Publications Volumes

Cloud and Molecular Aesthetics

Cloud and Molecular Aesthetics
Leonardo Electronic Almanac, Volume 22 Issue 1

Senior Editor: Lanfranco Aceti, Paul Thomas, and Edward Colless
Editors: edit

Reference this volume: Aceti, Lanfranco; Thomas, Paul, and Colless, Edward. Cloud and Molecular Aesthetics. Cambridge, MA: LEA / MIT Press, 2017.

Published Online: May 15, 2017
Published in Print: edit
ISBN: 978-1-906897-62-8
ISSN: 1071-4391
DOI: edit
Repository: edit

Acknowledgements:  edit


This volume situates a critical discourse on the molecular data–cloud and aesthetics within contemporary experiences of art and society. It reflects varied perceptions and current thinking by artists, curators, scientists, and theorists in comprehending the appropriation and colonization of the cloud. The cloud can be seen as a veiling of information, where it becomes clouded, foggy, fuzzy, obscure, or secretive as well as a (re)distribution of data when it condenses, blooms, and accretes into aesthetic, socio-political, technological, and scientific atmospheric contexts.

The Leonardo Electronic Almanac is a collaborative effort supported by New York University, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development; OCR, Operational and Curatorial Research; Leonardo; Boston University and Goldsmiths, University of London.


