[-empyre-] The New Aesthetic: Seeing Like Machines

David Berry dmberry at gmail.com
Fri Sep 14 03:21:28 EST 2012

Personally, I think the whole 'internet meme', 'buzz', 'promotional strategy' angle on the new aesthetic is indicative of a wider set of worries in relation to a new scepticism, as it were. We see it on Twitter where the medium of communication seems to encourage a kind of mass scepticism, where everyone feels the need to simultaneous point out how the other side is blindly following, a 'fanboy', irrational, suspect, or somehow beholden to a dark power to close, restrict or tighten individual freedoms – of course, the 'I' is smart enough to reject the illusion and unmask the hidden forces. This is also, I think, a worry of being caught out, being laughed at, or distracted by (yet) another internet fad. I also worry that the 'internet meme' criticism is possibly ad hominem. I think we really need to move on from this level of new scepticism and be more dialectical in our attitude towards the possibilities in, and suggested by, the new aesthetic. 

For example, part of the new aesthetic, is a form of cultural practice which is related to a postmodern and fundamentally paranoid vision of being watched, observed, coded, processed or formatted. I find particularly fascinating the aesthetic dimension to this, in as much as the representational practices are often (but not always) retro, and in some senses, tangential to the physical, cultural, or even computational processes actually associated with such technologies. This is both, I suppose, a distraction, in as much as it misses the target, if we assume that the real can ever be represented accurately (which I don't), but also and more promisingly an aesthetic that remains firmly human mediated, contra to the claims of those who want to "see like machines". That is, the new aesthetic is an aestheticization of computational technology and computational techniques more generally. It is also fascinating in terms of the refusal of the new aesthetic to abide by the careful boundary monitoring of art and the 'creative industry' more generally, really bringing to the fore the questions raised by Liu, for example, in The Laws of Cool. One might say that it follows the computational propensity towards dissolving of traditional boundaries and disciplinary borders. 

I also find the new aesthetic important for it has an inbuilt potentiality towards critical reflexivity, both towards itself (do I exist?) but also towards both artistic practice (is this art?), curation (should this be in galleries?), and technology (what is technology?). There is also, I believe, an interesting utopian kernel to the new aesthetic, in terms of its visions and creations – what we might call the paradigmatic forms – which mark the crossing over of certain important boundaries, such as culture/nature, technology/human, economic/aesthetic and so on. Here I am thinking of the notion of augmented humanity, or humanity 2.0, for example. This criticality is manifested in the new aesthetic's continual seeking to 'open up' black boxes of technology, to look at developments in science, technology and technique and to try to place them within histories and traditions – in the reemergence of social contradictions, for example. But even an autonomous new aesthetic, as it were, points towards the anonymous and universal political and cultural domination represented by computational techniques which are now deeply embedded in systems that we experience in all aspects of our lives. There is much to explore here. 

The new aesthetic, of course, is as much symptomatic of a computational world as itself subject to the forces that drive that world. This means that it has every potential to be sold, standardised, and served up to the willing mass of consumers as any other neatly packaged product. Perhaps even more so, with its ease of distribution and reconfiguration within computational systems, such as Twitter and Tumblr. But it doesn't have to be that way, and so far I have more hope that it even in its impoverished consumerized form, it still serves to serve notice of computational thinking and processes, which stand out then against other logics. This is certainly one of the interesting dimensions to the new aesthetic both in terms of the materiality of computationality, but also in terms of the need to understand the logics of postmodern capitalism, even ones as abstract as obscure computational systems of control. 


On 13 Sep 2012, at 13:56, "Lichty, Patrick" <plichty at colum.edu> wrote:

