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20012.0608 Eyeo Festival, Minneapolis

A MovEMEnt in 3 pArts

1.shock And Awe 2.Algorithm Critique Aesthetics And its Discontents

20012.0608 Eyeo Festival, Minneapolis

note: parts of this presentation has been edited since it was presented at Eyeo. in particularly, the new Aesthetic section was largely ad-libbed live, so i have added some slides to represent my oral rantings on the subject.

this post-editing carries with it the temptation to make the presentation look better than it actually was, which i will admit to succumbing to on certain pages. i hope this breach of academic conduct will be forgiven given that the intention is to clarify my thoughts on the topics discussed. Besides, i’m not an academic.

Consider it a lesson in the infinitely rewritable and endlessly undoable nature of digital writing (which in itself could be considered a new Aesthetic phenomenom.)

Marius Watz, new York, June 11, 2012

1. shoCk AnD AWE

Approx. 850 slides. Duration: 4:23 Work: June 1994 - June 2012

Also knoWn As:

the loved And lost Mix

Also knoWn As:

“Evig eies kun det tapte” Mix

(that’s ibsen to you.)

shock & Awe - 853 slides, 4:23





sounDtrACk CrEDits

1.organ Donors: throw A Diva (DJ isaac


2.skrillex: scary Monsters And nice

sprites 3.Blutonium Boy: Make it loud

Mix by: DJ kutski

“Defender Against the Evil Forces of Anything less than 140 Beats per Minute”

2.AlgorithM CritiquE

Also knoWn As:

how to not make friends on the “creative code” circuit.

(thankfully, like reality tv stars, “i’m not here to make friends.”)


soME DisClAiMErs

1.i am not the Algorithm thought police.

2.i’m not telling anybody what to do or how to do it.

3.i’m not even talking about you.

(really, i’m not. Don’t be so vain.)

Christopher Wool, “And if

our proBlEMAtiC FriEnDs

- Circle packing

- reaction diffusion

- Fractals (yes, all of them)

- strange attractors

- voronoi / Delaunay diagrams

- Flocking / boids

- game of life (+ other CA)

- polygon subdivision

- iso-surfaces aka blobs

our proBlEMAtiC FriEnDs

All of these are awesome (and beautiful) tools. But they are not neutral vessels.

Algorithms provide the means to produce specific outcomes, typically through generative logic or data processing. But in the process they leave their distinct footprints on the result.

thE iDEA oF “stAnDArDs”

“Jazz standards are musical compositions which are an important part of the musical repertoire of jazz musicians, in that they are widely known, performed, and recorded by jazz musicians, and widely known by listeners.”

thE iDEA oF “stAnDArDs”

there is nothing wrong with standards, in fact they verify the richness of a cultural field.


A preset is not the end point of creative thought.

AlgorithMs AnD DAtA As FounD

thE tEMptAtion


upon “discovering” an elegant algorithm that untreated yields and compelling unmodulated, visual a standard results

algorithm (say, circle is just packing a found or reaction- form - a preset

diffusion) structure producing there is a preset strong results. temptation

to exploit it as-is, crank out a series

of images and call it a day.

problem is, the kid down the block often has the same idea.

AlgorithMs AnD DAtA As FounD oBJECts

untreated and unmodulated, a standard algorithm is just a found form - a preset structure producing preset results.

AlgorithMs AnD DAtA As FounD oBJECts

similarly, many data sources have striking intrinsic forms:

- Audio waveforms

- FFt time series (aka “landscapes”)

- networks

CritiCAl usE oF AlgorithMs

Considering the use of such preset forms must be a part of any critical computational creativity.

Most importantly:

- Craftmanship (trite, i know)

- originality

- Credible claim to authorship

“unlEss You CAn MAkE it *roCk*, stAY AWAY. (AnD iF You Don’t think AlgorithMs CAn roCk, WE hAvE nothing to tAlk ABout.)”

What i meant: Well, make it rock.

(it seems obvious, doesn’t it?)

“YEs, hEAvY usE oF stAnDArD AlgorithMs is BAD For You.”

What i meant was: if you use standard algorithms w/o modification, it’s the algorithm talking.

if any Cs student can walk into a lab and reproduce your results in an hour, any notion of claiming credible authorship is questionable.

