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digital cartographers, narrative realization. image workers & pixel [re]searchers. emographers. memetic mappers. space cadets. polytopians.
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    Some thoughts on the New Aesthetic.

    A few days ago Bruce Sterling posted an "Essay on the New Aesthetic", summing up his most recent thoughts after a panel at SXSW, similarly titled "The New Aesthetic - Seeing like digital devices". The focal point of definition for this New Aesthetic is well documented and a gestalt emerges quite quickly on the New Aesthetic tumblr, a juxtaposition of quotes, images, sensations, videos highlighting myriad examples of that which its curators are recognizing is already happening.

    In short, New Aesthetic touches in some sense the bleeding of the virtual dimension into the actual and our increasing reflection of our own methods of sensing in machines, and vice versa. What's surprising about Bruce's usually sardonic critique of modern culture is that he acknowledges his own excitement and novelty with NA, that perhaps it does indeed holds the potential for something new...

    I've felt this viscerally on spacecollective through these past years. We've watched the work of Andy Gilmore reflect us into fractal gradients, Xaos exploring on his canvas the poiesis of becoming, Gavin Keech exploring the hypersciences through the lens of experience, Gabriel Shalom in our many conversations about digital aura recognition (AUREC), hypercubism & object orientation and Wildcat recontextualizing the role of the knowmad in relation to aesthetics.

    Robin Sloan boils it down to a general axiom(?) of NA on his blog:

    the flip-flop (n.) the process of pushing a work of art or craft from the physical world to the digital world and back again—maybe more than once becomes clear you aren’t aiming for fidelity in these transitions from physical to digital and back. That’s where your work gets exposed to a whole new set of tools—really, a whole new physics.

    However there are several conceptual hurdles that require consideration and recontextualization that need to occur before I can rally behind the New Aesthetic. Our hybrid futures imply that we are moving at a pace of transformation to which we are little aware on a moment by moment basis.

    The Machinomorphic Counter-strike

    In 1957, Russel Kirsch took the first digital photo - a 5x5cm picture of his infant son. When deciding how to render the ones and zeros, Kirsch decided on the seemingly logical choice at the time — square pixels. For this, he apologizes.

    "The logical thing was not the only possibility," Kirsch said. Those pixels could have been any shape he desired. But he went with square; a decision he has since described as "something very foolish that everyone in the world has been suffering from ever since." (full article)

    In the fascination of 'seeing like machines', we have been anthropomorphizing our machines, imbuing them with very human metaphors. What's not recognized as widely is the backwash - the feedback and echoes of machinomorphic [PDF] influence - where we begin to associate the qualities of machines into our conception of ourselves. Pixels have a harsh, grinding feel to them, utterly unnatural considering there are no straight lines in nature, gestalt is not linear, nor binary - yet in our mad digitalization of our experience, of course we grab onto this, the most glaringly obvious representation of the prison of our sensory experience to break loose of these relative freedoms. Machine vision must push beyond the prison of the rectangle, and that's why we're shredding and bleeding our media and its representations, grind it, shatter it, work to break through to something more organic.

    A chunk of Bruce's essay nearer to the end demands a recontextualization of our relationship with machines:

    I will hammer that iron nail a bit more, in case you aren’t getting it yet. Because this is the older generation’s crippling hangup with their alleged “thinking machines.” When computers first shoved their way into analog reality, they came surrounded by a host of poetic metaphors. Cybernetic devices were clearly much more than mere motors and engines, so they were anthropomorphized and described as having “thought,” “memory,” and nowadays “sight” and “hearing.” Those metaphors are deceptive. These are the mental chains of the old aesthetic, these are the iron bars of oppression we cannot see.

    Modern creatives who want to work in good faith will have to fully disengage from the older generation’s mythos of phantoms, and masterfully grasp the genuine nature of their own creative tools and platforms. Otherwise, they will lack comprehension and command of what they are doing and creating, and they will remain reduced to the freak-show position of most twentieth century tech art. That’s what is at stake.

    When establishment becomes artificial and possibility begoes natural, process flows being. Implicit in the arrival at the phrase which can potentially embody and arrive at a recontextualized aesthetic, is a departure, from what we know and have known. these realizations are what we encase as objects, juxtaposing through fluid curation that together, reveals a certain directionality, trajectory that we are still grasping at.

