By and large, The New Aesthetics seem to have a weird friendly aloofness not seen in previous generations. This is described by William Deresiewicz in the New York Times article, Generation Sell. He describes the affective foundations of beatniks, hippies, punks, and slackers, but he describes the current generation’s lack of affect as being “post-emotional”. However, when looking at a “movement” considered as being post-human, would it make sense that its progenitors be post-affective as well? Perhaps, but this may also be another methodology to further distance the artist (and the viewer/participant) from any emotional attachment to the work at all? If one is allowed to be cynical about the neo-automatic era as expression of late capitalism and the related agendas of control, could it be said that the elimination of emotion and humanity is implied in The New Aesthetics? Not quite. As with some of Deresiewicz’ previous movements like the Beats, there is a cool detachment that strains against the demons of affect. In the case of The New Aesthetics, the qualitative aspect of the work struggles against its own humanity, but it has to embrace it as much as one has to accept the aesthetics of the image made with a camera lens. The New Aesthetics is not random; it is the reflection of a fascination with a gestalt born of new technologies, which in itself is not a new phenomenon. The New Aesthetics must allow and understand that artists choose the images from drones and algorithms they wish to show, or at least an understanding of the images that their algorithms will create. Therefore, with the rise of The New Aesthetic, the machine gestalt is still central, but the images are still curated by humans.
Where Sterling makes a very sharp distinction is by citing movements that were bound by strong political ideologies. While The New Aesthetic uses imagery from politically charged sources like drone cameras, and in its methods resembles Futurism most closely in its centering practice on the machine, it seems relatively free of ideology and politics. Perhaps it is not just an outgrowth of technophrenia but a movement in its infancy that is considering what its politics are as it sifts through the data. This is contrary to other movements such as Dada, Futurism, Surrealism, and Situationism, or even FLUXUS, which had a clear ideology or agenda at its onset.
But that was in Modernist times, and we are in a sort of trans-modern time that is incredibly disperse and integrative of the Modern, Post-, and this weird post-affectivity, even non-humanism, and perhaps this is what makes The New Aesthetic a grain of sand in the shell of culture. The “movement” is likewise disperse and encompassing, and perhaps represents a gestalt/trend rather than a movement, as it includes low-rez, glitch, machine vision, and probably algorism. But for now, I will accept The New Aesthetic as a potential movement in that it represents a number of approaches as Dada encompassed performance, assemblage, collage, and criticism. The “movement” so it seems in its framing at SXSW, is announcing itself as it self-reflexively considers its form.
This is a weird moment in time, culturally speaking, as theorists are deep into writers like Whitehead and “Object Oriented Ontology”, that flattens human notions of being in reference to all other “objects” like cats, rocks, and even ideas. This might fit well with the non-humanity of the robot eye, but everything is in a network of relationships to one another according to both Whithead and Latour. But I don’t want this to become a philosophical thesis; I am suggesting that perhaps the “ontology” of The New Aesthetic is to consider the eye of the machine less subordinate to the human. However, it does not seem that the machine is totally in control yet. The Aesthetic seems to have a machine paradigm with a flattened ontology between man and machine, but this is not stated at all in the panel.
Two last points I’d like to address are comments that came about since I began writing this, leaving me in what I call a state of “real-time criticism” by Marius Watz and Ian Bogost. Watz states that there is a danger of perpetual newness in this New Aesthetic, and I agree in the frame of two different readings of the term. First, in relation to movements like Weimar Germany’s New Objectivity/Neue Sachlichtheit, and even New Media, neither are particularly “new” any longer. New Media, in terms of the blogosphere, is pretty old, with movements like public practice being a bit newer (See Creative Time’s great catalog for the “Living as Form” show.). But perhaps Watz might be getting at is that The New Aesthetic positions itself as merely riding on the leading edge of technology without ever driving a stake in the cultural soil, or meaning to. “Oh, here’s a new thing that looks sort of cool – that looks cool.”, The New Aesthetic seems to say. I would like to drop a mock-hysterical polemic by saying, “HEY! LOOK! The goddamn robots are looking back at us! PAY ATTENTION!” Maybe it’s that sort of hysteria that might help set a frame for The New Aesthetic.
I also agree with Ian Bogost’s article in The Atlantic in that The New Aesthetic needs to get a whole lot weirder. We need people with big mustaches with bizarre floating camera pods trolling offshore, or people ideologically droning the landscape, like The Bureau of Inverse Technology did in the 90’s with their BITPlane (Hey kids! I said the NINETIES!), or even Jordan Crandall’s machine vision work. As an aside, I want to mention that Crandall and BIT were in the New Aesthetic corner a long time before this year’s SXSW; just sayin’. But The New Aesthetic seems to have its preternatural coolness that preclude it from interventions, manifestoes, or the customary driving of sports cars into ditches, followed by artistic epiphany. What we have now is the equivalent of bemusedly watching Predator video feeds at our desktop, once again saying; “Hey, that looks cool. Let me capture a frame of that…”
In the end, perhaps what The New Aesthetic needs is a good old-fashioned manifesto, as in all reality, it seems to be closest to Futurism in its focusing on the aesthetic of the machine eye, and the Futurists were wonderful with manifestoes. Or perhaps we are seeing the manifestation of Vertov’s Kino-eye, which reflects itself in the Yes lyric, “I am a Camera.” What seems to be obvious is that The New Aesthetic represents an awareness of the dim mirror of our machine progeny beginning to look back at us with the vague fuzziness of a newborn. With the Dalai Lama himself accepting the impetus for the creation of synthetic humanity in endorsing the Avatar2045 Project, and with Moravec and Kurzweil’s ongoing assertions of the Singularity, I believe that The New Aesthetic requires a position; a locus to hang its hat on. Or perhaps it is an aesthetically-based proto-awareness of the early sparks of the Singularity as the initial emergent flickerings of machine intelligence blinks its eyes at us for the first couple times.