Vol. 10 (2021) – Aesthetic Intersections 4
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Remote sensing is the acquisition of information about a place or phenomenon without making physical contact, allowing for data collection in dangerous or inaccessible regions. In the middle of an ongoing geopolitical dispute over the Arctic Ocean, where data has become the currency of sovereignty, this technology is proving indispensable. Probes, sensors, and satellites are deployed in growing numbers, tasked with harvesting data and metadata from the seafloor in order to substantiate overlapping and conflicting territorial claims. They have become synthetic species of the polar ecosystems, a vast network of sensors that transmits glimpses of the fluid territory back to stable ground.
In this context, I explore questions of proximity, abstraction, and artificiality. How are ecologies constructed and experienced when they are mediated by machine senses? What is included and what is left out? What alternative, expanded versions of the landscape might emerge?
My research and visual work grapple with these questions by seeking out the gaps and glitches between the physical terrain and its digital alter egos—a slippery space I call the algorithmic wilderness. From this vantage point, I consider how sovereign agendas and capitalist enterprises currently distort the landscape, and I use environmental data extracted from the Arctic Ocean to experiment with alternative materialities and visual languages—foregrounding nonhuman senses and non-Western perspectives.
Frankfurt School thinkers were among the first to reflect upon mass culture under capitalism as an aesthetic–political force, proposing that mass cultural forms may either iterate or subvert the normative perspective of an audience. In our present attempts to grasp the aesthetic–political consequences of contemporary mass culture, it seems wise not only to retrace the history of this inquiry, but also to mine it. Drawing upon Siegfried Kracauer’s 1925 essay “The Mass Ornament,” I consider the aesthetic–political force of digital graphics interchange formatting or, the GIF. I suggest GIFs are a hyperbolic expression of the phenomenon Kracauer diagnosed as the “mass ornament”: an aesthetic that both informed and exposed the connection between material reality and a way of seeing. On Kracauer’s account, the mass ornament was iterative of a normative perspective, but it also invited the possibility of critical self-encounter among its audience. Retracing his diagnosis of the mass ornament, I submit Kracauer offered a heuristic that is illuminating for us today as we theorize the aesthetic–political impact of the GIF.
Marius A. Pascale
The continued growth of the genre of art horror demonstrates an appetite for works that arouse pleasurable fear. ‘Distance theory’ posits that such responses are possible due to the space between audience and work, motivated by the audience’s awareness of the work’s fictional nature. While distance theory is viable, even its comprehensive contemporary formulation faces dilemmas. This paper will provide an overview of distance theory emphasizing the ‘Distancing Embracing Model’ (DEM) articulated by Winfried Menninghaus and others. Despite its advantages, DEM fails to acknowledge or explain two prevalent art horror engagement acts. These are (1) distance reduction and (2) distance suppression, complex phenomena wherein audiences strive to minimize or otherwise ignore their awareness of the distance between them and the work. Although these acts challenge the model, they need not invalidate it. Synthesizing DEM with a metatheoretical account incorporating multiple-order evaluations adjusts the original model, dissolving the dilemma while strengthening its explanatory capacity. The article will outline the DEM, the relation and complications of reduction and suppression phenomena, and propose a modified model. The conclusion will respond to objections and briefly illustrate potential contributions of adopting the proposed modifications.
Hagi Kenaan and Assaf Evron
In this wide-ranging interview, Hagi Kenaan reflects on the potential of photography to intervene in times of crisis such as the current global pandemic. In his new book Photography and Its Shadow, Kenaan discusses the history of photography from an angle that has, quite literally, been overlooked. He points to the marked rupture in our relationship with the world that photography provoked and explains how this initial rupture is crucial for understanding our contemporary visuality. The disappearance of the shadow in photography, he argues, characterizes not only the history of philosophy itself but also indicates an irreversible change in our relationship to nature, to the real, and to time and death.