i think this can be cut.
In this chapter we want to look at the common conception of the new aesthetic as a form of mere representation. [This is to mistakenly think of the new aesthetic as a collection of representations or images somehow capturing the 'digital'. Something like a simple reflection or reproduction – the new aesthetic as a mirror of society.] Here, we might think particularly of the extent to which, so far, the Bridle/Sterling New Aesthetic has been presented as screenic images, and how this flatness of the image has been defining in terms of what can be collected through and on a Tumblr blog, for example.
This, of course, points us to the importance of the medium in understand both the new aesthetic as collected on Tumblr, but points also towards a wider question about how it is understood through its mediation (something that we discuss in the next chapter). Here though, we focus on questions raised by the new aesthetic as representation. However, we constantly require attentiveness with such a ---------surface reading as it entail a kind of flattening of the digital, particularly in relation to screenic images which may, or may not, have a presumed indexicality, such as time, place and subject – we might also want to think about the metadata implications for a digitally constructed indexicality provided by geolocation, technical specs, and so forth embedded in the image. It also implies that we also cannot stay only at the level of the screen, thereby avoiding and/or perpetuating screen essentialism. Further, we still have to wrestle with the question of the computational when we still have a tendency to lean on poor (representational) tools to do so.
It is interesting to note that a feature/bug of computational systems is sometimes thought to be due to the immaturity of the disciplines and methods, but after 40 years of writing code/software we still suffer from the same problems – namely its complexity and our lack of metaphorical language to describe it. Whether inscribed within a model of procedual, functional or object-oriented structure, code is usually bigger than a single human being can understand. Thus, in a running system, and in escaping our comprehension, it inevitably has aporia and liminal areas that mean we cannot truly predict, control or even understand its operation. Whilst here we haven't space to reflect on the radical potentialities this unpredictability and risk that this 'glitch ontology' opens in control societies, it is nonetheless suggestive for political and artistic practice.
The new aesthetic, then, can be understood as a comportment towards "seeing" computation, responding to it, or merely being correctly attuned to it (in a subsequent chapter this is explored due to its potential for the passification of the user). We might therefore ask what are that the kinds of 'things' that show up as equipment, goals, and identities in this new aesthetic and how they are specific to computationality. As Heidegger argues,
So it happens that we, lost as we usually are in the activities of observing and establishing, believe we “see” many things and yet do not see what really is (Heidegger 1995: 60).
Temptations towards showing the images of the new aesthetic as somehow unmediated, particularly in relation to machine, or computer produced images, fetishizes the "thing" whilst also obscuring its mediation. The new aesthetic, in other words, brings these patterns to the surface, and in doing so articulates a movement towards uncovering the "unseen" and little understood logic of computational society and the anxieties that this introduces. Nonetheless, we should, of course, be alert to the aporias that it thereby introduces.
Without an attentiveness to the layers of software beneath this surface interface we are in danger of further 'screen essentialism'. In terms of the computational as instantiated within computational devices (or code objects), one of the key aspects is that the surface can remain relatively stable whilst the machinery layer(s) can undergo frenetic and disorienting amounts of change (Berry 2012c). This frantic disorientation at the machinery layer is therefore insulated from the user, who is provided with a surface which can be familiar, skeuomorphic (from the Greek, skeuos - vessel or tool, morphe - shape), representational, metonymic, figurative or extremely simplistic and domestic. It is important to note that the surface/interface need not be visual, indeed it may be presented as an application programming interface (API) which hides the underlying machinery behind this relatively benign interface.
As discussed in the introduction, the scope and boundary points of the new aesthetic are currently being drawn, redrawn and contested. This we welcome as critical approaches to aesthetics are constantly in need of renewing and testing, however we also thing that critical attention needs to be paid to the non-human dimension of the computational, both in terms of a worrying (rather than methodological) decentring of the human, but also its related problem of granting anthropomorphized agency to code, for example.
