Technology and Art
After the exhibition held in 2014, at the Beijing Meishuguan/ 北京美术馆/NAMOC.
‘Thingworld – International Triennial of New Media Art’. Curated by Zhang Ga/张尕
Introductory. Technology in art, reproducing… everything: Nature and Culture (material culture, the ‘housing’ of our ‘spiritual culture’), in image and more (from information to 3D printing). An extension of traditional art (representational) through the new technologies of information management (recording, manipulation, storage, reproduction and distribution) as applied to the image… Or, of process, as technique, method, also conceptual as well as action, in doing something… (as for example in Minimalism, not least in music, as ‘process music’, several decades later technology catches up… with computer aided compositional technique) and so in art normally taking the form of the installation (or short film). Also representing the invisible... the conceptual and the unconceptualised, the sublime… From 19th century Romanticism and since, different takes on the sublime do not disguise a family resemblance. Invisible as potentially frightening, vast, beyond comprehension and control; so the usual combination of ’outside’ and fear (just add superstition to obtain its manifestation in popular culture as the Gothic, or the varieties of religion…).
And see how quickly we got here (the first paragraph just read); ‘Nature’, ‘Culture’… ‘the Sublime’ – the latter already indicting, as it has done for well over a hundred years now, that in the face of mass culture, we are dealing with Art culture, or just plain ‘Art’ (what once was ‘High Culture’ and has now been absorbed into the ‘Big Middle’ of the newly educated and expanded art public).
So first, logically, historically and… ideologically (‘Ideologically’? Yes. As what follows is a key aspect of any description of the dominant ideology of our time – and the ideology of the intelligent at that…). We are talking of (and have never ceased to talk about) the ever popular Heideggerian/Romantic critique of technology and the mindset, the world view it is supposed to encourage. Yet despite the many apt (generally environmental) warnings contained within it, the ‘naturalist’ (Nature Good: Culture Bad), ‘authenticist’, and ‘Romantic’ argument (actually an argument as old as civilization, East and West, the first philosophers were divided on which had priority) that technology and the modes of thought allied to it are ‘alien’ with respect to what it is to be human and so ‘inhuman’, is invalid because, machines and technology, including the technologies of thought, artificial (and ‘arty’!) languages, are all, in the final analysis, made by humans - a gift of our creativity and not inhuman at all. More generally the argument that culture is ‘fallen’ with respect to Nature is made from within Culture itself, and so self-contradictory, (This Romantic reaction, now also with a Modernist aspect, as well as sometime Post-modern position, is perennially popular, informing the ‘authenticism’ of the 1960s as well as Marx’s romantic anti-industrialism as represented in the concept of ‘alienation’; mathematic, for example is not some alien order, or external a priori, but a net of our own making which we cast over things to measure, to ensnare them, use them). This reaction reaches a modern peak in recent social phenomena such as tourism and exoticism, as well as underpinning the search for authenticity and genuine life as a spectacle (a kind of illusionist anthropology) peak experiences, extreme sports, etc. (and their analogues in popular culture… and in art cultures too). Also including ‘authenticity’ in interpreting and recording music - if taken too far. To rule out much (in the future perhaps most of what is human will be definable as ‘inauthentic’ from the Romantic point of view). This critique has already been tried with capitalist commodity relations – all well and good… until we finally remembered that the previous social system was feudalism… and that the myth of its organic totality is at the core of Romantic responses to the present. This reaction is clearly divisive (who is ‘authentic’ and who isn’t?) and encourages lazy thinking, as well as giving succor to all manner of old fundamentalisms and participating in the birth of a new (or maybe not so new) batch of secular fundamentalisms…
