0: Worlding

Chapter1 Shattered Heliocentric Orbit 

14:11PM London December 2020

Seen from the 69th floor of The Shard, crisscrossing transportation facilities constitute the bloodline and skeleton of this stage of concrete, steel, and glass. The meandering River Thames outlines the view of the city. In windblown haze at the top, veiled, unknowing clouds cover the London Eye with dense fog. A thin layer of milky white air gently undulates on the Houses of Parliament, lifts up the skyscrapers and stands on both sides of the river, and a thick grey fog gradually fills the horizon. During the first two decades of the twenty-first century, a new aesthetic appears as a phenomenon that floats in the sky, soon to fall. It deforms and reforms constantly, counted up in the database of a culture that will soon overflow. Brutal oppositions of races and styles, urban eruptions block out its embodied correspondence with yesterday's buildings. “Zero, I didn’t notice you turned our life into a story!” said Ephemeral to me. “How long did it take you?” “Approximately one-millionth of a nanosecond. I was thinking of these things and about how all things are related, 1 from disorder to order,” said I.

Combining vision and blindness, the main character of the film La Jetée2 covers his eyes to the present so he can dream. He doesn’t know what he is looking at; all he knows is that he’s got a memory of something, related to his desire, to an object, a feeling, and he must follow the trace. Art is an archaic information processing system.3 The human brain has changed little during the last ten thousand years—a mere blink of the eye in geological terms that can hardly be measured. 4 At the other end of the scale is our expanding use of digital technology – it has increasingly become an indication at almost an essentialist level of specific artistic and design tendencies and practices. 5 Scientific revolutions, coups d'etat, corruption, and the post-digital condition all impact the programming of this art system. Art, according to John McHale, becomes “temporal immersion in a continuous contextual flow of communicated experiences,”6 in which, Hito Steyerl claims, “cultural production, distribution, and consumption as the driving forces behind the attention economy are tightly embedded in the medium aesthetics themselves.” 7 Hence real-time systems emerged as a direct result of simultaneous communication channels enhanced by computational technologies, resulting in a recurring new systems aesthetic in cultural practices and critical discourse.8 Quiet passes over the city. Rough concrete walls and bunker-like architecture occupy my vision: a city within a city, raised above street level and drawing from a rich palette of references – those exquisite, aristocratic architectural languages are all gone. Casting my eyes on Ephemeral as we walk along, I ask, “Am I in London?” I am interested in things that seemed to signify a new aesthetic of the future, as this place did half a century ago. “Yes,” he replied, nodding in the direction of the unusual architecture. “It’s the Barbican, a kind of vertical garden city. This complex was designed as an urban microcosm, with residential blocks arranged around communal spaces. Brutalism vanished as the prevailing architectural style, superseded by a new aesthetic. When it was completed, the Barbican suffered because the golden age of Modernist architecture had passed. It was initially considered avant-garde design, then went out of fashion. But time makes an unremarkable building in one era turned into a treasure in another.”

“...And can be so to the very infinity of possibilities,” I said. “It’s a complex weaving between time, space, image, and tacit affection of memory.”9 History is unstable, technology breaks through spatiotemporal boundaries; we are experiencing a post-historical time.

“Exactly,” he said. “A new generation of culture.” “Become what you are” has changed into “become what you are becoming”.10 Phenomena are rendered unstable, no longer fixed. Culture builds technology to protect its venerability without projecting expectation; the process is a journey, a paradox, a daydream without outcome. In 2020, digital media, artificial intelligence and robotics interprets contemporary art in their own ways.

“Post-COVID China is embracing a cyberpunk aesthetic,” I said.11 It can be seen in all areas of design, like Harper’s Bazaar China’s September 2020 issue, which featured the Latin star Maluma in a cyberinspired campaign; in GQ China12 with images of popular idol Yibo Wang wearing cyberpunk looks; and in local magazine YoHo!’s cover story on Ning Jing.13 Confronted with such unfolding dialectic improvisation, experiment, invention and chance, such visual language and the application of multimedia is designed to create artwork that appeals and stands out amidst the noise. Weibo Fashion Critic @Fashion_Mok mentioned in interview that the usual subject matter, however well-made, can no longer attract attention. As a result, magazine editors have leaned towards glittering genres like cyberpunk to attract more eyeballs, which now has become a pop phenomenon. 14 “Check your phone,” I added. “I just sent the magazine to you.” As soon as he finished look through it on his phone, he started mumbling, “I can’t believe this is even a magazine from today. It looks like video games I played ten years ago. This cyberpunk aesthetic has come back!” Art forms and concepts indeed have their own way of coming back; history has a strange way of reconfiguring itself. The relationship between an image and an idea is never stable. Aesthetics and temporality draw a diagram of spatial, technological perspectives, just as La Jetée traced a new diagrammatic of cinema. Take the stereotypical form and raise it to the level of art, able to ask complex philosophical questions related to space time, memory, oblivion, and image. But excessive technoglamour exaggerates contemporary anxieties. The conflict of accumulated information increases the difference between synthetic and autonomous objects and non-anthropomorphic agents. “Just like in JavaScript,” I said, “aesthetic is a systematic theoretical form always returns a newly allocated object while time goes by.” I typed it in the form of code so he could understand it better: New Aesthetic = Aesthetic; Aesthetic += mutable objects;15 Mutable objects refer to any external component, such as design tendencies and practices, scientific revolutions, corruption, the post-digital condition. A new aesthetic engages in a form of topological description, from ecological insight to approaching cross-disciplinary “real-time data generation and distribution”16. Digital media and new social, cultural practices involving mutable humans and technological artifacts in turn modify the aesthetic.

