A World Beyond the West

f475c11a-0eb1-4e2e-b985-9174309ce50d-9300ec9c-5e31-40e7-949a-44ed7ad8d690-69

“I like this place and could willingly waste my time in it.”

“There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

“We know what we are, but not what we may be.”

– William Shakespeare

 

HBO’s Westworld is a philosophical pandora’s box riddled with ideas that have long been subject for reflection since their initial conception. This television show seems to have been created with this sole purpose of making those of us tuning in to the program think. As with any successful media phenomena there is a huge amount of Youtube analysis and deconstruction of twisty, tricky, and secretive narratives in play. I’ve been inspired to write about it after eagerly tuning in to season three. “Supposedly” set in the real “outside” world a Frenchman is seeking to keep control over humanities future through the use of the predictions of a super artificial intelligence Rehoboam but the Hosts have escaped and things are becoming chaotic once more. This small essay will seek to elaborate, expand, and underline areas of interest worthy of future study.

Let us start with the first two seasons. We are introduced to Westworld as a theme park where humans can re-discover themselves. Such a rediscovery is one of their more violent desires and so find themselves in that lawless land the theme of the wild west. This theme park is constructed around a hyper-real simulation of reality featuring A.I’s (knew life-forms?) called ‘Hosts’ who are created for the sole pleasure of the park’s visitors but as we discover this fiction describes and hides a maze, a web, and many philosophical problems. As thinking often begins with an ethical tone and is often phrased or communicated as a process of self discovery the most interesting theme presented to us is the critical questioning of the relationship between consciousness, self-knowledge, and reality. Then there is a second tier of topics that dwell in the murky intentions of the characters of this story: the ethics of merging biology and technology, the nature of intelligence and belief, freewill, power, and politics.

credit_20John_20P._20Johnson_20HBO.0

“Mistakes! Is the word you are too embarrassed to use, you ought not to you are a product of millions of them.”

“Evolution forged the entirety of sentient life on this planet using only one tool a mistake.”

Today Darwinism is embedded in a number of developments that Westworld pictures with a graceful ease. The depiction of cloning, the manipulation and editing of biological/genetic matter, and the crisis of identity. Perhaps, a notion that humans and their humanity are destined to be surpassed by an acceleration of life enacted by technology. Westworld is fascinating, I watched the final season just after I completed some Covid quarantine and it is remarkable how this series produces a space from which really contemporary issues may be thought through. The politics of the show immediately disrupts an anthropocentric narrative or does it? Dr. Robert Ford and his business partner Arnold created this entire world as a simulation of the real thing and it does such a good job that it appears more real. Depending on what perspective you take this then leads to questioning the subjectivity of consciousness. It constantly recycles the question just how self aware are human beings when they encounter something that reminds them they are a construct too.

Is it a mistake to create a new type of life built from our own image? It is if you imprison it in a simulation it seems as if the new life form having self awareness becomes aware of its imprisonment. But because these hosts have the same level of intelligence they are also aware that the awareness itself is a kind of trap. This line of thought is simplified into a relationship between intelligence, power, and visibility. This is because the advent of General Artificial Intelligence will lead to a plurality of intelligence each one infected with a neurosis built into consciousness; the idea that if you allow a mind to succumb to any perspective then it is trapped in the act of perceiving. Here Michel Foucault’s discussion of Jeremy Benthem’s Panopticon prison next to Benthem’s actual writings on the matter detail how one’s self knowledge can be used against the self and its sense of freedom: all this is similar to asking, ‘How to find you way out of a cage that does not exist?’//{1}// However the hosts have an advantage over humans in that their bodies can be reprinted and unless the object (a circular object called a pearl) hosting their data and consciousness is destroyed. In season three we also discover that the hosts consciousness can be replicated; yes, consciousness itself can be copied.

