NA: not an art movement, a fashion trend.

Originally published here: http://www.hellionmag.com/trends-gone-wild-the-new-aesthetic-takes-over-everything:

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Day-glo and cat videos, scantily clad girls and 8-bit, surveillance video and artificial intelligence. When piled into a blender, the result is something called The New Aesthetic (NA). The tumblr of the same name describes it as a “research project” by the indefatigable and lovably nerdy James Bridle. At its heart is the idea that machines and the “network” have personalities, beings trying to reach us as the digital spills into the physical world. Infatuated with the way computers say “hi,” it is clear that Bridle really, really loves these new beings. As a result, his twitter feed is made up of spambots. Beyond this earnest feeling that made us feel good while watching “Flight of the Navigator” are the same feelings that gave the pre-digital world the heebie-jeebies when they witnessed the bloodless brutality of “Tron.”

In  both cases, NA has armed many artists with a new vocabulary of images to draw on and use to comment on the world. Azealia Banks brought a lot of those elements together in her “Atlantis” video, drawing on backgrounds that look stolen from a ‘94 pirate videogame and a handful of “Jaws” references, set over stuttering beats. Brought to this level, NA seems like a rehashing stuff from the 80’s and 90’s in interesting ways.

Carla Gannis, a digital artist in her own right, wrote that “A movement cannot merely catalogue what currently exists, it is defined by the future(s) it envisions,” and maybe that is where she and many others start to miss the point. Just as those practitioners of the New Aesthetic understand the melding of life on- and off-line, they also don’t feel the need to respect the proper way to run an artistic movement. Ryan Trecartin’s artworks (video) and Code/Space (Academic Book) can sit comfortably beside Rihanna’s last SNL performance (music) and James Bridle’s “A Ship Adrift” (website) and all speak the same language. NA isn’t an art movement. More than anything, NA feels like a fashion trend that has taken over all parts of culture at the same time. The idea that the digital world is spilling over into the physical world is as old as computers, and it is now finding it’s way into everything.

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What does this ad up to? We all have no idea. Gannis wants a coherent statement of purpose, and she’ll never get one. Here’s why: the thing is everywhere, and there is no reigning it in. Of the New Aesthetic, as Bruce Sterling points out in his watershed essay on NA, “We’re surrounded by systems, devices and machineries generating heaps of raw graphic novelty. We built them, we programmed them, we set them loose for a variety of motives, but they do some unexpected and provocative things.” NA speaks to a lot of people because it is the reaction to a world intimately connected to the network. The whole thing can and never will be a “movement,” because it’s really a trend showing us how some people see the world we live in today.

For a generation of people raised on “Flight of the Navigator” all the way to those who grew up with “The Matrix,” the New Aesthetic Speaks their language. At it’s bit-driven heart, NA just wants to be liked, and it’ll keep popping up all over the place until it is.

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7 thoughts on “NA: not an art movement, a fashion trend.

  1. “NA isn’t an art movement. More than anything, NA feels like a fashion trend..”

    precisely, it’s a design trend, a style statement, not an artistic movement, it lacks conceptual depth, it’s essentially a pop culture take on new media arts, which amounts to: fluff. The “New Aesthetic” front cover Dazed and Confused ran confirms this.

  2. from what I gather, I’m no expert on any of this, maybe it’s a matter of political perspective, the so called “old school” new media types are more politically astute, they ask bigger questions, and tend to be rabidly anti-establishment, plus there’s the “we’ve seen it all before attitude” that comes with it, that’s why many of them dismiss NA as trite. Essentially we are seeing a popularisation of new media art thanks to the democratisation of digital technology, it’s no longer a niche activity, anyone can call themselves a new media artist these days, but it wasn’t like that 15 or 20 years ago. The old school slant on popular culture tends to be informed by critical theory, with pop-culture being viewed as a product of the “culture industry,” an industry that manufactures a “society of the spectacle.” The philosophical narrative that underpins the NA stuff is not very challenging from what I can see, that’s why I doubt very much that it will go down in the annals of art history as a “movement.” I listened to one of Bridles lectures, on Youtube, at least I tried, it was, to my ears, devoid of intellectual integrity, if he’s the “founder” it really doesn’t bode well for the “movement.” The bottom line is NA is a reboot of a niche aesthetic that was interesting 10-15 years ago, it’s simply taken that long for it to trickle down into popular culture.

    • it’s interesting to me that new media artists, enabled by tools developed for the popular market, would suddenly grow defensive over the turf. sure it’s trite, but i can’t say it’s worthy of the amount of attack it’s gone under unless it really was some sort of threat?

      • I agree it’s perhaps not worthy of the amount of attack it has received. Maybe it’s viewed as a threat because it undermines the idealogical position of earlier new media arts practice? And no, the first wave of new media artists were not using tools developed for the popular market. A lot of the technologies that are common place now, were once locked up in universities and other research facilities, I suppose you could call the old school guys the “early adopters,” they had their own little clique, based on the access they had to emerging technologies, which allowed them to carve out a niche. Like any underground movement, it can eventually go mainstream, so of course if you were “there first,” and had marked your territory, so to speak, and then a bunch of young upstarts suddenly turn up, being critical is one response to the situation. And, it’s like any scene, if a newbie who doesn’t know their history, doesn’t pay homage, and doesn’t really know what’s what, turns up and starts presenting their ideas as a visionary, they will get dissed for being naive. I imagine Bridle is of course exploiting his notoriety, and right he should, it would be stupid not to, building a “successful career” out of “art” is not easy.

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