Sessions on post-digital life and art with Addie Wagenknecht and Joerg Blumtritt
The Hague, Thursday July 7th 2016
“You have to make network culture classy on its own terms. You have to ennoble the vernacular – not by teaching people Latin, but by writing Dante’s Inferno!”
“It lacks even the appeal of the apocalyps.”
Addie Wagenknecht and I will hold two sessions on culture and art in the post Internet age, on occasion of Bordersessions Conference at The Hague. First we will introduce into Cyberpunk , and discuss how to survive and maybe even live in our digitally enhanced reality. In the evening, we will give a lecture on aesthetics for the digital arts at Leiden University .
Come to us all who labor with cyber culture, and we will give you the rest.
Plus: You get free vaccination against nerve attenuation syndrome.
Cyber is the condition of reality, Punk is our way to survive. What started as science ficton genre 30 years ago is today’s fight for reclaiming freedom in our cultural habitat: We are shaping culture, technology, and media ourself, we don’t go conform neither with mass consumerism nor with surveillance and authority. We take action. Join us!
Ten billion people will live on the earth soon. Today, half of all living humans have a mobile phone, two and a half billion have internet access via smartphone. Cybernetic systems have become mundane, from autonomous cars, to algorithmic content publishing, and smart implants into the body.
When the Net took off 25 years ago, we welcomed it as the promised land of unlimited access to culture and information for everybody, granting freedom of expression to all. However, the Net is indeed free more as in free beer and less than in freedom. All links of the chain seem either privately owned by global corporations or tightly controlled by the security apperatus.
The term cyberspace was coined by science fiction author Wiliam Gibson in his dystopic vision of an overpopulated globe of digitally connected people, governed by gargantuan conglomerates, with little left of civil society -high tech, low life. A grim metaphor what our world might already be evolving into – ‘The Jackpot’ (to quote Gibson’s latest novel). This genre, made popular by him together with Bruce Sterling, Richard K. Morgan, Neal Stephonson and many others, was soon called ‘Cyberpunk’. Since then, cyber has degraded to the prefix of cyber-bullying, cyber-crime, or cyber-terrorism.
But we want to use Cyberpunk for nothing less then as instructionons for shaping the things to come. For us, Cyberpunk is not fiction as entertainment, but as design fiction, thought experiments on a world that could happen soon.
Cyber will be the dominant part of our human condition, and our way to deal with it, to survive in such a world is punk. Punk means bricolage, streetfighting with everything that is handy to be used as our tool, and experimenting how it feels to live outside the cage without building a new one. Let’s see, how deep the rabbit hole goes.
Time: Thursday, July 7th, 1100
Location: Korzo theatre, Prinsestraat 42, The Hague
Besides data as storytelling, journalism, and dashboards, data has grown into a medium for expression for a large spectrum of creative output. Parametric design, algorithmic architecture alongside rapid prototyping technologies have redefined the relationship between creator and artist tools. Generative art means using algorithms to create an object whose primary qualities are aesthetic. Although the products created by machine learning are not yet perfectly mimicing human creativity, it becomes increasingly hard to tell them appart. Even beyond the blunt journalistic hyperbole of AI related stories, algorithmic music, poetry, and generative visual art have evolved to such an extent that it became necessary to discuss a basic question once again: What do we think is art? Or better: What will be art?
Contemporary artist are still struggling to find the language for a new contemporary output and practice in the post-internet genre. The online world is bingeing but is also a rapidly changing one. Does the next generation of digital artists, responding to their own experiences of the online world, threaten the way artist work and affect what is being known as a staunchly Web 1.0 aesthetic? Artistic expression within the digital arts has brought forward critical examination of the technology and its impact on society, such as surveillance and self-determination, and has often collaged quotations of all aspects of media and consumerism, questioning art market concepts like authorship and intellecutal property rights. Mediums range from video, software, websites, to hardware, kinetic machines, and robotics. Parametric or generative art emerge from algorithms without direct human intervention.
We want to illustrate current developments with examples of recent bodies of work, and discuss how theoretical aproaches like object oriented aesthetics (Harman), parametricism (Schumacher), atemporality (Sterling) can contextulize the current emerging fields within contemporary art.
Time: Thursday, July 7th, 1730
Location: Living Lab, Faculty of Governance and Global affairs, Schouwburgstraat 2, The Hague
“Let us invite you to bring the family, the grandparents and the children, and sit on our open-source furniture, relax, even eat something. Fill a wine glass with tomorrow.”
One year ago, Casa Jasmina opened its doors, a showroom for household technology, smart and connected, and open source. I had learned about this project by some remarks of its initiator, Bruce Sterling at earlier occasions. Like many ‘Cyberisti’ of my age, I have been loosely following Bruce’s thoughts for thirty years now. There were always some ideas that I would take for me, to write or talk about, but it was not before his book ‘Shaping Things‘ that I could really work with what he was telling. ‘Shaping Things’ is a small book, more an essay. It is as far as I know the first comprehensive examination of what was really going on when digitalization would leave the confinement of the web and would conquer the realm of physical things to form an ‘Internet of Things’; and he was talking in particular on how digitally enhanced things might still be designed in a benign way, despite their totalitarian nature of global connectedness and allover datarization of human life.
With Casa Jasmina, Bruce announced to translate this design theory into the practice of an effectively livable home, that he was going to build together with Jasmina Tešanović, the Casa’s eponym. It is one thing, to write about stuff, a totally different thing to build something in the corporeal world, with all the constraints of the human condition to face. So it is no wonder that the ‘Casa’ I found at the day of its opening celebration was more an echo chamber for our visions and expectations than an actual home.
