Yesterday I participated in the Flux Factory New Aesthetic Death Match, a lively public debate that the art space hosted. My fellow debaters were Kyle McDonald, Molly Steenson, and Carla Gannis. Molly and Kyle I already knew well, but Carla I hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting until just before the debate last night.
The debate was structured as a kind of 1980s MTV take on the traditional Oxford debating society rules. There were strict timed statement and rebuttal structures and a voted winner at the end. There were also smoke machines and “smack downs”. There was also a surprisingly large audience with something like three times as many people as chairs.
As panelists we were actually quite friendly and so it was, perhaps, good, at least for the audience’s amusement, that the rules were in place to ensure some conflict. The result was a stimulating and lively conversation that actually managed to touch on some of the deeper issues with the New Aesthetic. I was impressed by much of what my fellow panelists said. It’s surpassingly difficult to be coherent and entertaining off the cuff and under a ticking clock.
I’m also proud to say that at the end of the night, I was chosen the winner by audience applause.
There’s not, as far as I know, video of the event online anywhere. So the best documentation I can provide is my opening statement, which was requested to take up one minute and kicked off the night. I scrawled it in my notebook on my way out to Long Island City and read it over this video (the full text is below):
For the first forty years of their existence we thought of technologies like full text search, image processing, and large scale data analysis as components in a grand project to build an artificial humanlike intelligence.
During this time these technologies did not work very well.
In the last 15 years they’ve started working better. We have Google search, Facebook face detection, and high frequency trading systems.
More and more of our daily lives are lived through computer screens and the network services on them. Hence a huge amount of our visual, emotional, and social experiences take place in the context of these algorithmic artifacts, these digital things interacting with each other a billion times a second. Like the slinky on the treadmill here they take on a kind of life of their own, a life none of their human makers explicitly chose.
Our struggles to understand that life and learn to engage with it in our artistic and design practices is the heart of the New Aesthetic.