Categories
Aesthetics Politics Reviews

Haven’t They Suffered Enough?

The original Blade Runner was a postmodern film noir. It had a noir movie’s nihilism and pathos, its archetypes of character, plot, and visuals. The events of Blade Runner make sense within that framework, they are justified as story choices and pay off narratively and conceptually within it. Los Angles 2019 seen from 1982 was a decaying dead-end of sterile images and simulation. From culture and architecture that loops back on and consumes itself, through empty rotting buildings and a few overcrowded streets, everything is second order and running out of time between its quotation marks. Everyone wants to defect. Human beings want to leave the dying Earth for the Offworld Colonies, dying Replicants want to escape their handlers and get back to Earth to escape their pre-programmed obsolescence.

Rik Deckard is not, to quote one of those Replicants, “a good man”. As the opening text crawl of the movie makes clear they are a state executioner of escaped slaves. As the movie makes clear, they’re not very good at it. Deckard’s violent, incompetent, systematically constructed and exploited masculinity may be human or it may be a simulation of humanity, or at least manhood. Critiques of Blade Runner that reduce that to a biological question diminish rather than ring-fence the idea of humanity. The spectacularised, aestheticised slo-mo killings of women that Deckard stumbles through – and Deckard only kills women, the men are taken care of by other means – are a contrast to the realtime depiction of their grimacing, sweating, shaking, bellowing murderer who never makes the clean shots that would cinematically cauterise the violence.

Blade Runner 2049 is a blockbuster sequel. That’s a very different framework from either postmodernism or noir. Blockbusters must offer spectacle, catharsis and closure. They must have heroes and villains. And they must have a heterosexual nuclear family at their core, however constructed. When a film noir story is continued in within this framework it causes problems. Deckard goes from hard-boiled killer and seducer to nobly absent father and widower. The film is not without critical potential: Deckard’s replacement, Officer K, is trapped in mausculinity-as-violence-for-capital by the disciplinary cybernetics of circuits of images of desire. The giant and pocket-sized holograms that this entails have drawn criticism for being exploitative, but this is a confusion of depiction with endorsement.

Where Blade Runner 2049 does become reactionary beyond the collateral damage of mapping from noir to blockbuster is in its central mystery, which replaces the original’s abstract question of the worth and construction of identity to a concrete one of simple parentage. Building on this, its MacGuffin is the replacement of escape from the infinite replicating capacity of technocapital with embracing the nine-month reproductive capacity of its subjects. The nihilism of the original Bladerunner was liberating, in its own way. The sequel’s restoration of the yoke of reproduction is played as hopeful and even revolutionary but is in fact cause for despair. In 2049 both the system and the defectors are obsessed with faith and fertility. Defect from the human security system and you are personally responsible for ensuring the continuity of the replicant race. No matter who wins, the future for replicant women is The Handmaid’s Tale.

Haven’t they suffered enough?

Categories
Accelerationism Aesthetics Art Philosophy Projects Satire

Upload Update

Like the narrator of William Gibson’s short story “The Winter Market”, I don’t think that mind uploads are the person whose brain they destroy. I’m not even sure that a living brain is the same person each day, or from moment to moment, but reassembling a similar pattern on the same substrate at least looks like continuity. Whether the Ship Of Theseus is the ship that Theseus’s sailed or not, a copy built next to it all in one go probably isn’t. But if the Ship Of Theseus burns, that copy is more like it than anything else that exists. Where the resemblance is many billions of bits strong, and there is no stronger resemblance extant, that’s a form of continuity of identity. Hopefully that of a portrait that captures the sitter’s personality rather than a vampire child.

The only fully uploaded neural connectome is that of the tiny C. elegans nematode worm. Not any particular worm, the worm as an organism. So there is no single identity for the upload to continue or to not continue. The connectome been downloaded into wheeled robots, where it bumbles around in a wormy manner. I’m working on using it to control the pen in a version of draw-something. It’s a different kind of neural art. Nematodes probably don’t have subjectivity, so hopefully this isn’t cruel. I don’t want to be the worm-torturing version of Roko’s Basilisk.

What if we are the worms in someone else’s art project, though? If the universe isn’t a simulation but rather an artwork this would render conceptual art nomination a priori correct and give human suffering the moral quality of crimes committed in the name of making art that do not pay for themselves with the resultant aesthetic achievement.