Today, one year later, Casa Jasmina has matured to officially host the Piemonte Share Art Festival. Luca Barbeni who had curated Share.to since its beginings 2006 had moved to Berlin to start his NOME Gallery, and Bruce Sterling stepped in as artistic curator to run the festival in Torino together with its co-founder Chiara Garibaldi, getting illustrious support by MOMA curator Paola Antonelli and astronaut celebrity Samantha Cristoforetti. Bruce would further focus the art exhibition from ‘art post internet’ as such, to domestic art and technology.
The ‘Casa’ and its inhabitants are notedly welcoming to guests, and the hospitality we experienced this time was no exception. Art in modernism on the other hand had struggled with domestic life since its conception – most artwork is plainly unsuitable for normal household conditions. And this property it shares with digital technology. Although most people use ‘computers’, formally PC, nowadays smartphones and tablets also at home, these devices have not really become part of our houses’ facilities. Our digital tech is still mostly personal outfits, more accessories than appliences. It is partly the arrogant presumptuousness of both tech and modern art, demanding all attention, defining their apodictic morale, which in my oppinion make both so hard to bear in the limited space of our private quarters. Jasmina Tešanović has argued about this in her vitriolic manifesto ‘The seven ways of the Internet of Women Things’ that we have published on this blog, too.
‘House Guests’ is the title of the exhibition, and thus the project is more about comfortable cohabitation of art, tech, and people, than about art as such. (Therefore I want to postpone my criticism on the artworks to a later article).
On exhibition we see two distinct types of artwork: Physical things and video. Eight pieces of video art that originate from the online art platform seditionart.com are displayed on wall-mounted white iPads. These eight works are not interactive, but mere video images. So it might seem that they could have been running on a laptop or a beamer, or any kind of digital screen, just one after the other. Instead, the iPads were framed in black ruffs, approximately double the diameter of the screens, resembling the bourgeois tableau painting. The problem with video displays in general, and in particular with mobile screens like the iPad’s is the total dominance of the medium over its content. McLuhan’s observation holds unchanged, that things on TV are primarily television, and secondly, if at all, the content, be it a story, movie or news. This medial predefinition is much less true for paintings, print, or sculptures where the material is just one aspect of a bigger whole. And despite their voluminous collars, the iPads in Casa Jasmina had not lost much of their hypnotic quality. The art they were showing faded under the beautiful hues of the brilliant technology. This pornographic dominance of the medium is clearly an issue with art in the digital age.
Compared to the solipsism of the videos, the physical objects were much more about really living with them. Tablecloth with algorithmic design, plates inspired by the quantified self, musical instruments driven by Microsoft Kinect: All kinds of calm technology, blending in with the maker artefacts that were to be found in Casa Jasmina before. The pretense of Casa Jasmina’s art is little, we don’t get sold an art revolution. While the late Zaha Hadid and her partner Patrik Schumacher would claim parametricism as the next paradigm of architecture, design and even the human condition as such, the objects at Casa Jasmina are rather playing with creative options than providing a grand narrative.
The art at Casa Jasmina is thus not so much about art but about home. The real art project is the whole Casa, with everything that has been going on inside it from the beginning. As Bruce had proclaimed then: It is about putting human values into technical things. Together with the Arduino-creator Massimo Banzi, Bruce has been advocating for ethical technology, and had recently put together three posits in an IoT Manifesto: Things should be kept open and interoperable. While the standardization of user interfaces in smartphones are a clear advantage of Apple’s products, hardly anybody would want art to be paved down by the paternalistic sterility of the iTunes store. Closely related is second postulate of sustainability. What good is an LED lightbulb that might last for 20 years, if the software that makes it ‘smart’ would be outdated and might even stop its working after two years? Planned obsolescence has been the business practice in Silicon Valley from the beginning. That this is not just eco-babble was impressively demonstrated by Google’s remotely shutting down and bricking their ‘Nest’ devices that were sold before a certain date, to force people buying new ones. The third postulate is fairness. Tech must not to spy on people. I think this can only made possible, if we prevent things from requiring a centralized infrastructure. Only if we manage to build mesh networks of decentralized, distributed, and autonomous devices we will be able to maintain privacy.
For many people, contemporary art has long become detached from their lives – intellectually abstract, just the hermetic expression of the artist’s personality, protected by authorship and intellectual property claims – do not touch! Digital technology is mostly withdrawn from our grip. When we open their shiny cases, we void the warranty. Casa Jasmina’s art and technology is open, friendly, easy to live with. One might say that it lacks the grand gesture; it is just comfortable. Maybe this is exactly the point. We will see domestic things with interesting design, that are not just branded signature consumer products, but bespoke and uniquely fit to their owners, demonstrating instead of ellegantly veiling their factitiousness. What we will see is the rise of a new Arts&Crafts movement. Like its predecessor 120 years ago, this neo-arts&crafts will take a stand opposite the slick perfectionism of corporate industrial production, but not by regressing to pre-industrial manufacturing, but by embracing the novel methods and tools of the time. And opposed to the maker movement from which it has spun off, neo-arts&crafts will be less about technology and more about craftsmanship. Art nouveau at the turn of the last century is called Jugendstil or Reformstil in German. The ‘reform’ was about creating a livable environment for people to lead happy and healthy lives. If neo-art nouveau follows similar goals by being open, sustainable, and fair, I am convinced it will prevail. Much more than parametricism and other academic concepts of re-inventing art, it has the potential to become a major paradigm of art post-internet.
“We must put human values into things, we must beware of the clashes among things. A smart house can clash with a happy house. The thoughtless convenience of seamless design can clash with the need for control and dignity. The users clash with the people. Our geek hood clashes with our personhood.” Bruce Sterling
Casa Jasmina, the first connected home built totally open source, celebrated its grand opening in Turin, Italy, on Saturday.
The Internet of Things
Smart homes -interconnected household appliances and domestic technology controlled by computer, connected cars -the automobile as cybernetic system, driving partly or even fully autonomous, wearable technology probes that we carry directly attached to our bodies, as smartwatches, wrist bands, or smart textiles, and finally smart cities, a pervasively networked communal administration – this is the IoT, the Internet of Things, which is about to enter our daily lives, and will maybe change it even more than the World Wide Web and the smartphone has done.