‘Again.’ (But we have barely begun…). In a topic that will occur, re-occur, over and over again (to be repeated, like the actions of a machine, a thought machine, circling its topic, a hermeneutic machine…). Again… to rise ‘the question concerning technology’ and art, and of technology as art, mechanised or digitalized technique, as art (from the art require to do art, the techniques to be learnt and evolved). For the art of doing something in a particular way is its culture, a cultural practice, so technology as a part of the evolution of Culture, of high Culture too. Culture regardless of content, regardless of its claims to a place in the ‘put-aside’, ‘found above’, (or below…). As in the techniques of expression evolved as a key part of the world’s art languages, the ‘Classical’ languages, or rather the ‘classical’ forms, foremost the written forms, of Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Hebrew, Chinese, Arabic, to name but a few, all cultures have them, so all literate cultures now have them (its why our educations take so long) a product of the more complex governmental or religious functions, their dependence on writing and the accompanying evolution of their art cultures). The evolution of writing and its technologies – now again revolutionized… refreshed…
Technology to be reread with respect to new media, as mediation… the new technologies of mass communications, as the circulation of images and words, of information, relating/mediating, idea and thing, Nature and Culture (as an extension of Culture, as the reframing of Nature). For if we ask: what is mediated, then the above terms immediately, if perhaps a little surprisingly, again become cogent. Speed and extension of range are the main gift , together with a certain short circuiting of traditional, and time consuming, techniques of encoding and replicating information in all its forms (of writing, of painting, of manipulating the image and the word). In all these respects we have an improvement; convenient, enabling, democratic.
Technology, as driver of the communication revolution. Driver of our shrinking proximity to other (in speed and possibility of communication if not in emotion…). Labour-saving devices means just that (until the advent, or novum of self-aware Artificial Intelligence); it’s all ‘just’ quantitative; an extension or a means of rapid exchange or rapid transit or energy saving…And the content? What of the content of the expression so communicated?
Technology as means (of expression) or object (content of expression) or both (so self-referential, permissible in art -and computer languages- if not in logic, otherwise put, performative, the form performs the content). And for the means, for the object, not just any technology, but the latest technology, technology influenced technology… So if not exactly the medium become the message then a certain set of fresh possibilities with respect to expression and its combination with the new means of expression. (for the signifier, carries the signified, but not as a neutral medium, a surrogate mother whose genes are beside the point, rather as a new signifier implies the possibility of new meanings – yet this process itself is an aesthetic or experimental formalism until we remember that our rapidly changing world precisely requires new ideas, concepts and the apposite modes of conveying these, even forming these very concepts, to permit us access to our runaway world…)
So, over and above the fact that all art is already a matter of technique, so of technology in the broad sense, over and above this basic foundation, this logical ‘ALL’, how is new technology, the logical ‘SOME’, used in art?
To use (new) technology in art to do what?
Basically (based upon the forms used in the exhibition) several kinds of use:
a) To use new means to create images or illusionisms (a continuation of mimetic or representative art).
b) To use new means to create new ideational puzzles or puns (a continuation of Global Post Conceptualism) usually ironic; but most often simply exploiting lowest common denominator forms of transgression (also conceptual illusionism as a feature of ‘90s installations).
c) To experience technology as a marvel (almost a continuation of abstract art, an art of textures and form… technological installations whose subject is themselves) the machine aesthetic. Product of a machine… The Machine Sublime.
d) Machines (as before) but whose result is in process and aleatory or not completely worked out – apparently self-forming. The Machine as Mimesis of Nature.
e) Machines (as before) but where there is a high degree of audience interaction (interactive installations) – so perhaps including some degree of aleatory (but generally predictable) outcomes. The Machine as mise-enabime of our interaction with (our) technology…
Giving us the following types and effects:
a) Digital, computer generated or manipulated images to extend traditional image making (often making use of the particular texture of the resulting image, its means of expression, as part of the content of expression, its general meaning-making effect on the viewer). Mimetic through abstract.
b) (Globalised) Post Conceptual installations featuring technology, from ‘collections’ to ‘moving parts…’ catch the pun, spot the key contrast or transgression and move on… (you have just exhausted the art work).