“Aesthetic could be the measure of things,” said Ephemeral, “even things that appear and disappear which cannot be quite understood.” Art means access to what cannot be anticipated. It comes to presence on its own, with limit as its limit. 17 After coughing behind his hand, as if he caught COVID when we went to The Shard, Ephemeral added, “A fast-fading century, spatially and temporally.” He realized there is no escape from time. 18 Rewind to an earlier time period. The aesthetic life of the Ancient Greeks accumulated abundant memory of the future in a long and continuous history. 19 Aesthetics as an independent subject was first introduced by German philosopher Alexander Baumgarten in 1735, 20 and nowadays aesthetics has become an artificial idea and ambiguous philosophical category simultaneously. New aesthetics challenge normative conventions, as well as identifying a distinct category of aesthetic products. It therefore signals a sense of hyper-contemporaneity. 21 As Susan Buck-Morss observed in 1999, “When Benjamin spoke of the transient historical objects of the nineteenth century as ur-phenomena, he meant that they exhibit visibly – and metaphysically as an authentic synthesis – their developmental, conceptual essence.”22

“Zero, how new will be the future? Is it close? In many ways we are at the end of period we called ‘contemporary’.” This was a vague question. Everything is doubled – the paradoxical relationship between civilization and technology; imagination of time travel, within memory, within the ruin of history. History is, after all, fact as well as speculation. “I don’t know, Ephemeral,” I replied. “We are fading. There is no escape from time.”

1 Think on These Things by Jiddu Krishnamurti, D. Rajagopal

2 La Jetée: Chris Marker deepened and confounded the image of his work. The theme that already fascinated him, social change, became a metaphysical problem of time. Nominally a work of science fiction about time travel, and mainly consisting of photographs of Paris in the present (a juxtaposition restaged magnificently by Godard in Alphaville), La Jetée is a dazzling mingling of Borges, Proust, Hitchcock, Cold War anxiety, and erotic nostalgia - a condensed metaphoric exploration of consciousness saturated in multiple temporal forms, disclosing the tragic perception in Paul de Man's words “that what we call time is precisely truth's inability to coincide with itself.” Film Comment Vol. 48, No. 5 (SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2012), pp. 12-13 (2 pages)

3 Burnham, 1949

4 Deep Time of the Media - Toward an Archaeology of Hearing and Seeing by Technical Means, Zielinski, 2006.

5 The New Aesthetic and Art by Contreras-Koterbay& Mirocha, 2016, p9

6 John McHale (1969) the future of the future. p.300

7 Steyerl, 2013

8 Jack Burnham’s 1969 ‘real-time systems’ Artform New York p.49

9 “We could, or might claim, that art is a special case of entanglement, presenting a knot- like figure that sets it apart from a structure of communication. If we simply focus upon the relationship between memory, vision and imagination as an entanglement of not only three figures that pertain to the formation and de-formation of images but related to the three main modes of figuring time; past (memory), present (vision) and future (imagination) might be possible to present aspects of the internal dynamics of the work of art. This process will in turn be a means of discussing the relationship of image and time, a relationship that is both persistent and elusive. This in turn weaves together visibility with invisibility, an operation on the level of thought which serves as an obstruction to thinking of art as a purely visible mode of apprehension of the world.” The idea of a divided subject is developed by Hegel in the preface of the ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’. “But the life of the Spirit is not the life that shrinks from death and keeps itself untouched by devastation, but rather the life that endures it and maintains itself in it. It wins its truth only when, in utter dismemberment, it finds itself.”

10 Nancy, 2003, p302 A Finite Thinking. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press

12 GQ (formerly Gentlemen's Quarterly) is an international monthly men's magazine based in New York City and founded in 1931.

13 According to Jing Daily October 7, 2020

14 Weibo interview from @Fashion_Mok

15 In JavaScript, the += operator performs enhanced assignments. The value of the expression to the right of the operator is added to the value of the variable to the left of the operator, and the result replaces the value of the variable. For example, x = 7 # assigns the value, 7, to x x += 4 #adds 4 to 7, and assigns the result, 11, to x

16 Postdigital Aesthetics: Thinking Postdigital Aesthetics: Art, Computation and Design David M. Berry, Michael Dieter 2015 p1-11

17 Martta Heikkila At the Limits of Presentation P.291

18 there was no escape from time is a sentence by the man in La Jetée.

19 Deleuze, 1986, p88

20 Guyer, Paul (2005). Values of Beauty: Historical Essays in Aesthetics. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-60669-1.

21 Contreras-Koterbay& Mirocha, 2016 22 THE DIALECTICS OF SEEING by Susan Buck-Morss MIT 1999