This is a project in two parts. The text presented below is the major component. The text is an exegetical document that provides the theoretical context for a series of media art works that were produced between 2011 and 2012 in response as much as in parallel to this analysis. These creative works are archived on this site and should be viewed in a non-traditional sense – a research-led practice component – contextualised by the broader theoretical narrative exposed in the thesis.
Together, these two components produce a visual communication analysis of historical events, cultural artefacts and media art and the artists who produce them to reveal the nature, attraction and power of the dark euphoric temperament inherent in millennial technoculture. It is important to note however that this is a particular type of exegetical response not a reflective exegesis. This is not an analysis of my practice – the history or technique – rather this is an analysis of the context that informs that practice. Yet this text does include a discussion of several of my key works in relation to specific issues unpacked by the broader thesis and also in relation to the work by other media artists who explore similar territory.
This text explores the recent history of western technoculture and the corporate and political myth making associated with network technology, techno-futurist marketing, consumer electronics and mass media production. It questions how the image constructs of corporate advertising – especially those which promote communication technologies and services – have perpetuated the glossy myth of a technological Utopia, commonly associated with notions of western progress. Using advances in machine intelligence, ubiquitous computing, and personal communication apparatus to facilitate this narrative these marketeers have blended science fiction fantasy with near future projections to author a false reality. Simultaneously this project responds to the cinematic fictions of filmmakers, media artists and visual communication designers who have summoned a far more dystopian vision of our future selves and thereby forging a dark visual aesthetic in contemporary media culture.
The aim of this project then is to answer the following by way of narrative construct, theoretical analysis and creative endeavour: What effect has the 20th century futurist narrative of technological Utopianism (and therefore its neo-gothic Dystopian mirror) had on the emergence of a new contemporary digital aesthetic and a broader cultural condition at the beginning of the new millennium?
And moreover, what are the origins, means and purposes of the concepts of dark euphoria and gothic high-tech inherent in the narrative of millennial technoculture that informs this emergent aesthetic and the art works that are submitted as part of this thesis?
Notes on the Text
This text was designed to be read in PDF format on a computer or preferably a tablet device. There are sufficient images embedded in the text to identify the media artefacts discussed and visually illustrate key points so the text can be read without a direct connection to the web but, the experience is greatly enhanced with internet access.
Numerous art works, media samples and advertising ephemera associated with the analysis have been hyper linked to an online repository. In most cases I have uploaded copies of this material to a YouTube channel to ensure that these links remain active for the duration. When this was not possible I have endeavoured to use links to content on corporate and organisational websites, commercial YouTube channels or Wikipedia. In such instances it cannot be guaranteed that these links will remain unbroken.
The media art works which form the creative component of this project are also archived online at the exhibition site, Dark Euphoria: Unclassified Media. These works are referenced throughout the text and have been strategically placed in the narrative where most appropriate. It would be my preference that readers access these works in the order that they appear in the text so that the context of their creation is fully understood. In most cases these links go to the web page of the specific art work which includes either the art work in full (in the case of video and digital media) or the documentation of that work (where the work includes a physical installation component). Each page includes a brief artist statement and some background information on the development of the work.
While there are numerous hyperlinks scattered throughout the text the most critical ones to follow are those which pertain to my own art works and of other cultural artefacts which feature heavily in the exegetical analysis.* Rather than there just being hyperlinks in the body of the text, there are also hyperlinked images positioned as near as possible to the relevant discussion.
* These images have been highlighted with an RCA AV connection panel icon (see right) superimposed over the image to indicate that these images represent a hyperlink to an online resource.
Individual Chapter Links
(The entire document can be downloaded as one pdf file from this link).
Part I :: An Introduction to the Territory
In the opening section I outline the theoretical position of this exegetical project by examining Bruce Sterling’s notions of dark euphoria and gothic high-tech and a broader interpretation of our relationship with the world we live in. Particularly important is our collective understanding of the concept of the Earth and how we have re-organised our interpretation of its signification in the age of the World Wide Web and electronic interpersonal communications. I will state how Manuel Castell’s “space of flows” and his definition of the “informational society” are important in framing the location and methodology of this investigation.
I introduce the theoretical foundations which compliment these terms, in particular those of Paul Virilio, Jean Baudrillard and Slavoj Žižek. In this section I introduce the iUser as a composite character, both principal investigator and primary audience member, for the media artefacts and the associated narrative plot points unpacked by this project. I also define the primary site of this investigation as the Cyber City – a mostly western, highly networked metaphorical urban space in which these cultural events take place.