c) Machine installations as inciting interest, through texture and complexity, especially connoting the machine as organic, as organism; so imitating a forest, or plant, copying Nature, again. (But not illusionistially, but by suggestion, as with stone anthropomorphism…). Q: Machines and moving parts as already outdated?
d) The aleatoric or unplanned process is perhaps the most interesting… because… (a technological repetition of art as seeing in general, and on a higher technological plane…) as seeing beauty and as finding beauty (as also the sublime) in the world; what we do as humans (as well as value bestowing, of which this faculty is a part…). So as with other aspects of life (tourism, ‘travel’, adolescent/generational revolt, fashion and politics) the furthest away is the closest to ‘home’ or perhaps I should say ‘home page’ … (the customised home page from which we guess the identity propositions of the user). So manifesting the habit we have of running away (from ourselves) only to re-find ourselves; performing the moment when believing we are ‘heading out’, we have in fact hit the edge and are heading back home, thinking we are ‘outside’ but are still firmly inside… (there are a set of interesting logical paradoxes associated with these thought processes).
So to create automatic or aleatory art, of (relatively) unplanned processes (echoes of 70’s minimalism) at which we marvel, a technological sublime. Then paradoxically we have a… recreation of Nature, (a ‘second Nature’ indeed) as we attempt to recreate the marvels of Nature by ‘other means’ (one such art work employs green ribbons of plastic, another recreates an egg, or cell like structure), its landscapes, etc., are as a machine process, something unwilled (except for by the unmoved mover, God the Artist), as ‘accidental’ as result of natural processes, or that which mimics them, accidental conjunctures such as the weather, the landscape, the city (on aggregate un-planned) with choice or accident of point of view, to use Culture (technology) to recreate natural aesthetic effects (by other means to be sure)… These works generally draw on sublime type effects, as in the question of the cause to the effect that we witness. Where does it come from? The technology enables or translates, we feel, but what began it, what secret does it reveal… there is the hint of a disturbing mystery… And so we are back to a scientific or technologically mediated version of a mountain river or a starry sky… it is as if…the further we tried to get from nature the more we returned… Master Mimesis. Back to… Nature.
e) If involving people (as more than just ‘passive’ viewers or interpreters), the audience as input, ‘interactive’, then we also have an imitation of life. As with the above, the landscape is not longer just natural but also human … so also mimetic of life or Nature. A version of ‘people watching’. We also have something like our involvement in choosing a point of view in life, in landscape and in the perusal of city life, in the lives of others, of art as life, as extended notion of ‘performance’ into all of us and what we do… late 19th century aestheticisation by other means. Also society or the city as art… a technological version of aestheticism… we are part of a giant work of performance art… Art as theology. God in the Machine v deus ex machina.
If willed, then we have good old fashioned illusionism… often found in the ‘hit’ or short lived moment of connection making (akin to a visual pun) that is Post-conceptual art at its worst – a twin to advertising and its attention grabbing psychologies (or should that be … technologies).
And if beyond the Beautiful and the Sublime then…they can only be…ironic!
Like history… the mapping out of the range of interaction of humans and (their) technology…
Technology in the Frame (Art/Machines; Art machines; the Art Machine).
The machine aesthetic (history) not too surprisingly, much in evidence and, as in architecture, may be read as a continuation of the Art Deco fashions of the 1920s. However, much of this kind of art, often precisely because conceptual, is short on depth (more like ‘allusionism’, than illusionism, or conceptualism, yet like much globalised Post-conceptual art, now the international standard, or international default…). Even when it is interactive, the gimmick or ‘hit’ is short lived and, outside of the theoretician’s generalizing habit, low on memorability…
The influence of the machine in the history or art and design, and not least in architecture, often cites forms that suggest energy-using, collecting or indicating a source… much as previous art pointed to the heavens… now the energy that is the blood of the machine is electricity. Electricity (our society runs on it) is Sublime. And its creation (coal burning) is destroying us (global warming is sublime…).
