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The New Aesthetic: James Bridle and the Mythology of a Pixel, ANP Quarterly cover story

The New Aesthetic: James Bridle and the Mythology of a Pixel, ANP Quarterly cover story

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Published by Liz Armstrong
Interview with James Bridle, discoverer of the New Aesthetic movement, cover story for ANP Quarterly Vol 2 No 7 2013 ... Discussions on the pixel as an alchemical tool, the internet as magic, glitch theory, and developing a chase.
Interview with James Bridle, discoverer of the New Aesthetic movement, cover story for ANP Quarterly Vol 2 No 7 2013 ... Discussions on the pixel as an alchemical tool, the internet as magic, glitch theory, and developing a chase.

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Published by: Liz Armstrong on May 07, 2013
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JAMES BRIDLE AND THE MYTHOLOGY OF A PIXEL BY LIZ ARMSTRONG I PORTRAIT BY PAT GRAHAM

Glitches are seams that reveal where stuff gets interesting. So says Londoner James Bridle, somewhat accidental father of the New Aesthetic, an intellectual movement that attempts to apprehend tl?:e experience of living in a world where the digital and tangible experiences overlap. In many ways, seeing with our eyes is secondary; we look at what we've designed machines to show us. So then what are we trying to say to ourselves? Or has the digital interception changed the information and is giving us insight we wouldn't otherwise have the ability to perceive? In May 2011 Bridle spilled a handful of seeds on Tumblr-pixilated and tessellated art in the physical world as sculpture or pattern on fabric, images of real humans navigating digitally-rendered architecture, Google Earth's unintentional sense of humor, the sociological subtext of several types of facial recognition, etc. -and a thousand of its babies were quickly identified. Animated gifs re-animated as zoetropes, DIY drones, composite imagery app revelations, Facebook app-branded ice cream, a descriptive camera that generates and prints out a written description of what was shot rather than capturing an image, a sound wave transformed into a chair, on and on and on ... so many things we previously noticed or made or used but didn't really stop to think about, were now being recognized and collated under one large descriptor. Then last spring at South by Southwest, New Aesthetic blew up. From there, academics at Harvard, artists and art critics, and tech writers started chewing on it, and it still hasn't lost its flavor. Thing is, it's not really art, nor is it technology or networking, nor does it provide enough boundaries for its own philosophy. Describing New Aesthetic is like describing being human: You know exactly what that means, but how do you define it? Bridle, a learned fellow in artificial intelligence and philosophy, maintains a logical, categorical approach to his own offering that at this point describes how this isn't art, or technology-it's more about the linguistics of understanding, creating a universal sub-code where all metaphors coalesce. New Aesthetics, for intellectuals, is an evolving amoeba that lets us watch its organelle development, an ever-dilating and constricting conversation that will consider anything and naturally eject what doesn't belong without suffering a disembowelment. To romantics, it's a visual, semi-tactile poem about how we create life within an idea. It breathes. It generates information about itself. And it might know. Assigning sentience and meaningfulness to theory is how you create myth. It explains not only itself but other things around it too: it has a life of inflection. So is Bridle's initial proposition an aesthetic, or is this something else entirely? We talked to him in an attempt to understand.

Drone Shadow, Silicon Car Park, London 27/02/2012. James Bridle & Einar Sneve Martinussen

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Graffiti of Getty Images Watermark, 2012. Photo by Jerry Hsu

