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Spectacle, Speculation, Spam – Alan Warburton on the contemporary Digital Image

Alan Warburton is a purveyor of savvy, reflexive computer graphics projects. Recently invited to present at an Edge of Frame Event at London’s Whitechapel, the British artist produced a video essay outlining contemporary digital image making as a mixture of “spectacle, speculation, and spam” and schematized types of practices (and their related goals). Here he is on ‘spectacle,’ the stomping ground of agencies, who he describes as craftsmen who painstakingly produce work that is exquisite, technically ingenious and ahead of the curve. Notably, he mentions some UK studios who need little introduction to CAN readers:

…in the last couple of years spectacle has begun to embrace its tech side. Think about those east London collectives like Marshmallow Laser Feast or FIELD, they bring laser scanning, projection mapping, 3D printing, big data, and virtual reality into the world of animation way before the hardware and software is affordable for individual animators or artists. They produce cutting edge stuff, inspirational for kids, design blogs, and camera phones, but maybe interactive tech art risks being the Blue Man Group of the 21st Century, entertainment for trade show and executive award ceremonies – it’s great content that somehow lacks content, it’s not self aware.

Shots fired! Warburton also critiques Hito Steyerl’s aesthetic and the “managerial approach” that results when contemporary artists outsource production to technicians rather than learn their tools inside out. In his telling, it’s the tension between these poles—the exquisite and ‘empty’, the theoretically charged and ‘crude’—that has transformed the contemporary digital image into spam; and he concludes that many projects boil down to trying to find value in or return value to this debased substance. Looking beyond this binary, he identifies some promising experimental software animation practices that move into more uncharted territory. These notably include Nikita Diakur’s fabulous Ugly Dynamics project, which he heaps praise on.

Warburton’s argument is smart, detailed, and nuanced — his video essay definitely warrants multiple viewings, check it below.

Alan Warburton | Edge of Frame