Update December 2014: Do you like the Buzzfeed headline? Ha! I’ve just migrated CGWTF from Tumblr so now the formatting is screwed on all posts going back to 2009. What better excuse to revisit some old posts and reformat them at the same time? Well, that was the idea, but then the first random post I decided to edit was about Spectacular Society Corporation, and it got me thinking.
What I like about the video is the sense that the hardware is failing the software. It looks like what happens when you ask a computer to compute a complex physical simulation. It stutters.
I’m now looking back for the first time since. I might not choose to blog it now, but back then it was quite uniquely experimental. What I really find interesting is the subtle change in how a viewer might apprehend the video, and this change is perhaps a clue to the future of today’s digital art.
In 2009, the piece employed something fresh: CGI fluid simulation. It was slow to calculate, and the video reflects this. I enjoyed it’s slowness and appreciated that the artist was incorporating the experience of the medium into the work itself. That is, the stuttering quality of a simulation being run with not enough processing power. The video also has a slapdash naivety to it that has since become a dominant aesthetic amongst many digital artists.
In 2014, the clip seems very low-res. The stuttering seems like a playback error. We’ve forgotten the experience of dealing with slower tech, and therefore the piece just looks inept. The inclusion of errors (the ‘naivety) of the video now just looks like something went wrong.
This technological amnesia reminds me a little of how memory works. When you look back on a great holiday you tend to forget the pain of sore feet or the fact you had a head cold. You excise the visceral pain from memory, leaving images and vaguer sensations.
Similarly, I think there’s a tendency to excise those aspects of technology that - in retrospect - held us back. We forget the thrill of the transition from dial-up to broadband, or how fantastic it was to get that new laptop that booted up in less that two minutes.
Artists working with software and hardware face similar issues. As lucid as a standard definition video might have seemed in 2001, it feels barely watchable now. Spectacular Society Corporation’s video was unique and exciting in 2009, but are those qualities lost amongst ever-improving standards of digital fidelity?
We’re still transitioning into that ideal standard of fidelity. The process continues, and that changes how we might appreciate and value digital art being made now. How does this affect market investment into the new breed of digital artists (Constance Dullaart, Jon Rafman, Takeshi Murata, Katie Torn, Ed Atkins, Benedict Drew, Ian Cheng)? I include myself here too: we all employ digital techniques that are of their time. And we often let the software *relax*: we like to see what happens when it does it’s thing. And that, crucially, is always changing. The benchmark continues to rise. So then, does our work continue to fall? Will it lose it’s relevance so quickly? Will it look like an error, a stumbling block? A testament to obsolescence? Will it be a footnote in story of technology? Or a sequence of breadcrumbs for us to find our way back?!
For me, these are important questions. What do you think? Will something like Chris Woebken, Andreas Nicolas Fischer and Sascha Pohflepp’s Island Physics project for Eyebeam be appraised in the same way 5 years from now? Will it seem handicapped by tech or just as experimental and vital as it does now?