Tag Archives: New Aesthetic

Writing things we can no longer read!

There is a very interesting TED talk by Kevin Slavin called “How algorithms shape our world,” which is relevant to our discussion of the New Aesthetic and how the digital-physical divide is becoming indistinguishable.

Slavin highlights a crucial point in saying that “we have lost the sense of what is happening in this world we have made” because “we’ve rendered something illegible” by “writing things [ie. algorithms] we can no longer read”.

Using the example of what is called “Pragmatic Chaos,” the Netflix‘s algorithm, Slavin claims that this algorithm is “trying to get a grasp on you, on the firmware inside the human skull” by trying to recommend the next movie you might want to watch. The absolute power and significance of Pragmatic Chaos is evident from its responsibility for 60% of the movies rented on Netflix.

Slavin argues that “these [algorithms] are the physics of culture” and “we are terraforming the earth with this algorithmic efficiency”.

It is no longer “a weird uneasy collaboration between nature and man,” Slavin says, because there is a “third co-evolutionary force” – algorithms.

“We have to understand them as nature,” Slavin suggest, “and in a way they are.”

The adoption of this machine dialect into societal culture is essentially what constitutes the New Aesthetic.

Slavin, Kevin. “How algorithms shape our world“. TED. July 2011.

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Is it time to tell your digital devices what time it is?

Matthew Battles, in “But it Moves: The New Aesthetic and emergent virtual taste,” [1] suggests that the New Aesthetic is “an attempt to frame something akin to Spinoza’s notion of Natura Naturans – nature ‘naturing’ – nature expressing itself in its unfolding, a process whose edges we barely touch.”

Battles also critiques Timo Arnall’s “Robot Readable World”.

“Learning to see through machines, Battles contends, “is not the same thing as learning to see as machines.”

Battles uses Berg’s QR clock [2] as an example to demonstrate his point. Berg’s QR clock is “a clock only readable by a machine,” as Battles states.

I did a search for more information about Berg’s QR clock, in order to full comprehend what they were trying to achieve with having a robot for clocks, and I found a blog post (video included) by Matt Jones of Berg [3] discussing “Clocks for Robots”.

Jones explains that the QR clock is an object that signals both time and place to artificial eyes. In the video provided on the blog, Jones asserts that the QR clock “gives the device a trusted sense that it is really ‘there’ and really ‘then,’ in comparison to using satellites for location purposes.

Jones also states that the QR clock offers the device a “human-legible sense of place and time matched both to my senses and its [digital device] senses, binding time and place together for both of us.”

Having said that, Battles questions:

“What do computers care about clocks or faces? We teach machines to indicate them, to prick up their ears in their presence, because that’s what we need. Our imaginary just manages to graze the edges of what might be called the experience of machines—and it’s on that borderland which the New Aesthetic emerges, traveling a differently-ordered sovereignty, in which we’re feral interlopers.”


To rectify the confusion occurring from claims made by critics that the New Aesthetic is about 8bit retro and nostalgia, Dan Catt [4] makes an excellent point in a blog post.

The “New Aesthetic, Catt states, “is about the polygones and edges and pixels of now vision, not the polygones and edges and pixels of back then creation.”

[1] Battles, Matthew. “But it Moves: The New Aesthetic and emergent virtual taste“.

[2] Berg’s QR Clock

[3] Matt Jones. “Clocks for Robots

[4] Catt, Rev Dan. http://revdancatt.com/2012/04/07/why-the-new-aesthetic-isnt-about-8bit-retro-the-robot-readable-world-computer-vision-and-pirates/

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The Machine Gaze

In “The Machine Gaze,” Will Wiles indirectly addresses Damien Walter’s (and other critics) concerns about the issue of newness or novelty and obsolescence surrounding the New Aesthetic.

“In a sense,” Wiles claims, “what the New Aesthetic truly represents is the eruption of a new kind of banality.”

Wiles argues that the New Aesthetic “was never new – it went from being unknown to being ubiquitous and throughly banal with barely a blink.”

Therefore, for Wiles, the “New Aesthetic is not about seeing something new – it is about the new things we are not seeing. It is an effort to truly observe and note emergent digital visual phenomena before they become invisible.”

Wiles provides a comprehensive discussion of the New Aesthetic for anyone interesting in taking the time to read his somewhat lengthy article.

Wiles, Will. “The Machine Gaze.

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Keeping Up Appearance … with the Digital Age!

