Now, where do you start?
Here’s where I start: politics is the elephant in the room. In the portrait of New Aesthetics painted by Bruce Sterling, the glitch-captivation is a worldview. As a way of seeing the world, it has its own political aspects. But there is more than needs to be said.
The New Aesthetic reeks of power relations. Drones, surveillance, media, networks, digital photography, algorithms. This is largely about the technology of “seeing”, and how we see this new technology of seeing. But the technology is also for watching. The ability to watch someone is a form of power. It controls the flow of information. “I know everything about you, but you know nothing about me.” Or, “I know everything about you, and all you can do is make art about the means by which I know things.”
In some ways, Bruce’s article makes mention of this problem, by noting the difference between the aesthetic appeal of certain technologies, and their actual function.
“Modern creatives who want to work in good faith will have to fully disengage from the older generation’s mythos of phantoms, and masterfully grasp the genuine nature of their own creative tools and platforms. Otherwise, they will lack comprehension and command of what they are doing and creating, and they will remain reduced to the freak-show position of most twentieth century tech art. That’s what is at stake.”
But this is more than hand-wringing over giving up our freedom, life, and death, to machines. The real danger that technology poses is precisely why we can’t “debunk” the aesthetic appeal and pretend that it doesn’t exist. You can ignore a work of art, but a drone or a surveillance array won’t be ignored. Not for long. Our consciousness is invaded and controlled via real space.
Our semiotic interest in these technologies is real. As real as the technologies themselves. So what do we do with it? What sort of actions ought we to take in response to seeing glitch-art from satellite cameras that uses not an anonymous landscape for background, but live images of our own homes? I’m not sure yet. Meanwhile, we continue to be watched.
Drones fire missiles, watching inquisitively for the flash of light. They have no sense of aesthetics. And they continue to fire, until their racks are empty. Then they reload.
This isn’t a criticism of New Aesthetics. It is wondering what the political module is that we will plug into New Aesthetics. These “Theory Objects” are made to network. They are consumer tech, and Theory Objects are as real as your smart phone and its own terrible eco-history. We are obsolete without networking in a politics, as yet uninvented.
We’re going to have to design-fiction a political module quickly. And then, worse: we must fab it, and get it into the field.
If you have ideas, do share. We need to work on this together.