Neal Stephenson’s mind uploading novel “Fall, Or Dodge In Hell” deals in the ethics and aesthetics of mind uploading and its worlds. Less simulation, more simulacra. Reading it and encountering an uptick in transhumanist themes online and in meatspace has encouraged me to revisit my low-resolution “Uploads” project to make it very slightly higher resolution. I’m porting it to Kinect 2, improving its performance, and looking at better EEG options.

Following the themes of “Fall”, the uploads need a world to live in. At present they implicitly live through, but not on, Twitter. Maybe they can inhabit a simple VR environment. They also need to communicate with each other. Sad and other predetermined emotional reacts only, though. As local disk-based blobs of data they are in danger of being ephemeral. Content-addressable storage (IPFS) can help with that.

Blockchain security and permanence can evocatively address all of this as well – there are blockchain VR environments, communication systems, and data storage systems. There’s a fear of loss behind both mind uploading and blockchain systems. Finn Brunton’s excellent book “Digital Cash” draws out some more direct historical connections between the two.

But that’s another story.

Categories
Aesthetics Art Crypto Projects

Token Grid

Token Grid, 2019, Ethereum DApp.

The grid is a Modernist icon and the underlying organizational form of many aspects of our daily lives.

This one exists on the Ethereum blockchain. Anyone can change it but only if they are willing to burn one of the grid contract’s ERC-20 digital tokens to do so.

View and alter the grid here with an Ethereum-enabled browser:

https://show.robmyers.org/artworld-ethereum/dapps/token-grid/app/index.html

See the source code here:

https://gitlab.com/robmyers/artworld-ethereum/tree/master/dapps/token-grid

Categories
Aesthetics Art Ethereum Projects

Lottery Symbol

“Lottery Symbol”,2017, DApp.

A graphical symbol on the blockchain, chosen via a simple lottery (using the blockchain itself as a source of entropy).

This is a piece in a series of works that pair methods of allocation with aesthetic properties. It follows on from Democratic Palette.

You can access it via an Ethereum-enabled browser here and the source code is available in a git repository here.

Categories
Aesthetics Ethereum Projects

Using The Palette

palette-chooser

The “Democratic Palette” contract provides 12 colours to use. What happens if griefers set the palette to 12 colours that are almost exactly the same? What happens if you need colours with more or less contrast or hue difference? What if you need more or fewer colours? The only guarantee about them is that they will all be different by at least one point.

To fetch the current palette:

var withPalette = function (callback) {
  var democratic_palette = Democratic_palette.deployed();
  var requests = [];
  for (var i = 0; i < 12; i++) { requests.push(democratic_palette.palette(i) .then(function(colour) { return {index: i, colour: colour}; }); } Promise.all(requests).then(colours => {
      var palette = [];
      colours.foreach(function(colour) {
        palette[colour.index] = colour.colour;
      });
      callback(palette);
    });
  }
};

We can then get from one to twelve colours simply by truncating the array, e.g.:

var my_3_colours = palette.slice(0, 3);

Or we can get the bluest colour using a simple comparison:

var bluest_colour = palette.sort(function(a, b){
  return a.blue - b.blue;
})[0];

Or we can take the average of the colours, which will probably represent the triumph of statistics over aesthetics.

More complex orderings and comparisons can be achieved using a colour library that allows us to work in HSV space. In particular we can use a version of the algorithm that Harold Cohen used for one version of his program AARON’s colouring system (see figure 15 here), effectively ordering the colours in the palette by brightness then distributing them evenly across a brightness range sufficient to ensure that each is distinct from its neighbours.

What about more colours, or more structured relationships between colours where we are concerned that those relationships may not be present in the colours voted for within the palette? In the first case we can interpolate between existing colours, producing colours in-between those in the palette. Or in both cases we can use colour theory to produce related colours: complements, split-complements, tints and tones, etc. There are libraries to do this in Javascript, for example color-scheme-js will produce entire colour schemes from individual colours.

“Democratic Palette” is intended to provide the equivalent of an aesthetic or colour symbology backed by Blockchain democracy rather than any other ideology or iconography, so it is intended to be easy and significant to us it as-is. But it’s also possible to maintain a direct relationship to the palette while using colours that are not themselves present within it.

Categories
Aesthetics Art Crypto Ethereum Projects

Democratic Palette

palette-spots

Democratic Palette, 2016, Ethereum Contract and HTML/JavaScript/CSS.

