A Cup of Bricks

January 4, 2008

If you haven’t watch ‘2 girls and a cup’, then don’t.

If you have, you know you wish you hadn’t.

There’s a whole series of video responses to that video and they show something really good. Media lubricates conversation; it produces a shared moment. We love to spectate another persons response to the unpalatable because a truth reveals itself in the moment of realisation. And these are rare moments.

We used have the water cooler moment when TV was great. Now there is Facebook trying to make every moment a water cooler moment. But it doesn’t. The noise to value ratio is far far too low to retain attention. And why didn’t the applications retain interest? Because they lack depth of affordance due to the paltry information that all users supply about themselves. FB came out of closed beta status far too early to ensure longevity.

Media, episodes, any motion graphics need not be series based now that TV has lost a temporal audience. Timeshifting has broken the habit of watching without intent. Media producers have lost the confidence to make a point; instead aesthetics (post production) is the cliff hanger than destroys the reason for a narrative.

Allegory fell out of art when the minimalists explored formalism; audiences, mass audiences, still stare at Carl Andres ‘Equivalent VIII‘ with horror, in so much that they fail to realise that meaning is something that has been so tightly spun as a moral.

Equally, audiences appreciation of mastery, comes of concern to any media producer. From film to software, what has come of the mastery of manufacturing?


I watched American Gangster the other evening – a production of the highest values as one would expect from Ridley Scott, but the story? Based upon the ‘true strory’ of Frank Lucas, we follow 2 narratives obviously needing to collide. The tale of the honest, but domestically troubled detective and the tale of Lucas, his rise in wealth, capture and ultimately grass on every bent copper in the NYC drugs divisions.

Both come out heroes and the moral vanishes into a plume of heroin smoke.

The first weekend’s box office takings were around $46m. Lucas was reported making $1m a day from ‘Blue Magic’ back in 1970. The profits from moral-less activities go undetected when the lure of aesthetics is promised but without the gloss an audience demand meaning.

Why is this so?

I think it’s because we don’t know the ‘form of truth’, because the values of truth are always migrating away from experience. No one can handle the truth because we want the truth to belong to a notion of ‘Other‘, located across the way in a greener field.

Religion has used the notion of truth to gain a following; centering belief structures within folk allegories. Unfortunately, this power has been duplicated in mass communications. Truth and Sex are equivalents when stripped of any aesthetics – and so our psychological drugs need dressing to bring acceptability to our morals.

Like ‘Blue Magic’, we rate purity higher than a hybrid cocktail. Just like in the movie, Lucas bitches about one of his dealers cutting his ‘pure’ brand with impurities, comparing it to Trademark infringement. You can catch part of the scene at the end of Jay-Z’s inspired track..

You may have spotted the Hirst spin painting behind da man. It’s of no surprise – Hirst’s life’s work celebrates this connection between man’s beliefs and ultimate reality. His aestheticisation of aesthetics, making the palatable digestible; when parodied, it becomes a numbing truth.

I still cant find the answer to why the gloss of aesthetics is so needed; why do we as creatures of such diverse communications require stimulants? As creatures of activity, they make even less sense. Perhaps we cant consume, use or value without pedagogical fears. What could be worse than that?

11 Responses to “A Cup of Bricks”

  1. Rob Myers Says:

    Aesthetics is indexical perceptual structuring. In art it is the projected structure of the mind, the opportunity to project, or post-Duchamp the indexical absence of such projection (art is about negative space and figure/ground relations after all).

    Facebook has an aesthetic. It is aesthetically normative. What does this aesthetic structure and index? What is the truth of Facebook? What is the allegorical content or aspect of Facebook?

    Equivalent VII is physically allegorical: it is summative and ironizing of Modernism. We live in it. It is also allegorical as artistic practice: this is what we do in modernism. But it is immanently allegorical, not transcendent or “deep”. WYSIWYG.

    Aesthetics, when it is good, is not a gloss. “Mere” aesthetics is the boss who wants the ad men to polish an affordance and narrative-free turd with some vapid spectacle. Deep aesthetics is the work of producing perceptual affordances indexed to the local and global environment.

  2. I’m still waiting for greater exploration of popular culture that dares to straddle the apparent no-man’s land between porn and not-porn.

    There seem to be severe pressures in play that polarise works one way or the other.

    I wonder if the anarchic web can help fill the gap?

  3. @rob

    Aesthetics may well be indexical; an ontology of positioning between the viewer and the subject/object plane, but the negative space sucks the participant in when duress of the improbable informs the antagonism of fear.

    Experiencial of this space dilutes this fear through rationality; pulling attributes of prefered objects to create the psycho-locationing of the grammar.

    A modernist construct does indeed locate the observer within the object – but that in itself transcends the use of perception from appreciation to engagement.

    Being within the ‘pace’ of objects materiality, a syncronistity with the aeshetics alludes to industrial mechanics of a clock. To escape these trappings of ‘objectivity’ without collapsing back into ‘subjectivity’, the observer requires the ability to reconstruct the ‘object’ under their terms of aestheical indexing.

