“Modernism is our Classical Antiquity”

[Original German Blog Post]

(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

(3) “Modernism is our Classical Antiquity”
Roger M. Buergel’s mantra as curator of Documenta 12

“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.

“Stand on the shoulders of Giants”
Accessibility of knowledge
everybody a publisher
oral tradition
dilettante / amateur


(Decay of Copyright)

Bricolage (Ecclecticism)
Generative Art
New definition of Public Space
Assembly-line book
mass-marketing for books

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.

Read more:
“So literature collapses before our eyes” – Non-Commodity Production
The End of History – for creative professionals.

The End of History – for creative professionals.

[Original German Blog Post]

Félicien Rops: PornocratesEternal must that progress be
Which Nature through futurity
Decrees the human soul;
Capacious still, it sthttp://en.slow-media.net/wp-admin/edit.phpill improves
As through the abyss of time it moves,
Or endless ages roll.

Its knowledge grows by every change;
Through science vast we see it range
That none may here acquire;
The pause of death must come between
And Nature gives another scene
More brilliant, to admire.

Philip Freneau

This morning I printed out a song by Schubert from IMSLP.
Before having considered to play the first note, I listened to seven different versions of this song on Youtube – from every decade between 1930 till now. Why? Because I wanted to compile from those my own interpretation of the piece.
Apart from pulling the music score from the web in the very moment it came to my mind to play the song – my way of interpreting does not only fall back on my own teachers or the style of my contemporaries that I can adopt or from which I can distinguish, but now has countless varieties of 100 years of music recording at hand!

Art appeared to be driven by progress, because the artists always had some teacher or belonged to a certain school which gave the base of their own creative work from one generation to the next. It is just the distinguishing form the teacher’s style, the longing for improving something, what generated this gradual evolution of art which in retrospection frequently looked like an advancement.

Even if a painter could generally learn about past epochs by means of the local monarch’s art gallery, these works remained mostly anachronistic, relics from a past to be only indirectly connected.
More dramatic was the situation with music – before the invention of the record, interpretations of times past where lost – only what could be heard live was palpable.
My initial example should illustrate how the conditions of formation of style have changed fundamentally by having available nearly the complete creative production of mankind well structured and indexed by search engines – for everyone.

Bruce Stirling gave a remarkable speech at this year’s Transmediale: “Atemporality for Creative Artists”.
Stirling pictures by the term atemorality (autonomy in time) the availability of all knowledge and all products independent from their time of production; a phenomenon characterising our time – as said above.
The point when all men in their minds become completely independent from time and space was defined by the French anthropologist and philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ as the Omega Point. Taken from the biblical eschatology “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” (Rev 22,13) this point at human evolution marks the end of history and the entrance of mankind in a time when the idea of progress has become obsolete.

To think about progress finally coming to an end is likely as ancient as the term progress itself. The concept of progression, that is the Weltgeist slowly and gradually moving to perfection (like in Frenau’s poem above) is fundamental belief of many religions and ideologies. Dissolution in the Nirvana like in Buddhism, entering the classless society like in Dialectic Materialism or Endsieg of the markets like with Fukuyama – in the end there stands a state of motionlessness, the end of flushing and rushing.

Without pondering if the return of Messiah or the end of class struggle is pending, Bruce Stirling pragmatically asks how being thus independent from time and space effects the artist.
Despite Fukuyama or Marx making us hope – the world does not become more simple at all: “The situation now is one of growing disorder. A failed state, a potentially failed globe, a collapsed WTO, a collapsed Copenhagen, financial collapses, lifeboat economics.” But he soothes us: “I don’t think that requires a moral panic. I think it ought to be regarded as something like moving into a new town.”
And for not getting blinded by panic of the new, Bruce Stirling recommends to keep a point of view from some distance. If we are looking for today’s avantgarde we should take the perspective of 20 years past. “Strip away the sci-fi chrome, the sense of wonder, no longer allow yourself to be hypnotised by the sense of technical novelty. Accept that it is already passe’, and create it from that point of view.”. – If it works, it’s obsolete.

The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine.

How to make art in a post historic time, when thus progress seams to be nearly impossible? Art after the End of Art? Bruce Stirling sketches two paths that today’s art development may follow – not alternatively but complementary: Favela Chic and Gothic High-Tech. The ruins of a castle, bound for decay sits erected high on top of the muddle of the slum – not a pleasant place but at least still vibrant with life.

Gothic High-Tech is alimented by the glory of the past, by desire for an alternative present.

Punk is the obvious reaction on our epoch with no future perspective: “You have taken my future now I Kill somebody, kill myself, throw bricks to policemen” – a primitive anti-statement that would be as useless nowadays as would be the other poses of the 20th century. But Punk is also about making your clothes and accessories yourself – the Bricolage – the handicraft work as that might be translated, the denial of mass culture and pop by one’s own creativity.

The Frankenstein Mashup is the logical consequence, an eklekticism of finds glued together as in DJ music or post modern architecture. And from the lost utopias of the past wistfully collaged to Lost Futures: Where is My Space Age? – Steampunk, Atompunk, Dieselpunk.

Favela Chic won’t give you the grandiose staging, no ingenious creations of a centennial artist, but lives from swarming which might be found from time to time loosely organized in the Net.
From that two completely new approaches evolve: Generative Art is created by software, if taken strictly by the letter it is only indirectly to be regarded as art, for the visible or audible appearence is technically produced by an algorithm. Collaborative Art makes use of the option to create jointly in the Web, loosely tight together as Wiki-Art or Art-Mob.

These perspectives for making art after the End of Progress are likewise to be transferred on other parts of culture: publishing, film production, cuisine, even laws could be collaboratively negotiated.

Thus decomposed, or recombined,
To slow perfection moves the mind
And may at last attain
A nearer rank with that first cause
Which distant, though it ever draws,
Unequalled must remain.