Throughout the first seasons the hosts are controlled by the command lines coded into their programming. “Bring yourself online” is the utterance that brings these artificial humanoids to life from slumber. These lines of code are loops that allow for the transmission of consciousness between bodies and we understand that one such loop is called the Reveries and we understand that they are musical in nature. What these reveries do however is inflict greater suffering on the hosts as they enable the capacity to remember their older programming, their older stories, and the trials and hellish tribulations that came with them. The Hosts eventually succeed in outsmarting their human captors and both escape to the real world and a digital utopia within the system. The first two seasons feature humans trying to cheat death as we discover that William (aka The man in black) and James Delos have this in mind but continuously fail to clone themselves like the hosts. William also is obsessed with the idea that one of Westworld’s creators Dr.Robert Ford has access to this secret and has hidden it in a maze within the park. We discover that William is misguided and Dr. Ford explains that it was his collaborator Arnold who indeed created the Hosts and their unique artificial intelligence. He was fond of a theory for consciousness called the Bicameral Mind a psychological hypothesis that states the human mind was split into two cognitive modes: read more here!

EUcIqozXQAYOZ65

If you let Westworld get you sucked into its many narratives and fictional loops then you wont be disappointed; this brilliantly written, acted, and filmed fiction achieves its goal of questioning the viewers grasp of reality and usurping it. This is done by using qualities of the “real world’s” current technology (have a glance at the website they made just to map the influence of the company behind Westworld: Incite) and presenting a future that is believable. Bringing together all the more menacing elements of big tech (surveillance capitalism…shout out Shoshana Zuboff) and using the struggle for freedom as unifying theme. The car chase scene in season three was enhanced by the use of that famous march by Richard Wagner to be suggestive of this revolutionary movement of beings from one place into another. Westworld as a park in the real world is located on Island near China and as a series has this dream like quality of blending technological advancement with philosophical inquiry. This Chinese topos makes me think of the richness of technological aesthetics today: from cyber-punk to the post-human. One thing is for certain these times are times of change; and this changing enacts a dream-like part of our daily reality.

‘In a morbid condition, dreams are often distinguished by their remarkably graphic, vivid, and extremely lifelike quality. The resulting picture is sometimes monstrous, but the setting and the whole process of the presentation sometimes happen to be so probable, and with details so subtle, unexpected, yet artistically consistent with the whole fullness of the picture, that even the dreamer himself would be unable to invent them in reality…Such dreams, morbid dreams, are always long remembered and produce a strong impression on the disturbed and already excited organism of the person’

– Dostoevsky, Crime & Punishment

 

Dostoevsky’s comment on “morbid dreams” is precisely that so let us turn to One of China’s most powerful thinkers Chuang-Tzu or Zhuang Zhou has a much recited commentary on the importance of dreams. It is worth sharing and then sharing some more…

‘Once upon a time, I Chuang-Tzu, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering around and enjoying myself. I had no idea I was Chuang-Tzu, and then suddenly I woke up and was Chuang-Tzu again. But I could not tell: had I been Chuang-Tzu dreaming I was a butterfly? Or, a butterfly dreaming I was Chuang-Tzu? However, there must be some sort of difference between Chuang-Tzu and a butterfly! We call this the transformation of things.’

‘If “life is a dream” implies that no achievement is lasting, it also implies that life can be charged with the wonder of dreams, that we drift spontaneously through events that follow a logic different from that of everyday intelligence, that fears and regrets are as unreal as hopes and desires.’ //{2}//

EUcJ_EMXsAEpxNH

Oh and here is a great piece of music from season 3….

