Air Loom: a Proto-Architectural Machine

The Air Loom, a hypothetical machine for remote mind control, was invented by James Tilly Matthews in the late eighteenth century, born of his own paranoia of being controlled by such a machine. In a dense essay by architect Devin Jernigan, the Air Loom and the condition of its creator’s mind are examined through architecture, psychoanalytics, and cybernetics. In addition to the possible importance of this strange invention to the current interrelationships between humans, architecture, and machines, the question of how to define madness in this realm opens new perspectives on the topic.


The intention of »report« [report being the elaboration on the functions and make­up of a complex (combining the abstract: to compensate for efficient methods of producing an effect, and the concrete: to be relative to society as a tool) machine] is to show the production, by our host »James Tilly Matthews,« of a synthetic machination process. Consequently, the process elucidates a unique generation, the DreamsCache alternative architecture. »Mr. M.« [a hint at the objective nature of John Haslam’s Illustrations of Madness, an early psychological report, and laying bare Mr. M.’s madness without an overarching claim to Mr. M.’s madness by the author] architected[1] a cybernetic remote for manipulation of the mind, body, or senses. This device represents an attempt to conceptually diagram the mind (Mr. M.’s own mind) using a network of architectural plans for its construction. Consequently, this product eventually eases Mr. M.’s mind from his own schizophrenic underpinnings. A dualistic reasoning sufficiently covers Mr. M.’s mental schemata: either the reasoning for why a person would be interested in designing a machine for mind control, or the reasoning for why a person would be interested in designing a machine. Any machine is an algorithm – a process [trivial or unique] designed for a specific series of actions; each subsequent part is constrained through a scientific language.

Here, the contention is that Mr. M.’s invention is more important to architecture than has been previously given credit, and subsequently ratifies new architecture[2] today. Mr. M.’s Air Loom is a composite of machine and architecture, neither clearly one nor the other. The Air Loom reveals a combination of multiple disciplines, creating an extraordinarily rigorous, conceptually constrained prototype, which is ultimately a generative device for a limitless possibility of ideas. The architecture is not the product, a series of architectural drawings, but instead is the fundamental mental processes that define the generation of a new architecture. »Paranoia is, among other things, a state of hyperawareness … Is it possible, then, that (schizophrenic subjects of psychiatry) may be similarly sensitized to more nebulous cues in the world around them? Can such delusions be not merely pathological but also visionary, even prophetic?«[3]

The purpose for reporting on the multiple forces in the Air Loom is to diagnose the multiple philosophical threads structuring the nature of the Air Loom’s proto-architectural process:


PART 1: Phenomenological perception – the effects of the machine

PART 2: Structuralism in social science and culture – the composition of the machine

PART 3: Cybernetics – physiological connection between man and the machine

NON COMPOS MENTIS: The Air Loom’s requisite language


PART 1: Phenomenological perception – the effects of the machine

First, it might be possible for a man and a machine to become one being. Second, man might characterize the relationship between consciousness and nature, as the result of the combination of this newly formed being. This part of the report addresses the direct loss of connection between man and machine, and the relationship that exists past a required state for the connection. This will be called the »Warp of magnetic-fluid.« This warp »reach[es] between the person impregnated with such fluid«, Mr. M. has made up his mind. Being-in-the-world, Mr. M.’s preconscious is at a point of realization. His own determination in his project, one that may or may not reflect his historical period, his mental state, or relation to physical constructions (such as the Air Loom, whether or not it is actually real and underneath Bedlam), is to make a machinic connection to the world which he lives. Additionally, he attempts to recollect his thoughts using phenomenological conditions to reveal his intentions and thoughts. In this way, the schizophrenic quality of these conditions present to outsiders (of his time) engenders skepticism, yet should not be taken lightly. Meanwhile, while architecting his own reality, Mr. M. held a close relationship to the many forces that may disrupt an architectural »thought.« Mr. M. builds a sensory network of players and conditions for his machine to exist, thereby architecting his own vision for a new reality. These conditions for Mr. M. are somewhat cynical or magical, but are always lucid. It is a problem of value judgments that Mr. M.’s vision was taken as a disruption to society.

For example:

Fluid-Locking – »A locking or constriction of the fibers of the root of the tongue, laterally, by which the readiness of speech is impeded.«

Lobster-cracking – »This is an external pressure of the magnetic atmosphere surrounding the person assailed, so as to stagnate his circulation, impede his vital motions, and produce instant death.«

Tying-down – »Fettering the energy of the assailed’s judgment on his thoughts.«

The Air Loom machine is constrained by immaterial ideas; much like the ideas that constrain a design. These conceptual constraints are particular to the people affected (the user/used) and the people who manipulate the machine (designers, the »gang«). It is clear that Mr. M.’s connection to the world was on the fringe; however, the real phenomenological connection to the world, Mr. M. has substituted with his own vitals. Today this practice of human correspondence should be valued as a potential force for objective consideration.


