Enfoldment and Infinity
An Islamic Genealogy of New Media Art
408 pp., 7 x 9 in, 140 figures
- Published: August 13, 2010
- Published: August 13, 2010
Tracing the connections—both visual and philosophical—between new media art and classical Islamic art.
In both classical Islamic art and contemporary new media art, one point can unfold to reveal an entire universe. A fourteenth-century dome decorated with geometric complexity and a new media work that shapes a dome from programmed beams of light: both can inspire feelings of immersion and transcendence. In Enfoldment and Infinity, Laura Marks traces the strong similarities, visual and philosophical, between these two kinds of art. Her argument is more than metaphorical; she shows that the “Islamic” quality of modern and new media art is a latent, deeply enfolded, historical inheritance from Islamic art and thought. Marks proposes an aesthetics of unfolding and enfolding in which image, information, and the infinite interact: image is an interface to information, and information (such as computer code or the words of the Qur'an) is an interface to the infinite. After demonstrating historically how Islamic aesthetics traveled into Western art, Marks draws explicit parallels between works of classical Islamic art and new media art, describing texts that burst into image, lines that multiply to form fractal spaces, “nonorganic life” in carpets and algorithms, and other shared concepts and images. Islamic philosophy, she suggests, can offer fruitful ways of understanding contemporary art.
Admirably researched, beautifully documented, and written with dedicated passion, Enfoldment and Infinity convincingly demonstrates the deep continuities between ancient Islamic art and new media art. With this book, Laura Marks makes an original and important contribution to understanding the aesthetics of contemporary media culture and its hidden Islamic genealogies.
Patricia Pisters, University of Amsterdam
After reading Laura Marks's lucid Enfoldment and Infinity, which leads us through the deep time layers of Arabic-Islamic arts and sciences, we have to give up our established concepts of media history. There remains no substantial reason to declare our culture and technologies of communication the most advanced in the world. Chapter by chapter, it becomes more evident that some of the most important paradigms like algorithms, pixels, morphs, or even virtual reality and artificial life have not been originally generated by the Occident, but through L'Age d'Or of the Orient, especially Mesopotamia with Baghdad in its center.
Siegfried Zielinski, Academy of Arts Berlin
Enfoldment and Infinity is the most inventive synthesis of European and Islamic thought since Reza Negarestani's Cyclonopedia. This is a book full of imagination and theory, restlessly refusing to remain in the usual continental, philosophic, or chronological borders, continuously reimagining contemporary abstraction as a profoundly Muslim visual discourse.
James Elkins, School of the Art Institute of Chicago