I have read Ian Bogost and I’ve begun reading Graham Harman, and it’s becoming entirely clear to me why new media artists are so enamored with their ideas. First, Graham Harman is hard reading if you’re not comfortable with Husserl and Heidegger, but his core concepts, the necessity of considering objects and systems, is undeniably compelling. It makes perfect sense that the populist approach to OO would be taken by a video game developer. To people who make who things which really do go on to do weird unexpected things in the world the idea of a world really being filled with things which are very much independent of our selves and attitudes towards them seems very commonsense. When we can model some of the behavior of wildly disparate things like a magnet, DNA, fiber optics, and potentially lightning, all with the same fundamental mathematical concept then why not posit that things, objects really, are the superset of us and experiences, rather than vice versa?
It get particularly acute when one thinks about the things that we actually create. We can say “what do words do when they’re not being spoken?” but that’s essentially poetic nonsense. A video game however, actually might do things when it’s not being played, it has a relationship to its creator and to its player, but it also is perfectly capable of doing things that we may or may not understand at the time or at any time. It seems to have agency and increasingly computational artists are investigating that agency, the structures that enable that agency, and how we perceive that agency and structure in our own terms. We’re trying make sense of systems around us in strange ways because systems around us are irrupting into our lives in strange ways. As Clement Valla writes on glitches in Google maps:
these images are not glitches. They are the absolute logical result of the system. They are an edge condition
However, going a step beyond that, making things as a condition of thinking seems a natural response to living in a place and set of systems which we have given agency and which we can inspect at a remove, in a strange way. These are our creations, but they are, taken in sum, acting far beyond us, and when we see their processes, it is in a translated artifact. Screenshots, videos, do not accurately represent the state of a system, but they can stand in for it, they can pique our imagination. Aestheticizing these images and this artwork does as much to help us actually comprehend a system as say a Marinetti painting helped Europeans understand the burgeoning military-industrial complexes of late 19th and early 20th century Europe: it doesn’t in the strict sense. That’s an interesting place for a programmer, an engineer of sorts, to be: creating and exploring impressionistic artifacts. It might be though, that it’s the most appropriate place for an engineer/artist to be:
“the human/world relation is just a special case of the relation between any two entities whatsoever.” – Quadruple Object
That’s a great quote, particularly appealing to a programmer: my program interfacing with a user is not entirely dissimilar from my program interfacing with another program. We live in a world where despite our best efforts the motivations and inner workings of others remain rather mysterious, worthy of aestheticization, poetry, and wonder. We also increasingly surrounded by human-scale actors and the artifacts of their actions, in that “we” live in cities, we live quite connected, we live quite instantaneously, and we can either by ourselves or with proxies capture a remarkable amount of the world as it appears to us. We have odd strategies for comprehending this, for example:
“All information is grounds for knowledge, whether empirical or aphoristic, no matter its truth-value” – Meta-Modernism
Which sounds to me an implicit recognition that incoherence, error, invisibility, might just be temporary states of our particular relation to something. Our tools and systems might be able to make more sense of it than we can, having, unlike us, infinite attention spans and no need for sleep or sitcoms. Taking that as the departure point for aesthetic investigation, an active and inquisitive investigation that is conducted through making machines and tools which will form their own opinions on things and which we can query in whimsical or critical ways, seems to me, the most coherent aesthetic I can imagine.