The New Aesthetic

Does the New Aesthetic have a clear definition one might ask? Defining the ‘New Aesthetic’ is not an easy task, considering it can be defined from a few interpretative perspectives, as the following definitions will show.

Bruce Sterling claims that the New Aesthetic concerns itself with “an eruption of the digital into the physical.” [1] David Berry, in “Computationality and the New Aesthetic,” [2] echoes this point in saying that the New Aesthetic “is concerned with the act of representing the digital within the more commonly analogue life-world that we inhabit in everyday life.” Berry defines the New Aesthetic as “an aesthetic that revels in seeing the grain of computation, or perhaps better, seeing the limitations or digital artefacts of a kind of glitch, sometimes called the ‘aesthetic of failure.’

Madeline Ashby’s definition of the New Aesthetic is concerned with “seeing”. The New Aesthetic, for Ashby, is “largely about the technology of ‘seeing,’ and how we see this new technology of seeing,” [3] which compliments her critique of the New Aesthetic as concerning “the politics of the gaze, that gaze has usually been male.”

Similarly, for Joanne McNeill, the New Aesthetic is about “how culture is embracing the tools of today” [4] and how these tools “present [us with] a universe observed by the detached gaze of an indifferent being” [5].

The previous definitions of the New Aesthetic define the movement in terms of the virtual-reality divide, perception and the politics of the gaze – whether it be impersonally detached or highly gender oriented from a male-centric perspective – but the New Aesthetic can also be defined in terms of temporality. Therefore, the New Aesthetic is as an art movement that challenges temporality by attempting to ignore the past and imagine a new future based entirely on the present, or what Klint Finley calls the “endless digital now, a state of atemporality enabled by our increasingly efficient prosthetic memory.” [6] The New Aesthetic is when low-tech craft meets high tech tools and when new technologies don’t reference old techniques of computation. As James Bridle notes, the New Aesthetic is about creating a temporal separation from the past and finding an alternative to nostalgia. Although the products of the New Aesthetic may appear to be evoking a sense of nostalgia, they in fact evoke an entirely ‘new’ experience.

One example I would like to use to clarify this point is the hologram of the African-American rap star, Tupac Shakur that was displayed live on stage at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on April 15, 2012. [7] In spite of the fact that the ‘hologram’ was actually a CGI, 2-D video projection of Tupac using the illusionary technique called Pepper’s ghost, the performance was convincingly realistic as a technologically resurrected holographic simulation of a deceased rap-star. A viewer of the Tupac holographic performance, however, might consider this nostalgia and may not be concerned with the distinction between Tupac and ‘digital’ Tupac, when what they are witnessing is actually an entirely new experience temporally distinct from the past and preserved in the present through its digital nature. Tupac is immortalised through the use of digital technology and he is resurrected and presented to us in pixelated flesh through the mediation of a digital device, but it is not the ‘real’ Tupac. If it looks like Tupac, acts like Tupac and sounds like Tupac, but is not Tupac – what is it? Therefore, it can be said that a piece(?) of New Aesthetic art, like the Tupac hologram, cannot be separated from the technology used to create it.

I place a question mark after the word piece for the simple reason that, for me, the use of the word ‘piece’ connotes a ‘thing’ – a tangible, material object without life or consciousness. Is the Tupac hologram a thing? Is the New Aesthetic a thing?

David Berry et al., in New Aesthetics, New Anxieties [8] provides an interesting definition and criticism of the New Aesthetic. Berry et al. define the New Aesthetic as “a way of representing and mediating the world in and though the digital, that is understandable as an infinite archive (or collection)” (47). Berry et al., however, also question if the New Aesthetic is “a weak attempt at curating new media art online” (37) because “it merely documents and collects” (36) and “without [providing] some analysis or comprehension of these material and technical process of mediation” (38). For this reason, Berry et al. suggest, “there is no aesthetic there” (38).

Damien Walter, in “The New Aesthetic and I,” [9] defines the New Aesthetic as “the mediated objects which in one way or another return us to the actual complexity of reality”. Does the hologram of Tupac return us to the reality of his death, paradoxically conveyed by his simultaneous digital presence and physical absence?

Walter proposes that instead of asking, “What is the New Aesthetic?,” a better question would be to ask, “What will the New Aesthetic be when it stops being interesting?”. Walter challenges the newness or novelty of the New Aesthetic by claiming, ”this isn’t new. It’s been emerging for a generation”.

Therefore, if we agree with Berry et al.’s and Walter’s claims that the New Aesthetic is not ‘aesthetic’ or ‘new,’ and it’s status as a ‘thing’ is questionable, what are we left with it? Is this concept too overly enmeshed in our daily lives to be adequately labelled or defined?

[1] Sterling, Bruce. “An Essay on the New Aesthetic.” 

[1] Berry, David. “Computationality and the New Aesthetic.” 

[2] Ashby, Madeline. “The New Aesthetic of the Male Gaze.

[3] Finley, Klint. “The New Aesthetic and Future Fatigue.“.

[4] McNeill, Joanne. http://joannemcneil.com/index.php?/talks-and-such/new-aesthetic-at-sxsw-2012/

[5] Rafman, Jon. http://www.artfagcity.com/2009/08/12/img-mgmt-the-nine-eyes-of-google-street-view/

[6] Tupac Hologram, Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

[7] Berry, David, et al. New Aesthetic, New Anxieties

[8] Walter, Damien G. “The New Aesthetic and I.” 

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