Aesthetics Culture Politics

Not Now James, We’re Busy

This post does not include the phrase “frantic academic clopping”.

Where The F**k Was I?James Bridle’s “Where The F**k Was I?” (2011) is a book containing 202 maps depicting his movements over the previous year. The maps were produced using OpenStreetMap (2004) to plot the secret location database that iPhones (2007) had been discovered to be keeping (April 2011). It is printed as a hardback book using Lulu (2002), although images from it can be seen on flickr (2004).

In writing about this project, Bridle reflects on the impact of discovering that he was being spied on and takes this as a leaping off point for wider and deeper reflection on the nature of memory and of the mediation of experience by technology. In doing so he discusses contemporary art, contemporary literature, and contemporary cybercultural theory.

I would like to make two points about this project.

The first is that it would have been impractical before 2007, and unnecessary before 2011. I appreciate that in the 1990s JODI were multi-billion-dollar companies profiting from pervasive digital devices and logistics that meant the virtual tail of the military-industrial-fashion complex was wagging the actual dog of society in ways that were bleeding through into everyday experience, but I think we all have to admit that they didn’t have a Tumblr (2007).

The second is that the project is a serious and literate consideration of personal experience as shaped by our present situation that uses aesthetics not due to Theoretic inarticulacy but precisely to communicate the full impact of its subject effectively.

I am arguing that Bridle’s project of The New Aesthetic (TNA) is indeed considering both the new and the aesthetic, and that both these aspects of it are critically valuable and cannot be reduced to historical or textual surrogates.

My favourite responses to TNA so far have been:

David Berry critiquing Object Oriented Philosophical approaches to TNA and provides three different ways of considering it that come from within cyberculture –

Saul Albert providing some very useful historical comparisons to –

And Honor Harger pointing out the gap between the straw man of TNA that many people are attacking and what it actually is –

Art Computing Culture Howto


The FTP archives and homepages of the 1990s may be gone but some of the
best known MU*s are still there.
You can connect from the command line using Telnet.
telnet 8888
telnet 8888
telnet 8888
On modern GNU/Linux distros, Telnet may not be installed by default. You
will need to install it. e.g.:
su -c “yum -y install telnet”
sudo aptitude install telnet

Aesthetics Art Art Computing Culture Free Culture Politics

An Aesthetics Of Disappearance

I stumbled over this anti-face-recognition project again and, post-“world’s ugliest t-shirt” from “Zero History” I enjoyed it even more:

This technique can work in reverse, causing false positives and misdirected automated actions:

And it can use objects other than faces, operating on sensors other than 2D cameras:

When more and more human activity is being structured and quantized to make machine processing easier, aesthetics can disrupt this.

“…the opacity of the aesthetic offers some much needed resistance to the kinds of transparency increasingly demanded…”

An “Aesthetics Of Disappearance” and of false positives

[Via Netbehaviour]

Aesthetics Art Open Data Culture

Art Data Analysis: A Very Data Christmas

I thought it would be fun to explore
the lyrics of Christmas carols, and see how the word usage in these
songs compares with today’s lexicon. To do so I needed two things:
first, Christmas carol texts; and second, a way to compare the usage of
words in those songs to that of today.

A simple Google search for Christmas carol lyrics yielded this site, which I downloaded into a single text file. Then, I used the R tm package to create a clean word corpus from this text, stripping out English stopwords, punctuation and case. This left me with 755 words to explore...

Aesthetics Art Art Computing Art Open Data Culture

Art Data Analysis: Software Studies

TimeDIff_SUM_ALL_color_reduced.jpgLev Manovich’s Software Studies initiative at UCSD is applying big data quantitative methods to mass media in a technique called Cultural Analytics. I particularly like their studies of US Presidential campaign ads (image above) and of manga images.

If art is the superstructure of kitsch or if an artist is an aesthetic summator then this is paradigmatic art, using the techniques of the age to depict the visual environment as renaissance artists used trade maths.

Culture Free Culture


I love books. At art school we learnt how to print and bind them, but I was reading them long before that and I’m one of those people for whom death by bookpile is not an unrealistic threat. So it’s the physicality of books as artefacts as well as the knowledge and fantasy they contain that has always appealed to me.

