Between Zero and One - Stephanie Bailey

Updated: Mar 18, 2020

There are at once countless layers and none in Island (2019), the digital terrain that Sepideh Majidi created within the framework of the Digital Earth fellowship — in keeping with the relation between local and global, infinite and finite, zero and one, the work explores virtual space as a realm of transcendental thought and (actual) subjectivity. First presented as part of the Digital Earth Symposium, Aesthetic Warfare, at Khoj International Artists’ Association in Delhi, Majidi’s animated video is both a journey and a portrait, rooted in the relation between an evocative island described as a “speck of dust in a Heraclitian flux” (a “zero”), and the “infinite” ocean that surrounds it.

The video begins with the emergence of a pixel-sorted image of a quivering island form that moves from predominant tones of pearlescent blue to fuchsia, its edges pushing outwards to form a jagged coastline against flat digital black. A warping and ominous hum reminiscent of a muffled, sluggish bassline accompanies the video’s roughly 20-minute run; interrupted by what sounds like a glitched cymbal tap or whip snap. The first time this sonic punctuation is made, the voice of a young girl states: “I have never left the island. I have never been on the island. The island must be with its parts; a sparkling speck on the ocean.” These same lines are immediately echoed by a woman whose voice forms part of a group that narrates this digitally rendered landscape as it comes into various points of view, but she continues the sentence to elaborate on the ocean itself: “modern”, “foreign”, and “reminiscent of the pure language of the deep.”

From the outset, the island is described as a zero: an unknowable space whose edges are defined by vast and constantly moving waters that surround it. This outline draws on Kant’s use

of the immobile house and moving ship to diagram the mediation between the objective “transcendental unity of apperception…through which all the manifold given in an intuition is united in a concept of the object”, and “the subjective unity of consciousness” in which the parts of a composition — say, the four walls and roof that constitute a cottage — is understood as a series of successive or simultaneous representations whose associations are contingent on appearance and perception. Between the words that designate reality and the subjectivities that understand and interpret them, things are understood through the objective boundaries of their defined representations, while the myriad subjectivities that engage with these representations represent the indefinite possibilities of their interpretations.

This conception of the defined object shaped from a sea of possible perceptions is likewise extended to the subject. As Kant reasoned, an empirical unity of consciousness is not universally valid since one person’s understanding of a word could completely differ with another’s. Majidi’s script understands this subjective reality through the island’s frontier, which is described as nothing more than an edge that perceives itself as the centre, in the same way each human experience is perceived as central to whoever is perceiving the world first-hand. This centrality is a limitation and constraint. “Just as a ship moored in the water thinks that, simply because it is a ship, it is floating freely in the ocean,” one narrator explains, “it is actually anchored, though not conscious of it.” Thus, Island seeks to take the viewer — an island, another zero populating the infinite ocean — through the terrain of the island itself in order to cross its boundaries towards an “integration into the structure of the ocean, with relations parallel to the observer and to the whole.”