    The sensing of objects within the construct of machines still lacks a cohesive ontology - ontologies are about structuring meaning, and we humans have difficulty enough coming to common agreements by way of our differently evolved subjectivities and contexts, we are a long ways from providing machines with the conceptual substrate to handle the complexity of human intersubjectivity. The intersubjectivity of any context, indeed to have a consensus reality, depends on our ability to come to agreements about meaning - we struggle with the very first step -with methods of classification of objects, and defining their relations, as this need for context induces a sort of multiplexed fragmentation. The question of intelligence in our machines, a morbid fascination playing with the uncanny valley, at the same time inviting us to engage with it as higher and higher resolution refractions bounce around the collective subconscious (which also must exist if there is to be any 'collectively intelligent'). Sterling calls us to engage with machines as they are, not how we would imbue them with our characteristics or vice versa.

    These objects, somewhat objects of our desire, are comprised of processes, nested within each other at varying layers of abstraction. What is even more profound, only being hinted at, at least in the conversation surrounding the New Aesthetic, is the machine computability of our cultural activity and archetypal interpretations by machines, natural language processing, entity extraction, semantic tech and hybrids like amazon's mechanical turk. It is not just the geographical or physical machine vision but the cultural, that we must think deeply and tread carefully in relation with machines, lest we eat our own tails in a pornographic desire to get to know ourselves through the technological immediation of machine-processed experience. Our own vision - physiological, cultural, social - is being refracted through the fractures in our ability to conceive the implications of the different lenses we view technology through - never quite familiar and sometimes difficult keeping our equilibrium in such a fast-changing landscape.

    In meantime the examples of NA continue to become more fluid, integrated, in going deeper into that glitch we've found its not actually all that glitchy once you get in there, that is, more like a phase space or grey area, between on/off, yes/no, not pinpointed at a specific coordinate but rather multiple possibilities in a spectrum of coordinates. Daito Manabe's various collaborations exemplify this blend uniquely, in turns haunting, frantic, ghostly, yet even more real because of it, immediately taking us to a liminal space. Liminality is key to NA, because it is that inbetween that enables us to explore our intuition, NA can, at its best open a door for us to inhabit this liminal space between virtual and actual, reflect our interpretation the happenings of now predictively to expand our awareness.

    The New Aesthetic is Infosyn-aesthetic

    Derived from latin, synaesthesia is broken down into “syn”, which means union, and “esthesia”, sensation. A union of sensation. When used as a common term, synesthesia is used to describe the condition of when someone is aware of their senses mixing. In other words, the stimulation of one sense will trigger a response in another sense.

    Synesthesia is not something that has been added, but has always existed. A multisensory awareness is something that has been lost from conscious awareness in the majority of people....We know more that we think we know. The multisensory, synesthetic view of reality is only one things that we are sure has been lost from consciousness. - Dr. Richard Cytowic

    The addition of info-, the union of information and sensation. Our new sensors and extension of our senses into the domain of the virtual, gives us the conceptual construct to interact with information therefore extending our relations and conception of the environment, each other and ourselves. The emergence of this hyperconnectivity fundamentally changes the dynamics of human interaction through morphing our symbolic languages. We desperately need to upgrade our current conceptions of communication, on the fly, now and forever more.

    The role of cultivating these sensitivities is that of the aesthetic curators of information, as critical relevancies and metabolic reactors within an infocology (information ecology), engaged in aesthetic management. Working towards something more inherently flexible, capable of unmanagement, free flowing with immersion into the rawness of humanity. Lets build upon these signature decay trails, their radiation showing aesthetics, also in respect to establishment's departure, into arrival of new ways...

    We need new semantic and ontological frameworks to exchange meaning within and across infocologies. As we more deeply engage and interact with each other, information and our environment, a new, infosynaesthetic language is emergent through hyperconnectivity. It is in becoming that the New Aesthetic emerges, and it is emergent, for if there's one thing to realize about our nascent infosyn-aesthetic, it is that it throws into questions the nature of networked identities, the blend of flesh and information, data, matter and the overlay of realities that result. Out of this we desire to recontextualize and understand the meaning of our relationship and evolution of our sense interfaces and our language, and the vast impact they have on our culture, politics, society as a whole.

    life+ / work+ / play+ saturate in real and virtual. mind and body fuse with reality and dream. organism and environment continually connect. chemicals and frequency pulse rapidly so flow between is unity with such intense distance that requirement is recursively created to seamlessly evolve together to revive identities morphing. - @entpm

    ...we may now understand aesthetics as requiring an unsettling of knowledge, a dynamic, and transformative quality of engagement with the world. In this sense, Aesthetics can be said to be the foundation of our understanding the inter-subjective relational experience we have with the world. Aesthetics I see as that which disturbs the obvious, disconcerts the known, unsettles the clear and provides a way ahead in our realization of ourselves both as individuals as a culture and as a species... - Wildcat

    The paradigms with which we experience information are driven by the glitches - those things rendered explicit and obvious by time and space. The artworks that are being classified as NA embody this, and whether intentionally or unintentionally call attention to an attempt for us humans at normalisation - the persistence of a contextual aesthetic ground, that is always tending to firm up on us.

