Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Macro Image Series and the Dematerialization of Artifact

The artifact dematerializes from the discrete physical object to the veritably infinite and fuzzy-formed set of memetic iterations.

On the Artifact:
Herein, “artifact” refers to the leftover, the by-product of some human activity. We might call that activity “the creation of art”, but we may as well not, and call it instead the worshipping of a god, or the solving of a problem, or the contemplation of an essence. The artifact herein is a discrete object, which means there is only one that is consensually recognized by most observers, and any re-interpretation or reproduction is measured against a standard, or the ‘original’. (The reproductions will not be considered artifacts, only the original.)

Starry Night, in this case, is a physical painting, and there is only one. “Starry Night” (the idea of Starry Night), on the other hand, can exist in a re-interpreted or reproduced form, either physical or non-physical – existing, for example, in the mind of the viewer who interprets it. Regardless, whatever its permutation, “Starry Night” still comes from or is measured against a zero-point, that being the discrete artifact of Starry Night, which was created by a specific person at a specific time and location (with all the specific socio-cultural parameters they indicate).

A macro image series (MIS) is not discrete. She Knows* is a set of iterations, and when trying to trace “She Knows” back to its origin, one is confounded. There is no single creator, and no specific time or place at which it was created. The nature of a meme-set (shorthand, here, for MIS) is that it is collectively created. Reciprocally, She Knows and “She Knows” are one and the same. So, not only does a macro image series not have an origin in the material world, per se, but it never really comes into a physical existence at any point**. In trying to pin-down its essence, one is confronted with myriad false kernels, a shell game where the eignemother we seek is hidden under both all and none of the shells.

*She Knows is not a Macro Image Series proper, because it usually doesn’t have an embedded caption, but is rather an internet-meme of the family Rage Comic. Both a Macro Image Series and a Rage Comic are internet memes, but the former just sounds better. Further down the taxonomic highway, all internet memes can be more appropriately classed as meme-sets, distinguished as such by their predominant mode of transmission being the internet.

**MIS are not meant to be printed our or even stored electronically – as evidenced by the extreme difficulty one would face in attempting to find a specific instance of a meme (such as Philosoraptor’s “if money is the root of all evil, why do they ask for it in church”), although the difficulty in finding it may be more of indexing habits/search algorithms. They are never meant to be fixed; they are meant to be absorbed by the viewer, modified and passed-on, all within the technologically-mediated environment of the internet (as opposed to the passing-on of cave painting via the very high-entropy system  of the cave ritual).

There is no finalized, formalized version of an MIS. Instead, any example of She Knows is an iteration – a modified copy that has no single source, and one that does not represent the meme-set in its entirety. When speaking of artifacts as discrete objects, the MIS is confusing.

On Consciousness:
Perhaps it is best to avoid altogether use of the word consciousness within a spectrum of kinds of consciousness. In this presentation, “consciousness” refers to an autonomy residing in an individual, and could otherwise be called the ‘self’ or the subjective consciousness. Unconscious, then, means there is no autonomy (no ‘self’). The artist does not operate under its own control. Something else (genetic programming, a deity, a collective unconscious) does the art-making through the artist. Quasi-conscious simply functions to make explicit the attempt to avoid the label of consciousness proper. Meta-conscious simply demarcates the shift beyond the unconscious.

Maybe the Egyptians and the Greeks were conscious, maybe they weren’t. But when Velazquez paints himself in his own painting, Las Meninas is definitely an example of a conscious act emanating from the individual entity performing the act. This certainly yields the term “meta-conscious”. By the time we get to the MIS, despite it’s correlative to any Folk Art that came before it*, we have reached co-creation – a kind of collaborative consciousness, or collectivized consciousness. [disambiguate: collective unconscious.]

*Folk Art is very similar to the MIS, except that it is iterative only by the defaults set in its physical transmission and not necessarily by the agents of the transmission themselves. “Folk Art” seems to only exist within a culture that doesn’t have the means to reproduce its artifacts with high fidelity. (Early Hip-Hop, for example, isn’t usually considered a folk art, though it would surely fit most of the criteria). Folk-Artists aren’t necessarily trying to change the form of the piece, or, at least, it is unverifiable because they couldn’t not  change a piece that by its transmission brings with it enough changes (mutations, perhaps) to make attempts at fidelity futile. MIS-makers, on the other hand, are very consciously trying to change the MIS; it’s inherent; it must change, by its definition.