ANP: I'm curious how you started coming up with New Aesthetic. James Bridle: It started from a couple of positions, two things that are very closely connected. I was increasingly frustrated with the so-called cultural dominance of retro and vintage. Where everyone's got interesting facial hair and wears braces and has this idea that there's something authentic in the past that we've lost, and that authenticity can only be located in the past. Which is fine, but it seems to have become so overblown that we've lost all sight of any possible futures. And that's very connected to the fact that indeed these potential futures seem to have failed us. The future that we believed in for so long-where we're living on other planets-that's not the future we're getting, right? That these two are connected are evident in all kinds of things-many, many things. At the very simplest level, I set out to find things that felt genuinely new. Things that would be inexplicable to someone 20 or even 10 years ago. I usually start off these projects with the idea that something I'm looking for must be out there somewhere, in some form. And if you look for it hard enough, it'll appear. In this case, the imagery at least, that you might see in some of the ·manifestations of New Aesthetic are what I've found. ANP: What youjust said-ifyou look hard enough it'll appear-makes me wonder how much you think the intent of our consciousness informs our mundane reality. JB: I'm very interested in consciousness but I'd be loath to tie it too closely to what I'm talking about. I oscillate massively between the positions that the internet is a new form of human consciousness and the idea that that's probably complete bullshit. At times I want it to be true. I think there are aspects in which maybe it is, but I'm more interested the fact that the network gives us new ways of seeing things that we simply didn't have before. It doesn't mean they didn't exist before, it didn't mean they didn't sufficiently work. They weren't accessible to us before, but we suddenly have this ability to see so much further than we did, which is one of the aims of consciousness. I don't necessarily believe that the network gives us anything particularly new, but it does reveal things that previously were a lot harder to see. ANP: It also could be what we do as humans, which is project our own experience on animals or plants or inanimate things, such as a network. Where we're saying maybe this network has consciousness because we do too. JB: Again, I'm nervous about ascribing consciousness to it, but I am interested in ascribing consciousness to it as a framing device to try to understand it. I studied classical AI. I did a final work on creativity in artificial intelligence. And I left that course with a profound disappointment in what was possible. That's another one of

those futures that has failed us, of god-like creative artificial intelligence- it turns out machines don't work that way, and we don't work that way. But it can be kind of useful. So one of the things I was doing a lot with New Aesthetic was attributing intentionality to a lot of non-human actions. That doesn't mean I believe they have intentionality, I just think that's sometimes an interesting and useful way to talk about them. ANP: Do you want to tell me more about your background? JB: I was in computer science and a1tificial intelligence, and psychology and linguistics, which all sort of built toward attempts to understand. In particular computer science and cognitive science, which is one of the ways to approach artificial intelligence, is a way oflooking at the brain as if it's a computer. So you hypothesize that the brain is a black box, like an unmarked computer and you give it inputs and you see what comes out, and you try and reverse engineer how the brain works by doing that. It's tied to things like evolutionary psychology, which presupposes that a lot of our newer hardwiring is how it is because it's how we were on the savannah millions of years ago. I don't really buy that anymore. But it's an interesting way of approaching the problem. It's a solving technique by which you break down everything that's possible, the most algorithmic way you can because you're coming at it from a computer science background. It's an interesting approach; it works in some ways and it doesn't work in many other ways. It's really good if you're interested in language and psychology and newer biology. But I studied that for years and by the time I got done and qualified in it, I hated computers so much that I went to work in very traditional book publishing. So I was a publisher and an editor publishing contempora1y fiction for a few years. ANP: That's amazing. JB: I figured that's somewhere I could go where I wouldn't have to worry about computers so much. ANP: It's a bit of a more analog form of communication. JB: That's what I thought, but I was wrong. It turns out that what literature and the publishing industly and fiction and everything else needed was a far better understanding of what the network was bringing. Slowly, my specialty became what happens when literature meets technology, what happens when literature meets the network, and the strange forms you see emerging at those points. The New Aesthetic emerged from what happens when all of culture does that-when things become digital and fundamentally changed by that. It's something that we're really bad at addressing; we're very good at picking metaphors for why digital things are like physical things, but we're bad at examining the ways in which they're not. But it's the ways in which they're not that seem to,l:Je important and interesting.

