Graham has a lovely post reflecting on his first impressions of Being and Time compared to his own thoughts today. The following quote constitutes why his reading is important for aesthetics today;
*The question of being is the question of what withdraws behind any possible presence. (My own twist is to reinterpret presence as relation, and thus Heidegger becomes the anti-relational thinker par excellence, despite his mistaken reading of his own tool-analysis as a relational system; doesn’t work, because the tools can’t break if they’re purely relational.)
An added element here is to remark that if Heidegger becomes the anti-relational thinker par excellence, then the thing that withdraws has a far broader ontological commitment to Being than Heidegger would have seriously suggested. Everything from molecular structure, dark matter, quarks, o-zone layers and human organs to the back of a can of beans, can be withdrawn as much as any tool. Basically, its as broad as anything which cannot present-at-hand.
A broken tool then, is something of a miracle. A contingent miracle. Something extra has to happen to the tool to make it broken. And this change from withdrawn-hidden tool to broken-present tool, occurs at the level of the individual for whom it becomes suddenly contingent.
Think of a bug-ridden software tool like Microsoft Vista when it was first released – the bugs become present-at-hand – the Microsoft developers release updates to fix the bugs, or the obtrusive algorithms in question – the obtrusive-ness disappears, the encapsulation of the program is restored and it can function to do a task. The point in all of this, which Heidegger never assumes, is that the tool itself (in this case Microsoft Vista), still functions effortlessly in execution. The code is written, the instructions are executed, it is only our relations with Vista that decide which bits do not conform to our tastes.
Generative Artworks such as the ones exhibited by the curatorial exhibition Generator.x appeal to this level of intervention.
Generator.x is a curatorial platform exploring the use of generative strategies and software processes in digital art, architecture and design. It focuses on a new generation of artists and designers who embrace code as a way of producing new forms of creative expression.
Code, feedback systems and information are used to create new modes of aesthetic contemplation of the contingent. This isn’t new of course, Conceptual artists as far back as the late 1960′s began to dabble with process oriented artworks – artworks which distanced themselves away from the static object, and instead played with the output of systems. The artwork was not the object to be admired on the wall in a world of its own, but a system to be contemplated in relation. And the viewer, user, public audience were part of that relational system too.
And this the problem as outlined above: Relation. Consider Graham’s later quote in the same post on the simple problematic matter of arguing against relation.
The intellectual reflex of our time is still to say: “static and essential = bad; changing and becoming = good.”
Bar a number of occluded artists and writers, this is absolutely, categorically, the intellectual reflex of mainstream aesthetic thought. They say: “We’ve had enough of artworks which privilege the essential object to be valued, pondered at and admired; everything an artwork can be must exist in relation to us and everything else, as a mode of process”. For some reason, changing and becoming get lumped in with relational artworks as the necessary by-product in exhibiting an ever-changing system of process.
This is however somewhat admirable, considering the amount of productive work that has been created in the last 40 years or so, but I think the time to value pure relation between artwork and individual should be overturned, with more interest in speculating the artworks independent ability to experience aesthetics itself. One of the problems here is actually trying to argue for the independent existence of things in the first place. Aesthetic theory has a habit of hoovering up any dominant philosophical strategies hanging around at the time, (enter Bourdieu).
However for the reasons, I outlined above, I think non-relation has more than enough merit to attain more focus in the mainstream artworld at present. The problem with this argument is that artists are continuing to make works which cannot function unless a human is involved – this makes a non-relational object oriented analysis particularly hard.
Generative Artworks that create work using algorithmic instruction are somewhat different. Like the Microsoft Vista example, they are in many cases, artworks which just carry on executing themselves no matter who or what experiences them. Their relational contingency (which the works privilege within the artists rhetorical challenge), is merely a ruse for the independency they hide as they exist in execution. Whilst we have relations with the work, the aesthetic contemplation cannot just reside in the relational.