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The New Aesthetic - Sorta, Finally, Kinda

posted Jan 30, 2013, 8:39 PM by Ellen Pearlman

The New Aesthetic - Sorta, Finally, Kinda

Bruce Sterling defines the New Aesthetic as “image-processing for British media designers.” It sounds so simple, like washing suds. But what it really is is the established artworld of image makers and writings and the industry around image making finally trying to wrap its head around the digital world.

It is the “eruption of the digital into the physical” which sounds like those washing suds in the machine suddenly started pouring out and flooding your basement with sudsy water. According to Sterling, James Bridle is the new crowned king of the movement, sort of like Relational Aesthetics and Nicolas Bourriaud.

The New Aesthetic has its roots in network culture. Its also described as a “theory object” (back to those suds) and it is sharable. It is “collectively intelligent” in that it crowd sources itself up the yin yang, and actually boils down to a common denominator. It’s open source, a rhizome, and Sterling describes it as “balloons tied to a lethal weapon,” hence the relevance of my frothy, sudsy metaphor.

Apparently “theory objects” are when people cluster around unstable databases. I can’t imagine what happens when they cluster around stable databases. One picture used to illustrate this is a member of the Spanish National Congress taking the entire Spanish budget to Congress on a cardboard backed QRCode with a little bit of masking tape to hold it together.

Sterling says its cute, pop, transgressive and even includes surveillance. Anyone with a data connection can see it - all that mapping and coding and pinpointing. It’s immediate, it has glitches, and its gone almost as fast as it appears. It gets dated fast. It’s past post-modern, everyone is too young to remember what that was (is).

It’s also boring machine code, hampered visuals constrained by algorithms, screen sized squares and raster vector slices, arial views, retro 80’s beginning computing stuff that dates back to Walter Benjamin’s “Art in the age of mechanical reproduction.”

Sterling decries the difference between building an Instructable robot, and the real thing, like the Japanese do. Sterling goes ballistic and winds up calling the “New Aesthetic” a “design fiction.” This means he is dammed if he does and certainly dammed if he does not. He acknowledges the existence and limits of the beauty of math and codes. He says that the aesthetic has been “hacked” but certainly not well thought out.

There is a tremendous amount of truth in that statement.