“instAntlY knoWABlE AnD inFinitElY MAstErABlE” (golAn lEvin)

unlike a pencil or a piano, an algorithm is rarely (if ever) instantly knowable or infinitely masterable.

More commonly it is a terra incognita, the features of which must be discovered through experimentation.

AlgorithMs ArE sYntAx & lAnguAgE

“speaking” through algorithms, your thought patterns and modes of expression are shaped by their syntax.

i dare you: try speaking german without being influenced by the structure of the language.

FAllACY: usE oF psEuDo-rAnDoM CoDE struCturEs iMpliEs A loss oF Authorship

Despite the tenacious claims of certain artists, use of aleatory algorithms does not result in an authorless work.

randomness is just another material property.

on thE othEr hAnD: Co-DisCovEring With MAChinEs DoEs hAppEn. A lot.

A typical scenario:

1. Articulate generative gesture

2. Explore the obvious and non-obvious

potential of said gesture

3. Modulate parameters to find optimal

parameters, introducing principles of chance to produce interesting accidents

MultipliCitY isn’t CoMplExitY.

“Multiplicity is the uber-motif of current digital generative art - especially the scene around processing. look through the Flickr processing pool and try to find an image that isn’t some kind of swarm, cloud, cluster, bunch, array or aggregate



Mitchell Whitelaw, “More is More: Multiplicity and generative Art”

thE ExpEriEnCE oF MAking A sEriEs oF AWEsoME YEt ultiMAtElY proBlEMAtiC iMAgEs.

in which i walk through the creation of a series that i ultimately don’t trust. Also, examples of “co-discovery with machines”.

Deformed Modelbuilder mesh sketches, June 2012

Deformed Modelbuilder mesh sketches, June 2012

Deformed Modelbuilder mesh sketches, June 2012

Deformed Modelbuilder mesh sketches, June 2012

Deformed Modelbuilder mesh sketches, June 2012

hatch shader applied

Deformed Modelbuilder mesh sketches, June 2012

hatch shader applied

Deformed Modelbuilder mesh sketches, June 2012

hatch shader applied

Deformed Modelbuilder mesh sketches, June 2012

Deformed Modelbuilder mesh sketches, June 2012

Deformed Modelbuilder mesh sketches, June 2012

Deformed Modelbuilder mesh sketches, June 2012


i don’t trust these images or my own

impulse in creating them. i will likely never publish them as artworks.

i ask myself:

1.Are these images just sexy pixels? 2.Will i still like them in a year? 3.Do 3D rendered stills have a place in my practice? it just the algorithm talking? 5.Are shaders just photoshop filters?

Co-DisCovEring With MAChinEs

i now have a Makerbot replicator 3D printer on my desk, pushing me that much further into the future.

problem: Big prints were showing splits.

resulting serendipity: lattice structures optimized to avoid solid mass.

probability lattice (2012)

probability lattice (2012)

probability lattice (2012)

probability lattice (2012)

3.thE nEW AEsthEtiC AnD its DisContEnts

Also knoWn As:

Making friends with eruptions of the digital into the physical.


tumblr maintained May 2011- May 2012 by James Bridle

At its core, nA is an ethnographic experiment documenting (often accidental) byproducts and consequences of digital technology, specifically effects of technology on physical / social / economic / political / personal space.

Bridle: “[

a new aesthetic of the future [ products.”


i’ve been collecting images and things that seem to approach


Consider this a mood-board for unknown

[ADDED post-EYEo]

ContExt #2

March 2012: nA panel at sxsW, Austin

(feat. Bridle, Aaron Cope, Joanne Mcneil, kevin slavin & Ben terrett.)

Bruce sterling posts a provocative response on his Wired blog, the Creators project publishes a series of responses to sterling, other writers and bloggers chime in with an astonishing range of interpretations of just what nA might mean.

Consequence: nA becomes a meme/fad, loved and hated equally. it also becomes a handy soapbox for public grandstanding, giving rise to a multitude of highly subjective and often contradictory interpretations. Much hilarity ensues.

