Something is happening. We haven’t fully grasped it yet. But it already feels like one of the more exciting things happening these days. And it’s spearheaded by nice people from East London who keep inspiring and challenging us. It has been dubbed The New Aesthetic (NA).
For a while now, I’ve been collecting images and things that seem to approach a new aesthetic of the future, which sounds more portentous than I mean. What I mean is that we’ve got frustrated with the NASA extropianism space-future, the failure of jetpacks, and we need to see the technologies we actually have with a new wonder. Consider this a mood-board for unknown products.
This turned into this tumblr blog: The New Aesthetic.
Bridle has been the main voice for the New Aesthetic. Watch his closing keynote from Web Directions Sydney 2011 for a great primer and check his blog. Also watch his talk from the Lift conference this year and read this interview Rob Walker did with him for more of his thinking.
As always, others from the network of people around the “Silicon Roundabout” have picked up this concept and are exploring it further. BERG has been reflecting about the ‘Robot-Readable World’ (RRW) with Matt Jones giving a talk and Timo Arnall producing a video visualization of the RRW. Also read Jones’ thoughts on Sensor-Vernacular.
This all happened last year and was mostly noticed by people following the thinking of RIG and BERG.
A whole new level of attention came in March with the #sxaesthetic panel at the SXSW festival/conference in Austin, Texas. Bridle brought along some of his friends and fellow thinkers to approach NA from different perspectives.
- Bridle opened the panel talking about the origins of NA.
- Joanne McNeil, editor of Rhizome, spoke about the history of new aesthetics, on new perspectives, technologies and art.
- Ben Terrett, designer, talked about the New Aesthetic in commercial visual culture.
- Aaron Straup Cope, artist and developer, looked at drones, data and human geography.
- Russell Davies reflected on the New Aesthetic and writing.
A lot of great thinking coming from this group of people. But the biggest thing for the NA was that Bruce Sterling was sitting in the audience. Not only did he gather a lot of the tweets about the panel and mentioned Bridle and the panel very favorably in his closing keynote for SXSW.
He also published a 5000-word essay about NA, analyzing and criticizing it in depth. Besides the amazing amount of new ideas, approaches and next steps he has given the movement with this, he also has put it on a much bigger stage, giving it a new level of attention.
Reactions to Sterling’s essay
The web has been buzzing with reactions to the essay. It’s beautiful to see so many bright minds picking up the concept and investigating it from all sides. Here are only some of the writings we came by:
- In Response To Bruce Sterling’s “Essay On The New Aesthetic” – The Creators Project got some of their tech art friends like Marius Watz and Kyle McDonald to write about NA
- Why the New Aesthetic isn’t about 8bit retro, the Robot Readable World, computer vision and pirates – Dan Catt about the aesthetics of NA and why it’s not just retro (as an answer, Greg Borenstein put together a “Menagerie of CV Markers”)
- A new fashion aesthetic – Chris Heathcote investigates the fashion side of NA with a Pinterest set (Kathleen Flood is exploring this topic, too).
- The New Aesthetic and Future Fatigue – Klint Finley questions the future aspect of NA
- But it moves: the New Aesthetic & emergent virtual taste – Matthew Battles further investigates our relationships with machines
- The New Aesthetic…perhaps – Aimée Knight has some constructive criticism
- The New Aesthetic and I – Damien G. Walter asks what the NA will be when it stops being interesting
- New Aesthetics – New Politics – Adam Rothstein has started a series of articles (#2, #3) looking at the politics angle of NA (Noah Raford has more thoughts on new politics)
- The New Aesthetics of the male gaze – Madeline Ashby talks about the men of NA learning what it’s like to be gazed at (from machines). Something that women have been exposed to for a lot longer (from men)
- Is the New Aesthetic only about visual stuff? – Nicolas Nova thinks about the circulation of cultural elements in NA
- The New Aesthetic Needs to Get Weirder – The philosophy trend “object-oriented ontology” seems to be big among the NA crowd … or the other way around. Ian Bogost, one of the philosophers behind OOO, weighs in a asks NA to look beyond humans and computers to objects in every imaginable way.
- Becoming Infosynaesthetic – A collection of thoughts about NA including the union of information and sensation
- New Aesthetic // OOO // Future of Things – With everybody and their cat trying to define what NA is, Julian Bleeker petitions to not force it and leave NA like it is for the time being. Warren Ellis points in a similar direction.
Sterling keeps posting links and writing articles as a reaction to the reactions. Here’s another take from him: Still FREAKING OUT!!!
A year later
On Sunday, May 6 2012, exactly one year later, Bridle has closed the NA tumblr for good.
The project will continue in other forms and venues.
On May 8, HuffPo posted an interview with Bridle.
One of the things about New Aesthetic was that it was very much supposed to be not ‘post’ anything else and not ‘pre’ anything else, it was an observation about something hopefully grander, of which these are some current examples of. But as soon as you start trying to ground it in that way, in manifestos and in particular works then, then yeah that’s the natural reaction to it. One of the things the internet should be able to do is be less reactive than that.
All these things are imperfect means of communication, there will always be that but I’m happy to end by saying it’s been a deeply odd and occasionally distressing experience. Some responses to it have been fantastic and extraordinary and interesting and a lot of the other responses have been extraordinarily aggressive and misguided and simply wrong. It’s a very odd experience that a lot of people out there have basically gone ‘the New Aesthetic is wrong’ and it can be many things but it can’t be wrong because I just made it up.
More Material somehow connected to NA
- Screenshots of despair – Another tumblr blog
- Fuck Yeah New Aesthetic – Nothing contemporary is complete without a fuckyeah-tumblr.
- The Mew Aesthetic – oh, and cats, of cause.
If you’ve found something that we should add, let us know.
We’ve deliberately avoided defining what the New Aesthetic is. We kinda enjoy that it’s pretty fuzzy right now and still open for future definitions that might emerge from the current discussion. This is why we, instead of defining it, provided a ton of links so anyone going through this can make up her or his own mind about NA.
The New Aesthetic practice would be to unwrap it, post it, and leave it there all ragged with retweets, favorite buttons, permalinks and an open-API, so that somebody on the network can do something with it.
What I will say is that, although there is no one future to be predicted or inferred — that the idea of the consensus future is resolutely 20th century and should be put to rest — it’s really nice to see people looking for what’s next again.