On Platforms:
The word “platform” can be thought of as an information system, and the two in question are mimetics* and memetics [link to disambiguation]. Mimetics is based on the transmission of information by mimicry, and it is ultimately the body that does the mimicking (even in the sense of somatic simulation emotional theory, see Damasio). Thoughts are involved, and perhaps can be said to have the supremacy, but in the end, the origin and terminus must exist in the material world.

Abstract Art marks an inflection point between the two platforms. Most [European] art prior to ~1900 uses people to communicate ideas (e.g. reference to people, not people in themselves, that’s obvious). Meta-physical things, like Religion, were still expressed using stories that figured anthropomorphic characters. Anytime [a reference to] a human body is used to convey information, we have mimetic transmission. When there is no body, there is no mimetics.

The appearance of artists painting themselves in their own work, and even of still-life paintings (in the case of Vanitas substituting for the body as the main character), point to a shift away from the body. Black Square, or simply non-representational art as a whole, marks the deactivation of the mimetic process, the ‘human-copying’ process, and the activation of the memetic process, or ‘idea-copying’ process. Also note the coincidence of (take a deep breath here) post-human, non-human information-copying systems (i.e., computers) in relation to the platform shift.

*the terms are very easily confused because meme- is a conflation of “mime-“ and “gene”. Also, note that mimesis is the more accepted term; mimetics is used instead to purposely emphasize the difference between the two (which, in this case, is only one letter).

This is an Image Macro Series.
If you run a search for “image macro series” in order to find an explicit definition, it doesn’t really work.
It is referred to, but rarely defined.
More importantly, if you try to search for the prime example of a particular series, you will fail.

Note that these different pictures here, they are called ‘iterations’ of the She Knows meme - not ‘reproductions’ - because they are not identical to eachother. Some of them have text added, some don’t…some of them are very much like the “original”, some of them are actually a completely different series altogether [trollface] (which may just be a side-effect of the search algorithm). 

But it’s ok, we all know what it is. [assuming an audience of ‘millenials’]
It is the meme.
And it kind of only exists in your mind (if we can say that anything really exists in a mind).
After all, it leaves behind no physical artifact, and it does not originate with a physical thing either.
It lives out its entire existence in the virtual world, the non-physical, dematerialized world of the internet.

[define MACRO]
a chunk of a programming code that allows someone to embed in a webpage or a thread this image that has embedded in it  some text.
Notice the double-talk already, the text is embedded in the image, and the whole thing – the “macro” – is embedded in a webpage via the programming code. 

This is Starry Night.
But not really. What you are actually looking at, right now,
is a projected image, of patterns of pixilated light,
from a digital picture file, a jpg
which comes from a photographic reproduction
of a painting - a REAL painting -
Hanging somewhere, accumulating value.
(But not really, actually, because it’s priceless.)

And this is Starry Night, also.
But now where is it, really?
It’s in this room, projected onto this wall, or onto your computer screen at home.
It’s in all these places now. And so what does that say about the artifact?

Is this the artifact of Starry Night? Are reproductions also artifacts? What about digitally mediated reproductions like these here from this search result? We don’t usually call these artifacts because they aren’t physically embodied – they’re on the internet, they’re virtual, dematerialized.

What about that feeling that you get when you look at it, or the idea in your head after you’ve walked away;
Is it any different when you see this Starry Night vs. the real artifact?
And if not, what’s the difference between the two?

And a note here on the difference between reproductions and iterations. You see here that all the Starry Nights are not that much different from the original.
They’re kind of like secondary artifacts.
But remember the memes (like She Knows or Philosoraptor) – there is no “original” and so there can be no “reproduction”, (and this makes us question their status as artifacts).

[introduce woman from willendorf]
We don’t really know what the heck they were doing, to be honest.
This art was from so long ago, and made by a people so different from us, that we just don't know...
Channeling Spirits?
Talking to the Gods, asking them for help?
Performing Rituals for Fertility or Hunting?

What we can guess, is that not only are these people not aware that they’re making the artifact, they’re not even aware that they’re making art. What we are calling art, to them was something much more important.

Granted there is evidence that prehistoric peoples made objects for the specific purpose of looking beautiful as a means to impress others, or to impress their gods, it seems that most of the artifacts they left behind were not made for their own purpose – just to make some cool thing – but they were part of a much greater activity.

