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Landscape Futures and the 'New Aesthetic'

The scrutinising techno-landscape will become commonplace, faster than we may anticipate, writes James Pallister

‘New Aesthetic’ has been mentioned before in The AJ. Described by Bruce Sterling as the ‘eruption of the digital into the physical’ and popularised by James Bridle’s blog of the same name, broadly speaking it alludes to the way in which binary code is translated into a visual aesthetic. The activity of computers is difficult to represent visually (what happens inside silicon chips?) So we’ve used visual cues from the paraphernalia, consoles and interfaces associated with computers to refer to them; the pixelated drawing; the floppy disc icon representing ‘save’ and so on.

The contention behind the New Aesthetic as a descriptor is that things have moved on. Increasingly, data, networks and computer-generated information produce their own aesthetic and visual characteristics. Matthew Battles’ 2012 essay ‘But it Moves’, describes it thus: ‘Drone photography, ubiquitous surveillance, glitch imagery, Street View photography, 8-bit net nostalgia … we’re learning to “wave at machines” – and perhaps in their glitchy, buzzy, algorithmic ways, they’re beginning to wave back in earnest’.

Landscape Futures, curated by polymath blogger Geoff Manaugh at the Nevada Museum of Art with London-based Liam Young, Mark Smout and Laura Allen, explores the New Aesthetic’s relationship to landscape. The exhibition’s working title was Landscape 2.0, which sums up the terrain of the interaction between technology and landscape it explores. Themes of Manaugh’s writing appear in his curating: large-scale infrastructure, military installations and tales of attempts to manipulate the weather. The subjects are big and can feel difficult to grasp, but it seems that, like the early manifestations of the internet, chatrooms, dial-ups and html protocols of the late 1990s that went at pace from the preserve of techies to ubiquity, so too this esoterica of scrutinising techno-landscape will become commonplace, faster than we may anticipate.

Read Landscape Futures: Instruments, Devices and Architectural Inventions, edited by Geoff Manaugh (Actar, 2013)

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