Black Noise
by Edward Colless
Our modern media of photography, telegraphy, telephony, radio, cinema, television, and video were once domains of disembodiment and spectral appearance; whether characterized as incorporeal voices and sounds, or as ethereal images or actions communicated by their agents from a distance, they have been intuited from their origins and theorized throughout their history to be “haunted media.” Contemporary digital technologies and, notably, their fabrication of social media, however, appear to have dispelled such phantoms, both at the microscopic level of code and in the macroscopic realm of interactivity across the web. While there may be piracy, crime, and subterfuge, these appear to be due only to anachronistic loopholes or glitches in security protocols that are constantly being monitored and corrected or closed down: in principle, and in its ultimate form, there are no hiding places on the web, because there can be no dark corners and no ‘Unconscious’ behind its affluent heterogeneity. Perhaps that ultimate form of pervasive availability and accessibility is configured in the superabundant connectivity of the cloud. While the political economy of the cloud—in particular, its configuration of web capitalism—has been subject to critique in the past few years, this essay presents a view onto the cloud from the haunted perspective of modern media. It speculates on how the cloud might darken, and what demonology might be written for it, as its communal spaces are inundated by paranormal pollutants and pathogens, erupting in paranoia, contagion, and pandemic possession.
All That Is Solid: Speculative, Quantum, and Cognitive Aesthetics of Telepathy and Telekinesis
by Jacquelene Drinkall
Telepathy is emerging as a significant paradigm of artistic practice at the interface of art and science, with telepathy operating in transferences of media, tele-technologies, and ‘techlepathies,’ as well as in social and psychological aspects of collaboration and interaction. Design researcher Usman Haque and artists Gianni Motti and Marina Abramović work with telepathic and telekinetic possibilities that arise at this intersection of art and science, as does artist, theorist, and cognitive scientist Warren Neidich. This paper will explore the telepathy of Motti, Abramović, and Haque through their artistic work with brain synchronicity and electroencephalogram (EEG) interaction, telemetrics, crowd empathy, media clouds, electromagnetism, and quantum physics. Their work is further understood through the prism of current philosophical theories, especially speculative aesthetics that engage the telepathy and telekinesis of quantum physics, as well as Marxist ‘Operaist’ or ‘workerist’ theories of immaterial labor and cognitive capitalism that engage with the ‘action at a distance’ concept of social theory. Further, speculative and cognitive materialisms are shown to intersect, perhaps paradoxically, through engagement with the aesthetics of telepathic and telekinetic immateriality. The aesthetics of this art and theory converge at the telepathy of quantum neurodynamics, which is aligned with, and yet displaces, cognitive intuition in Immanuel Kant’s Transcendental Aesthetics.
Infra-mince and the Poetics of Gas: Liner Notes, Vinyl Records, and the Difference that Makes a Difference
by Lisa Gye and Darren Tofts
At the Istanbul biennial in 2011, Israeli artist Dani Gal’s Historical Records Archive (2005 – present) installation blew our minds. Here was a collection of real LP albums of significant twentieth century historical events, speeches, and political debates. But it was also an archive in which the actual records were deliberately absent, foregrounding the planar cover art as information about something elusive and leaving visitors with the speculative task of imagining how they might or could sound. [1] But in its own uncanny, quantum way, it echoed our work in Classical Gas project (2011 – present) in its transformation of classical album covers from the “easy listening” tradition of popular music into canonical texts from the history of ideas. What follows, then, is a series of probes that explore a form of molecular semiotics that we perform to suggest uncanny epiphanies that can occur when, for instance, a Shirley Bassey album becomes An Ethics of Sexual Difference by Luce Irigaray [2] or Music in the Morgan Manner segues into a fighting title by Roseanne Allucquere Stone. [3] Drawing on Marcel Duchamp’s readymade concept of infra-mince, or infrathin, as well as Gregory Bateson’s informatic “difference that makes a difference,” our ongoing Classical Gasproject freeze-frames this poetic moment of transformation from one semiotic state to another. As in physics or digital vectors of information exchange, the fine and elusive epiphany of transformation is always in the eye of the beholder. Art isn’t necessarily about what you see, but what it prompts you to see.
Art Between Synthetic Biology and Biohacking: Searching for Media Adequacy in the Epistemological Turn
by Jens Hauser
While the creation of lifelike appearances has been an ever-recurring historical feature in art, contemporary artists who employ biotechnology are particularly ‘close to life,’ and the new discipline of synthetic biology is well-suited to upgrade art historical paradigms of ‘creation.’ In conjunction, the democratization of lab tools leads to their appropriation by tinkerers and tactical media activists who apply the potential of open-source culture from the digital age of media art to do-it-yourself (DIY) biology and biohacking. Hereby, the formerly distinct features of the technologization of the animate and the animation of the technological merge in an unprecedented way, both technically and metaphorically. This paper discusses media adequacy—the aesthetically and epistemologically convincing implementation of the instances of mediation of living entities or beings with regards to the corresponding appropriate materials and strategies—in the light of the trendy discipline of synthetic biology. This discipline aims at designing living systems from scratch, and is emerging at a time when DIY biology seems set to be the next pop-culture phenomenon. Art is increasingly linked to knowledge production and dissemination within a larger scope of what can be called an epistemological turn, in which cultural practitioners do not so much translate and transform what we know, but rather question how we know what we know.
Thoughtography: From Out the Great Darkness
by Leon Marvell
In the mid-1960s, an alcoholic, chain-smoking bellhop from Chicago found himself at the center of a psychic cyclone. Ted Serios could produce images on Polaroid film just by projecting his thoughts into the lens of the camera. Serios was an overnight sensation, and his unique abilities were the subject of worldwide attention. Famous prestidigitators, such as James Randi aka the Amazing Randi, endeavored to prove that Serios was—of course—a fake, and that the scientists who were studying Serios were gullible saps. The Amazing Randi even claimed to have produced ‘thoughtographs’ through simple stage tricks and misdirection, thus demonstrating that Serios was a charlatan. In fact, he accomplished no such thing. However, the popular press, tired of the hard-drinking Serios and his strange abilities, accepted the Amazing Randi’s claims and Serios quickly disappeared from public consciousness. Yet Serios continued to produce his puzzling, fantastical images under strictly controlled scientific conditions, and the fact remains that we have no ‘natural’ explanation for them—at least, no natural explanation that relies on a strictly materialist mode of explanation. To assist in the exploration of the post-material psychodynamics of Serios’s unsettling oeuvre, this paper calls upon a series of images to remediate the fractious geometry of Serios, his ‘thoughtography,’ and the ‘real.’ These images are found in Robert Fludd’s magnum opus of 1617, Utriusque Cosmi Maioris scilicet et Minoris Metaphysica, Physica Atque Technica Historia (History of the Macrocosm), and offer a hermetically unsealed disquisition emerging from the very first image, The Great Darkness.
A Framework for Cloud Aesthetics in Mixed-Realities
by Troy Innocent
Augmentation of urban space generates mixed realities, producing hybrid spaces that emerge from ecologies of virtual and actual signs and entities. This essay presents a framework for different aspects of fiducial markers that have been used within a series of street games. This augmentation of cities reconciles repositories of data with the city that generated them by ‘actualizing’ the data in situ, often making the experience of the city more game-like. A fiducial marker, often an object located in space, visible to both machines and humans, tethers a cloud of data to its location, connecting flows of information and players. The street games explore multisensory feedback generated by the markers in a series of public artworks in Ogaki, Istanbul, and Adelaide that connect street art, formal abstraction, augmented reality, and game design. Seven different aspects of fiducial markers are identified in this discussion. These aspects are analyzed by applying four different models: Lévy’s flattening of the virtual/actual hierarchy, Galloway’s “gamic actions,” Bogost’s “unit operations,” and Harman’s “quadruple object.” This analysis is centered upon the ways in which machine and human factors play equal roles in the construction of meaning, and makes it possible to explore a framework for analyzing the ontologies that emerge in mixed realities, blending fiducial markers, digital entities, human players, and public space in clouds of data.