Dutch landscapes by Mishka Henner. When Google introduced its free satellite imagery service to the world in 2005, views of our planet only previously accessible to astronauts and surveyors were suddenly available to anyone with an internet connection. Yet the vistas revealed by this technology were not universally embraced. Governments concerned about the sudden visibility of political, economic and military locations exerted considerable influence on suppliers of this imagery to censor sites deemed vital to national security. Th is form of censorship continues today and techniques vary from country to country with preferred methods generally including use of cloning, blurring, pixelization, and whitening out sites of interest. Surprisingly, one of the most vociferous of all governments to enforce this form of censorship were the Dutch, hiding hundreds of significant sites including royal palaces, fuel depots and army barracks through · out their relatively small country. The Dutch method of censorship is notable for its stylistic intervention compared to other countries; imposing bold, multi-coloured polygons over sites rather than the subtler and more standard techniques employed in other countries. The result is a landscape occasionally punctuated by sharp aesthetic contrasts between secret sites and the rural and urban environments surrounding them . www.mishka.lockandhenner.com
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The Descriptive Camera works a lot like a regular camera-point it at subject and press the shutter button to capture the scene. However, instead of producing an image, this prototype outputs a text description of the scene. Created by Matt Richardson . www.mattrichardson.com

.ANP: You talk about how much you love Spambots. I wonder if this love and the attempt to parse what part of them might be human or attempting to truly communicate with humans, I wonder if you've found any difficulty in talking to people as a result. JB: I don't know. If I take it a step back and understand how these digital things are affecting the way we see the world, the one thing spambots don't do very well is they don't have any sense of memory or experience. They seem incredibly naive. Which is charming, right? It's something nice and makes them seem vulnerable, like a puppy. But that quality of memory and experience is exactly what humans seem .·• to struggle with. ANP: When you put it that way, it seems like humans and spambots aren't so different. I guess these are universal concerns. JB: I'm incredibly sensitive to the ways in which we attempt to manipulate memory and experience. 1 see it in the ways in which we try to present our experiences online, the way in which we relate. In my own work it very much came out in trying to understand why our experience with books is different when they become ebooks. I see exactly the same process happening with the way that we deal with digital photographs online- for example, the spread of the retro-filter movement in Instagram-and also in huge numbers of other things. Seems to me to be a way that we're trying to impose emotions and memories that we understand as almost physical onto very digital things. Then I start to see that in terms of how easily constructed a lot of those memories are. Take the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. There's a whole effort of collective memory creation going on where we're t1ying to implant in the consciousness of the country a memory of what those 60 years have been like. Now, I don't remember any of those things. I wasn't there. I haven't taken part in any of these street parties that they say are one of the cultural signifiers of the nation. But we construct them through

television and advertising in order to recreate them. Now take that and project it forward into the future and it feels to me like that's what we're trying to do with a lot of our online activity. Because we have this whole network sphere in which we spend a vast amount of our time and yet we have no memory or experience in it. And we still have to work out how we have lasting memories and experiences, and for me it's all we have, it's what makes us. How do we construct those in the digital world? What do they look like? What does a digital souvenir look like? Can you imagine a digital souvenir that has no substantiation? I'm increasingly sensitive to it. .ANP: That's really interesting, and you're making me think two things here. First, does the digital experience enhance authenticity? Or does it falsify it if we can't touch it? JB: I don't know what authenticity means. I say that with incredible seriousness. Our ideas of authenticity have always been rooted in physical objects. But that's been a myth; I see it all the time, again with books. This idea that because something is physically instantiated is therefore authentic, that's simply not true, there have always been fakes and heresies and ways of confusing this issue. The network reveals that those things stand OJ! very shaky foundations. We're increasingly aware of that, though I'm loath to admit it or deal with it in any kind of real way. .ANP: The other thing that this talk about our digital experience and memory is making me think about is how it's forcing a nostalgia for things we weren't old enough to actually experience. And it's the same thing you were talking about, which you formed or identified the New Aesthetic as a response to. That idea that things were better in the old days, and a lot of these kids aren't even old enough to have experienced the aesthetic they're perpetuating. JB: That's always been the case. I grew up listening to music made long before I was born and loving it and thinking it was the best thing. The network has made it obvious

