Digital Thanka

I saw this image one day in a vision whilst meditating – a giant Amitabha Buddha in a city, with a huge cosmos behind, so I thought i’d mock it up. Turned out well.

Amida Buddha

Banksy Wuz Here

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Once again a piece of stencil graffiti has been spotted that has led to speculation that it might be a “Banksy”. It’s interesting how the story these days is less so about the art itself, what it says or what it depicts, but whether or not it is confirmed to be by Banksy. After such a piece is spotted, the subsequent tension over whether or not it is a “Banksy” betrays the real interest here: people don’t really care about the art. They care if its a “Banksy”. His celebrity status was confirmed years ago, and is now such that it doesn’t matter what he does, it just matters that we know its him that does it. Of course, being an internationally recognised superstar artist it is natural that news outlets would report on his latest work. But what’s more interesting is our relationship to the work. What if one of these pieces turned out not to be by him? Obviously its material worth lessens (as is the want of the international art market), but does it become less interesting? Less thought provoking?

In his debut film “Exit Through The Gift Shop” Banksy blurred the lines between reality and fiction by exploring the rise of a fellow graffiti artist (Mr. Brainwash) from his beginnings as a documentary film maker following Banksy to his emergences as an artist in his own right, through to a major L.A. show which attracts a lot of attention. Although the artist and his work are presented as being real, there is the overwhelming impression that his work (at the very least the L.A. show) is a hoax by Banksy which aims to expose the shallowness of the art world. All those people fell for a ‘fake artist’.

Banksy should take the entire project one step further and announce that half the work attributed to himself are not his. What would happen? What would be our impression of them then? If we sit and wait to see if a piece is indeed by Banksy, what happens if we retroactively remove attribution? What if one of those new pieces were posted in a few places online as being by some unknown name…would they get any traction?

I have an odd relationship with Banky’s work. As a graffiti obsessed teen who began to develop a (naive, admittedly) political world view as I entered college I became a huge fan of his stuff, which appeared to me to be edgy and unique. But as time has gone by I’ve become increasingly wary of his stock-in-trade. Many of his juxtaposed images have become so obvious and cliched, that they have sprung up various parodies, from Nathan Barley to a Twitter account. Whilst he continues to occasionally do interesting things (his altered paintings etc.) that show a growth, the standard “give a machine gun to an unlikely person”* street stencils illicit eye-rolls mainly these days.

And being a curmudgeonly contrarian, my aversion to him increases as more and more people lap up everything he does without question. The obsession with him in particular baffles me, as he didn’t even invent this style of art.

This has, however, inspired in me an idea: A Google Glass app that alerts users if they are looking at a CONFIRMED BANKSY, so that they can then choose to Instagram it or ignore it. I mean, what’s the point if it’s not a BANKSY?

EMMA

EMMA by is an online experience that “that fetches online data and semi-randomly generates something out of it.”. Specifically it:

  • goes to Google Street View, and downloads a random picture
  • applies effects to the picture
  • picks a random text sample from the dreambank.net database
  • displays text and pictures

I really like this. Reminds me of The Man Who Fell Asleep‘s last book.
via notational

Spontaneous Society

My favorite neuroeconomist, Paul Zak, has shown that acts of altruism can flood your system with a happy hormone known as oxytocin.” Montgomery asks us to “help little old ladies cross the street,” to “merge politely in traffic,” and to “open doors for people,” all for the sake of feeling and passing on “the buzz.”

I really like this. Listen to audio of artist/poet Jon Cotner wandering about talking to people and being nice to them. I could listen to this all day. Read more about it here.

We’re at a tough spot right now—environmentally, economically, you name it. Anger and fear are pervasive. One way to address these widespread problems is by addressing each other with kindness in the mundane world. This much is up to us. Spontaneous Society provides a communication primer: a lesson in affectionate discourse bridging races, ages, classes; a reminder that the present, barring violence, is to be celebrated before it vanishes into nothingness.

Algorithms and the New Aesthetic

This is a very interesting take on the recent Amazon/’rape t-shirts’ story that exploded online recently. Via Amazon, a company called Solid Gold were selling t-shirts that included the phrase ‘Keep Calm And Rape Alot’. This, understandably, upset a lot of people and generated a lot of backlash against the sellers and Amazon. But Pete Ashton makes a very interesting and pertinent point – that most people did not grasp – that a human being wasn’t really involved in the process, hence the faux pas. The t-shirts were generated via an automatic algorithm, given certain inputs and parameters. This does not, as Ashton says, excuse them, but it does explain it. The ‘headfuck’ moment, as Ashton puts it, is that a human was not involved in the design or approval. A machine did it all.

Interestingly I came across the link on the New Aesthetic tumblr, which is collecting various disparate sources related to the emerging ‘New Aesthetic’ scene in London. For a good introduction, James Brindle’s (who coined the term) talk at Web Direction is a good starting point or the initial blog post which started it. Another thorough third-party investigation is Will Wiles piece for Aeon. Then follow it with Bruce Sterling’s measured response to the movement, which includes some criticisms to ponder. One of them is the actual lack of artificial intelligence in machines, and issues of ethics. As Sterling says:

“Computers don’t and can’t make sound aesthetic judgements. Robots lack cognition. They lack perception. They lack intelligence. They lack taste. They lack ethics.

In a way the t-shirt debacle underlines this – we are surrendering more and more of our lives to ‘algorithms’, thinking that machines can think for us. But they can’t – and eventually they will cross a line (ethical, legal, taste) that they cannot understand. This might only be the beginning.

All of this reminded me of Adam Curtis’ All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace. Today we are trusting the machines to print our t-shirts. If we cede more control, will the consequences more serious? 

Ominously, the New Aesthetic likes to talk about drones a lot….