What is it like to live with connected technology? More than two billion people already access the Internet via their smartphones. A smartphone is in fact a platform to support some twenty different probes, sensors that continuously track our movements, whereabouts, connectivity, and many other dimensions. However, this is not how people experience using their devices. Phones and tablets appear quite similar to books with just a bit more functionality. We use our mobiles as media, and we hardly ever see them as part of some Internet of Things, of course. Thus is it far from trivial to make a truly connected life visible. So this is one aspect of what Casa Jamina is about: It is a showcase for living with connected technology at home.
Digital technology has changed almost everything in business as well as in our everyday lives. However, even if I recognized something would happen, I was never able to convince people of the consequences, that in my view had become unavoidable. Then change struck, and left its victims bleeding on the field, often enough lethally wounded. I love digital technology. I love social media, search engines, and wikis. But I moan about how easy we give away the public space, our people had been fighting hard to achieve. I moan loosing social and political control to economic reasoning. I don’t want to give away one other bit of what is left of our public goods. This is why we wrote the Slow Media Manifesto five years ago, this is why we argue to have Slow start-ups instead of more disruptive technologies. Demonstrating open alternative to proprietary platforms in the IoT is the second task, Casa Jasmina was conceived for.
At Wired Nextfest 2013, I heard Bruce Sterling suggesting a possible strategy to counter the “Silicon Valley way” of doing technology, that with good cause is called “platform capitalism” by some: Bruce suggested Open source luxury. Instead of harvesting network effects, scalability, and winner-takes-it-all economics, he advocated for economic value, based on craft. Open source, he said, would be no contradiction to luxury, at all. It would rather foster craftsmanship as point of differentiation. Instead of forcing people into an operation system, to lock-in the users to subscription plans, open source luxury would offer convenience as well as freedom of choice. And from September 2014 on, Bruce announced how this idea would be rendered tangible: The Casa Jasmina. Named after Jasmina Tešanović who would originally came up with the idea, the first open source connected home would root into the Turin Fab Lab, and its Arduino ecosystem. It would be a field trial for technology which will pervade our homes one way or the other.
Casa Jasmina will be a connected home with real people living in it. It will be not just another corporate showroom with fancy displays that nobody will ever really use. No jetpacks, no flying cars, no talking refrigerators enhanced with silly home entertainment displays nobody had asked for.
Casa Jasmina is based on two foundations. First, the Arduino, open source hardware that has become the leading platform to control the IoT. The Arduino is a genuine Piemontese invention. Started at the Interaction Design Institute in Ivrea, it is developed by a team around Massimo Banzi in a small office above the Fab Lab in Turin. While open source, the Arduino is partnering also with traditional consumer electronics suppliers like Intel or Samsung. A huge community of people commits to the development of Arduino based applications. Together with its English counterpart, the Raspberry Pi microcomputer, the Arduino now provides the strongest support for the Internet of Things.
The second foundation is design. How things look, how things interact with us and with other things, what materials are used, and what story they tell, this is as important to what things are, as is their technical functionality. Casa Jasmina is somehow design fiction, design that shows, what would be possible, to let us experience, how that feels. But other than the regular design fiction, Casa Jasmina will have objects that really work, that can be used, or if not, to be replaced by other things that would do the job. Designing things that really work is different from doing a display to just show off. Thus the things to see at Casa Jasmina might be edgy, but they will have to work with the inhabitants, and not just preveil until some trade fair’s doors close.
And now it is there, at Via Egeo No. 16. The architecture of Casa Jasmina is genuine Futurismo Italiano: Built in the 1920s, the floor of the Casa used to be the apartment for some managing ranks of FIAT, sitting right on top of a steel foundry, meant to tear down the walls between private live and industry; what better metaphor could there be for what we have today! Like the futurists demanded but had never fully realized, the Internet of Things will diminish our privacy, the bourgeois concept of private home. But instead of letting this lead right into fascism, as we had seen futurism end in 1930s, we have the chance to nudge the contemporary futurism onto a benign, democratic trail. “We must put human values into things”, as Bruce Sterling put it.
The exterior of Casa Jasmina still looks a bit run-down for Turin standards, but it would very well pass for an average apartment building in say Naples. The staircase leading to the building’s Piano Nobile is rather narrow and I suppose it was originally ment for servants and deliveries. We enter the flat through a small hallway, painted in dark grey, with a programmatic text of Bruce Sterling to introduce the visitor to the project -like you would expect an arrangement at some museum’s exhibition. Opposite of this wall lies a very basic bathroom.
Straight on, a spacious corridor opens, painted all white leading along huge windows on the right giving view to a roof garden. Left is a small living room, not seperated from the corridor by a door or threshold, but by a bookcase, a design study by Caterina Tiazzoldi. A spacious kitchen, also open to the corridor, lies separated by a wall next to the living room. Behind that follow to more rooms with doors, to be used as bedrooms when Casa Jasmina finally will house its inhabitants. At the end of the corridor, a few stairs lead to a wall with an A0 sized poster displaying an allegory of “The Internet of Women Things”.
Behind that might have been a double winged door that was probably the original main entrance. The floor in the bedrooms, the kitchen and living room is covered by an expensive, arfully made oak parquet that somehow survived the long decades during which the building had been abandoned and degrading.
Most of the furniture is designed by Open Desk, a London based design shop that publishes patterns for furniture, easy to be cut out from plywood. Open Desk’s way of distributing their designs for free is far less uncommon than we might naively think. It is rather something we used to have until very recently. If we would go to a carpenter, the artisan would show us different design examples from pattern books or catalogues. We would then commission the work based on a pattern, and the furniture would get made. So good quality in furniture is by no means connected to securing intellectual property. Rather the opposite: Only mass produced goods need protection because they can never meet artisan standards.
