Sunday, 17 June 2012

Antonio Roberts on the New Aesthetic

Antonio Roberts is an artist and a thoroughly nice man, you can find him on twitter @hellcatfood, and his website is here. He wrote this article for the latest issue of TBB.

When discussion around the New Aesthetic were taking place I initially took a stance against engaging in the conversations or reading anything about it, even refusing to read the original Tumblr blog by James Bridle or the essay by Bruce Sterling. This defiance was at times difficult as the New Aesthetic was invading all of my internet hangouts such as Twitter, Facebook and various mailing lists that I’m subscribed to (CRUMB, netbehaviour). I was even sent links to the essay and site directly, the assumption being that the ideas presented in it related to my interests. They were somewhat correct in assuming this, but my defiance still persisted.

Despite its sudden popularity The New Aesthetic is not actually very new. Bridle’s site was created on May 6th 2011, but it had gone largely unnoticed until Sterling’s essay was published. This sudden rise in popularity is similar to the way that memes develop. The rise (and fall) of a meme can be mapped out into very distinct stages:

  1. An original idea is formed and posted onto the internet
  2. The idea expands and develops
  3. People start to do their own interpretations of this
  4. The spike in popularity
  5. Repetition without context, alongside heavy criticism
  6. Overuse
  7. The fall of the meme and disappearance from the internet

I was less interested in taking part in the hype surrounding the meme, and more interested in its long-lasting effects on art culture. It could, like many memes, have its 15 minutes of fame and then disappear, or it could actually have a long-lasting effect on the arts in general.

When I finally relented and began to read the essays and resources surrounding the New Aesthetic I noticed an immediate problem: that of defining what the New Aesthetic actually is. Bridle, on the New Aesthetic blog, provides a vague definition on what the New Aesthetic is, as well as explaining briefly what his motivations are:

“Since May 2011 I have been collecting material which points towards new ways of seeing the world, an echo of the society, technology, politics and people that co-produce them.

The New Aesthetic is not a movement, it is not a thing which can be done. It is a series of artefacts of the heterogeneous network, which recognises differences, the gaps in our overlapping but distant realities.”

This definition still leaves a lot of room for interpretation, which is a problem certainly echoed by many people, evidenced by the plethora of attempts by others, Sterling included, to define what the New Aesthetic actually is. A search on the ever-reliable Twitter revealed definitions and interpretations of the New Aesthetic that ranged from the insightful to the humourous to the downright idiotic. Some of my favourites include:

  • The #newaesthetic could stand to become more of a #nudeaesthetic that investigates emerging forms of pornosophic philosophiction.[amerika2012twitter]
  • this goes out to all the artists and thinkers out there who share my disgust at the nostalgic hip-trip that is the so-called #newaesthetic[jones2012twitter]
  • Every #NewAesthetic becomes a new anaesthetic. At the speed of light we can go from new to numb, meme to meh in minutes.[2012twitter2]
  • The New Aesthetic should be called The Open Aesthetic. No boundaries #opensource #reality #culture #politics #newaesthetic #openaesthetic[2012twitter]
  • The #newaesthetic has already become old.[marone2012twitter]

That last Tweet echoes one of my main problems with the New Aesthetic, and indeed any attempt to provide a definitive definition of any art movement that is still evolving: The ideas that the New Aesthetic are based on are already old by the time they are published. New artwork, technologies and theories appear each day, and with the always-on nature of the Internet, where a lot of this art/content is disseminated, it is futile to attempt to create a catch-all terminology to describe what has been produced and also what is to be produced in the future.

Bridle posts artefacts to the blog in an attempt to clarify what artwork could be classed as falling under the New Aesthetic. Aside from the very act of appearing on the blog alongside other artefacts, the artefacts are posted without explanation as to why they fall under this definition. The hope is surely to let the content speak for itself but, for me, it just led to more confusion. Is the New Aesthetic about digital art, hacking, glitch art or pervasive art? Is it a combination of all of them or none of them? Is the New Aesthetic, broadly speaking, everything that is new?