(The) Sublime; one of those concepts that refuses to die but, like history, just keeps going, keeps on evolving, beyond the place where we would have it stop… like economics, like society, like politics, and (of course) like science, like technology…) like culture , like language… (…)
(The) Sublime: a buzz word, a meaning for every (aesthetic) epoch: here the technological sublime…What we feel whenever we see a vast new building, a web of scaffolding, or a ship being launched, a space ship, say the Space Shuttle or a Saturn rocket, images of the International Space Station are always sublime, or a room full of old fashioned computers…all that wire and circuitry – all that repetition, similar to Pop art, to the numerical sublime of large numbers or infinity.
The machine aesthetic; beauty in form and texture and yet the inorganic is as if alive, is sublime - like ‘Neo-Deco’ architecture at the turn of the century (2000). So the aesthetics of the machine are in certain ways beyond the simply beautiful. Yet if order usually does connote beauty then the sublime in the machine is found in its varieties of repetition. A repetition that suggest life, a process we may or may not have begun, but which may outlast us… The sublime, need we be reminded, is always already, pointing out… beyond the human. So suggesting the oracular, predicting an unpalatable future (so anti-technology; technology as leading elsewhere – leading us elsewhere... And the test of sublimity, as ever, is: an over-awedness, a certain sense of over-load, of being overcome (of Being overcome) implying eternity by mystery or by number (infinity) and a concomitant sense of human limitation, and fear of the Beyond. Of being in the presence of ultimate truth, but uncomprehending, a terror; which like all anxiety includes a fear of the future, immediate or distant (again those twin pillars of the sublime, the Outside and Terror – albeit one step removed, representation…).
However we are no longer in the machine age… software, programs, computer languages, are the cutting edge of the information technology revolution, which in turn sustains the communication revolution, with its new technology based upon digitalization, computerization, miniaturisation and speed – of process as of access (key to personal enablement and the resetting of the private/public balance) and governs the behaviour of machines… also invisible, even more invisible than electricity, so … sublime. Beyond us, even as of us… a language we have created, but which escapes us…
The everywhere and nowhere of the Social (Durkheim) is augmented, paralleled, by the everywhere and nowhere of the virtual world, our parallel digital ‘second culture’ or ‘third nature’ - the web. Parallel which will soon enter our thoughts, recording memories and enabling a ‘telepathy’, the age-old dream of ‘direct’, ‘unmediated’ communication, direct presence of the other (as of the past, a ‘return; of memory as ‘unfaded’… robbed of the semi-presence that informed us that it was , after all, only a memory, something gone…). But in reality mediated, so an illusion, as art, like art an art of illusion, because mediated by technology… Mediation. The very source of the Romantic notion of the lack of full presence, plenitude, so estrangement and separation - or Fall…
The Sublime is always Inhuman (in deixis it ‘points’ ‘outside’); but we should not forget that humans create this feeling… (we have the feeling, it is our feeling, so ‘inhuman’). It is perhaps one of the oldest feelings in terms of human survival and of our emotional responses as geared towards this end (confronting the Other in the world…). So also of conferring a special kind of value, once called religion, or making sacred… (again, I want to insist, always accompanying the human, because human – ‘in our nature’…). A part of how we once dealt and apparently how we still deal with, what is outside of us… (and when we don’t, then there will be no more ‘sublime’).
Art and the sublime again! Basically, in the modern age, this issue is about Art and Discomfort… (once the depiction of mountain vistas, of avalanches or other disasters, shipwrecks, was sublime, but we have moved on… as witness the disaster movie and the history of special effects, now of CGI, as cinematic spectacle….). This discomfort; a disquiet over lack of understanding, of the nature of origin of the art effect, not in ‘order’ (as in ‘pure’ beauty) but as ‘elsewhere’. We know not were or can not fathom the cause or process… Or it is its very size that is deemed a spectacle, threatening… Many of these elements remain in the technological sublime (whence the question of ‘from where’, and what effect it has upon us…) the basic question of the sublime is narrowed down to incomprehension and a concomitant disquiet). But the depicted content and the materials used, are replaced by a rebarbativity of texture or content (chaos in form is hardly new) in art that features technology or the machine - just as art from the ‘60’s on (or even from the advent of the 100 year old Found Object Tradition) featured rubbish as part of its post-modern, transgressive, Pop Art sublime… (And whose best moment, or interpretation, was its philosophical, aesthetic and political inclusivity, but whose persistence today, outside of a certain anti-consumerist cache, is hard to justify…)
Again, there is no secret (and perhaps this is what is most shocking, most unacceptable), the sublime is made by us, as response to a given range of stimuli, the question only remains do we close our eyes to this fact, and remain in metaphysics, religions or do we use it, to make art, to makes sacred, as and when necessary… and do we do it cynically, as in playing gods, gurus, or playing politics, or as extending the range of human creativity and value in the world… including its technological products.
The technological sublime in art (as in life) functions as a system of suggestions, a rhetoric of suggestion, aimed at raising the sublime effect in the viewer…a kind of prosopopoeia, a trope evoking the absent, the inanimate or the dead (perhaps the leading trope of technological sublime?). Inanimate/animated. The Lazarus trope… life where there was no (longer) life… Origin, cause, invisible mover (‘the invisible hand’ as one of our own very modern ‘myths’) suggesting… origin as elsewhere, as other - as (Absolute) Other. Whence Sublime. (We begin with technology, we end with theology… or at least metaphysics). Most technology-based or new media-based art is sublime (perhaps, beyond any requirement of mimesis, that’s what makes it art), it points elsewhere…
Interactive… the audience as part of the pre-planned effects, as part of the techniques of making the art work… concepts as technique, as technology the audience is part of the loop…. a biological random response technology or circuit!
Found object tradition also included (return of the excluded) as waste… a 100 year old trend… now as machine waste which is still…. ‘alive’ (a supernatural technological sublime) still retaining some functions as if on ‘a half-life’, the half-life of machines… also a mourning theme, waste(d) life, pity, etc… as well as the uncanny effect of life in death… of life… in the machine. (Personification? Perhaps foremost of our ‘received’ techniques of thought…)
’Tech Goth’ is the use of technology in art to suggest gothic effects. ‘The uncanny’ writ popular, suggests supernatural origins, a ‘pop sublime’. All achieved by the suggestion of origins as ‘elsewhere’ - and by suggestion, as on the edge of vision, on the edge of cognition (Armstrong’s art work). Illusionism joins technological terror; the terror that results from technology in the biological world, as in the Zombie film genre, and the ‘Resident Evil’ film series (the audience view from the popular cultural frame…). So as with many works in the exhibition, featuring an imitation of life or new life as evolving from machine or machine waste, we have, a popular cultural tradition, a pop cult myth, that of Frankenstein’s monster… as the line between making images of life (subject to critique of the image as by Levinas and Lacan, a latter day iconoclasticism) and making life, is crossed…
So art imitates life; art techniques, technologies, imitate life; Culture imitates Nature … (i) So what is new... (ii) But Art is not Truth (Nature viewed cognitively, for correspondence/truth value). If it is, or if it pretends, to show truth, as in the epochs of the Christian past (and post/neo Christian ‘secular’ ideologies that followed it), then it is mere propaganda…. Whence the rise of ‘autonomous art’…
(In philosophy, art and technology also meet, as techniques of thought: new concepts and methods of thought; the art of making as technique and thinking, the thinking process, as technique… (concepts/axioms, hierarchies, structures, methods, systems, logics and meta-languages). The arts of thinking; the techniques of thinking. So showing an (unsurprising) parallel between matter and mind, natural and cultural making and conceptual work. Are these parallels automatic or conscious? How conscious might they be? Does this art (of making art, of thinking, of the thinking of making art, the conceptual stage of ‘creation’) imitate Nature unconsciously (we cannot help it, it is prior to ourselves, so naturally informs all levels of making and thinking), or consciously (as part of a deliberate strategy, a making conscious and then changing the default forms). Again we have the idea of techniques as applicable to thought – but not in a negative (Heideggerian way, designed to critique our thought process as ‘inauthentic’ and so replace them with etymological time travel) but as a positive description, and possible exploration of parallels… But if all art is illusionism, then so is thought; because… not the thing itself, but of a separate order, or sub-set, of that of the ‘thing’… Whence its creative open-endedness. This creative un-anchoredness applies also to measure, logic and all artificial languages. Gift of the open-ended creativity of natural languages (they and so culture are always evolving) which constitute the ultimate meta-set (starting place) of formalized languages…).