Usually, or from what we guess, the artifact is just discarded. Once the activity – the ritual – is over, we don’t need the art-object anymore.

Same thing here; the art-object is discarded basically as soon as it has been created.
The Art is only a by-product of the ritual, like a form of worship, and so after the ritual, the artifact is gone.
Once it’s served its purpose, it’s discarded; there is no record.

In this case, the leftovers remain.
That’s what an artifact is.
What we call Art today, was not meant to be looked at, it was meant to be used. [note: dreaming in temples]

Just as the Greek temples were not mere structures to house an activity, but an enchanted place, these sculptures were not mere stone; they were the embodied spirit of the god they represented,
And as such, no mere mortal was allowed to create them, and in some theories, the artist-creator was thought to be in a trancelike state, possessed by either the god they were recreating, or by some art-god, but it was not created by the actual person [the Code of Hammurabi was actually written by Marduk, Hammurabi's hallucintory god-voice].
So, if that’s the case, are they really conscious of what they’re doing?
[also note]
There is a disconnect here, perhaps, between the ‘performer’ of a ritual who creates an artifact as a byproduct,
And the ‘creator’ of the artifact, which is then used in some later ritual performance.
[African masks?]

The Art tells a story, a spiritual story, about gods and godly creatures and godly ways…
Note that the art is no longer discarded, it is used; and in this case it is used to tell you a story.
(Note also, the majority of the world’s population is still illiterate at this time, hence the need for picture-stories).
Overall, this art is not meant to be looked at and admired for its beauty – you might admire it, and a person from this time period might have admired it, but its main purpose was to tell a story, to communicate some spiritual idea.

Everything changes. Perhaps the printing press, perhaps literacy, perhaps we have fully come out of the Dark Ages.
Regardless of the reason, at this point, everything changes. Most importantly, Science supersedes Religion.
These are now images of the real world, as it looked from the specific visual organ of the human (not from a spiritual-metaphorical sixth sense).
The artifact is now a visually-codified interpretation of reality.
But wasn’t it real before? No. Religious stories, mythologies, etc., did not ever really happen. They are stories that were told by thousands of people over hundreds of years and jumbled together. They never really happened in the way that we, today, would say that a thing happened.
(There were no ‘eyewitnesses’ for example, and there is no physical evidence of religious/mythological stories).
Virgin Mary, the Minotaur, some Egyptian snake-headed god-creature – they’re all made-up, so even if they look real, they are still a picture of an unreal thing.
Michelangelo’s pictures look realistic, but the people in them are not real.
These things, however, are documented.
And, for some reason, we all seem to agree that means they really happened.

And now, finally, the idea of consciousness becomes paramount.
These guys are so conscious of their art, they’re making art – about making art! (That’s what we can call “recursive”, or “meta-”, or “artception”.
[…MCEshcer’s Drawing Hands is a great example of recursive-like stuff, so is the recipe for sourdough bread…]

Cavemen were not conscious of their artifact-making.
Were the Greeks or the Egyptians conscious that they were making artifacts? Perhaps, perhaps not.
Michelangelo? Probably yes.
But for sure, these artists are conscious or their art-making. We know because we have evidence – they were painting themselves in their own paintings!
So it’s indisputable at this point: We are conscious.

In the 20th century, during decimation and disruption of the World Wars, and by the concentration of global power that proceeded, strange, strange, things began to happen, and so, new forms of thinking were required, and thus new kinds of art.

Let’s take a step back, to where we came from.
Where are these artifacts coming from?
Is the artist engaged in a spiritual ritual, and these are the by-products? Perhaps.
What are these artifacts used for after they are created? To tell stories?
Sort of: “this is how you should live your life, this is how you should deal with your problems”
But there are no characters in these stories; the people in the paintings, if there are any, are not the main characters anymore.
Instead, they are about storytelling itself – about perception and decision-making.
They are not pictures of other people doing things that we should mimic, they are pictures of ways of mimicking ways of being.

Eventually, all reference is gone. Definitely no more people, no more documentation of real events – in fact, nothing at all.

Art no longer attaches outside meaning to its visual interpretations of reality.
The picture has no connection to the outside world.
What it represents now is nothing we know from the world outside of us, around us.

If you want, you can call this ‘the dematerialization of reference’

The artist is conscious of the creation of an artifact as a result of the artist’s performance.
The cave dwellers were surely not conscious of their activity in the same regard as Jackson Pollack; Pollack is very aware that he is making art by dripping paint.