    NA can and should strive to have a center which is always moving - resisting crystallization while at the same time calling our attention to it. The deterritorialization of that which we know we know, or think we know. Saccades crystallize. blinking helps sight. The analog to digital smoothers are active, the seeds of which have been planted already, literally, in those being born in 2012, those who will be born into a mass-customizable, rapidly evolving ever increasing info mass. We, those already born, need to understand how we can keep pace with changing paradigms of interaction with the world on the fly, and implied in that, its influence the structure of our mind and culture itself.

    Fluid, Fractal and Holographic

    What we're experiencing is exaptive, form and nonform - transforming aesthetics into tangible intangibles. Morphing between virtual and actual, before and after a particular moment has subsided in experience. As we are building these interfaces for experiential navigation of data and information for minds and intelligences to integrate with, hindsights, insights, foresights and evolution become conscious communication mechanisms to evolve upon ourselves, by living and interacting. Hyperconnectivity reveals the fluid, fractal and holographic nature of not data or information or content but experience, this itself morphs through evolutionary permutations as our code spaces are changed, modified, interpreted and re-encoded as signals and resonance.

    Before being a theory aesthetics is an action, the action of undeterred insistence in refurnishing becoming.

    Before being a theory aesthetics requires the necessary non-act of disclosing a shape of silence in and around minds, in and around things.

    Before being a theory aesthetics is an inter-action, the empathic weaving of threads across the frontier between visible and invisible, the ephemeral mind of beyond born of encounter.

    Thus before being a theory Aesthetics is possibly about the apex of our action as humans.

    Aesthetics is the verb of curating becoming. - Xaos

    Becoming is of emergent properties of past affinities of influence; begoing is synchronized with the emergent properties of future affinities - both of these, in reconciliation to factors of time's relative constraints.

    The quality of being, as an aesthetic phenomenon, is radically altered in the age of hyperconnectivity in a fashion that prominently features the art of becoming, not as the mimesis of an other that is not authentic, but in a fashion that re-describes the extended narrative of the individual into a multiplicity of authentic beings.

    We call for the founding of a fresh narrative about our relationship with and through technology. The relevance of the New Aesthetic perhaps may be that we never try too hard to look at it directly in the eyes (which ones for that matter?), but rather keep it on the periphery of our vision, less an object but a presence, a process, and cultivate an aesthetic ground on which our senses stand. Perhaps it better be kept elusive.

    New problems are continually built. Dissolving of problems builds from their solutions, formulae of creations to navigate experience beyond our relative constraints. The possible beauty of our future lies in our hands, in our very own capability to transform ourselves into curators of interest and aesthetic intelligence, a transmutation in the manner we understand the world and cohere a complexity that unfolds before us.

    The New Aesthetic might not be a 'thing' at all. it might just ben about a functional freedom of expression.

    i don't think i'll settle for anything less.

    - IMS.

    {crossposted to the notthisbody blog}

    many thanks to Xaos, Wildcat, and Gavin Keech for the use of their wordplay and phrases i have taken the liberty of incorporating into this essay.

    Image 1: Face Projection by Daito Manabe
    Image 2: Abundance Mechanics by Gavin Keech
    Image 3: the first digital image, scanned by Russel Kirsch in 1957 of his son
    Image 4: Biostructure 2 by Abhominal
    Image 5: Untitled by Xaos

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    Wildcat     Thu, Apr 12, 2012  Permanent link
    Great essay and perspective, you have managed to capture some of the most salient points in this recursive and highly important discussion. As I am in the process of writing a post on the same subject I'll wait with the relevant comments.

    Not sure I agree that NA is about freedom as such,maybe a functional freedom of expression. Much to explore in this realm.

    notthisbody     Wed, Apr 25, 2012  Permanent link
    the phrase about freedom in the essay above has been changed to reflect this exploration I am most intrigued in making.

    Wildcat, indeed i agree with you that the evolution of aesthetics in the context of hyperconnectivity can indeed be about a functional freedom of expression. it seems most vital to me that this be encouraged, the developing our aesthetic muscles if you will, exercising our aesthetic potentially leading to an increase in personal and collective freedoms.

    and anyways i think its the only way to keep up, lest we become rigid along the way and forget how to express ourselves and the stories of our own evolution.
    Autotelic     Tue, Sep 2, 2014  Permanent link
    "Pixels have a harsh, grinding feel to them, utterly unnatural considering there are no straight lines in nature"....

    I have heard this quote a few times about no straight lines in nature, pyrite cubes carry a beauty of their own knowing how RARE straight lines in nature are.

    not only straight lines but perfect cubes