Art as illusion is also art as self-delusion… playing god…? The shaman as self-deceiving charlatan. Working (as before) at the behest of power and identity, of reputation and economics.
‘The Big Picture’? Technology in art as rebarbative. Discomfort and independence? Discomfort as aesthetic alienation. Independence as not to, or a part of, due to… but from, (market) autonomy. So also a return to ’Aesthetic Alienation’ in art, as part of a bigger picture. A return to art propaganda (Bernstein, on Kant, Adorno and Derrida). Art as the consciousness of that alienation as loss (the distance from truth) as part of most self-aware art work. In technological art a rebarbativity that encapsulates humanity’s fears for technology (but is this just a generational or, again, a Romantic reading… the ‘alternative’ dream of… the dream of an alternative, of our epoch). Such a truth is ‘interested’, that is comes with the readers baggage (and has become something of a knee-jerk abuse of Adorno, in current art criticism). Even if we have the ‘truth’ as a future predicted… (but the truth must have happened or be happening, how else to tell). Then we have art as oracle (so not quite as ‘truth’). As oracular. (But this need not be ‘negative’, part of a purely ‘negative dialectic’). The future (like the past, but with even less certainty) is the other tense that always accompanies us.
And is not exhausted by fore-warning; but augmented by the promise of fulfillment, the force of attraction, of desire. What drives us… on. Positive dialectic. (Often found today in the … advertisement)!
Yet all attempts to show the future, to show, more precisely our anxieties of the future, usually show us precisely our anxieties of the present… (and this is the case for almost any moderately intelligent sci-fi movie). Again the vexed question, topic or not a little, closed shop among professionals, does (advanced) thought and art lead culture, or follow it… follow human developments… and attempt to understand it (Spinoza, ‘we do not know what a body can do’… but must learn, art as experiment, as interrogative). The former position, the vanguard position, is pure arrogance, has no empirical standing, and contains not a little moralizing and attention grabbing, and usually turns out to be some version of 19th century Romanticism… that is, a reaction (reactive) against modern social forms and an assertion of elite (‘above it all’) identity.
Technological art as (part of) ‘aesthetic alienation’ (as using the ‘estrangement effect’, as art for art’s sake, not as truth, or propaganda, but the question the topic, technology and media, is a comment on society and the future… ‘autonomous art’, if it means anything useful at all, must mean not serving a particular limited brand of ideology - so as interrogative… (but not at the behest of a particular master).
So a return to art as finding (or expressing) truth. In technological art, a truth beyond topic and description, a truth… beyond the art versus truth distinction… (with art as artifice or ideal, simultaneously as above and below truth). And also (in this context) as beyond the art and technology distinction (art as artifice as ‘mere’ technique; technology as a means, a technique, an art). So highlighting the necessity of bridging (but not closing or removing) the fact and value distinction… in actual life. Perhaps the only common ground (in art/beauty and science/truth) is giving value (making good). ‘Making good’ by giving value… to the environment (its protection), to things (their preservation), to ideas (making them ‘key’), to people (‘rights’), to truths (‘universal’) - of making sacred as means of protection as well as prioritisation). (Usually called ‘will’, or human action, or … politics). A performative (a ‘speech act’, if I say so, so it is). A promise.