The art is supposed to be like a real thing to the viewer.
In a way, it is an imaginary thing that has manifest itself in the environment of the viewer.
Because Abstract Art got rid of the need to reference the visual world, artists can now have the reference come from anywhere, and in this case, the reference its making; is to the art itself. It’s not a picture of a thing, it is the thing.

In the case of installation art, it can be seen as the art creating itself – if the art were a real thing, it would be a thing in mid-creation and one that is thus “creating itself” (hence ‘artifact-making artifact’).
It also kind-of offsets the creative rights from the artist to the object itself, which is interesting as we approach a time where the who is becoming less important.
(Remember: who creates memes?)

Street Art is happening in parallel to installation art.
In this case, the art is now fully embedded in its environment (which is not a museum, by the way); it is inextricably meshed with its surroundings, and by that extension, it becomes the real world. So again, the art does not refer to anything, it is the thing.

(Perhaps this is a retaliation against the dematerialization of artifact; the photograph of some Street Art piece is cool, but it’s a lot cooler to actually come across this in your own town, to see the real thing)

Let’s talk about transience and ephemerality.
Goldsworthy’s work doesn’t last long, so he takes pictures.

Imagine you are walking through the woods, or some desolate place, and you come across one of these, and a part of you, maybe a big part of you, wants to believe that it was Nature herself who created this beauty. There is no evidence of the artist, none whatsoever. So is it an “artifact”? Is it artificial? Or is it natural, made by nature, and not by man? (There is no evidence of the hand of the artist; he literally uses his own spit to freeze together icicles that were created by Nature herself.)

The art is in that experience, that feeling of being fooled, or of letting yourself fool yourself.

But we ask again, where is the art, physically?
Is it in the thing?
Or is it in the picture of the thing?
Does Goldsworth really get to the bottom of this, showing us that the art, the experience of the art, and the artifact, are not the same thing, that we must see them as separate?

If you wanted to reproduce his work, do you take a picture, or do you have to go and make one yourself, and put it out there in the woods for someone else to see. And if nobody sees your artifact before it disappears, did the “art” ever exist? [if a bear shits in the woods…]

[for those who don’t know, Mr.Z. is a high school substitute teacher/artist who draws on the dry erase boards all over the school]

The thing is done in dry erase markers…(regarding transience and ephemerality), enough said.
Where is the artifact? Surely we can take pictures of Mr. Z’s work. When a work is no longer there, do the photographic reproductions then become the primary artifacts?
Did photography cause the dematerialization of the artifact? Perhaps.
But when we go to value one of his dry-erase masterpieces, do we assign it more worth just because it’s so delicate, just because someone can rub their elbow on it and destroy the whole thing? Is it more important to us because it is so close to being wiped into non-existence?
Or, because it then barely exists in the first place?

Question: If the artifact has been dematerialized, then where is it?

Yes, it is in our minds, the place where all non-physical things first become real.

And meme-combinations such as this, art is more akin to the anonymous cave-painter, in a way unconscious (but really collectively-conscious, which is like individual-unconscious).

[note: this presentation was intended for delivery to a high school philosophy class on the subject of ideology.]

In conclusion, a final thought:
Art is not just an ideology; it is a lens through which we can see the ideologies themselves; it is a thing that makes the invisible world visible to us.
Art leaves behind evidence of our activities, and from this we interpret the essence of the human condition at the time of its creation.
As the artifact dematerializes; as the content of the imagery loses direct visual reference; as the artist goes from being a god-spirit, a muse, an unconscious artist, to a very meta-conscious art-maker, to a point when there are many artists co-creating the art; we can at least say one thing – the human condition, and thus its ideologies, change over time.
And in the end, it is you, either individually, or collectively, that dictate where it goes and what it will become.

[enjoyable reference]
Julian Jaynes’s Software Archeology

[random post script/news]
Additive manufacturing as a possible solution to fight destruction of the cultural record, 2015 Oct

Archaeological concepts such as the real, virtual, and authentic are becoming increasingly unstable as a consequence of archaeological artefacts and assemblages being digitalised, reiterated, extended and distributed through time and space as 3D printable entities. A paper recently published in Open Archaeology argues that additive manufacturing technologies, known commonly as 3D printing, have the potential to redefine the nature of archaeological entities in the digital.

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