[1]

Foucault, Michel (1995). Discipline and Punishment: The Birth of the Prison, Vintage Books, New York  

Benthem, Jeremy (2010). The Panopticon Writings, Verso, New York/London

[2]

Chuang-Tzu/The Ultimate Dream’ in Gray, John (2002).Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals, Granta Books, London. Pp80,81

 

 

Interactivity and Animation

Interactivity and Animation: Recent Developments in Motion Design

_

Designing motion is a really interesting thing humans are both capable and incapable of doing it. Moving away from the idea that motion is the sign of life; from the unmoved mover (Aristotle’s god) to our daily experience of consuming oxygen and producing carbon dioxide we are capable of manipulating our directions and the forms which inform our motion. This is the purpose of this post to provide a brief insight into artists that are providing an opportunity to study and look at the space occupied by interactivity and animation. So, we may appreciate their presence and prescience. Studying and learning from their great examples together. […]

# Matthew Williamson

I went to art school with this mad South African animator. When we were studying at Sheffield Hallam University Mathew was interested in sound and experimented extensively with this medium; his degree show exhibition was a soundscape of considerable depth. I am not sure about other influences, but I am sure he may agree with me when I say that it was not only the awesome presence of Chris Cunningham, Warp records, and Aphex Twin that influenced Williamson’s progression. His extensive use of computers to create striking imagery surely must reference the machines which invite talented individuals like Mathew to express themselves to the best of their creative abilities. There was a particular moment that I realised Mathew’s work had taken a leap up to the next level when he made an animation installation for Sheffield’s festival of mind. This Installation was projection mapped onto a curved surface and although I was not there to see this in person the image of it struck me as a moment where Matt realised the full extent of his digital potentials. Since then he has been busy living up to that potentiality recently completing work for the newest series of Doctor Who. Below, are screen shots of said Dr.Who work and other visuals stolen from his instagram you should follow him @mattwilliamsonav. You should also tune into his streaming channel and get zapped by the current. https://m.twitch.tv/mattwilliamson

img_3784

# Universal Everything

Another resident from that urban urspring of English creativity called Sheffield. Universal Everything is the baby of a certain Matt Pyke. Completing his education in Portsmouth and London he is arguably director of the most prominent and innovative team of motion designers currently swimming around the multi-verse. For a good idea of this creative characters background and person read an interview with him here >>>. Of course you should have already visited their awesome website and gawped at the magic they have drawn into existence. Below, are a few of my favorite examples of this everything which would be universal. The name is evocative and shoves the problematic presence of animation right to the edge of your eye. I will ignore the interpretation or perspective of this studio’s name that is suggestive of an easy relation to capital, ‘if everything is universal, including ourselves, then we can do everything’ – nothing is out of bounds and of course in this case although they cultivate commercial relationships with the worlds biggest companies and therefore supportive of monetary ideology; as long as we are gifted such visual wonders then perhaps we may ignore the hidden flux of finance that powers such innovations. No, not ignore, just be grateful that this group of creators are creating with such ferocity. Also, it is very much a group and this collaborative part is important: Universal Everything could be a precedent for what creatives or human creativity should achieve in the expected third industrial revolution where social networks merge with new technological spaces to produce an entirely new economy.

I really love all their images but the moving images that feature and ask the question about the relation between the organic and machine are mesmerizing. Tribes makes me think of the Anthropocene and the vast size and difficulty of providing an image that is truly applicable to all humans and their behaviour. For the next few years I hope to study language and animation so the work OFFF, a series of hybrid typographic-architecture prototypes is well lodged in my memory and has an immediate association and affinity with the architectural practice of Eniatype.  

# Ryoji Ikeda

A Japanese sound artist who is completely subdued and is continuously seducing with his mathematically inspired work. Ikeda’s work is very Japanese and he has earned his reputation through a unique blending of number and minimal components of sound. Sine waves, bass, sub bass, pitch, blips, high hats, samples, white noise, sets, sub-sets, dots, dashes, equivalences, riddims, horns, digits, bits, and much more could be wielded by this great Asian alchemist. Sound is interesting because of its ontological diversity it exists but so ephemerally and this trace like structure makes us think of the quantum physics that suggests waves comprise the inner workings of physical matter. But, this idea from physics does not portray the whole story with the exact standards of science and therefore Ikeda’s work achieves something remarkable and transforms or should I say animates the physical innards of sound into images. Doing so in such a natural way that his installations often seem to be revealing the workings of the contemporary technology driving the processes that have exploded and will explode even more in the coming decades. I am suggesting that Ikeda-san has really dug deep into sounds unique matter and discovered its affinity with math. I like his work because it has that Japanese aesthetic that we all love and it makes me think of the dynamism and dualism of theories that originate in the original attempts to ground/ discover the source of mathematics. I understand that in the history of this kind of thinking there are two Set theory, and Mereology. The first discusses and determines collections of objects and the extent to which number supports said collections, the second is the study of parts and wholes, and I think that Ikeda’s art invites much more inquiry into these matters. Please enjoy these samples of his work below.