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Sebastian Schmieg & Sylvia Lorusso's "56 Broken Kindle Screens" is a print on demand paperback that consists of found photos depicting broken Kindle screens. The Kindle is Amazon's e-reading device which is by default connected to the company's book store. The book takes as its starting point the peculiar aesthetic of broken E Ink displays and serves as an examination into the reading device's materiality. As the screens break, they become collages composed of different pages, cover illustrations and interface elements. www.sebastianschmieg.com

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Black and Wh ite Coding Dots, 2012. Photo by Sebastian Schramm. www.bueroschramm .de

and untenable that I now know and I can find out exactly when records were made and when their popularity was. I'm suddenly so hyper aware of my distance from them, even though they're closer than ever, because I can reach across the network and take whatever I want from any period in history. That at the same time makes it quite clear that there's a kind ofleak forming. I'm suspicious of notions that don't even carry on recycling that stuff. It seems ever easier to do so, and also an abdication of responsibility to find the new thing. And the new thing has got to be where it gets interesting. ANP: Right. Sometimes I think the new thing is in the bridge of the pastiche. like what you're talking about where you'll grab things from different eras or places and that becomes what's meaningful to you. And that bridge, that reveal of interstitial information, is what is the new thing. JB: When I think about bridge, I think of the point at which something genuinely new gets absorbed into something that we recognize and are comfortable with. So we can take bits and make analogies or complex metaphors to explain new things in terms of the things we already understand, but it doesn't mean that we genuinely understand them or that we genuinely change in any new way. The things that we were excited about in the old visions of the future were things that were genuinely new experiences. Space travel is like a genuinely new thing, way beyond air travel. Air travel, essentially as we understand it now and experience it-going to airports and sitting on passenger jets-is not much different from a fast train ride, or frankly a fast horse and carriage. That is explicable to someone who lived hundreds of years ago, it's just a faster way of getting from point to point. We lose the ability to conceptualize the difference. But I think with the network gives us the opportunity, if we face it head-on, to start conceptualizing new experiences.

ANP: So then New Aesthetic is largely imaginary, right? It seems it'd have to be in order to be self-evolving or self-perpetuating? Because then wouldn't it have an expiration date? .JB: At some point it should collapse into the real. It depends on what you mean by imaginary. To me, New Aesthetic was always not about things themselves but about the experience of living in a world where such things manifest. And are legible. What is interesting is that even though we can't explain them, really, we still experience them on some level. They get through to us and make us realize there is something going on here. What is interesting about a lot of the artifacts of the New Aesthetic is they're already everyday things, but we haven't really noticed how strange and wonderful they are. We've been so focused on the massive, vast experiences we've been expecting that we haven't noticed how the smaller things have crept in and become normal. ANP: like the pixilated camouflage drones and the funny Google street view blurs. These everyday objects, and how out of place they are, but we don't even notice-I'm making a sort of awkward leap into thinking about glitches, and how they seem to be alluring to you. JB: The glitches of many of the artifacts of the New Aesthetic felt like sean1s in things that reveal where it became interesting. There's a lot of discourse in design around the seams and the edges where stuff meets. For a long time I believed that there was a firm boundary particularly between the physical and the digital, that there was some kind of hard layer that things existed on one side and then others on the other side. I don't really believe that anymore. I think the two are overlaid upon one another, that they extend in all directions and overlap. It's incredibly hard to separate, if you've grown up with access to the digital world; there are no hard and fast boundaries. The things that are important-your memories and experiences- exist in both.

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(left to right) The Piranha USV " Sea Drone" is a long-range unmanned concept vessel designed to demonstrate today's latest materials technology and design theory. Advanced unmanned vessels enable a broad range of unmanned operations on the sea, red ucing operational costs and unnecessary risks. NATO plans to issue biometrically backed identification cards to 1.65 million Afghans by next May. Local and NATO forces are already compiling "biometric dossiers on hundreds of thousands of cops, crooks, soldiers, insurgents and ordinary citizens. It's a high-tech upgrade to a classic counterinsurgency move-simultaneously taking a census of the population, culling security forces of double agents and cutting off guerrilla routes." - Wired Magazine.