When researching I have noticed that most of the literature on the New Aesthetic, which discusses the blurring of the reality-virtuality boundary, only focuses on the humanisation of technology – robots designed to be similar to humans by learning to drive cars, to recognise faces, to communicate, etc.

There is a flip-side to this, however, which is the technologization of the human – humanity’s desire to be like technology. One of the best examples I can think of for explaining this point is the use (or, overuse rather) of Auto-tune and digital manipulation in pop music production. In the music industry, pitch correction (heavily used by Cher and popularised in her song, ‘Believe’ (1998)) and speech synthesis (Stephen Hawking uses speech synthesis to communicate) could be viewed as examples of not only how humans attempt to be like technology, but how humans (especially with auto-tune) attempt to keep up with the sonic, crisp perfection of the digital.

Furthermore, it could be argued that the increase in cosmetic surgery, the use of botox and other cosmetic enhancements is concurrent with the availability of High-Definition TVs, Retina Display, etc, which is another example of how humans are attempting to keep up with the digital. Although some celebrities are being digitally enhanced for magazine covers to meet the high-definition standards of the digital aesthetic, they are also transforming their bodies physically to be like their digitally flawless images or alter-selves.

I think the New Aesthetic should not only show a uni-directional flow, but instead how the digital revolution is having a bi-directional impact on humanity and technology. Humanity has raised the bar on technology by attempting to make technology, human. Consequently, technology has raised the bar on us because rapid technological advancements have forced us to keep up with technology.

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The New Aesthetic continued – refuting Timo Arnall

I just found an article online that refutes the claims Timo Arnall makes about his “Robot Readable World” video that I provided a link for in a previous post.

According to Jay Owens, “Arnall’s video is actually a depiction of the debug output of machine vision, processed and formatted to be human-readable. It looks the way it does because programmers threw together a visualization to help them understand why the machines weren’t seeing what they were supposed to be seeing, or to confirm that they were seeing what they were supposed to be seeing when everything seemed to work. It’s an attempt to peer into the mind of an algorithm. Its aesthetic core comes from the same place as scrolling lines of program output in a VT-100 terminal or the bright orange of safety vests.”

In other words, Owens argues that the images in Arnall’s video do not depict robot perception and it is perhaps impossible for us to see how a robot sees.

Owens also discusses what he perceives as “an unavoidable mistake” at the core of the New Aesthetic that is “the multiplication of entities and agents” with our unintentional ( or intentional?) personification of robots.

Owens, Jay. “On the Leakiness of Surveillance Culture, the Corporate Gaze, and What That Has To Do With the New Aesthetic.

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The New Aesthetic continued …

In addition to my first post on the New Aesthetic, I would like to add Borenstein’s definition to the list and to provide a few examples that I find to be particularly interesting.

Greg Borenstein, in “What It’s like to be a 21st Century Thing,” [1] argues that the “New Aesthetic is not simply an aesthetic fetish of the texture of the images, but an inquiry into the objects that make them. It’s an attempt to imagine the inner lives of the native objects of the 21st Century and to visualise how they imagine us.”

In relation to how machines imagine us, I came across some cool videos while researching that offer an insight into this alternative perception of reality through the lens of technology.

How a robot sees you: http://thecreatorsproject.com/blog/this-is-how-a-robot-sees-you-exploring-machine-visions-eerie-aesthetic

Self-driving cars: http://www.wired.com/magazine/2012/01/ff_autonomouscars/all/1

For Borenstein, the New Aesthetician’s goal is to amplify “the particular frequency of ‘black noise’ these New Things emit.” Tim Arnall attempts to achieve this, as can be seen from the videos below.

Tim Arnall: http://www.elasticspace.com/

Light Painting Visualisations of Oslo’s Wifi Network: http://www.thecreatorsproject.com/blog/light-painting-visualizations-of-oslos-wifi-network

Having said that, when watching the video of how a robot sees us, I can’t help but question: “What is new about this?” and “Where have I seen this before (many years ago)?”. Viewing how a robot views us actually reminded me of two of my favourite films: Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) and Predator (1987). As the release dates of these films show, this concept of machine-perception of reality has already been seen and is perhaps rather outdated.

Maybe Damien Walter is correct after all in saying there is nothing new about the New Aesthetic other than the fact that the technological tools we use have become deeply embedded in our daily lives.

[1] Borenstein, Greg. “What It’s like to be a 21st Century Thing”.

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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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