The New Aesthetic as the emerging articulation of contemporary digital reality

TitleThe New Aesthetic as the emerging articulation of contemporary digital reality
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Hrdina, M.
Affiliation (1st Author)Charles University in Prague - Faculty of Social Sciences - Institute of Communication Studies and Journalism, Czech Republic
Section or WGVisual Culture Working Group
DateThurs 27 June
Slot CodeVIST3a
Slot Code (Keyword)VIST3a
Time of Session14:00-15:30
RoomHelix - The Gallery
Session TitleVisual Narrative and Interactivity
Submission ID6044

The act of manifestation of digital object in physical world has been happening for a long time, but its real consequences started to be widely perceived only in the last few years. From QR codes through pixelated camouflage patterns and drone warfare to various projects of augmented reality, our everyday surroundings are more and more designed to be seen and analyzed by machines. The most obvious aspect of this process, the ubiquitous pixelation and nostalgic visual style of 8-bit videogames, is not just an art hype, but a significant attempt to visualize the inner works of computation. Since early 2012, a concept of “The New Aesthetic“ is becoming discussed among designers and researchers of digital media. Symptomatically coined by a Tumblr blog of british writer and designer James Bridle, The New Aesthetic may be the first major attempt to name and define a new frame for studies of contemporary digital reality. The original “theory object“, a humble collection of pictures documenting “the eruption of digital into the physical“, has quickly turned into a long-awaited impulse for discussion about the cultural, social and political implications of emerging technologies. Through its interest in surveillance technology, consumerism and autonomous weapon systems, the New Aesthetic has an undeniable overlay with the field of critical theory and/or political communication. Its political aspects have been already mentioned by Adam Rothstein, and the sci-fi writer Madeline Ashby has already elaborated on its gender aspects. However, most of these attempts to further develop the idea of New Aesthetic has been so far un-systematic and often superficial. There is a rising need to develop a rigid scientific terminology and methodology of research of New Aesthetic, so it can become a new valuable field of the digital humanities. This paper provides a description of rapid development of this phenomenon, its current state and emerging academical interest in the field, from the initial Tumblr blog through the New Aesthetic panel at South by Southwest festival 2012 to Bruce Sterling's “Essay on the New Aesthetic“ and Adam Hyde's “New Aesthetic, New Anxieties“, the first larger publications devoted to the New Aesthetic. The paper implies that The New Aesthetic does not need to become a new theoretical frame per se. It has a strong foundation in the works of Jean Baudrillard and other 60's cultural theorists, and more recently, in the works of Paul Virilio. This paper also identifies Paul Virilio's concept of The Vision Machine as a direct precursor of The New Aesthetic, the first description of the not yet existing phenomenon. By drawing a direct link between the French school of cultural theory, the hypermodernist concepts of Paul Virilo and the final materialization of their thoughts in the form of New Aesthetic, we can successfully lay foundation for a radical new approach to the studies of contemporary digital reality.

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