Smart things in the Casa Jasmina so far consist mostly of works of art, playing with concepts of Calm Technology. Some off-the-shelf smart tech has also found its way into the house. A Roomba, not connected at all, however in a way autonomous, and a Samsung Smart TV set. Right on the evening of the Casa’s grand opening, Juventus Turin faced FC Barcelona in the Champions League’s final, a game not to be missed by anybody in Turin, of course. But despite all the nerdy and geeky people around, we weren’t able to get this Smart TV set . In the end, I plugged my Laptop into the Samsung set, degrading it into a totally dumb screen for the really smart and connected however totally 20th century device that my PC is. Trouble went on after that was done, and realized, that Mediaset, Italy’s dreadful broadcast trust, would only stream their content via Silverlight – a video technology so outdated, that even its inventor Microsoft had long ago stopped supporting. So I had to start a virtual machine with Windows on my computer, and run an ancient version of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer in that.
This funny anecdote illustrates, what’s wrong with how the smart home business is implemented by the traditional consumer electronics companies. The design of the TV set is still the same as when there were just a couple of stations to switch between and no need for a keyboard to type in complex commands. Even worse is Mediaset’s online video service. Driven by the station’s wish to maintain control over the “digital rights management”, they built their proprietary system of content distribution with tools crippled for the very same reason. If such outdated software would run critical infrastructure, it would easily become a security risk. You wouldn’t even want to run your laundry with that.
Consumer electronics has the reputation to be an industry with the worst user interfaces and the lowest understanding of people’s behavior. If you have ever tried to program the clock of your stove, you know that CE engineers must be living just at the opposite site of the universe than their customers. Household technology was always outdated, obsolete electronics refurbished to once more generate some money. This is really not the industry you would want to resign your private data to. Neither are utility companies, which are among the main drivers of Smart Home, famous for their customer care.
On the other hand, we are becoming more and more used to doing things mobile. Services that are not accessible via app feel outdated and inefficient. People once having experienced the mobile convenience, will benchmark all electronic things accordingly. And why not? Just because the legacy providers of our services and products are not delivering according to our demand, should we take abstention? Should we give in, and keep to outdated, inefficient products that waste our time, energy and other resources?
Will my home be run by Google Nest or by Apple Home? Imagine the ridiculous situation, when you decided to buy some smart device from one provider, and that would require all your other stuff to run the same proprietary operation system. You’d have to either give up your smart home functionality or to restock everything with the matching system. There might be some brand purists that want to mindlessly live in a monoculture. For most people, this seams not really practical.
To become successful, smart appliances will have to be seamlessly interoperable with each other, too, no matter who manufactured them. This is not the business model of companies like Google or Apple. Open standards for interoperability is what open source stands for. The Arduino is the most advanced and most stable IoT technology anyway. But open source technology is not only better in making things work together. Open source means, that people can hack it, dismantle it, understand, how the thing and more important, its software really works. This is the only way I now that helps to make things secure. Only what can be hacked gets thoroughly tested. Only when there is a vivid discussion going on potential security flaws and how to patch these, we will get safe technology. This has been lessen we should have learned by now.
The Internet of Everything
“As Warren Ellis said at ThingsCon, we may be living in the last days when nobody knows where we are — when the home is still like an aristocrat’s castle, distinct from the rest of the world.”
The Internet of Things is not just about machines talking to each other. The sensors on our devices generate and collect data that is directly linked to our personal lives, to our behavior, our actions, and the environment around us: “Data is made of people”
Privacy, informational self-determination, and algorithm ethics become even more important with the IoT, “the Internet of Things and Humans” as Tim O’Reilly calls it, or what might be even clearer, the “Internet of Everything”. Concepts like Big Data or the IoT bear the danger to get killed by overexposure and buzzwordization. The marketing and tech babble disguises, how pervasive the influence of digital tech on our lives already is. A human-scaled model of the smart home will help to make that visible. We will be able to explore how to get the best from the truly remarkable development, that could realy help us, not only to make our daily lives more convenient, but even more meaningful, more social, and more sustainable.
And this is why I belief Casa Jasmina is a very important project.
ἰδιώτης,idiōtēs I) N. 1) the individual man, private citizen in oposite to the state, att.Pr.; b) the common, ignoble man 2) a) the ignorant, layman in oposite to the trained person, e.g. in oposite to a physician b) someone ignorant to poetry, a prosaic person. […]
Totski muttered to himself: “He may be an idiot, but he knows that flattery is the best road to success here.”
Dostoevsky, The Idiot
The status for the following app has changed to Removed From Sale.
App Name: WikiLeaks App Techcrunch, 21.12.2010
The iPad as a particular device is not necessarily the future of computing. But as an ideology, I think it just might be.
Steven Frank, http://stevenf.com
An idiōtēs in the Greek Polis was a man, who did not separate the public from the private – in most cases for economic necessity, like the merchants or for social restraint, because he or she would be denied political action, as was the case for slaves or women.
Plato in his Republic describes what he finds pathetic about this: An Idiotes only cares about his own Oikos – his own fire in the hearth and not about the society, the Polis. However, even a rich Idotes can only survive by the society’s mercy. Only, because he can be confident on the society to always be on his side, he can take for granted, not to simply get murdered by his domestics. He would be totally helpless without the public, that he contemns by his Idioty.
Net-Politics is on everyone’s lips these days. This word, so you may think further, might imply, that there is something like a Polis, a public, in the Internet.
We have been writing several times here, that a political public can only unfold, if their rules can be negotiated free of purpose. As long as the net is in fact completely controlled by private economy, a liberal, political discussion, driven by values, is hardly possible. Companies control content over CDN, backbone, DNS, ISP, and recently even by means of the operating systems of the terminal devices; the argument for censorship is hardly ever something political or ethical; like the Wikileaks-App, deleted by Apple, just the Standard Terms and Conditions are brought in.
