Title: New Aesthetic of Digital Failure
Subtitle: The Physical Death of the Virtual
The formalization of human thoughts through the operation of thought machines (such as computers) created a rational aesthetics which represents likely the antithesis to preceding aesthetic models in art history. Abraham A.Moles, one of the pioneers in researching the links between information theory and aesthetics wondered about the effects on society of the usage of machinic products such as “aleatoric music, artificial languages, programmed painting, automatically translated texts, a national library that is reduced to the memory of a computer”. If the aesthetic values may be calculable, the formalization of the art language therefore means a complete rupture with all history of art aesthetics.
Investigating the aesthetics of the digital and human-machine communication methods is a key factor in order to evaluate and understand the dynamics and the apparent dichotomy between the virtual and the physical. The virtual is informed by physical constraints and has close correspondence with physical models, but it evolves in a different way due to its structural diversity. Some virtual elements exist inherently only when displayed in virtual systems and under virtual dynamics, provoking then uncanniness when presented in a coexisting physically analog system: out of the screen and without native digital restraints.
Detecting those elements and exploring them analogically and therefore out of their habitat is a method to comprehend how fragments from virtual experiences may conflict with elements from the analog world. The basic reaction when confronting this sensation of misplacement represented on the process of exposing the blurred boundaries between both worlds goes from astonishment to revulsion. Astonishment as a first approach towards certain aspects involving the materialization of the virtual, and revulsion as a further reaction towards the sight of situations in which machines mimic human behavior and/or appearance, as suggested by the “Uncanny Valley” hypothesis linked to Ernst Jentsch.
The critical consciousness of the visual language of digital technology and the internet in the physical world is being recently referred to as “New Aesthetic”, a term coined by Bruce Sterling that perceives it as a “native product of modern network culture, a “theory object” and a “shareable concept”. Matthew Battles, a critic and researcher of networked cultures, observes that “central to the New Aesthetic is a sense that we’re learning to “wave at machines”’ - and that perhaps in their glitchy, buzzy, algorithmic ways, they’re beginning to wave back in earnest”. Bruce Sterling calls attention to the fact that, although we are the ones who built and programmed these thought machines, they still present unpredictable and provocative behavior and can be compared to the mechanisms of the unconscious on human mind.
As Sterling points out there’s a clear connection between generative art and surrealism since both explore the importance of the unconscious: “valorizing machine-generated imagery is like valorizing the unconscious mind” generative art and other few system art forms seen as spontaneous machinic behavior and surrealism as the glorification of the unconsciousness and the omnipotence of dreams.
It is important to keep in mind that the artistic strategy of representing artifacts and online behaviors in the physical world just presents any impact when outside of the digital realm. Once documented and shown on digital format again, it loses its goal and has barely no communicative faculty. The New Aesthetic is mainly concerned with “how culture is embracing the tools of today” (McNeil), but there is another valid concern in this perspective. It is important to identify which ones are the actual tools of today and how long “today” means in a era of increasingly fast technological developments usually leading to planned obsolescence and electronic waste. All dead media apparatus, such as outdated computers, become physical waste. Although apparently not necessary to investigate the “eruption of the digital into the physical”, approaching this questions help to identify the undeniable material nature of anything that is virtual: any virtual data occupies physical space.
When a working machine is declared obsolete, it means it’s death as a tool. It will be substituted by another machine that is able at least to do the same previous tasks with more efficiency. Garnet Hertz and Jussi Parikka stated on their article named “Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method” that “the realization that information technology is never ephemeral and therefore can never completely die has both ecological and media archeological importance.” This awareness also helps to sculpture a different political view on how this forced stage of ephemerality shapes society, accordingly to Marshall McLuhan’s theory that “we become what we behold – we shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us”.
This short term attachment, in detriment of the previous long term attachment between us and our tools, leads to technology fetishism, which works as a way to preserve hierarchical class structure and makes one “less than human” when becoming a slave to technology. The possible merging of physiological organics with technological organics, as the development of post-human cyborgs, could maybe allow us to attribute life and aura to technology, as observed by Rutsky on “High Techne: Art and Technology from the Machine Aesthetic to the Posthuman”.
There are several forms of obsolescence, divided as technical, functional, planned, style and postponement. More than often a device will suffer from more than one kind of obsolescence at a time. In my artistic research I focus on the idea of digital failure leading to physical death of the machine, as there is no virtual digital world without the physical world.
Creatively exploring particular ways that a computer has to represent failure, I emphasize on how this digital episode may dialog with the physical realm. My aim is to provoke awareness of how thought machines coexist with us and also how we are gradually get transformed as we transform our tools.
Computer glitches, bugs, system and application crashes, unexpected reboots, data loss and several other ways of digital failure are my main objects of investigation to be explored and translated. My research also includes repurposing dead media in order to discuss the working lifespan of new technologies and the concept of zombie media through reverse engineering as an artistic strategy. As the new media artist Paul Slocum observes, “reviving useless machines for different purposes makes us examine obsolescence, value and purpose”.