies on semiotic readings to decipher its intent.
There are three sets of images within the Missing Mass series.
The first set presents slices and parts of crashed aircraft—dissected
like a body might be—a mechanical anatomy of disaster.
The second set of prints are
images of various different scanners from Australian hospitals.
These machines, capable of rendering interior landscapes of
information, hold a huge weight of expectancy for the patients
who interact with them. The body, which we are used to reading
through its surface appearance, is exposed and mined by the
scanner. It subsequently posits both the machine and the body
in a landscape of paranoia and surveillance. It is the direct
relationship between the two sets of images (of the crashed
planes and the medical scanners) that sets up the dynamic
of the project. In the visions of the crashed aircraft, we
see technologies that inevitably fail us, whilst also recognising
failings of the body through interaction with the scanner.
The architecture of disaster or tragedy in western culture
is constructed through a fear of loss and with that, a fear
of loss of meaning. The images that are presented have a self-imposed
loss of meaning through their denial of landscape or context.
A celebration of the loss of gravity is suggested, and with
it an acceptance of the accident and an embracing of acts
that we perceive to be out of our control.
The third set, consisting of
four prints, acts as the ‘thirdspace’ within the
dynamics of disaster. In the past decade many authors have
opened up the textural analysis of ‘thirdspace.’
Writers such as Edward Soja expanded the psycho – geographical
understanding of this notion in his book -ThirdSpace. Michel
De Certeau’s writings depict the ‘thirdspace’
of communication and the notion of noise as a third component
of all communications. At its most basic, the traditional
dualist conception of language exchange between two people
is a one to one conversation. It is precisely here, he writes,
that the third element – the chaos of noise - is always
trying to be silenced and replaced by what we understand as
organised meaning. Foucault’s notion of heterotopia
(which has subsequently been reinterpreted by writers, artists
and architects amongst others) (2) is an earlier idea of a
‘thirdspace,’ which can open up the duality of
language and space - from the entropy of presence and absence
- to the notion of refracted meaning which exists in many
locations at once. The images in this third series depict
architectural settings, which have witnessed violent crimes.
One particular image is of a building in Tasmania where the
Port Arthur tragedy occurred. If one doesn’t count the
total slaughter of indigenous peoples in Tasmania, this was
the worst single-gun killing spree in Australian history.
The building was gutted and left as a bizarre architectural
monument to the slaying of 35 people, a hollowed remembrance
to pre-meditated, constructed and finally, abstracted violence.
Abstract violence and the mechanisms employed to build upon
it pervade in the narrative dynamic of Missing Mass.
Architectural monuments of disaster
construct very purposeful agendas for how we should read space
and the monument’s presence within it. The scanners
and crashed planes have a similar course of reading in that
they are prescribed by our culture. Yet very few courses of
action are available that offer understanding and acceptance
of the wider ideas of sacrifice to our cultural ideals of
technology, speed and violence.
Reading tragedy through sacrifice
is a strategy that offers an alternative set of narratives
to be considered. The process of violent sacrifice becomes
a ‘thirdspace’ from which to read the transformation
of the body from one state to another. We are not used to
reading death through sacrificial narratives as sacrifice
is viewed in the west as ‘uncivilised’ and therefore
has become anthropological territory where ‘social scientists’
attest to ‘findings’ about tribal communities.
This is done whilst reminding the reader that the collective
‘we’ have progressed from this socially ritualistic
function. Yet if we read statements by well known anthropologists,
they start to sound analogous to processes undertaken after
a crash, shooting, or discovery of terminal illness. For instance,
Hubert and Mauss noted in their classic texts about sacrifice
- ”In a sacrifice the circle of participants are segregated
from the outside world. There is a bonding of the community
when the sacrifice happens and subsequent actions of support
Another quote from René Girard from Violence and the
Sacred is informative here, “Sacrifice as practiced
among the Dinka and Ndembu is a deliberate act of collective
substitution performed at the expense of the victim and absorbing
all the internal tensions, feuds and rivalries pent up within
There is still much potential
re-reading within the discourse of tragedy. KIT does not believe
that western culture has moved on or away from enacting such
sacrificial events. They suggest that the industries of inevitable
violence (eg. airline, rail or motor) industry and networks
of ritualised mediation (reports on television, printed media
and Internet) form a significant and cohesive culture of sacrifice.
As a culture, we offer bodies and lives to the gods of technologically
enhanced progress and speed. We know there will be thousands
of people killed every year in ‘accidents’, we
just don’t know the precise time they will happen. Since
we accept this loss of life before it occurs, then maybe the
word ‘accident’ should be reinterpreted and rethought.
If occidental culture could come to recognise that our religious
desires have been redirected instead of secularised, then
we would understand that there is no ‘senseless loss’.
There is nothing senseless or random about the accident. There
is the inevitable drive of progress to create collision and
still we cannot conceive of disaster in a celebratory or functional
manner, even though the accident is promised to us by our
‘Gods’. Rarely is it ontologically, epistemologically,
or practically discussed outside of its 'designated territory'
of loss. And thus, the mediated landscape of disaster remains
a potentially divisive and subversive territory, an ethical
minefield of grey areas awaiting navigation.
(1) Mark Dery, Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of
the Century (New York: Grove Press, 1996)
(2) The notion of Heterotopia was introduced by Michel Foucault
in “Des Escape Autres,” and was published by the
French journal Architecture /Mouvement/ Continuite in October,
1984. It was the basis of a lecture given by Foucault in March
1967. Although not reviewed for publication by the author
and thus not part of the official corpus of his work, the
manuscript was released into the public domain for an exhibition
in Berlin shortly before Michel Foucault’s death. Translated
from the French by Jay Miskowiec.
(3) H.Hubert and M. Mauss, Sacrifice (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1964)