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Frog Queen, or the Prism a Engineering Headquarters (a machine and motor techn ology company) is located in Graz, Styria, Austria. Its facade was designed by Splitterwerk and looks like one giant pixelized box. Even the facade itself is practically a square. However, if you look very closely, you will see that each one of the pixels has circular patterns screenprinted on its face. Photography by Nikolaos Zachariadis, Splitterwerk.

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(left to right) Pixel Fashion by Kunihiko Morinaga for Anrealage. www.anrealage.com Google employees recently began testing the company's new augmented-reality glasses called Project Glass. The glasses are the company's first venture into wearable computing. The glasses are not yet for sale. Google will, however, be testing them in public. Square Enix and Prada teamed up to promote the fashion giant's 2012 men's spring/summer collection by producing a CGI photos hoot, starring JRPG Final Fantasy characters. The images appeared in Arena Homme+ as part of the 25th Anniversary celebration of the Final Fantasy series. Characters lightning, Noel, Snow, Sazh and Hope are all wearing Prada gear. They were created by Square Enix's Visual Works studio in Japan, working alongside the Final Fantasy character designers.

So what is the thing that distinguishes between them? Or what is common to both of them? That's us. That comes down to human consciousness and perception that must stretch across both of those things. I see us attempting to use the same models and metaphors for things in both the physical and networked world . But something else must be coming down and I'm trying to-well, I don't want to pin down what that thing is, but I definitely want to point to the things that make you realize it. My favorite things of the New Aesthetic are the kind of images that you look at and you genuinely struggle to comprehend, your brain goes, "I can not figure out how this thing can come to be." When you understand quite how many pressures must be operating or how far various cultural images and ideas must have traveled in order to come together into this thing, that sort of hints toward something. But that something, for the moment, has to remain unknowable and unsay-able. When you start talking about consciousness, I point toward the unsay-able, essentially. ANP: You don't seem to like to pin things down. JB: No. I really, really don't. I think that's a mistake in idea. I'm deeply uninterested in that. ANP:Why? JB: Because if the network reveals anything, it's that ~hese things are heterogeneous but connected. They exist in a state that you can't make some kind of concrete definition of. Maybe we will, hut the urge to do so destroys it instantly. As soon as you try to nail these things down, it will escape it. I was having a conversation last week-a couple conversations, actually. One was with an author; we were talking about the process of writing a non-fiction book now, the idea of trying to write a book about something. What you are trying to do in that state or action, is trying to ringfence something: Here is my opinion of it, and I'm going to stamp this with my own particular view. While the argument will carry on, here is my position. I can't do that now. I've approached that issue from a number of angles and I don't see why you would attempt to do that now. And the other conversation was with a curator of an art gallery who was quitting her job. She talked about curation in similar terms. In order to be a curator you essentially have to have a strong opinion about something, and you curate things that uphold that opinion. And that is how you make a name, practice, career, or whatever. And she used the phrase, "That seems deeply non-contemporary to me. " That simply is not the way in which we experience the world anymore. That these things are more interleaved and more interconnected now. And therefore trying