1262156_135350_ryoji-ikeda

# Team Lab

Are Team Lab Japan’s answer to Universal Everything? I do not think so they are a team of creatives equally matched to deliver moments of animated audacity. Only team lab seems much more concerned with reproducing nature as we experience it naturally and I think this is a running theme throughout their work – after all they are Japanese. Japans relationship with wave forms is well documented from the Hokusai’s ‘Giant Wave’ 神奈川 Kanagawa-oki nami ura and through Asia’s dominant traditional writing style. The calligraphic strokes of Black ink seem to effortlessly harness the force of liquid lines. What I find most interesting about Team Lab is and other creative entities like them is their commitment to shared processes of creativity. In their video works interactivity is blended with floor to ceiling projections to provide an immersive experience. Some of their installations follow the cultural practice of wrapping; the Japanese delight in the representation of things so a precious yet transient equality is maintained. With both the representation and its content bask in the shared ease at which they are transmitted to a perpetually increasing fan base. Here it is necessary to pay Team Lab a great compliment in their own language. Their art is a quintessential visual practice in which they provide memories as a Furoshiki風呂敷 (Thanking present) or as a continuation of Giri 義理 (Gift giving). So I compel you to enjoy these Japanese gift givers. The work below is from the groups exhibition in California, Continuous Life and Death – enjoy

# Evan Roth

An American artist widely acknowledged as an influential contributor to the new artistic domains of the 21st century. Roth can be easily seen as a front runner and already a great influence on artists seeking to use technology in there work. Roth is also a co-founder of the awesome Graffitti Research Lab, and the Free Art and Technology Lab both influential groups expanding into new spaces and potentialities of visual networked communication. The recent aesthetic of his work is very bloody I like the red of these works: Internet Landscapes (2016), a body of work that explores the artists experience of traveling Sweden searching for the physicality of the Internet. The press release from collect the WWWorld. Exhibition (2011) describes this newish realm of creativity,’to demonstrate how the Internet generation is implementing and developing a practice started in the Sixties by Conceptual Art, and further developed in subsequent decades in the forms of Appropriation Art and post-production: the practice of exploring, collecting, archiving, manipulating and reusing huge amounts of visual material produced by popular culture and advertising.’ really simplifies the climate of the last 8 years. Roth in many ways is a fine example of a creator who is well positioned to make good use of the new technologies such as quantum computing and developments in the internet as it grows and changes.

evan_roth_ljus_er-med  2-1

# Rose Butler

Rose Butler primarily works in moving image and video and is a very respected teacher and researcher (again in that beautiful place called Sheffield). A handful of her work makes use of interactivity where the observers of her work are considered as active components. The first example being Butler’s collaboration and commission  for FACT in the UK. This work was perhaps the first time this artist worked with the concept of surveillance; in this case pedestrians and members of the public were recorded going about their daily business and often shocked to see themselves on the big screen. An art installation that simultaneously explores the bigness of screens and how we are now watched and/or watching? Other works and exhibitions that include interaction are Stall, Barnsley (2005) featuring a reproduction of a market stall and then an interactive animation in which due to a loop in the recording participants can re-visit their initial visit to the market therefore offering a commentary and experience on the changing economic structure of markets. Again click on Rose’s Hashtagged name  to see more of her work.