I also love computing machinery and high technology. Combine this with books and you get ebooks. “Ebooks” is a misonmer. You don’t call an ogg vorbis file an e-vinyl, or an ogg theora track an e-VHS. They should be etexts. But the ebook name has stuck. An ebook reader is a physical device used to read ebooks. I was using an old Palm Pilot, then my Android phone. I’ve now bought a BeBook One and installed the free OpenInkpot on it to get a free software ebook reader system.
The BeBook uses an e-paper display, which means the display flashes black before each page refresh (you get used to it, which surprised me) and the image remains even if the system isn’t drawing any power. I won’t pretend that the resources used to manufacture and deliver the BeBook are less than those consumed in the production of many dozen paper-and-ink books, but it is energy efficient. Ebook readers might appear to be a temporary aberration, dedicated devices that will soon be superseded by general-purpose devices such as the iPad. But I like to concentrate when reading, and that means that the absence of a Twitter client is a plus not a minus for a dedicated ebook reader.
Like the music industry’s ten year sulk over Napster, the publishing industry and far too many authors who should otherwise know better regard the vastly increased audience and demand for books in electronic format as a threat rather than an opportunity. Many books that I would purchase as ebooks have two problems. Firstly, they have idiotic DRM on them that prevent me buying and using them on the hardware and software that I use. Secondly, they have ridiculous prices that are equal to or greater than the hardback price for the same book despite the greatly reduced production costs of the ebook.
There are two ways of looking at the freedom to read an ebook. 
Free Software requires that you be able to use the software that displays the book as you see fit and that the book not require any limitations or controls in the software that reads it. DRM and proprietary ebook reader software breaks this. Free reader software like OpenInkpot and FBReader, and free and open formats like epub without DRM added support this.
Free Culture requires that you be free to use the book, at the very least to have your fair use/fair dealing rights, and preferably to have the freedom to use it without restriction. Ideally the book will have a copyleft licence such as Creative Commons BY-SA, but it must at least not have DRM applied.
I prefer books that are both free software and free culture, but it’s difficult to avoid non-free culture of value.
Out of copyright works are ideal. The best source of these is Project Gutenberg, which now provides epub version –
The website Manybooks formats up Gutenberg texts in many different formats and aggregates other texts as well. It’s a good way of finding contemporary books available under Creative Commons licences –
Google Books has many out of copyright books and magazines that Gutenberg doesn’t.. These are available from, which has many other out of copyright and Creative Commons licenced books as well –
Smashwords ebooks are not Creative Commons licenced but are DRM-free and reasonably priced –
FLOSS Manuals are producing collaboratively edited manuals for free software –
And Artists Ebooks are exploring the possibilities of ebooks by artists –
I’ll post some specific ebooks to try in another post, but the above are where most of the ones I’ve read have come from.
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Steampunk Primary Sources From Google Books And

Here is a list of PDFs of books from the Victorian (and Edwardian) era that Steampunks can take ideas and illustrations from. There are many more that can be found, see my post on how to search to help you find them. Let me know in the comments if you find anything good!

Airships (1909)

Aircraft (1910)

The Aether (1886)

Clockwork (1859)

Etiquette (1860s?)

The Great Exhibition (1851)

The Magic Lantern (1888)

Mediumship (1891)

The Phonograph (1879)

Steam Engineering (1867)

Steam Engines (1857)

Spirit Photography (1894)

The Telegraph (1860)

The Telephone (1889)

Theosophy (1891)

The Typewriter (1890)

Aesthetics Culture Personal

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Mac Operator

The way artists make art often reflect the means of production of their age. The artist of feudalism was an artisan or alchemist, the Renaissance artist was adept at mathematics and geometry inspired by trade and war, and Andy Warhol’s factory embodied the spirit of mass production.

If you looked in the jobs pages in the early 1990s, you’d see adverts for “Mac Operators”. A Mac Operator would use the only Apple Macintosh in the company to do design work using Illustrator, Photoshop and Quark at a low rate of pay.

When I got to art school at around that time I begged and borrowed access to Macs to make art using Photoshop and Illustrator. I acted out the role of the Mac Operator (rather than alchemist, merchant or factory worker) without realising it to make art.

The Mac Operator is a kind of knowledge worker. Knowledge work is post-industrial work. Another example of post-industrialism is brand-based outsourcing. The production of Jeff Koon’s artistic brand is outsourced. But Koons is a manager rather than a worker.

Mac Operators were representative producers of mass culture at that time. But Web 2.0 means that everyone can now use a computer to produce culture as part of the crowd. Outsourcing has become crowdsourcing. Mac Operators, like sign painters, are not now a contemporary phenomenon.

I started out remixing images, and I continue to do so, aided now by the Creative Commons licences so beloved of Web 2.0. I am still sat at a computer producing art as an individual, rather than using the crowd to do so. But I am using a GNU laptop rather than a Power Mac desktop system.

The laptop-based knowledge work figure is the “laptop warrior” or the Bay-area coffee-shop wifi leeching “bedouin”. These are the people who start the Web 2.0 companies and web applications that the crowd use to produce their culture.

So I haven’t ended up as far from the contemporary creative practice of computing as I’d feared. And I’m not criticising artists who mimic Web 2.0 strategies without adding anything to them, when I do criticise them, from a position of historical irrelevance. I’m just reflecting a different aspect of current computer-based production.

Aesthetics Culture

On Hipsterism

Adbusters have noticed hipsterism:

We are a lost generation, desperately clinging to anything that feels real, but too afraid to become it ourselves. We are a defeated generation

Apparently The The aren’t on Gnutella.

K-punk has a good critique of the article and Hipsterism in general that is well worth reading in full:

the problem with “hipsters” is precisely that they are pathologically well-adjusted, untroubled by sexual anxieties or financial worries. Vulgar Freudianism is not without its point – where is the motivation to produce art in people who can get any satisfaction they want, at any time? The very seamlessness of these unalienated, guilt-free lives leaves no material for sublimation.

I loathe hipsterism, but what else *can* there be in a society where most of the history of mass culture is a mouse click away and where everyone can broadcast their lives (also with a click of the mouse) in a way that only mass media personalities could previously? The cultural smog of the post-Napster Internet works against the scarcity and instant obsolescence that defined previous mass culture.

And besides, the aim of youth culture has always been to upset the eldsters. 😉 Punk parents would need something pretty radical to upset them. The laid-back ambient historicism of hipsterism certainly does the trick if its lack of something new is something new.

I remember watching a 1960s documentary from Swinging London that announced in a voice-over that “The Forties Are Back”. As a kid in the late 80s, 60s psychedelia was big with my cooler friends. The past has always been big. And postmodernism was an 80s thing.

If it’s not the case that hipsterism is just the usual 20-year cycle hitting 80s postmodernism and sample culture then perhaps the hipster generation is just the first with both the economic and technological power to beat the twenty year limit.

(Extended from a comment on Art Fag City.)