The situation with Social Networks an platforms is similar. Twitter could block my profile at any time with regard to the STCs, Youtube might delete videos just with regard of alleged infractions. And net neutrality – i.e. treating all data packages in the same way – so only as good as the fair chance for all Websites, to get found over search.
All the more interesting, I take the observation, how devotional whole legions of Net activists make of themselves lackeys to the telecom industry, to Google, Facebook and especially to Apple – and confound the partial openness of these with the public.
The shifting of information power from content producers, authors, film makers, musicians and their publishers and copyrights collectives towards the content platforms, the social networks and search engines is probably the irreversible consequence of a much deeper cultural change. Therefore the answer on the question how (and if at all) a political public, a society nevertheless will aliment the economic needs of people in creative professions, is crucial for the future shape of culture and creativity. I think, the Pirate Party’s demanding to “regard as natural” and “explicitly support” non-commercial copying and use of works, while at the same time make authors “more independent of existing structures of power” is utopian. Right now, only Telcos benefit from content free to copy, by better utilising their bandwidth – and of course the platform operators, who generate traffic through this and thus provide better advertising vehicles. And even though I earn my money also with advertising, I would see it as rather poor, if that would be all that can sustain.
Xenophon thus used the Idiot already in the fourth century BC in some metaphorical meaning: an idiot is inartistic person, ignorant to poetry.
(1) “A Vernacular is like a crumbled street version of a classic language. Like Italian is a vernacular language and Latin is a classic language. What does actual vernacular online video sound like, that’s native to the Internet and speaks vernacular Internet ease? I’ll just read you the categories of an unnamed [Online Video Network] here: ‘LOL, OMG, WTF, Cute, Games, Geeky and Trashy’. Those are actual terms, coined on the Internet. Now, you could think, to be classy, you would like to expunge that vernacular, and instead of them saying ‘LOL’ they should say something like ‘commedy’, instead of ‘OMG’ something like ‘experimental’. – Allright. That’s not how it works. It is a little hard to understand this, but the actual path to classiness is to upgrade the vernacular. You have to get through LOL, OMG, WTF, Cute, Games, Geeky and Trashy and somehow come out the other side. You have to make network culture classy on its own terms. You have to ennoble the vernacular – not by teaching people Latin, but by writing Dante’s Inferno!”
Bruce Sterling, Closing Keynote: Vernacular Video from Vimeo Festival. (My transcript)
(2)classic 1610s, from Fr. classique (17c.), from L. classicus “relating to the (highest) classes of the Roman people,” hence, “superior,” from classis (see class). Originally in English “of the first class;” meaning “belonging to standard authors of Greek and Roman antiquity” is attested from 1620s. Classics is 1711, and is the earliest form of the word to be used as a noun.
Douglas Harper, Online Etymology Dictionary
“The idea to put together an international Exhibition on the art of the 20th century in Germany is so obvious, that there seems hardly any need for explanation.”, thus gives Werner Haftmann as introduction into the catalogue on the first Documenta 1955 in Kassel. Evidently the makers of this first mass-art-show were exactly clear about what would make the art of their century. After my tour around the Documenta 12, however I was clear about this being the last Documenta for me to visit. While the curators of the three preceding exhibitions would have tried, to draw a picture of today’s art – and would fail, everyone in his own way, 2007’s exhibition had abandoned to define something like “classical art of our time”. What could give the impression of negligence or of idleness of the mind of the curator, I would today take as a symptom for upheaval in visual arts, which will be shaken in a similar way like media, music industry, and all the other so called creative arts.
Modernism – modern art, like it has evolved during the last three centuries – is classical antiquity, exactly like Roger Buergel says. Like the scholastic adherence to the antiquity had governed thought and creativity in modern occidental culture for a long time, the modern-contemporary terms and categories are still seen as the measure for “classical” quality. Review and analysis of contemporary art either lead to anaemic formalism, like in the latest issue of Kunstforum, or end up in total randomness, just like the last Documenta.
Helpless we look around: isn’t there something to step in place of the old and venerable? A new generation? A new direction? Bruce Sterling gives the answer in his nearly hour-long closing-speech at the Vimeo Conference. The new is already there, and thus as vernacular, popular dialect, cant, in short: standing outside the classical culture. The new can be found in the vernacular culture of the Net.
You might argue, that this insight is neither new nor very inventive; the Internet rolling up culture out-and-out is told in whole annuals of Wired and thousands of hours of TED-conference. But Sterling says something different from that: To recognise the new, we have to be able to speak about it. The (professionial) terminology of cultural sciences and the critics is still the Lingua Franca of Modernism. At the same time, the vernacular of the Net-culture is not much more as a jargon yet.
The Shape of future art (as long as we still want to use this word, compromised by the “adoration of the genius” and by the bourgeois production process) could look like Urban Art or Generative Art – Favela Chic, to speak in Sterling’s words – or the eclecticism, peculiar to Net culture, the Bricolage, the Collage, Punk – Sterling’s Gothic High Castle.
This vernacular culture is distinct from classical contemporary culture particularly by its conditions of production. The classical author, artists or composer is remunerated by judicially sanctioned transfer systems like HFA, MCPS, SESAC – or he is directly employed by the state, as a university professor, member of the state orchestra or editor in the public broadcasting system. In opposite to that we find the much lamented “for-free-culture” of blogs, online video, the remixes and covers, and the so called “citizen journalism”, and so forth and so forth. And even if it might occur obvious to some, to just transpose the way of production of the classical culture onto the vernacular creativity of the Net, however this effort is doomed: the categories of the old world gain no longer traction; the people do not want to speak Latin anymore, because Italian now gives them the most fluent ability for expression.