> Well, I actually see a lot of The New Aesthetic, as with much of what is happening in New Media blogjournalism as being infinitely strategic/self-reflexive.  There are many examples for evidence of cultural entrepreneurism/branding, not just in the blogs, but also with the tech/craft cluster of Make, Makerbot/Sparkfun/evilmadscentist/adafruit.  The fact that so many of us hve flocked to kickstarter is talked about in the NYT:
> http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/13/opinion/sunday/the-entrepreneurial-generation.html?pagewanted=all
> All right - this potentially bifurcates the conversation.  Is NA actually a cultural branding scheme meant to capitalize through recognition or whatnot the idea od a disparate set of machine imaging practices, or is it a rigorous curatorial statement? 
> This might be a little polemic, but I might say it could be a little of both.  
> However, I am interested in what, as a curatorial vision, NA seeks to accomplish as a serious curatorial statement.
> If we want to talk about NA as a cultural placement strategy for James Bridle, we can do that, but I think it is much less interesting.
> For example, in my Robotics class this semester, we are building a UAV to create drone art.  Fortunately this is so far off my colleagues' radars that they're not commenting much.  I think that if they realized that I'm trying to to do drone art in the heart of a major city, they would probably have an aneurism.  But I think this is the bleeding edge of NA.
> Patrick Lichty
> Editor-in-Chief
> Intelligent Agent Magazine
> c/o Columbia College Chicago
> 916/1000 S. Wabash Ave #104
> Chicago, IL USA 60605
> "Better to live on your feet than to die on your knees."
> ________________________________________
> From: empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au [empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au] On Behalf Of mez breeze [netwurker at gmail.com]
> Sent: Tuesday, September 11, 2012 6:44 PM
> To: soft_skinned_space
> Subject: Re: [-empyre-] The New Aesthetic: Seeing Like Machines
> Nice timing, seeing Bridle has reactivated the New Aesthetic tumblr in the last two weeks or so.
> The more I think about NA, the more I'm inclined to ponder whether Bridle is using it as an adjunct promotional strategy that mimics start-up/entrepreneurial frameworks: grab a manifest-yet-still-edge-worthy-to-some spinable idea, run it through a concept grinder and link it with a delivery system (in this case, the dangling carrot-bait of merging digital concepts with physical that theorists/academics/creatives/intellectuals just can't resist, with high profile figures being drawn to pontification + publicizing). This "debate bait" then actualises as an emergent discourse with assured (built-in) funding/exposure strategies through clever generation of its own marketing/PR machine - complete with monetisation through conference creation + academic publications/hype/circuit creation - rather than it acting to ideologically frame a legitimately culturally relevant paradigm that highlights "new" corresponding forms of cultural interpretations regarding the fusion of the digital and physical?
> I'm not trying to assert that Bridle is intentionally aping this entrepreneurial strategy, but just having a quick examination of his previous attempts to kick-start (using this term in an oldskool sense, not in the crowdfunding model sense) buzz-worthy/coinable frames of reference such as his 2010 labelling attempt: "I want to give it a name, and at this point I’m calling it Network Realism" http://booktwo.org/notebook/network-realism/, or ideas evidenced on his "hand-drawn" website: http://shorttermmemoryloss.com/moleskine/ to his audition "tape" for TED2013: http://talentsearch.ted.com/video/James-Bridle-A-new-aesthetic-fo makes me curious?
> And if Bridle is indeed covertly emulating an entrepreneurial model, and is in fact a concept-"manifestering" mastermind, we're all playing our roles perfectly, with me more than most: http://www.facebook.com/TheNewAesthetic.
> Chunks,
> Mez
> | http://www.vizify.com/mez-breeze
> | http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mez_Breeze
> On Wed, Sep 12, 2012 at 4:48 AM, Patrick Lichty <plichty at colum.edu<mailto:plichty at colum.edu>> wrote:
> September on –empyre soft-skinned space: The New Aesthetic: Seeing Like Machines
> Moderated by Patrick Lichty (US) with invited discussants:
> Rahel Alma, David M. Berry, Ina Blom, Nick Briz, Amber Case, Marcelo Coelho, Michael Dieter, David Golumbia, Julia Kaganskiy, Michelle Kasprzak, Jon Lebkowsky, Patrick Lichty, Joanne McNeil, Hrag Vartanian
> The New Aesthetic: Seeing Like Machines
> It’s been months since Bruce Sterling delivered his endnote talk at SXSW highlighting James Bridle et al’s panel on The New Aesthetic, and there have been furious conversations about it. If we take the replies by Watz et al on the The Creators Project blog as an indication, there is a bit of dismissal of the idea from my interpretation. However, many of us are still talking about the idea, but why? I still believe that a cultural chord was struck that is a result of extant developments in contemporary digital art of the 2000’s that lead right to The New Aesthetic blog, or something like it. Where I and others argue that The New Aesthetic might be a non-movement, I would like to re-imagine that it is actually indicative of other cultural phenomena and New Media proto-movements. These have to do with issues of curation, precedents in New Media “movements”, and the shape of culture in New Media society. Where I think Bridle et al might have done a disservice to the idea of NA is through a partial superficiality in the case of a subject, while ephemeral, is not superficial at all.
> Why? It is for the reason that in the current day and age, ephemerality is often mistaken for superficiality. Net.culture by default is mercuric, and technoculture is typified by the fact that things like the iPad and tablets have become nearly ubiquitous within two years of the technology’s emergence. This is reflected in online culture, through the torrent (pun intended) of images spilling through social media like blogs, Facebook, image boards, and tumblrs like The New Aesthetic. Love or hate it, what Bridle describes is a phenomenology of this torrent of images as an aesthetic and their generation by technology. For this month’s discussion on Empyre which will last only three weeks due to the disappearance of a week in the black hole of the start of the academic semester, we will have a floating group of key correspondents on the subject who have been posting and publishing around the Net on The New Aesthetic.
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Dr. David M. Berry
Senior Lecturer in Digital Media 
(Associate Professor in Media Studies)

Department of Political and Cultural Studies
Swansea University
Singleton Campus

Tel: 01792 602633


Room: Room JC015, James Callaghan Building

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