This rant I feel is just to continue some sort of critical dialogue and is most likely just pointless speculation and conjecture. My last posts kind of touched on art exhibited on Tumblr and the perceptions of internet activists, but with recent developments like Yahoo buying out Tumblr and the sentencing of Lulzsec members, then also the hacking scandal with the Department of Justice and the Associated Press, I kind of just want to bring it back to some of my more immediate artistic interests.
The post is aptly titled ‘How to waste your time’ which I picked up from a review of a group show I was recently a part of. So in the review the critic exclaimed “perhaps time waster is the more accurate description” of my work. I was slightly offended by this comment but intrigued at the same time as I began to re-question the utility of art and the mechanisms of aesthetic judgment.
I mean the review was written in the typical nebulous artspeak that uses elitist language to obfuscate any direct meaning while claiming authority through the ability to untangle the complexities of the artist’s vision that’s presumed inaccessible to ordinary uneducated viewers. I’m guilty of if this type of vanity myself having spent much of my time at Uni writing artist statements that serve as textual interpretations to uphold a pretentious facade that builds exclusivity within the artistic community and glorifies artworks as mystical artifacts that hold a special purpose or meaning. The work itself was a video loop titled ‘Loading Cycle’ that consists of 16 animated moons in a ring, seamlessly cycling through the lunar phases which I described as “existing somewhere between internet ephemera and Taoist cosmology”. But sometimes it’s nice to strip away the pretention and niceties and be annoyingly candid. Maybe I’m just trying to mask my cynicism with institutional critique but either way I feel like being irritating.
So it always seems to be a faux pas to bring up the Emperors new clothes argument when it comes to art because it not only attacks the security and livelihood of artists but also makes you appear uncultured and insensitive to the arts in general. That said there are definite social functions of art that have practical applications. For example collectors of high art use it to hedge against inflation in times of market volatility as depreciation is unlikely with historically significant artworks considered a secure investment tied to the collective cultural history of humankind. In the middle ground supporting emerging artists helps attain social status and gains entry into an exclusive world often romanticized as edgy and dynamic. For younger generations creating art and selectively building affiliations with cultural icons acts to define a personal aesthetic and helps crystalize social identities, playing an important role in identity formation.
Anyway the point of this rant was kind of to go around in circles and waste everyone’s time by deconstructing the arbitrary nature of art in its reflection of the irrationality and unfairness of society. Perhaps I could better express the inefficiency of the art world by having a video projector constantly beaming light onto a solar panel that’s wired up to charge an iPhone. Regardless to say a large part of my practice is concerned with the relationship between new media and more conservative art traditions.
The idea that art is autonomous is one of the most abused and exalted ideas within the art world which provides plenty of confusion and criticism for detractors. To explain this, the autonomy of an artwork prevents standardization which acts to build exclusivity and creates artificial scarcity which is important for market capitalization and social stratification. But when money and status becomes the primary aesthetic preferences it corrupts the whole institute of art. I’m trying not to sound like a bitter, impoverished, underfunded, over educated art school graduate arguing for more Duchampian style disruptive innovations over Warholian populism and market complicity. But I mean like recently Sotheby’s sold a Barnett Newman painting for $43,845,000, which consists of a canvas painted blue with a pale strip down the middle. I’m not having a go at abstract expressionism and respect the history of post-war art, but it really isn’t much to look at. Legacy is only interesting to a degree and the whole purpose of minimalist works was to strip away semiotic complexity and figuration to focus on medium specificity which isn’t all that fascinating. But the heritage of Newman’s painting provides a unique commodity that can be easily bought and sold as a plaything for the rich.
This gives an example of why digital media is often marginalized within the circles of mainstream contemporary art, with screen based culture or any art requiring mediation by technology acting as a barrier between an autonomous singular object rooted in the modernist tradition of western individualism, and art that needs external interpretation to transcode it’s meaning. In a sense a JPEG could be described as an instructive conceptual work with the electronic device acting as the performer. It’s infinite reproducibility and ease of transmission makes it undesirable for any collector with technological obsolescence also being a factor. Admittedly there is a loss of tactility with digital works often described as immaterial which implies ephemerality, although I feel this isn’t wholly correct.
So I tried to work out if digital files had mass which was probably a bad idea since I’m horrible at math and physics. I figured out a formula from an article which approximated 1 bit of data to contain around 40000 electrons, and from this tried to work out the mass of an average sized image on the internet at 150kbs. With 1 bit being 8 bytes and multiplying that by 150 kilobytes then dividing it by 2 as an approximation to find the average number of numerical values of 1s in the binary. Then multiplying the amount by 40000 and using this to find the total weight of electrons, which worked out like this. ((8*150*1000)/2)*40000)*9*10^-31
Equaling roughly 0.0000000000000000000216 kg. Then I realized the article was written in 2007 and storage efficiency would have improved since, but also it was over simplified and would probably only apply to solid-state drives. So then I was considering bits stored on hard drives being represented by certain orientations of magnetic fields which shouldn’t have any effect on gravitational mass, but theoretically I suppose you could work out formulas for energy mass conversions.