Enhances “Stand on the shoulders of Giants” Accessibility of knowledge
Retrieves everybody a publisher oral tradition dilettante / amateur
(Decay of Copyright)
Reverses Bricolage (Ecclecticism) Generative Art New definition of Public Space
Obsolesces Assembly-line book mass-marketing for books book-fairs
In the table on the left I tried to interpret this development with Herbert Marshall McLuhan’s Tetrad:
As this change’s consequence we will, however, see only few more big novels, only rarely someone will take the risk to produce an expensive, full-length movie, or to practise a symphonic work of Musica Viva with an orchestra. What we experience is the comeback of the dilettante, in the best sense, of the enthusiast; “Everybody a publisher” means: Non-Commodity-Production of Culture.
Enhances private authorship, the competitive goal-oriented individual
Retrieves tribal elitism, charmed circle, cf. the “neck verse”
Reverses With flip from manuscript into mass production via print comes the corporate reading public and the historical sense
Obsolesces slang, dialects and group identity, separates composition and performance, divorces eye and ear
McLuhan’s tetrad-model: four aspects of the effect of media on culture and society. This example Print and the second one Xerox are quoted from “The Global Village” by McLuhan and Powers, Oxford University Press 1989.
The idea of copyright – the right to retain publication of one’s own words – is much younger than other forms of intellectual property laws. Patents to protect the economic exploitation of technological invention, for example, have been granted by the city’s sovereign since the times of ancient Greece. But not sooner than in the 18th century the perceived value added to a society and its economy by the written word would justify a legal concept to aliment writers. The first copyright law clearly formulates this goal in its title: “An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors or purchasers of such Copies, during the Times therein mentioned“, also called the Statue of Anne.
Yesterday, Bruce Sterling cried out his concern about the future of literature in three Tweets:
“*Economic calamity that hammered music hits literature. The “solution” for writers? There isn’t one.
So literature collapses before our eyes, while the same fate awaits politics, law, medicine, manufacturing… finance and real estate…
Diplomacy, the military… we’re not gonna die of this, but man, the deeper 21st century looks like nothing anyone ever imagined.” (1,2,3)
The catch-all political party, trade unions, music industry, newspapers, advertising and even the production of art and literature – all are effected by this changing culture to the core. I think we can identify two main drivers for this change if we consider what the function of these mass-cultural phenomena had been in the past.
Enhances speed of printing process
Retrieves oral tradition, the committee
Medium:Xerox (could be “digital print as well”)
Reverses everybody a publisher
Obsolesces assemly-line book
The first I would call retribalisation (following the term used by McLuhan).
The concept of society was defined in opposite to community by Hermann Thönnies in his famous foundation of sociology “Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft” in 1887. A community is tied together by something held in common – normally the fate shared by living in the same village. People living in a community know each other in person and information is distributed mostly by word of mouth. Thus oral culture and a common set of allegories give the ground for communication. The mass-alphabetisation brought the mass-society. The man of the crowd was coined by Edgar Allen Poe in his famous short story of this title in 1840. The actor of this modern, industrialised society is no longer a person, it is the individual. The characteristics of an individual can thus be derived from objectives that can be observed from outside. In the modern society of the industrial age, nearly everything you had to know to measure someone would have been their job. The goods that people would exchange became commodities. Mass media – which I shall use as an umbrella for all these topics lined up above – homogenise a society by reaching out to everyone simultaneously. Since the 1950, this has changed dramatically. Social strata or milieu would no longer account for consumption habits. Two individuals of the same socio-demographic profile might have completely different styles of living, preferences in music or consumer brands. What brings people together is no longer social position but to have something in common – the return of the community, but no longer defined by common destiny but much weaker, by some common interest that is highly dependent to the momentary mood and situation in which people find themselves. The Web is the perfect means to organise, inform and entertain such loosely knit communities globally.
The second was sketched by Bruce Sterling earlier: atemporality as he calls it; the end of the great narrative, end of progress, or even end of history. The consequences for creative artists that he sees are dire: the choice of re-arranging findings from the past, eclecticism or “the Gothic castle” as he calls this artistic approach, Punk, the bricolage. Or alternatively generative creation, aggregating small contributions of a large group of people; favela chic in Sterling’s words.
Both developments had been foresighted by some thinkers right after WWII. Most prominent are Herbert Marshall McLuhan and independently from him Vilém Flusser. Both see the decline of written word in favour of the rise of a new oral culture, globally organised in tribe-like structures, tied together by a common set of allegories. The breakup of copyright is the direct consequence to this.
‘The “solution” for writers? There isn’t one.‘ If we use the tetradic set of questions, shown above, on copyright we could get a glimpse on how copyright (and its projected fading away) may affect the publication process:
1. What does the medium enhance?
2. What does the medium make obsolete?
3. What does the medium retrieve that had been obsolesced earlier?
4. What does the medium flip into when pushed to extremes?
Copyright enhances private authorship and leads to a ‘bourgeois’ creative who is paid for his word. The dilettante, the aristocratic amateur enthusiast are rendered obsolete. The professional writer however shares some aspects with the scriptor, the cleric scholar who was funded by the monastery to perform his art. Regarding the forth tetradic questions: by the ecstasies of claiming ownership on intellectual property as seen in the plethora of cease-and-desists fired into the crowed by some corporations to claim their intellectual property rights against bloggers, or the “three-strikes-out”-initiative into which the European Commission was driven by the publishing industry’s lobbyists, the copyright, originally made to foster broad accessibility of knowledge, makes this knowledge less accessible again and creates elites, that still want (or are able) to afford to buy the publications. – Just to make it clear: I personally am opposed against the notion of regarding everything in the Net for free; but to see the consequences of this cultural development, we have to take a neutral angle. – I am convinced that the decay of the royalty-system for authors based on copyright is even accelerated by this effort to defend it.
