Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples's high weird, perved-out, freaked out space opera comic Saga is the best visual sf since Transmetropolitan
, and the long-awaited volume 4 is a feast of politics, betrayal, gore, revolution, decadence, and Huxleyesque social control through amusement technology. Cory Doctorow
blew his mind with it, and is back to tell the tale.
Michael Shaughnessy reports the untold story of Frieda Thiersch—and the mysteries of her life, her motives and her books
Maciej Cegłowski's Webstock 2014 talk is called OUR COMRADE THE ELECTRON
, and it's an inspired rant about the relationship of technology to power and coercion. It asserts that the decentralizing of power attended by the growth of technology in the 1990s was a blip, and that the trend of technology will be to further centralization.
I disagree. I think that Cegłowski has conflated "technology" with "technology under neoliberalism" -- that the concentration of technology since the 1990s coincides with the creation of like the WTO and the abolition of things like the Glass–Steagall Act, and the overall concentration of wealth and power into fewer hands. Technology is related to centralized power, but it is not entirely the cause of it -- rather it is in a feedback loop with it, and the two fuel each other.
For me, the interesting question isn't "does technology centralize or doesn't it?" We've seen technology do both. For me, the interesting question is, "How can we make technology into a force for decentralization?"
There's a long-held view of the world that breaks it into "artsies and techies" -- the two cultures. From where I sit, though, the two cultures are "people who believe in finance" and "people who think finance is a corrupt and corrupting force in the world." All the interesting nerds I know make art, and all the interesting artists I know nerd out on technology. But the one thing that seems to separate us into two camps is whether we think the world of finance is a giant con game or a legit enterprise. Read the rest
A Flickr group called "The Art of 3D Print Failure" chronicles the beautiful monstrosities that emerge from glitches in 3D prints. In addition to providing aesthetic pleasure, it also serves as a compendium of advice for preventing errors in the future.
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I wasn’t too chuffed about the weird changes I saw in my favorite start-up guy. Crawferd was a techie I knew from my circuit: GE Industrial Internet, IBM Smart Cities, the Internet-of-Things in Hackney hackathons. The kind of guy I thought I understood.
I relied on Crawferd to deliver an out-there networked-matter pitch to my potential investors. He was great at this, since he was imaginative, inventive, fearless, tireless, and he had no formal education. Crawferd wore unlaced Converse shoes and a lot of Armani. He had all the bumbling sincerity of a Twitter Arab Spring.
A roving, flaming, booze-dispensing art-car that's a staple of Burning Man.
You don't play the ANS synthesizer with a keyboard. Instead you etch images onto glass sheets covered in black putty and feed them into a machine that shines light through the etchings, trigging a wide range of tones. Etchings made low on the sheets make low tones. High etchings make high tones. The sound is generated in real-time and the tempo depends on how fast you insert the sheets.
This isn't a new Dorkbot or Maker Faire oddity. It's a nearly forgotten Russian synthesizer designed by Evgeny Murzin in 1938. The synth was named after and dedicated to the Russian experimental composer and occultist Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin (1872–1915). The name might not mean much to you, but it illuminates a long running connection between electronic music and the occult. Read the rest
Bruce Sterling gave a speech at the North American Summer School in Logic, Language, and Information (NASSLLI) on the eve of the Alan Turing Centenary, and delivered a provocative, witty and important talk on the Turing Test, gender and machine intelligence, Turing's life and death, and art criticism.
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If you study his biography, the emotional vacuum in the guy’s life was quite frightening. His parents are absent on another continent, he’s in boarding schools, in academia, in the intelligence services, in the closet of the mid-20th-century gay life. Although Turing was a bright, physically strong guy capable of tremendous hard work, he never got much credit for his efforts during his lifetime.
How strange was Alan Turing? Was Alan Turing a weird, scary guy? Let’s try a thought experiment, because I’m a science fiction writer and we’re into those counterfactual approaches.
So let’s just suppose that Alan Turing is just the same personally: he’s a mathematician, an early computer scientist, a metaphysician, a war hero — but he’s German. He’s not British. Instead of being the Bletchley Park code breaker, he’s the German code maker. He’s Alan Turingstein, and he realizes the Enigma Machine has a flaw. So, he imagines, designs and builds a digital communication code system for the Nazis. He defeats the British code breakers. In fact, he’s so brilliant that he breaks some of the British codes instead. Therefore, the second World War lasts until the Americans drop their nuclear bomb on Europe.
I think you’ll agree this counter-history is plausible, because so many of Turing’s science problems were German — the famous “ending problem” of computability was German.
David Cox interviews Bruce Sterling about the significance, lifecycle and future of the New Aesthetic movement:
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First to the issue of “is the New Aesthetic really new?” I’d say those images are “new’” pretty much by definition. Aesthetics obviously is very old. James Bridle doing a project called the “New Aesthetic Tumblr” is over, and receding into the past. But machine-generated imagery that is unlike previous forms of imagery is all over the place. So, yes it is new, for any reasonable definition of novelty.