PART 2: Structuralism in social science and culture – the composition of the machine

The brain’s processes can maintain a structure that is in support of the homologous systems of symbols. Jacques Lacan would agree that while the abstract structure that language provides to life defines a personal structure of the mind, it also sheds light on an independent language for thought. Therefore, Mr. M. creates a language for his Air Loom that effectively acts to represent the condition of his own mind. The Air Loom is representative of Mr. M.’s unconscious, which is structured like a language. Consequently, the narrative of Mr. M.’s machine becomes too specific; the documentation of the machine relies on Mr. M.’s mind to contextually deliver the ideas to Haslam, and even today for readers.

The machine had multiple bits of history imbedded into the structure of the representations drawn by Mr. M. However, none are as important to the structuring of the ideas for the Air Loom, as the connection to Mesmerism. »Mesmerism itself has been technologically driven from the beginning: [Franz] Mesmer’s baquet was an outgrowth of this strange technology that transmitted power from machine to man.«[8] Mesmer was a scientist, mystic, and healer, who develop practices to heal people by using electricity and magnetic solutions. »Mesmer believed that the human nervous system was made up of a subtle, invisible fluid – analogous to electricity but operating according to ›hitherto unknown‹ laws – that was subject to the ebb and flow of planetary influence much like ocean tides.«[9] The baquet was a machine composed of a tube of electromagnetic liquid, and an apparatus surrounding it to administer the electricity. It is said that as the electricity was increased in the body, any illness would be destroyed.

For Mr. M.’s machine, the structural connection occurs via his relationship to God. Christoph Haizmann’s relationship to God is through »cacodemonomania,« or demonic possession. Conversely, »Mr. M. ‘s relationship is no longer to God but to machine, the Air Loom. God has been replaced by the machine.«


PART 3: Cybernetics – physiological connection between man and the machine

As we have learned from Norbert Wiener, »The word ›cybernetics‹ has been taken from the Greek word κυβερνητική, meaning steersman. It has been invented because in the literature there is not any adequate term describing the general study of communication and the related study of control in both machines and in living beings.«[10] The fundamental conditioning of information for translation between man and machines is quite a challenge. Therefore, a new class of representation is needed, which actively negotiates the boundaries between Mr. M.’s mind and the machine he devised. This representation should form a language, which can be used to ›architect‹ a new connection between man and machine.

»One of the markers of psychoses such as schizophrenia, as understood today, is that subjects feel a loss of agency: they are watching themselves at one step removed, their own actions seemingly driven by forces over which they have no control. As [John] Haslam himself quietly interpolates in his conclusion, this sense opens the door to a delusional world where outside agencies have taken control of the subject’s will, and their thoughts, feelings and memories have been taken over by someone or something else.«[11]

The schizoid rationale shows extended engagement and hypersensitivity towards the conditions of a modern and post-modern world, if understood as a rigor in successive finalities.


NON COMPOS MENTIS: The Air Loom’s requisite language

The potential for the usage of a new language to describe drawings and models is a result of the desire to communicate with the »machine« on a particular level of phenomenological and structural complexity. Mr. M. reveals to his audience the tenuous line between fact and fiction, sane and insane, curable and incurable. The result of this report is a language that traverses the virtual and the real, creating a process with the potential to exist between Mr. M.’s mind, the Air Loom, and society. Apparently, the »web« that Mr. M. created is more beautiful and constructive than Haslam could have ever imagined.


[1] Architecture means something more rigorous in this report, while in an active mode of criticism toward the definition of architecture that is commonly agreed upon today. Here the belief is that architecture is a discipline that hijacks reality through means of the physical and virtual (each carrying equal weight), with imagination – spaces at the forefront of progression. »Architecting« therefore carries a dialectical significance reaching beyond the architecture that either the AIA or IBM classifies.

[2] It is important to note that while he does eventually construct a series of conventional architecture plans for a new Bedlam, these are of no consequence to this report.

[3] Mike Jay: The Air Loom Gang, 2003.

[4] »Independently of this complex and powerful machine termed an Air Loom, which requires the person assailed to be previously saturated with magnetic fluid, a number of emissaries, who are termed novices, are sent about in different directions to prepare those who may hereafter be employed in the craft and mystery of event-working.« (p. 53, I o M)

[5] This sympathy is under the discretion of the Air Loom operator.

[6] In the early nineteenth century, magnets were a part of a new intrigue in science: electromagnetism. This is similar to the work that was contemporaneously happening by William Sturgeon, the inventor of the electromagnet.

[7] All of Mathews’ perceived influences of the Air Loom.

[8] Jacques Lacan’s epigram: »The unconscious is structured like a language.« Jay, p. 186.

[9] Christopher Turner: Cabinet, spring 2006. Jay, p. 192.

[10] Norbert Wiener: CYBERNETICS, 1950. p. 1.

[11] Jay, p. 182.