[ADDED post-EYEo]

ContExt #3

My own view: Bridle etc. are correct in identifying symptoms of a shift in how we experience a reality that increasingly presents itself as a messy layer cake of physical and virtual space, where . the claim that these constitute a “new Aesthetic” is more credible

Btw: Many of these phenomena were predicted by 1990’s cybertheory but sounded ridiculous at the time due to a discourse tainted by intense hyperbole. nA requires no such exaggerated fiction or hard sell, as the objects and processes it deals with are frighteningly real, having surreptitiously come into existence without most of us even noticing.

[ADDED post-EYEo]

2012.0506 James Bridle James Bridle

2012.0504 James Bridle

2012.0504 James Bridle

2012.0406 Creators project response Edited by Julia kaganskiy

immaterials: the ghost in the Field (2009) timo Arnall, Jack schulze, Einar sneve - touch (Aho)

Spatial visualization of RFID radio field

immaterials: the ghost in the Field (2009) timo Arnall, Jack schulze, Einar sneve - touch (Aho)

Spatial visualization of RFID radio field

immaterials: light painting WiFi timo Arnall, jørn knutsen, Einar sneve - touch (Aho)

Light painting WiFi field

Aram Bartholl: Map (2006)

Aram Bartholl: Map (2006)

Aram Bartholl: Dust (2011)

Aram Bartholl: 1h (2008)

Aram Bartholl: 1h (2008)

Aram Bartholl: 1h (2008)

Aram Bartholl: Dust (2011)

Aram Bartholl: Dust (2011)

“Clouds”, documentary by Jonathan Minard, James george (shot w/ kinect+slr, 2012)

“Clouds”, documentary by Jonathan Minard, James george (shot w/ kinect+slr, 2012)

First, lEt’s ADDrEss thE hAtrED For thE tErM “thE nEW AEsthEtiC”

For 15 minutes or so nA was a flashpoint

for technoculture debate, with important cameos from art/tech theorists as well as art world luminaries (who on the whole

hated the whole thing


the love/hatred expressed for the nA meme complex would suggest that it somehow challenges the status quo, making people uncomfortable in the process. how can that be a bad thing?

[EDitED post-EYEo]

thE hAtrED For thE tErM “thE nEW AEsthEtiC”

Most of the hatred seems to stem from a widespread misperception slash kneejerk reaction that “new” implies “better”, “more significant” or “a replacement for all other forms of aesthetics”.

Which makes no sense.


there is no doubt that the artifacts identified as new Aesthetic (by Bridle & others) exist.

Computer glitches, Ar markers, invisible wireless+radio fields, social media artifacts and interactions (tweets, pokes, checkins, adds) impact our lives every day in a myriad of oh-so-real ways.

some of which are less than awesome, by the way. noone knows what the fallout of drone warfare and state-sponsored cyberwar will be, but it’s unlikely to be a pretty picture.

[EDitED post-EYEo]

MorE iMportAntlY

pretty much everybody at this conference live, breathe and make their living from creating new Aesthetic artifacts every day.

And typically we don’t give it even a moment’s thought.

so WhY go on ABout thE nEW AEsthEtiC?

Because we are the (often enthusiastic) creators of new Aesthetic artifacts, and as such we need to take responsibility for them.

We might not be designing killer drones or missile guidance systems, but we are all part of the technocrat elite.

[ADDED post-EYEo]

nEW AEsthEtiC AnD politiCs

A more valid complaint: nA is a continuation of the technocrat hegemony of middle-class white guys. this is hard to refute.

there is every reason to apply gender/ race/class critique to nA. Despite the cute images of glitch and retro game art, the implications of nA artifacts must be recognized as deeply political.

sadly: i’m a technocrat white guy and likely to stay that way.

[ADDED post-EYEo]

nA AnD thE (WhitE) MAlE gAzE

A curious claim related to a feminist reading of nA: surveillance and computer vision allows men to experience feminine objectification through a technological version of “the male gaze”.

i rather tend to doubt this, as most men don’t feel violated by CCtv. there is undoubtedly a need for a feminist critique of nA, but this is too simplistic.

[EDitED post-EYEo]

iMpErFECt ChilDrEn nEED lovE too

Clearly the nA meme as it stands is far from perfect. Bastard child of a thousand authors, it is full of contradictions and theoretical cul-de-sacs.

But it does provide a useful flashpoint for much-needed discussion of the strange ways in which technology infects our lives and cultural/social/political space. ignorance may be bliss, but it’s also irresponsible.

[ADDED post-EYEo]