Here we might conveniently remind ourselves of the truth, that science and reason, thinking, so philosophy, itself is descriptive and/or prescriptive (and often this difference itself is controversial or part of the problem under discussion, their putative separation or unity): but art (including architecture in is relation to our visual consumption) is performative… (so more akin to ritual). Moreover, art as ritual is fundamentally repetitive, from the actions of processes, to repeated viewings and exposures… so ritual and performative, now in the sense that the form performs the meaning, as in a given restriction of space/time and the claim to eternity (underpinning a given identity) made through the ritual performed there. Which is another way of saying that all art is finally subsumed in the human… we do it. Not the object, nor a narrow (excluding, elite-making) interpretative point of view. We may separate prescriptive and descriptive, as with subject and object, and art into institutions (art school, research lab) as descriptive, or apportioning ( or denying) value as prescriptive; but these are all moments simultaneously present in all individuals…. As we perform life, their identity is our identity…. (even the most destructive, divisive, deconstructive and ‘critical’, negative, art is - perhaps even more so - concerned with identity; all ‘outsides’ are finally inside).
(Concluding…). The anthropological element in art, in recent decades a feature of the best of post-conceptual art (as of the best of installation art and performance art), has switched focus from recording, or documentary, documenting forms of life (urban, minority, ‘critical anthropology’) to reflecting the human and its relation to its products, its technology, the results of which it does not control (just like the art which would mimic this effect, or the audience, we do not know what conjunction will arise as we watch it and anticipate). So the art process, if aleatory, then also indicates that the result or next step is unknown, like the future… But the real future is safely beyond all fortune-telling: or perhaps it is art that is the fortune telling - just as the genre of science fiction imagines the future through the lens of the present (in truth addressing questions of the present), so like the products of technology, the economy and the unintended consequences which (will) make up our future… (‘riding the tiger’). Or soothsaying (politicians like to do this) making predictions… promises…, the other word for this of course is ‘divining’. Art as Oracle. Art as oracular.
As opposed to just ‘ocular’, so concerning ‘vision’ in both senses of the word.
(Again) Art from an anthropological point of view: as addressing its ritual function, its function as ritual, as identity, as the problem of a community, and as an epochal agon, a question (‘concerning technology’) aestheticized - its function. A mis-en-abime. So the audience; the art elite (the apposite students, practitioners and professionals), in the past gendered, but pleased to say, here present in equal numbers, if not more, more women at this exhibition (technology no longer gendered ‘male’…). Also, generational; an aesthetic community (artists, critics, and art exchangers), art consumers, the market…. ‘us’.
At best then to make a culture as if nature…
At best then (the best works) to make (us look, aesthetically, at) a culture as if nature (a machine culture…). How we deal with, value, or fear, what is outside of us… what we are making ‘outside of us’. And as ‘outsides’ are never such (definitively NOT Absolute Other or Sublime Unknowable Other) so ‘outside of us’ means our outside, our digital skin, or expanding outer limit – transgressing previous boundaries, redefining previous selves, previous Self (our Collective Self).
At this stage humanity begins to read the German Idealists (yet) again (and not for their Romanticism). For Hegel’s Collective World Spirit is incarnate through machine, by matter, the ghost in the machine, a digital ghost. A ‘spirit return’ gifted by technology.