Some hope might be found in long-tail distribution-systems like iTunes or Amazon which cut out the publisher and in theory directly connect the producers with their clients. But I think, that we already see the margin left for authors as well as the number of possible sales are to be expected to stay rather small. And at the same time, there is so much that can be obtained completely for free in the Internet, that to buy something becomes even less attractive. “The dark side of the free and open” is the decline of the classic publication economy, as Geert Lovink remarks. This leads to the end of handling publications as a commodity. How to make a living from non-commodity-production, from giving your work away for free? On the other hand: how many authors, musicians, composers etc. have been able to make their living by their arts in the past!
Nevertheless: walking down McLuhan’s tetrad, we can expect to get back into a culture of more or less sophisticated dilettantism as seen in most parts of the blogosphere. Small contributions, often highly specialised, often collaged and Punk-style, like Bruce Sterling describes in his post. But on the other hand, we see the return of the scriptorium. Corporate publishing, PR, corporate or brand storytelling; authors, writing to support their consultancy-work and other freelance businesses I would also take into this category. Both live-forms of the future-author, the dilettante and the scribe do no longer support the individual “artist-creator” who can be attributed as the sole author of his work and thus gets paid by royalties.
We will see publications and creations of art, perfectly adopted to the preferences and needs of very small communities; new publications emerging fast, drawn to existence by monitoring, google alerts and inspiration to write something through tweets, just noted by chance.
A possible form of organising these micro-publications is a content network, doing for content, what an ad network does for ads. Bringing all together, corporate publishing, advertising and the user’s still existing desire to get entertained and inspired, might even lead to some monetary compensation for the participating authors.
A second path could lead into creating a new area of public space in the Internet, funded by tax-like fees as to be seen in Europe’s public broadcasting landscape. This public space should be curated in a way, ensuring to maintain cultural productions of high class.
All told, I truly acclaim to Bruce Sterlings speculation: “we’re not gonna die of this, but man, the deeper 21st century looks like nothing anyone ever imagined.”
During the debate about the changes in media and the future importance of the Internet, you could get the impression lately, that the age of printing would come to an end after 500 years. In deed many industries that make a living from printed media are in a state of retreat since the dawn of the digital era: newspapers, magazines, intaglio and even offset printing, shown in an impressive way by the financial downturn of global market leader Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG in 2009.
For classical methods the main effort to print is to produce the printing plates – typesetting book pages, engravings for figures or today the making of plate cylinders in offset printing. Effect: the higher the circulation, the lower the price to print per piece. Everybody who has let something been printed in the classical way is familiar to the print shop’s quote: “it’s the same price if you take 1000 or 2000 pieces.”
The consequence: also valuable books that will address only a small circle of readers are printed in stacks of thousands, although only a few hundred are sold for the targeted price. The remainder of some art catalogue for which its buyers are willing to pay 98 Euros, Dollars or Pounds, goes for 14.99 to the bargain bookseller. Everyone who bought an expensive book once and later found it – fresh from the press and in original wrapping – on rummage table at WHSmiths or Barnes and Noble, will think twice if it would not be worthwhile waiting. A catastrophe from the angle of marketing. And apart from that also ecologically dubious, to go one producing remainders, using toxic ink, wasting lots of energy and paper.
Digital printing technology like laser or ink-jet printing put text and images on paper without printing plates, directly from the digital file – a PDF, a Word-Document etc.
In the last thirty years the publication process had adopted the digital options initially. “Desktop publishing” was the buzzword in the eighties, database publishing in the nineties and during the last decade the Internet brought content management up to “real time publishing”, immediate and instantly from the laptop to the web site. Step by step, publishing was thus detached from paper.
Digital printing for a long time could not compete with offset printing – neither with speed nor with printing quality. But this has changed just recently.
During the last weeks I was involved in a large exhibition project: Hundred Masterpieces for Haiti – a charity event that was arranged with support by the Rotary Club in Munich in our Galerie Royal.
Such a short-term project profits especially from the possibilities of digital printing. The time for preparation of this charity is extremely short – due to the circumstances of a sudden desaster like an earthquake, the consequences of which should be eased.
First, forty artists had to be found, willing to contribute the one hundred works of art. The works had to be photographed, the pictures were processed and brought into the same resolution. The correct caption had to be formulated for each piece, the biography of every artist had to be looked into, a price had to be set in negotiation with the artists and these information had to be authored into an accompanying text to every image. Graphics and layout were at the same time developed by the graphic arts expert Gisela Knobel in close coordination with the specialized digital printing service provider MSDD that took on the printing and post production process.
The digital printing machines like the hp Indigo, on which also the substantial catalogue to this exhibition was printed, produce as fast as classical printing machines. A broad variety of different glossy and transparent paper qualities where deployed, as well as special colours giving a realistic and brilliant reproduction.
The production of this catalogue – creation of pictures, text, layout and prepress, finally printing, binding and finishing must not take more then ten days, or there would not have been a printed publication available at the exhibition. Such a time frame would just be impossible for classic printing.
Thereby for our catalogue we had been using only a small fraction of the additional options that digital printing provides compared to classical offset printing. Digitally printed books can be individually produced practically without additional costs, i. e. every book with exactly the content the buyer would want. For catalogues of large collections or museums, a number of special catalogues could be offered: didactic working books for schools that, e.g. would just cover one defined epoch; catalogues that show the exact hanging, i.e. the works of art in the very order, in which the visitor of the exhibitions will find them in the location – no limits are set to creativity. And the catalogues could consider always the latest acquisitions of the collection – they would never become outdated.
Books are useful, they do not need electricity, they are quite robust, get never blue-screened and they can be very well read even after centuries if taken good care. The materiality gives books their pleasing, haptical quality – they lie well in the hand. Printed books show a resolution and colour reproduction that cannot be reached by electronic screens today and for a long time into the future. However books seamed to become old-fashioned, slow and sluggish by the speed and the easy accessibility of digital publishing, particularly in the Internet.
