ESSENTIAL ITEMS

The Lost City of Z
A.E. Benenson

 Compression depends on finding the part of a thing you can do without. Ideally it's the biggest thing that's also the most redundant. Amongst the compression strategies of urbanism, photography, painting, and digital media there is a common elided term: depth.
        A city is a form of compression that uses technology to substitute extension with ascension. The original definition of "space", as provided by the limits of rural locomotion and agriculture, was width times depth; and the history of architecture can be understood as the incremental substitution of depth with that of height in this equation. This compression algorithm, epitomized by the Skyscraper, provided the necessary computational flexibility for the exponential population growth of the 20th century.
         Similarly, the ingenious premise of the MPEG-3 audio compression standard was that the human auditory system is relatively bad at appreciating the z-axis of acoustic event; that a large portion of any given sound's complexity ("depth") could be cut-out with little or no impact on the listener. Any MP3 can be conceptualized as a mass within space-time, where length=duration (sample rate), height=intensity (volume) and depth =number of bits available. The shallower the bit depth, the higher the rate of compression.
         The illusion of perspectival painting can also be restated as the recording of reality through depth compression. During the Renaissance, the flat canvas was able to replace the material and spatial demands sculpture required for mimesis. Clement Greenberg’s Modernism was the belated discovery of this compression algorithm, the moment when painters embraced depth-lessness as the medium's basic character. Photography has taken over the Renaissance task assigned to painting, becoming the primary artistic tool for indexically compressing reality within the 2D picture-plane. And Andre Malreaux's dream of an infinitely capacitive "Imaginary Museum" is the dream of practically realizing this feature of photographic compression: all the art objects of the world could be reduced to the flatness of the photographic print, and in their cheap and endless communication, photographs could replace the need for physical archives altogether.