to put a neat circle around something is so obviously reductive as to be ridiculous . I'm hoping that doesn't mean an end to all kinds of cultural production, but tl1at's the bit that I'm stuck in at the moment. ANP: I think it's about adaptation, right? It's the same thing with journalism-where the subjective experience is undeniable at this point, it's integrated into reportage and pretending otherwise is crazy. People saying journalism is dead because there's no way to get to objective truth, in that way I am relieved. I like the idea that the experience is a process. JB: Absolutely. It has historically always been that way. We've trusted those experiences of the people who have the loudest voices. And that is starting to breakdown. ANP: Yes, as soon as you name something, it is gone. It's the past. We're continuously putting things behind us as soon as we identify them in a concrete way. Something I find exciting about New Aesthetic: You said it all theoretically coalesces at a certain point, but it seems like actually it would just keep racing ahead of itself. JB: It should. That's the sign that you're onto a good thing, right? That's definitely a sign that there's something going on here that's worthy of attention. As soon as you can stamp it and go, "I've got that thing," it's dead. ANP: Exactly. JB: Something is living here. So as long as you keep that door open to what it might become, then it remains the interesting thing. ANP: I wonder if it's not even so much an aesthetic that you're identifying, then, as much as an archetype, or even a form of modem mythology. Am I being too romantic? JB: I hope not. The aesthetic was always the bits that fell off the back as you were looking for it. You find these shards of evidence and you gather them together and go, "Is this the thing? Does it look like this? Is this a bit of evidence for the thing that I'm talki ng about?" But if you focus on the things then you lose it instantly. You can keep picking up these things and they're very interesting and they may be pretty or ugly or whatever, but they are merely the artifact of the thing, they're not the thing itself. ANP: A taxidermied idea. This idea of exploring a seam: Do you think there are seams in our "real world," our physical experience? JB: Do you know a book called The City & The City by China Mieville?

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Which of the cars you've owned has been your favorite?

Which of the cars you've owned has been your least favorite?

Who was your favorite teacher?

Who was your least favorite teacher?

What was the first concert you attended?

Where was your least favorite job?

Where was your favorite job?

In which city did your mother and father meet?

Who was your best childhood friend?

I

Where were you on January 1. 2000?

AT&T and Boston Police anonymous crime reporting billboard in Boston. Photo by Adam Greenfield. What Apple would like to know about you . Apple's new security questions for iOS.

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Face detection is a computer technology that determines the location and size of a human face in an arbitrary (digital) image. The facial features in the image are detected, and any other objects like trees, buildings, bodies, etc. are ignored. The human face is a rich source of information-by looking at the person's face, we can immediately identify whether the person is male or female, the person's approximate age, facial expression, and so on . Face detection can be regarded as a more " general" case of face localization. In face localization, the task is to find th e locations and sizes of a known number of faces. http://demo.geotitles.com/face-detect/#serverJdefault

ANP: I've noticed that you've referenced it before. JB: Yeah, I reference it a lot because it's so good at describing what I think you've just asked about. One thing that's so brilliant about the book is that it gives you a new vocabulary for describing the world. It describes a city that is two cities overlaid, one upon the other. So they're sister cities, but they're not next to each other, they co-exist. And the citizens of the one city are culturated from birth to simply unsee the other city. So you know that the people of your city dress a certain way, the buildings in your city have a certain architecture style, you have a language and a whole culture in common. If you took two steps to the right, you would effectively be in that other city, even though you would not see it. And that's the world in which this book is set. What's brilliant is it gives you this vocabulary-there's a couple particular terms, such as "cross-hatching," which is the area where the two cities are literally side-byside, building by building. And also "breeching," a criminal offense, is when you step outside the boundary of your city and you suddenly exist in the other city, which must be guarded against by all means. As soon as you read this book, in the real world you suddenly realize when you've breeched. You're walking down a street and look down an alleyway and see a side of the city that you know you're not supposed to see, that exists in a totally different zone of culture and awareness. It's not how you go about your day-to-day life, but once you've seen it, once you've breeched, it's unseeable again. That is constantly happening, where you live in your reality bubble, or bubble of metaphors for how you understand the world, and most of the time we're very good at unseeing the very things that break those metaphors. But occasionally those things get through. So one of the things the New Aesthetic may have been doing is provoking that breech between ideas of the present and the imminent future, between the digital and physical, and saying these things are not as separate as you might have believed they were before, that you are capable of transcending that boundary. But it may provoke very odd reactions within you. ANP: You're probably going to hate this next question, but what you're talking about-the subtle perception and the overlap-is what a lot of magic is about. JB: Yep. With a k. ANP: With or without, I think it works both ways. JB: I have a long and abiding fascination with everyone from Crowley to Gurdjieff to way back before then. It's one of the main taboos of any discussions about consciousness is that people tend to ignore the huge amounts of research done under the name of "magic(k)." It's just reality manipulation and-well, you've read Grant Morrison, right? We're talking about The Invisibles and technology as standing in for what used to be called magic(k), or various other things. It's all metaphors. ANP: I figured you had to have some sort of knowledge of these worlds. Is that something you're allowed to talk about in the circles you run around in? JB: Ha, I'll talk about anything! Yeah, of course, but you have to be very careful about talking about these things, or at least you have to be sure that when you sta1t talking

