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Beyond the Pixel Sculpture – V2_’s New Aesthetic, New Anxieties

The pundit scrum that massed around the New Aesthetic may not have yielded the overarching conversation about digital aesthetics that we needed to have in 2012, but it was the one we got. Fueled by the forward-thinking ‘curation’ of James Bridle’s tumblr and a related SXSW panel, interest in the New Aesthetic exploded after Bruce Sterling penned a wildly evocative essay on his WIRED blog this past April. In the weeks and months that followed a few dozen creative technologists, curators, theorists and foresighters conducted a distributed Monte Carlo experiment to hash out a rough consensus to a) determine if something novel was indeed going on, and b) consider what some of the implications of this pervasive “eruption of the digital into the physical” might be. Rotterdam’s venerable V2_ Institute for Unstable Media recently hosted a booksprint to produce New Aesthetic, New Anxieties, a short book focused on leveraging the excitement/confusion/controversy around the New Aesthetic to inform ruminations on computation, curation and—of course—aesthetics.

First things first: it is really important to note that New Aesthetic, New Anxieties was authored in just four and a half days (!!) by an interdisciplinary team of curators, writers and academics. It is hard to know exactly what standards to hold a text produced this quickly to, but I’m happy to report that my impressions of this undertaking is definitely net-positive. In fact, it is really a testament to the expansive knowledge and experience of the team involved (and presumably the guidance of facilitator Adam Hyde) that this short book can cover as much ground as it does and generally succeed with its varying ambitions. Structurally, New Aesthetic, New Anxieties sets out to achieve three major goals: to introduce, contextualize and re-frame the frenzy of commentary inspired by Bridle and Sterling, consider related curatorial implications and explore the New Aesthetic as representation.

The first chunk of the book provides a cursory description of Bridle’s tumblr and ignites a broader conversation about computation through a survey of numerous responses to Sterling’s initial post, discussion list fodder and media theory from the last few years. Marius Watz, Wendy Chun, Mez Breeze, Geert Lovink, Christian Paul, Greg Borenstein, Madeline Ashby – and this is just a ‘core sample’ of the commentators addressed. While the pace is furious, this is a pretty fabulous contextualization (and problematization) of many of the major voices that have weighed in on or are directly relevant to various facets of the New Aesthetic.

The ‘curatorial readings’ portion of the text stumbles out of the gate with a fairly tedious reading of ‘a blogpost as exhibition’. I can’t really see the value of attempting to reverse engineer what Bridle was thinking when he decided to include certain material on the New Aesthetic tumblr and found the subsequent related conversations about online remix culture/curation and key precedents much more engaging. This section closes with some bang-on commentary considering how projects like Aram Bartholl’s Map and Dead Drops , Julius von Bismarck’s Topshot Helmet and Wafaa Bilal’s Domestic Tension (all deeply invested in embodiment) are quite estranged from their online representations to underscore how tricky it can be to contemplate digital aesthetics if our point of reference is simply marginally-captioned photos and videos of projects posted to <insert web service here>.

The text concludes with an even more fine-toothed examination of  ‘screen essentialism’, and compliments this with investigations into the limits of perceiving/experiencing computation and a nuanced survey of the political opportunities and blind-spots associated with this ‘eruption’ of interest. New Aesthetic, New Anxieties does not terminate with any specific mandate or conclusion and the book is best approached as an annotated map of a contentious landscape that has yet to come completely into focus.

Publication Page (available in EPUB, MOBI and PDF formats)
Authors: David M. Berry, Michel van Dartel, Michael Dieter, Michelle Kasprzak, Nat Muller, Rachel O’Reilly & José Luis de Vicente (facilitated by Adam Hyde) | V2_ Institute for Unstable Media

See also The Politics of the New Aesthetic: Electric Anthropology and Ecological Vision

Posted on: 04/07/2012

Posted in: Review

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