Such art then looks at…technology; (but using technology) which looks back on ourselves…
For art, like cinema, is part of that part of society (together with philosophy, anthropology and history) that reflects on human life and its prospects, not necessarily directly (in this it is unlike the human sciences just mentioned) but through the media of entertainment, the Media in general, regardless of its medium of origin, and as entertainment. So like dreams, they deal both with things we worry about, and dare to prophesy; but, also like dreams , wrap ‘the message’ in a distinctive envelope (with the art genre of ‘Surrealism’ dreams and a style of presentation of ‘reality’ converge (Kon Mitchiko, David Lynch)). So art represents, not only humanity’s, or society’s, attempts to show concentrated forms of meaning, in a continuation of past traditions and the introduction of new material, sanctified by its social position and institutional frame (elevating and engaging, so a form of cultural capital, ‘elite culture’ for the renewal of an ‘elite identity’ – but one, with the recent (global) changes of social structure and patterns of education, increasingly available to all) and the market, but also attempts do deal , intelligently, with the problems of our epoch – those which define it. In short, art is that part of society which reflects on itself, and maintains an emotional punch which pulls at our identities. (Conceptualism meets the Sublime): so it is that, in this exhibition, the world’s foremost technology meets rituality. Some of the newest means (techniques, technologies) are used to evoke some of the oldest of meanings. The very latest means of expression to reproduce the very oldest of contents of expression. A ritual content: a machine form. The evocation of the Sublime (at the heart of every successful ritual with its call on ’the outside’ to guarantee identity ‘this side’) by means of machine format. By that part of ourselves, of society, of our species, which continues the life of the sacred (rituality and religion) into the modern world. The Art Machine: the social techniques of producing art. Always self-reflexive; never more so than when combining technique, reflection on technique and the resulting forms of beauty, sublimity and irony. The sublime aspect of technology as witnessed in art; the irony of the union of art and technology.
Looks back on ourselves… Redeemable in our digital being as it cannot be in our physical incarnation.
Looks back on ourselves… Just when we believe we are most outside, catching a privileged glimpse of a new thing… an inhuman thing… an uncharted thing… so we discover that we are firmly back … inside (again).
Whence the discovery, earlier on, of a recreation of Nature, a ritual, if you will, recreation or renewal, but a call on Nature nevertheless, a mimesis of Nature, of its function (and myth) as life giving, that we found to lie in many of the most effective of the art works in this exhibition…
(‘Again’ , the element of repetition that tells us we are participating in a ritual, that this invoking of the sublime has been as ritual as the attendance of any other event or performance of culture. The nature of that culture.) Again.
Again. The nature of that culture… OUR hardwiring. Ritual, OUR re-programming. Renewal through Repetition; Ritual. Again…
With art as ritual framing…
So the foregoing offers a sequence of frames… but what of the content… technology, technique that which is usually the means is the end, the means of expression is the content of expression; so indicating the major worry of our times, of the major driver of our times… That is to say that what is in the frame, space, institutional, functional (ritual) etc… the new means of doing things… The topic framed…
The topic framed… human and reliance on technology, speed and use of computers, evolution of Artificial Intelligence, its ubiquity through globalisation, the world as universal communion, and its mechanism, its means, a media… the collision course or end trajectory of all these fears and process as… elsewhere, as other, as her , ubiquitous but not so, like the generalisation of ‘society’, invisible in totality but all enveloping, the internet, the virtual world, our ‘parallel universe’. A collision course which evades us, sidetracks us, sidelines us, going elsewhere. So again the question (‘concerning technology’), do we fuse with it or are we bypassed… ?
The grounds of that fusion (if one may use such a metaphor) our unity as ‘telepathy’ on the net, ‘unmediated’ ... but present to another intelligence… as if (re)creating our relation to god, who knows us all too well, as ‘it’ (’he’/’she’) is the means of our union…the all-knowing god because we (our thoughts) will be part of it as we live online… our union also the union with it, part of a collective soul, our digital ‘soul’ . For finally we will have one… (digital) idea to (physical) matter, the two realms, but now ‘made flesh’… incarnate, but still elsewhere… Culture lifts of from Nature. A ‘Second Culture’, become our ‘second Nature’.
Copyright Peter Nesteruk, 2014