in a different set of metaphors, that it's clear to everyone in the conversation where those metaphors intersect and where they don't. So I could say the same thing about conspiracy theories, or about attributing intentionality to non-human actions. At some level in all of these things you're talking in very broad metaphors, and sometimes you're being deadly serious. Anyone who discusses magic(k) seriously is usually doing both things at the same time. Which is often quite hard, but in terms of circles, no, come on down to Treadwell's bookshop and we'll talk about the apophatic silence at the heart of everything, which is produced by magical, noumenal experience. But equally, you can have the same discussion with a bunch of very serious tech people about the difference between a blog post and Twitter. These things are stacks of metaphors. ANP: Yes, and I'd say the language you're speaking in is universal Polari. It's like sub-code we can all relate to. JB: Yes, Polari is a code within the language that's creating a number of other signifiers for what's understood. Polari's a good example in terms of it being useful on some levels, internally and externally. So the thing about Polari is that it creates a sense of solidarity amongst its speakers that is visible to those outside even if they don't understand it, but it's also a useful way of communicating to people from inside a world. That's true of magical speech as well. When magicians talk about conversing with higher beings, they don't necessarily mean, say, Thoth or elder beings. They might just mean higher consciousness or their own inner state. But you've created a scene around those things that allow you to discuss it on many levels at once. Yes, that's what I'm frequently doing. Maybe? Possibly. ANP: Ha, ha. You're a magician! JB: Ah, you know, we're all magicians. It's all good. ANP: We're over a year later from when you've first introduced New Aesthetic. It was May last year, right? JB: That's when it was given that particular name, which was a very throwaway name at the time, just one of those things that stuck. It was, as I've said, vety much connected to much longer discussions about struggling to articulate the new experiences that we were having but somewhat denying because we didn't have the right words to describe them. It seemed like an interesting way of talking about them. ANP: What's happened in this last year? JB: The last year's been really interesting. I got to spend a year playing with this idea, and as we discussed, being very careful not to define it. Not to put a direct line on it. My friend Tom Taylor wrote a wonderful thing about it, where he described it as akin to a playlist, something you could drop ideas in and out of and slowly shape a thing. Which is kind of spot-on. My feeling about what I was doing at least on the Tumblr was to put these things out there and see how they felt. And many of them, in hindsight, weren't what I was talking about. But by putting the things out there, you kind of got to have the conversation about them and shape it futther. One of the joys in the process was this constant process of correction. For me, pretty much as soon as anyone else said, "Ah! I see what you're talking about, here, it's this." I go, "That's brilliant, really interesting, but therefore not that." Because you've been

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Extract from the Gallery of Default Anonymity: A Work in Progress by Rob Walker. www.murketing.com

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Various digital glitches in photography and video courtesy of www.glitchnews.tumblr.com

Glitch blanket by Phillip Stearns. ·rhese blankets are layered w ith irony: a digital photographic image, made with an intentionally broken (rewired) camera, is mechanically woven or knit into a photoblan ket, an object commonly advertised as a kitsch memento. In this project, a keepsake for cherishing one's memories now becomes a platform for fashioning corrupted memory, the cold logic of digital systems into soft, warm blankets."