Digital printing has been used mainly for job printing – personalized advertising mailings, leaflets, business cards and so on. Today digital production can revolutionize book printing – liberate the book from its ties to production and give to it wings, like Amor did with the turtle on our Emblem!
Window in the southern transept of Cologne cathedral by Gerhard Richter.
Image courtesy of Derix Glasstudios GmbH & Co.KG, Taunusstein.
That [Chamber] at the eastern extremity was hung, for example, in blue -and vividly blue were its windows. The second chamber was purple in its ornaments and tapestries, and here the panes were purple. The third was green throughout, and so were the casements. The fourth was furnished and lighted with orange -the fifth with white -the sixth with violet. The seventh apartment was closely shrouded in black velvet tapestries that hung all over the ceiling and down the walls, falling in heavy folds upon a carpet of the same material and hue. But in this chamber only, the color of the windows failed to correspond with the decorations. The panes here were scarlet -a deep blood color.Poe, The Masque of the Red Death
The 19th century Romanticism with it’s enthusiasm for the middle ages brought also the Stained Glass Window back into sight.
There are spectacular examples, full of fashionable nationalism like the Bavarian Windows, given to the Cologne Cathedral by King Ludwig I. These Windows were obviously intended to orientate the citizens of Cologne towards the east, away from France with which Colgone shares more than just the same side of the Rhine. Irony of fate that the very Ludwig I became the only German monarch who had to resign in 1848’s revolution – just in the year when the Bavarian Windows had been opened.
Stained Glass in art history has rarely managed to get regarded anything other than just craftwork. Too dreadful are the vestiges – crown glass windows painted with horse and carriage at bawdy beer halls of the 1930s, or Gothic-nationalistic kitsch like the windows described earlier.
After the end of the middle ages, architecture concentrated on natural sunlight. Windows served no longer as independent creations of art but became mere installations to the building. The set-up mystical atmosphere of the old cathedrals opposites the grandiose theatre of the baroque edifices and finally the artificially coloured light would not fit the increasingly longing for immediate experience of a supreme meaning in nature, which was formed since the 17th century not only by Claude Lorrains’ landscapes:
I know that others find you in the light,
That sifted down through tinted window panes.
And yet I seem to feel you near tonight,
In this dim, quiet starlight on the plains. (Lomax, Lomax, Spencer, Rogers)
The metaphorical denotation of light had changed. Thereby we get to an important aspect of designed glass windows: They had been not (just) part of the architecture but rather media, created for reading.
The earliest preserved stained glass windows can be found in the cathedral of Augsburg: three prophets, likely from a larger series, approx. 1060 A.D. with already completely distinct material and type of representation that we know from the successive four centuries. Small, dyed pieces of glass put together with bands of lead, partly covered with drawings in brown enamel paint or silver pigment.
The medieval windows communicate in different layers of meaning:
In the first instance they serve as Biblia Pauperum, i. e. as pictorial illustration of theological content for the church’s visitors who at that time usually where not able to read.
The second layer is an image of “Heavenly Jerusalem”. Of course the medieval man was at first overwhelmed – not getting any colours in sight outside the church apart from brown, green and the blue sky.
But the stained glass is not just staging, there is also a theological aspect deducted from Ezekiel’s vision and from the Revelation:
* Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire (Eze 1,26)
* Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. (Rev 6,6)
* It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. (Rev 21,11)
* The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. (Rev 21,18)
The stained glass of the cathedrals was as precious and expensive as real gemstones. Deep read, so called Gold Ruby for example was obtained by blending nanoscopic gold particles. Thus during the Gothic times glass was not just seen as mere substitute for genuine gems. Like with the glass, the gemstones had been assigned their meaning because of their coloured translucency.
The diaphanousness opens the third and spiritual layer of meaning: the light itself is inscribed by colour and content of the pictorial windows, it is transcorporated like the Holy Water. This idea of a “light baptism” is truly the most original aspect of medieval glass art. The most spectacular example in my opinion gives the Sainte Chapelle at Paris.
As mentioned in the beginning, the renaissance of tinted Glass windows in the 19th century has been completely eclectic and shows hardly any discretion – not to speak about subtle, spiritual layers of meaning like in the middle ages. It took not until the 20th century to generate creations of glass that could rightly be seen as works of art again.
Obviously many of these works are used in church buildings: Le Corbusiers Notre-Dame-du-Haut at Ronchamp has many little coloured windows, but these lack the medial character – the panes remain architectural decoration.
A different thing is the wonderful glass collage by Rupprecht Geiger – sacral like the Baptistery Window in the Evangelische Apostelkirche at Stockdorf – or profane like at the stair case at Munich’s Technische Universität (at cross section Theresienstreet, Luisenstreet). Geiger manages without any eclecticism to find an abstract form of expression in his glass windows.
The window of the southern transept in Cologne’s cathedral by Gerhard Richter also has all the distinct layers of meaning. The hue is taken right away from the production of the Gothic glasses. A Poor-man’s-bible, this is made clear by Richter, is no longer needed in our world of technically reproduced and seemingly objective images; and so he distinguishes his work from the usual wood-cut sacred kitsch that reminds to Ernst Barlach. Human words and images step completely back; nothing is abstracted, nothing transferred from reality into image. The coloured panes are arranged by mere random within each field; but the very fields are mirror symmetric one to the other. In this global symmetry the local contingency is dissolved. Thus the aspect of Gothic light mystics gets fully visible again.
One glass picture marks properly a turning point between epochs: the Large Glass by Marcel Duchamp, 1923. It is the pivotal point for Duchamp himself and represents like rarely another work of art the whole 20th century.
The original title of this most important work of glass art of the modern times is:
“The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even”
“La mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même”
Art, the Machine Célibataire, the Bachelor Machine.