A palette of twelve colours that anyone can set on the Ethereum blockchain. Every vote for every colour is tracked and the top twelve make up the palette.

palette-vote

palette-representations

palette-squares

palette-stripes

The images above show various different visual applications of the palette and the use of the GUI to vote for a colour (the GUI appears if you click in the window displaying the canvas).

Note that the above images are from test runs. The current palette on the live Ethereum blockchain looks like this, ready for people to vote on:

live-palette

You can download the interface code here, it’s in the dapps/democratic-palette directory.

To use it you’ll need an Ethereum node running locally, and to vote for colours you’ll need some Ether.

Categories
Aesthetics Hyperstition Politics

Rationally Irrational Aesthetics

By Headlessplatter at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Shashenka using CommonsHelper., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19346512
Local Maximum by Headsplatter, Public Domain.

Rational aesthetics are an infinite improvement on vapid, asset-class aesthetics but (and this is identifying an opportunity, not an objection) Gödel. If we cast art’s reason as AI-style search (not to fundamentally describe it as such, but to make a hopefully useful comparison) then we encounter the problem of “local maxima“. This is where a direct search of a problem space finds only the closest highest value, not the globally highest one.

In human creativity we can rationally use irrationality to break free of local maxima. Whether creativity theory,surrealist techniques, or pure randomness. Beyond the details of any one technique, what is important is that to get further, we sometimes need to use irrationality (or arationality) for rational ends.

Mythology can be such a source of transformations (in the mathematical sense – we’re talking about search spaces here). Freed of the affective and significatory limits of fact, mythology can lead us to places and to lengths that we might not otherwise reach. This includes science fiction.

In guiding and constructing  new possibilities (or at least finally addressing old problems) through aesthetics, mythology becomes hyperstition (in a general rather than numogram-centred sense). Where we (for a social media value of “we”) believe it is not possible or practical to change anything (for the better), it is rational to construct hyperstitional entities to treat the local maxima of ideology as damage and route around them.

This is haunted by the Big Lie and The Republic, but we do not need to deceive or believe for non- (and a-) existent entities to be historical causes. Just ask Cthulhu. Or Katak. Hyperstitional engineering is accelerationist aesthetics, artistic reason, because of its irrational content not despite it.

Categories
Aesthetics

The Fractality Of Discourse

Texts exist in discursive space

They contain other texts as quotations and references, self-similar scaled copies.

Major texts are attractors in this space.

Some are singularities that neither light nor heat can escape.

Others are strange attractors that draw endless asymptotic vacillation.

It’s the fractality of discourse.

(After the 1992 original.)

Categories
Accelerationism Aesthetics Art Crypto Politics

The Entropy Man

DSC_0262

D16 Hex Dice by Saharasav licensed Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International.

The Dice Man” by Luke Rhinehart is a 1971 novel about the moral consequences of making life-altering decisions using the roll of a die. The use of chance operations in art was common in mid-20th-Century avant-gardes but, reacting against his background in psychiatry, Rhinehart applied them to more consequential decision making.

We can use cryptographic hashes rather than dice as the source of entropy for aleatory, chance operations in art and decision making. The last hexadecimal digit (or digits, for wider ranges of values) can be quantized to the range of values we need: e.g. for a coin flip 0-7 is tails and 8-F is heads.

Private hashes can be the sha256 of a question, statement, or range of options. Or of entropy pulled from /dev/random or a hardware source. Combine these two approaches or use a timestamp to make answers specific to the occasion or time at which they are asked.

Public hashes can be Bitcoin’s block hashes, or the hash of a Bitcoin transaction. The transaction can be time locked or contain the question (etc.) encoded as a has to delay and/or allow proof or disclosure of its content.

Or we can use any of these methods as the decision making basis for computer based or handmade generative art, replacing software pseudo-random number generators with entropy deterministically derived from the existing content of the work or from external sources of “inspiration”.

It’s much more contemporary than a dice, although dice do make good sources of artisanal entropy.

Categories
Aesthetics Art Art Computing Culture Politics Projects

Art For Algorithms

art-for-algorithms

My first article for Furtherfield as guest editor is now online:

Rob Myers takes a look at how we can subvert the operation of the algorithms that the Digital Humanities, corporations and governments use to read, see, and draw conclusions about human expression by treating them as the true audience for contemporary art and literature.

http://furtherfield.org/features/articles/art-algorithms