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John Rafman, Nscozsri De Gareis- Montezuma, Sonora, Mexico {2011) Chromogenic Print. From: 16 Google Street Views. Courtesy of M+B, Los Angeles.

able to put your arms around that particular thing, therefore it is not that. So we'll veer off into another direction for a bit, and that happened constantly throughout the year. What happened back in March and April, when it exploded, was that kind of happened to almost all of it. Or at least it happened to what was happening on the Tumblr, which was always one aspect of New Aesthetic. There's been a huge amount of conversation and debate around it. But almost all of that is not what I was talking about, even though it's been incredibly fascinating to figure out, to see how that happened. On the most basic level, the most interesting thing that happened was that you got to see this immense chasm between technology and art. In that the New Aesthetic was never about art, though artworks were included in it. Rather there's this huge area of culture that the art world hasn't really gotten a handle on, and so largely ignored for a long time or treated it completely face value without delving into what was behind it. It suddenly reached a point where a lot of that stuff looks like art to artists, even if it was never produced within the theoretical sphere of the art world. Suddenly the art world has taken up the New Aesthetic, which has produced all sorts of fascinating conversations. But it seems to be a way of saying, "Oh right! It's that thing there, we'll grab that and grasp that," While still missing the changes that are happening under the hood to have made that occur. ANP: You've created one specific act of actually creating an amorphous framework that didn't kill the thing it might contain. You've created a chase. JB: Part of me thinks it's killed a chunk of what I was up to, but that's OK, that's just again another correction, and we'll figure out where it goes next. Yeah, it clearly hit a nerve, right? We would not be talking if it didn't. That was part of it from early on, to name something that people needed a name for. That's always very interesting. It doesn't advance the thing itself necessarily. ANP: It also makes me think about how we form new archetypes or symbols, even. I think about the pixel, or a pixilated edge, becoming a new alchemical symbol. JB: Yeah, there's something really nice in that. I did a bunch of sigils from pixel stuff. At South by Southwest, I invoked Crowley. But it was me saying, "This is Crowley, talking about words of power and how you bind archetypes and blah blah blah." And to some extent, that's what New Aesthetic did. And for a long time after it all kicked off, I was genuinely like, "This is all Crowley's revenge. I invoked him arrogantly in the wrong way and he is showing me what words of power actually do." I still fairly believe that to some extent. There's a ve1y-I hesitate to call it deliberate-a fairly accidental kind of sigil formation that happened there. Without a doubt. And I was also conscious of that process happening and very, very conscious that every single magician who does something like that uses it for powerful ends. And that in itself should be what we tly to avoid. ANP: What should we avoid? JB: Trying to have any form of power relations over these things, which is really hard. I get very nervous around manifestos and people claiming to have strong opinions about

things, because that essentially is about control. All of this stuff is slowly figuring itself out. This conversation is .as much a part of it as anything. ANP: What's next for you? JB: I'm mainly interested in two things- well, I'm mainly interested in everythingbut still attempting to chase down this idea of how we put ourselves (our memory, experience, and culture) into the things that we make, which is increasingly mediated by the network. The network remains something that we haven't gotten a handle on. We need to keep endlessly generating new metaphors for it, in order to try to understand. We never truly understand anything, but it's worth continuing to poke it. And the other side of it is a better understanding of what the hell we're doing with technology. Like, what we do with it next. So, we've built this thing, and we're still really using it as an extension of old media or telephones or existing things. It's got to be good for something else. ANP: Are we collaborating with the network or are we becoming more dependent on it? JB: Dependency's difficult, because we're always dependent on technology. Except once we're dumped without them, we seem to mostly do OK. But collaboration is really interesting, the idea that we are co-producing so much of our world now through technologies we've made but are largely illegible, whether that's the stock market or architecture, city planning or the way in which we communicate-those things are intimately bound to the technologies we've built. I used to think eve1yone should learn to code, and I'm not so about that now. It's the difference between literacy and legibility. I used to think everyone needed to be literate in this stuff; I'm not sure that's true. It'd be nice but it's kind of ridiculous. You should at least be legible; people should have a greater awareness of how these things shape everything that we do. I think that's the only way we're going to see a larger change in everything, from consciousness to politics to everyday life.

www.new-aesthetic.tumblr.com

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