As for whether James Bridle’s image collection had any analytical rigor, I’m inclined to think he had more analysis going on there than he liked to let on; but I rather think James prefers writing, journalism and publishing to the trying role of a public New Aesthetic visionary. When you have a breakout viral hit on the Net nowadays, the opportunity-cost can be pretty stiff.
On the issue as to what a New Aesthetic ought to do, what the “strategy” is, well, that’s unsettled, but I think that James’s year-long intervention there has raised the morale of tech-art people quite a lot. It’s legitimated their practice in their own eyes, and helped to free them from their traditional hangups on specific pieces of hardware. At least it’s possible to imagine a strategy now — instead of merely saying, I’m an artist, but I do digital electronics, you can re-frame your efforts as something like “a new aesthetic of processual vital beauty,” and you’re not so handcuffed to the soldering irons.
A New Aesthetic eruption I caught yesterday off Brick Lane in east London: this LCD adverscreen displaying rotating, chiding public safety messages beneath a CCTV camera, nestled among the graffiti-daubed old buildings above the cobbled and thronged street.
CCTV and LCD adverscreen with anti-booze PSA, a New Aesthetic Eruption, Brick Lane, Hackney, London, UK.jpg
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Bruce Sterling responds to Marius Watz's take on Sterling's manifesto about the "New Aesthetic" movement. Sterling is enthusiastic about Watz's views, and begins to move the discussion of "New Aesthetics" from total abstractions to slightly more concrete abstractions. If Sterling's earlier, dense missive left you somewhat mystified, this one might help you unpack things somewhat.
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So let’s consider “bad tech-art.” What does it look like? Well, it is, commonly, some poorly-designed, haywire, deeply private, almost chaotic device and/or installation — accompanied by a long, vague exegesis about its huge significance. This artwork barely fun
ctions, communicates badly to people, is opaque to interpretation, breaks down frequently, and is generally accompanied by a tortured justification direct from the artist himself.
That is the melancholy spectacle of an art-hacker isolated by his hardware. He has never been able to mentally place his artwork within a context of similar creative activity. He or she is a one-person artistic Long-Tail.
His artwork has failed to get social traction, because, although it’s plenty weird, this creative is poorly-socialized. He’s a pioneer, not a native. He’s a Robinson Crusoe in goatskins, and despite the fact that his IQ is high enough to boil lead, he’s easily classifiable as a weirdly ingenious derelict marooned on some tiny island.
That island that consist of his hard-won private expertise in, for instance, building drawing-machines out of British ex-military gunsights. This hacker-artist-crackpot-inventor is hung-up on the bit-twiddling hack minutiae — most of which he had to invent, all by himself, in a splendid isolation.
Bruce Sterling's "An Essay on the New Aesthetic," is a dense, difficult, exciting critical look at the New Aesthetic, a kind of art movement centered in my neighbourhood in east London ("If you wanted a creative movement whose logo is a Predator supported by glossy, multicolored toy balloons, London would be its natural launchpad."). Sterling was set afire by a panel at SXSW this year, and hammered out this essay in response. It's part critique, part mash-note, and makes larger points about our relationship to machines and the aesthetics of their output ("an eruption of the digital into the physical").
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Look at those images objectively. Scarcely one of the real things in there would have made any sense to anyone in 1982, or even in 1992. People of those times would not have known what they were seeing with those New Aesthetic images. It’s the news, and it’s the truth.
Next, the New Aesthetic is culturally agnostic. Most anybody with a net connection ought to be able to see the New Aesthetic transpiring in real time. It is British in origin (more specifically, it’s part and parcel of region of London seething with creative atelier “tech houses”). However, it exists wherever there is satellite surveillance, locative mapping, smartphone photos, wifi coverage and Photoshop.
The New Aesthetic is comprehensible. It’s easier to perceive than, for instance, the “surrealism” of a fur-covered teacup. Your Mom could get it. It’s funny. It’s pop. It’s transgressive and punk. Parts of it are cute.
It’s also deep.
My latest Locus column is up: "Artist Rights" describes the terrible risk to artists that arises from expecting online services to police everything their users do for copyright infringement. If YouTube, Scribd, Blogger, LiveJournal and all the other sites where we're allowed to put our work have to hire lawyers or erect technical filters that attempt to prevent infringement before it happens, it will dramatically raise the cost of expression. That's not good for art, period. (Even worse -- the automated filters won't work, so you'll pay the cost of reduced opportunities for expression and you won't even get the benefit of control over distribution of your work)
But even worse for artists: when the cost of distributing art goes up, the number of companies involved in it goes down. We all know what that looks like: the record industry, cable TV, the studio system. All systems where there's a buyer's market for art, where the big companies have artists over a barrel.
We live in an age in which more people can express themselves in more ways to more audiences than ever before. The majority of this expression is intimate, personal maunderings -- the half-spelled, quarter-grammatical newspeak adorning MySpace and Facebook pages. These are often intensely personal, with none of the self-conscious artifice that we've traditionally associated with "published work." By turning the personal into the public, an entirely new aesthetic is coming into being -- and a huge proportion of the invisible social interaction of a generation is being recorded forever. Read the rest