It seems Bridle is the only one that truly understands exactly what the New Aesthetic is, and that’s why it comes across as a personal project. The site and its blog posts are his attempts at 
comprehending what he sees. This may help him to see the digital/hacked/glitched world in a clearer way, but without explanation it just leads to more confusion for everyone else.

It is ironic that by the time you read this the New Aesthetic may have (hopefully) died and, like most memes, disappeared completely from our mindsets and browsing sessions.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Michael Glass on Post-Product Placement

Guest writer Michael Glass on film. Catch this article in the latest issue of TBB.

Product placement isn’t something a filmmaker wants to do. It’s forced upon them, and men in suits need it to pay for their movies. And we all hate the men in suits, right? Yeah, those men are evil. They don’t understand creativity. They just want to make money.

Poor product placement removes you from the reality of a film. Strategically framed shots make James Bond look very cool indeed in his Aston Martins and Jaguars, checking into hotels with his Samsonite briefcase in hand, impatiently checking his Omega watch. Will Smith looks decidedly less cool in I, Robot as, in the midst of pootling about in Audis, arguing with FedEx robots and listening to his JVC hi-fi, he opens the most exciting box of his life: a shoebox. So enraptured is he by their arrival that he’s unable to resist showing them off to a relative, saying, ‘Converse, vintage 2004’ – truly a line for the ages. Never does he explain that these is particularly appropriate footwear for beating up robots and saving the world. He just likes his brand new shoes that, incidentally you can buy.

It used to be valid to complain about product placement. But these days, you have to be thankful for product lines just to have any films to go and complain about.

Hollywood’s struggle for ideas isn’t new. Purchasing the rights to books and plays has been a reliable way to generate new films for many years (not to mention Oscars). Then they started adapting comic books and videogames. You’re less likely to win awards, but you can spin out nice big franchises with them. And then Hollywood jumped the shark.

You might think I’m talking about Transformers, but you’d be wrong. Depite being the least inspired film of all time (a reboot of a 1986 animated film, itself a spin-off from a TV series, which in turn only existed to sell Hasbro toys), you can at least, at a stretch, consider it a remake or adaptation. I’m talking about Pirates of the Caribbean.

Pirates of the Caribbean is a theme park ride. A famous one in which you slowly float past animatronic pirates repeating two-stage motion cycles of heavy drinking, knife fights and casual rape. Its relationship to the film series is in nothing more than name. This truly marks the moment when Hollywood ran out of ideas. When the men in suits (bastards!) literally flicked through a magazine and made a film of the first thing they landed on. There was ample opportunity to create tie-in products, though. Pirates-themed plastic rubbish can found in every aisle of Toys “R” Us. This year saw the release of a film without even that level of substance. 

Battleship is another Hasbro property (they are literally one of the most powerful companies in film now). Until it finally came out I was convinced that it had to be a joke. This game doesn’t even have dolls or animatronics to turn into characters. There is no story. It can be played with pen and paper. And crucially, it’s impossible to imagine anybody buying the Battleship board game because of the film. You’re no longer being sold anything but the film; there’s simply nothing else you could buy even if you wanted to. The things we used to be sold are now being shaken dry by panicked men in suits (bastards!) who desperately need a new franchise. Toy and ride connections are no longer about sales; they’re about people rapidly running out of inspiration.

This is an era of cinematic indolence and duplication that we’ll simply have to live through until, following the release of Scrabble vs Upwords 3D, the men in suits (bastards though they are) finally find that they’ve adapted and remade everything that exists, look around the abandoned wasteland of vacuity they’ve created, huddle together for warmth, and slowly but surely expire, allowing civilisation to at last rebuild.

...Anyway, that’s a while off. And really, the only reason I wrote this whole article is in the hope that desperate old Hollywood picks it up, spins it off into a lovely big franchise, and I can go to sleep knowing that I’ve helped the world become a little bit worse. Ker-ching!

This level of product placement has provoked some pretty good responses from the creative community on the web, and the deep, deep love we have for Tetris here at LIFB makes this our favourite: