For a while now, I've been trying to collect tumblrs thats signal a maturity of the New Aesthetic. These move past the pixellated glitch hunt that everyone was arguing and obsessing over not long ago. Instead, these point to the way that the network is affecting our emotional connection to the world.
Pergoogle, put together by the esteemed Rob Walker, takes Google image searches and presents the first page of listings. Webcamtears, take the trope of people crying into their web cams and presents it as a wall of misery. Screenshots of Despair, a master stroke of collecting, looks at the isolation we all face when attempting to use any digital product, especially when trying to present our online identity. And then there's the Rich Kids of Instagram, those loveable one percenters showing off their champagne fueled exploits one filter at a time.
There's something to be said for the single serving tumblr. The way they hone in on one particular topic and make their point again and again and again until we all finally get it. The lifespan of these jokes are getting shorter and shorter. Usually all that's needed is the title of the site and a handful of posts and we collectively get the punchline, with no real need to keep posting. This can happen before lunch if the joke is good enough.
Some of these jokes work well as additions to the feed, others when presented as a whole; Webcamtears falls into the latter. It takes it's strength by being presented as a singular body of work. It's a deeply troubling idea, collecting women crying into their webcam and presenting them as a whole. We're all used to and aware of this as a 'thing', and we've all Left Britney Alone. The idea of crying into a webcam to a distributed audience of followers as a way of getting something off the chest, letting it sit on youtube for eternity to be watched by complete strangers who are stuck in a hole and can't seem to turn away.
It's troubling the way it is presented, just a wall of endless narcissistic sadness. None of them mention why they are crying. They don't talk, or scream, or explain what is making them so sad. After some cursory research it turns out that this is an art project; a solicited call by the artist Dora Moutot for people to cry in front of their webcam. This knowledge detracts from the project. I feel let off the hook for being fascinated by watching strangers cry. They're not baring themselves anymore, they're being exhibitionist. Viewing the site doesn't feel like a voyueristic act, just more novelty for my eyes to glaze over. Which is a real shame and takes away the punch of watching strangers cry.
Pergoogle, by Rob Walker, seems to have lost some of its bite since he started, but that doesn't matter. As I mentioned, simple premise. Take a simple term, punch it into google images, and screengrab the top screen of results. Some of them illustrate archetypes and typologies, other are more political in their representations of the terms. He's written a few thoughts about it in The Work of Art in the Age of Google Reproduction
"One question that might arise is: who would be the owner, the artist, the author of the Pergoogles? They encompass original works, remix spinoffs, spoofs, maybe even keyword driven imagery. Is it an involuntary collaboration among all of the above? Or is Google the artist, creating the bricolage with its algorithm?"
The thing about these collective visual representations of terms is that they're framed through Rob Walker. Positioned through his search history. I initially thought that the interest in these results was due to it being pushed through some collective platonic realm of image results. That through each of our search queries we were setting up a definitive list of image results. Defining the concrete through the abstract multitude. This is partially correct. This is how one thought about Google and the Google brand of collective intelligence. Until I realise that this was the old way of presenting information. The new way is to tailor the results to the person, based on a vast subset of identifiers that seem too fuzzy unless framed through their secret algorithms for searching:
"Everyone today has his or her own version of Google. Your Google is different from my neighbour's version, and so on. This makes a lot of sense, because we all have unique distinct interests"
These image results, as mentioned, are framed through Rob. They are ephemeral, changing because of his changing search and browsing history, as well as our shifting collective visual intelligence. These results could change from week to week, day to day, cycle to cycle. Even acting upon the search results, tapping on one of the images, could affect a different result the next time. That is the effect of the network; it swallows up any notion we could have had for a platonic realm of perception. At least not in late 2012. That ended a few years ago.
And then there are the smarmy Rich Kids of Instagram; who take pride in showing off their cheque for a few hundred thousand dollars as part of their trust fund. That there are kids out there who will gladly spend forty thousand euros on a night out still shocks me. A few bottles of Dom (and my oh my do they like their Dom Perignon), the odd mineral water, a few more bottles of exquisite alcohol. All of their wild lives, their expensive cars, their manicured lawns, all public and aggregated for the world to see. But it's all done with tilt shift turned up high and a rich lather of Hudson or Valencia.
Despite these misgivings about having this thrown into my face every day is the security in knowing that they are just as racked by issues of status anxiety as the rest of us. Actually, more than the rest of us. They're constantly showing off their latest cars, yachts, or helicopters as they bounce from night club to pool party to mansion to island hopping. And in each one of their rose tinted memories they do nothing but strut their stuff and vainly try to illustrate their vunderful lives. They can't help themselves. It's as if we're living in a post Jersey Shore world: all popped collars and the latest in Rolex bling. These are all symptoms of new money. Nothing is restrained. Nothing is tasteful. Everything is in cerulean blue and hard to pronounce pastels.
Did I mention how fascinating this all is? To be given access to these lives? That there really are beautiful looking people who do nothing but lounge around in yachts as they float around the Caymans or the Maldives. And if it was anyone else who had their private lives displayed for all to see I would feel a twitch of regret. But fuck it, they're living in their post-Occupy, post-GFC bubble and they simply don't care, or realise.
I'm reminded of the quote by that gum chewing speed freak Mister Andy Warhol when he said "a Coke is a Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Instagram filter than the one the bum on the corner is using". And what does all of this have to do with the New Aesthetic? I'm not really sure, but it's there. We wouldn't have access to these beautiful tinted seams a few years ago. It's a new way of seeing, seeing things we only thought about and imagined before.
Screenshots of Despair is a tricky one. It's the most interesting of the bunch, but it's the one I feel least comfortable writing about. It's the smartest of the bunch but also the one I feel least able to articulate. I can't seem to get my talons into it. It's about the loneliness that we go through as a result of using these devices and these services. How human language and our attempts to replicate warmth when used in conjunction with machine language have a tendency to fail with highly amusing side affects. But these are all glitch hunts. It too easily shows off the seams at which human and computer interactions fails. Which is, I suppose, a circuitous way of stating that the new aesthetic is all about the glitch hunt. These seams are what makes this new world evident. What makes it visible. Because without these little tears we wouldn't be aware of this new aesthetic.
What I mean is that we've got frustrated with the computer vision and the satellite imagery, and we need to see the feelings we have with a new wonder. Consider this a mood-board for unknown emotions.