    ‘I believe this is that’ is an observational act of transformation and pertains to role of an author, but, unless that transformation persists for another observer, the indexing retains no value. Simply, what you see through observational transformation, did not exist.

    As @Crosbie notes, the negative space between polarities of acceptable indexices (taste), is held apart by freedom’s restraints of play.

    Language informs roles; we can not ‘play’ without predication as play requires a structure to operate within. Aesthetics are this structure that we have found ourselves within; freedom is controlled by taste, and thus my fear: we can not see out of the acceptable glossy framework that insists we understand the acts of people in terms of negative space. We believe that people and objects have a possession of space. Energy does not own space – energy is space.

    Communication does not work when space can not be defined, in fact, communication fails when narrative insists on engagement of taste. Language, by design, operates when fissures of undefined aesthetics are presented – moments of doubt. If the fissure is too wide or too small, observer dialogue ceases.

    How do we measure this essential-potencial space when it’s not even observable?

    As Rirkrit Tiravanija or Félix González-Torres would ask, “Did you want 1 lump or 2, in your (coffee) cup.”

  4. Rob Myers Says:

    Equivalent VII was a simple object in an overcrowded visual environment. The Sistine Chapel Ceiling was a complex object in an empty visual environment. The potential difference is the same. It’s Duchamp’s gift to art. Now imagine a Duchamp of Social Networks.

    Crosbie – See “Now They Are” by Art & Language. I personally think that Free & Participatory Porn is the great unexplored killer app of Free Culture. 😉

    Dave – Perception is a broad church. It covers realizing that a pattern exists in a 2d, 3d or 4d scene, in sound, and in financial data. Does the bureaucrat perceive the structure of an organization through the representations of charts and graphs? Do financial figures have grounds? Is a tcp ping perception? If not then are we really looking when we look at a painting?

    Taste emerged in the C18th as a social rearguard action by old money against the nouveau riche and their expensive but mass-produced and easily obtained property. Modernist disinterested inner feelings emerged similarly at the end of the C19th against the industrial bourgeoisie. Taste is aesthetically coherent, but is also socially interested (if not determined).

    Glossy frameworks can be hacked and cracked. There are many eyes within them, what bugs can they make shallow? What would an exploit on a social network be? How could their differences from reality be intensified or problematized?

    Processors don’t use a single clock now, but work faster than ever. So it is with Social Networks and the logistics capital of contemporary economics.

    The wealth of networks is already being applied to geographic maps with OpenStreetMap. Online social networks might appear to be anthropological mapping in a similar vein, but they are not. The shallowness is fine (the mandelbrot set is shallow), but the aesthetics of it has bizarre indices. Second Life at least allows people to act out their fantasies. Facebook coerces you into acting out other people’s mundanities. It’s horrifically normative, and looked at from a marketing point of view that’s bad: you need to be the poles or at least in relation to the poles but the poles are already there and they are in suburbia not the frozen dark places of the Earth. The US Army’s “Human Terrain” project is the evil twin of online social networks but is a better realization of the wealth of networks than MySpace.

    We cannot map an unobservable space. This is silent running, watch out for unmapped undersea mountains. Or this is hunting the Snark:

    “He had bought a large map representing the sea,
    Without the least vestige of land:
    And the crew were much pleased when they found it to be
    A map they could all understand.

    “What’s the good of Mercator’s North Poles and Equators,
    Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines?”
    So the Bellman would cry: and the crew would reply
    “They are merely conventional signs!

    “Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes!
    But we’ve got our brave Captain to thank:
    (So the crew would protest) “that he’s bought us the best–
    A perfect and absolute blank!” ”

    And we are back to Art & Language with their “Map Not To Indicate”. Their mapping and indexing projects of the 1960s and 1970s are exemplary precursors to the technology and sociology of Web 2.0 . They are a precursive allegory for reified collaborative production, a Wikipedia in filing cabinets with Marx rather than Adam Smith as their founding father.

    Or perhaps we are back to mediaeval cartography. If we scatter a few warnings that “here be dragons” around the map we’ll at least have something to work with.

    But, yes, what is lacking is doubt. There are no fissures, and when they are opened up managerially people fall into them and threaten to sue the Tate. If someone today answered “I don’t know” to a question they’d be a contemporary Don Quixote, driven beyond the bounds of society not by reading too many books but by reading too few weblogs.

  5. […] A cup of bricks […]

  6. Daniel Edlen Says:

    Maybe this: in this space/time construct which we, as individualizations of Life, find ourselves, there appears to be a primal existence of instinct. Our existence, our perceived separateness from the other sets up the stimulus-response narrative. For whatever reason, and I choose not to question this anymore as it seems to be part of why this physical universe exists (besides to find the question whose answer is 42), this is the way it is. Language as reflection and model of reality reveals the necessity of stimulus-response. Fight or flight, deeply undeniable instinct as human animals, requires stimuli in order for use to act. It might even mean there is no free will in this universe, but I’m not sure.

    In any event, I think we need aesthetics, confirmations of value through surface, and stimulants because we are human.

    Daniel Edlen

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