Part II :: The Emergence of the Digital Aesthetic
The second part begins the analysis proper establishing our Modernist relationship with vertiginous space, electricity, and human flight. In this section I unpack the concept of simulation and the making of the invisible visible. The concepts of synaesthesia and simultaneism by the Italian Futurists and the chromatic painting in the works of Robert Delaunay are examined alongside the works of contemporary video artists and the corporate image making of Samsung, Sony, Google and Microsoft. Thomas Edison’s promotional films documenting the illuminated pseudo-cityscape of the 1901 World’s Fair are presented as one of the first cinematic techno-futurist simulations. While the World’s Fair of 1939 in Flushing Meadows New York is highlighted as a pivotal moment in the techno-cultural narrative foregrounding the utopian image constructions by electronics manufacturers and communication service providers.
Advertisements, corporate films and science fiction cinema which utilise simulated electricity, liquid energy and specifically luminous blue electrical currents to communicate the invisible intelligence, speed and power of technology are examined in detail. This passage illustrates that the use of electricity as both metaphor and aesthetic embellishment has barely altered since the manifestos of the Italian Futurists some one hundred years earlier.
Part III :: The Promise
Here I present the most explicit rendering of the technologically streamlined utopian ideals of the corporation as presented by Microsoft, Sony Ericsson and Nokia. We see how the spaces rendered in these advertisements are free from advertising and corporate marketing in a way that makes the everyday seem futuristic – minus the commercial presence of products and their advertorial ephemera. This section also includes an extended examination of the commercialisation and militarisation of space and the incorporation of science fiction tropes into military space projects – the new space dreaming – by deconstructing the post-NASA hyper-simulation of fantasy, paranoia and military bravado.
I show how acts of simulated reality blended with CGI fantasy in the hyper-detail of digital image making in DIY cinema, animation and major video game titles evoke a dark neo-gothic tendency in reaction to and sometimes in concert with corporate media production. I explore the practice of video assemblage via remixing and supercut techniques to emphasise the notion of the remix as a very contemporary and very powerful ontological force in the manufacture of meaning.
Part IV :: The Darkness
The last section of this document highlights the contemporary state of the dark euphoric experience and demonstrates the notion of gothic high-tech at its most explicit. Using Charlie Brooker’s concept of the “black mirror” I dissect the technological symbolism of liquid metal, conflict minerals and machine intelligence. I propose that a superior liquid like substance has always existed across a range of disciplines and technologies all the way back to the origins of the Big Bang, this I argue is the aesthetic inverse of the liquid electric as proposed in the previous section.
I return to the Italian Futurists and their deep attraction to human flight and vertiginous space, particularly the later works of Domenico Bell and the work of French artist Robert Delaunay. This feeds into a discussion of King Kong and the Hindenburg disaster to foreground the notion of falling that so characterises Bruce Sterling’s dark euphoric moment. The 1986 Challenger disaster is examined in detail as well as the work of contemporary media artists whom address the notion of falling. This is then woven into a discussion of Robert Drew’s photo The Falling Man and the continual revisiting of this visual motif in popular culture. I will question the absence of superheros at America’s most vulnerable time of need and contextualise the gradual darkening of the superhero aesthetic. The move away from a skyward vision towards a more earthly perspective is fore grounded in an analysis of the first person perspective in film, video games and 3D animation. This will indicate that it is in fact ourselves – the viewer, the end user – who must now assume the role of falling object.
The final chapters of this section deal with the symbolic objects of gothic high-tech and their associated anxieties and uncertainties. I demonstrate the aesthetic links between military machine vision, computer gaming technology and science-fiction cinema. The proliferation of drone technologies and the increased focus on robot automation in military conflicts and defence research projects is discussed in relation to the dominant gaze of the vision machine. The works of media artists Trevor Paglen, James Bridle and Thomas Ruff are presented as evidence of the small number of voices operating in direct critique of these developments.
I conclude by reflecting on a personal visit to Ground Zero in New York City. A site of endlessness, a site of absence. The end game of all of this is the very gothic rejection of the techno-futurist quest and a simultaneous anxiety for the dominant power structure created by ubiquitous machine vision in what can only be described as a collective turning away.