Digital Mythology

21 Jul , 2014   Video

To the victor the spoils, as true for culture as it is for war. Making enduring art isn’t enough, one has to be able to commandeer the writing of history to be said to have conquered. Witness the boomer tropes that refuse to lie down and take their place in the cannon; these living gods have their nostalgic presence continually reified by the culture industry in an orgy of self-congratulation, lapped up by the generation that actually has the money to consume it..
This would irk more than it does if it wasn’t so blatant and the end were not already in sight. I can only imagine the lachrymose hyperbole that will accompany the demise of these icons. And fair enough for a die-hard fan, or even contemporaries mourning the passage of time and their own youths. But I suspect, that rather like the passing of Diana Spencer, there will be an expectation of visible mass-grief from the media machine that feasts on such spectacles. How tiresome.
Rather more insidious is a phenomenon that appears to be on the rise – that of digital culture believing its own myth.
I’m a digital adherent. Longtime Linux user, occasional hacker etc; one who generally enjoys frolicking in the open source wilderness. I like the flexibility, recall-ability and power of these tools. I no longer believe that they represent a new frontier in human collaboration nor, in their current organisation, are they likely to usurp the mainstream. Would that even be desirable or do these tools best exercise their power from the margins? Jaron Lanier effectively debunked the utopian premise of Free Software some years ago in ‘You Are Not a Gadget’ but since then, a new ideal has crept into digitalia.
That is, the notion that digital culture is now so omnipresent that its objet d’art no longer require resonant aesthetic content. The narrative is the tools and the tools are (in line with Moore’s law) becoming more powerful; this alone will spirit us the new. A profound misinterpretation of the medium being the message as digital ephemera doesn’t change in a linear fashion along with the power of the tools. I’m sure you can think of a few tracks that are decades old but still sound like music of the future, the tools were but a part of their creation, the vision endures.
Great swathes of international funding are now devoted to ‘new digital art’ at the intersection of ‘art and science’ for ‘practice based research’ that ‘explores the workings of our perception’ and even ‘intersects with broader culture’.
Serious digital culture has always lived at the intersection of art and science, it doesn’t require intervention.
As a piece of fine or performance art, I’ll defend your right to stick sensors into meat or plant products and sonify the results as you cook / feed them WonderGro (respectively) until the cows come home. If I can enjoy the process, bonus. If I can enjoy the outcome, I’ll want to see / hear more. Which really is the point; how does the diversion of scant arts funding into art that requires explanation in order to function help build sustainable practice and/or new audiences?
Some hand holding via workshops, essays, liner notes etc can be both useful and engaging but if the artwork doesn’t cut it, it should be allowed to die a natural death.
No matter how much explaining takes place after the fact, I may not have the faculties to discern bad science. But I got a radar for suspect art and so do many punters.

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