Indeed, this raises questions about what we might call the "thinginess" of the new aesthetic object more generally. To a large extent this "thinginess" or perhaps the difficulty in engaging with it has been obscured due to an over-reliance on images to represent the set of new aesthetic "things." This lack of materiality, or rather to be exact, as even screenic images are material in an important sense, is important due to its underlying notion of the transparent means of communication facilitated by computational commmunicational systems. That is, there appears to be a theory of communication inbuilt into the new aesthetic as shown in its popular registers. We need to take account of this in thinking about the
The Representation Practices of the New Aesthetic
The new aesthetic is deeply influenced by and reliant on patterns and abductive reasoning more generally as argued in the previous chapters (see Berry 2012a). This I argue will be a common thread that links the lists of objects that seem to have nothing more in common than a difficult to reconcile and tenuous digitality, or perhaps a seeming retro towards older forms of digital rendering and reproduction. In actuality it is no surprise that we see a return of 8-bit retro – it could perhaps be described as the abductive aesthetic par excellence, inasmuch as it enables an instant recognition of, and indeed serves as an important representation for the digital, even as the digital becomes high-definition and less 'digital' by the day (see Jean 2010).
However, there is an element of 'down-sampled' representation of a kind of digital past, or perhaps digital passing, in that the kinds of digital glitches, modes, and forms that are chosen, are very much located historically – especially considering that we are moving into a high-definition world of retina displays and high-pixel density experience (for an example, see Huff 2012).
As computation, and by definition its carriers, code and software, increasingly withdraw into the background of our experience, it is probable that we will increasingly see the foregrounding of a representation of, and for, the digital/computational. In some ways, 8-bit images are reassuring and still comprehensible as different from and standing in opposition to the everyday world people inhabit. In other ways, however, the glitches, retro 8-bit esque look that we see in pixelated works are actually distant from the capabilities of contemporary machines and their 8-bit blocky ontologies provide only limited guidance on the way in which software now organises and formats the our shared, and sharable, world (Berry 2011). So ironically, just as digital technologies and software mediate our experience and engagement with the world, often invisibly, so the 'digital' and 'software' is itself mediated and made visible through the representational forms of pixelation and glitch.
As notions of abduction and the related aesthetic, whether as new aesthetic or another form, becomes more prevalent it will be interesting to see the exemplars of this form emerge. Whilst today we tend to think of the 8-bit pixelation, satellite photos, CCTV images, and the like, it is probable that alternative, more computational forms may prevail. I think it likely that skeuomorphic images will become increasingly common and may be the historical exemplar of our digital present, as indeed might skeuomorphic representations of older 8-bit technologies (such as enabled by MAME and other emulators) (see MAME 2012). Conceivably this also might lead to a form of cognitive dissonance with people looking for pattern aesthetics everywhere, understood as a form of apophenia, that is, the experience of seeing meaningful patterns or connections in random or meaningless data (called a type 1 error in statistics). Perhaps even further, people will seek digital or abductive explanations for certain kinds of aesthetic, visual or even non-visual experiences which may not be digital or produced through computational means at all, a digital pareidolia.
Pareidolia involves seeing importance in vague and random phenomenon, for example a face in a random collection of dots on paper. By 'digital pareidolia' we are gesturing towards seeing digital causes for things that happen in everyday life. Indeed, under a regime of computationality in the future it might be considered stranger to believe that things might have non-digital causes. Thus apophenia would be the norm in a highly digital computational society, perhaps even a significant benefit to one's life chances and well-being if finding patterns becomes increasingly lucrative. Here we might consider the growth of computational high-frequency trading and financial systems that are trained and programmed to identify patterns very quickly.
Software is not only necessary for representation; it is also endemic of transformations in modes of “governing” that make governing both more personal and impersonal, that enable both empowerment and surveillance, and indeed make it difficult to distinguish between the two (Chun 2011: 58).
When we speak of seeing the grain of computation, or perhaps its 'seams', what do we mean by this and what is being articulated in particular discourses around the representation of the new aesthetic. Here we might note that seeing the grain of computation, is a representationation model of understanding a media form, and although useful in one dimension is unable to capture the medial qualities that we think are important – something we discuss in more detail in the next chapter.
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