Anyway it illustrates that digital information doesn’t hold the visceral sensations and messiness that’s often desired in an artwork. In a very real sense the energy and information contained within IRL artworks is different from digital files. This is relevant as the marketing and sales of artworks focus on human aspects and become more concerned with building confidence and reducing uncertainty for investors rather than supporting new ideas, which in turn dictates the historical narrative surrounding art and has a trickledown effect on emerging artists who imitate the work. So having something solid and immutable is important in both a physical and cultural sense. But is this really a good thing or is it just Skeuomorphism? Subjects such as communication theory and semiotics could be used to argue against clinging desperately to the past but there are probably valid evolutionary responses for why people often disregard efficiency and hold onto familiar time-tested traditions beyond comfort and sentimental value.
But I wanted to give another example of how digital information can provide more quantifiable insight through providing discreet units of measurement. Often when I’m working in Photoshop I’m considering all possible options to provide the most effective outcome. So although my range is limited primarily by a series of aesthetic judgments, I’ve always wondered how many theoretical potentialities there may be. This is fairly easy to calculate with digital images using a standard screen display with 24-bit color depth having 8-bit channels each for red, green and blue. I’m not very good at this but I’m thinking it’s a simple function of 2^24 = 16777216 colors in total and the possible outcomes for an averaged sized image of 800x600 pixels at lossless quality would be 16777216^(800*600) which equals 3.5485347568249036055446802957154058824287799932924395… × 10^3467865 .Of course compression would change this completely but I’m more interested in using it as an analogy to provide a broader viewpoint. I got stuck on thinking of how to apply this to video and tried treating each frame as a pixel in a larger set. So one second of lossless video at 25 frames per second without audio at 1080p would be 25^(16777216^(1920*1080)) which equals 10^(10^(10^7.175545998247780)). I think this calculation is wrong but it stirred an idea in me as a thought experiment to visualize potentialities and limits on causality while questioning philosophies on determinism. It made me think of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics which suggests that all possible alternative histories and futures are real which kind of blows your mind when you think of it on a cosmic scale.
It also made me visualize randomness and chaos in a different way other than a formless uniform white noise like the static from an old TV set caused by the background microwave radiation. Anyway I’m going off on tangents on mathematics, information theory, cosmology and things I don’t really understand. So all this randomness and thoughts of entropy was a little disconcerting and I was anxious to establish some order and structure using text and language as an analogy more suited to human understanding. This is a very rough estimate but the average page in a book has about 250 words and about 3200 characters, so on a single page in a book using only 26 letters the potential outcomes would be 26^3200, equaling 8.217004155737980393479977068783754522004266107526773494… × 10^4527. This doesn’t include punctuation, spaces (?), numerals or special characters, and would be greatly reduced when factoring in formal structures of the English lexicon. The English language has over a million words but for simplicity sake let’s say an average author has an active vocabulary of 70000 words… Yeah so I tried to work this out but I think you’d have to use combinatorics or something like permutations to figure out the potentialities but I couldn’t find a calculator that could go up that high and it got way too complex. Anyway the number would be pretty big but would be reduced when rules of grammar and syntax were applied and reduced further when considering certain models and frameworks of the writing style.
Continuing on, a single text character is typically 1 byte and an average word 10 bytes with a whole page being around 2kbs. Still with such rich media available, written expression is the preeminent formal language for communication with other forms of language considered more casual and informal. My argument here is that with recent trends towards apps such as Instagram, SnapChat, Vine and the emergence of camera phones and Google Glass, visual language has become more ubiquitous in a digitalized sense. Our need to text or record a single snapshot of our lives is being replaced with a continuous stream of data uploaded to the cloud. This has an effect on how such media will be useful or actionable for humans. So without considering big data or statistics I was wondering how this is information may be useful for ordinary folk.
An average person can distinguish around 10 million different colors, although there is considered to be around 2-3% of the population to be tetrachromats able to distinguish around 100 million colors. Mark Zuckerberg is famously a dichromate owing to the blue coloration of Facebook. But anyway my point is limitations on sensory perceptions provides a narrow bandwidth for consciousness. These figures are debatable but there exists something like 10 million bits of information filtering through the human senses per second. From this fewer than 40 bits are filtered into consciousness. And with further consideration such as linguistic agency which involves greater informational entropy, conversational bandwidth is about 16 bits per second. I’m interested in this because I’ve always found it interesting that even though conceptual art is explicitly about thoughts and ideas, conceptual artists never really try to quantify the cognitive processes or mechanisms of perception that relate to the work, but instead try to explain it through some poetic quasi-theoretical, art-historical, social framework. I’m kind of half trolling and don’t really expect artists to start measuring the synaptic structures of the brain or break out the electroencephalography devices.
But to leave you with a head fuck, most of the daisy chaining of the YouTube clips I do is tailored to form an externalized transactive memory system resembling an associative network that will be relevant within Singularitarian concepts anticipating the exponential growth of computation creating expanding ecologies of incalculable data forming passive or ambient forms of consciousness within cloud based services to form a structure within some digital Gaia hypothesis in which memetics will overtake genetics as the dominant form of memory transaction… Yeah but kind of not. Lulz.