In Travels in Hyperreality, the Italian writer Umberto Eco notes that “the pleasure of imitation, as the ancients knew, is one of the most innate in the human spirit; but here we not only enjoy a perfect imitation, we also enjoy the conviction that the imitation has reached its apex and afterwards reality will always be inferior to it.” Eco was speaking of Americans’ love of themed environments such as Disneyland, but I can’t help but wonder if Florence provided a corollary argument, that once an imitation has seemingly established the apex of perfection, any reality that exceeds it can’t help but seem fake itself. This was authentic-plus-one.
When Doug Mack picked up a 1963 edition of Europe on Five Dollars a Day, he stumbled on an inspired idea: to boldly go where millions have gone before, relying only on the advice of a travel guide that’s nearly a half century out-of-date. Add to the mix his mother’s much-documented grand tour through Europe in the late 1960s, and the result is a funny and fascinating journey into a new (old) world, and a disarming look at the ways the classic tourist experience has changed- and has not-in the last generation.
The modernist movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was the final cohesive chapter in the culmination of linear history. When post-modernism was ushered in following WWII, philosophical and aesthetic movements ceased to develop according to linear trajectories, and instead diverged into a multifold network of parallel and intersecting paths. But even the end of linear time has an ending. In the beginning of the 2nd millennium A.D., it became apparent that the aesthetic impulse was one that was less and less engaged in direct dialogue with the present and more and more haunted by the icons and vernacular of the past (now doomed to reincarnation under the veils of Kitsch and Nostalgia). Surface disembodied from form, form disembodied from spirit, spirit disembodied from gesture… …From this partial womb, Ghost Modernism is born.
Proto-surrealism was a fugue caused by the imagined future (postmodernism) clashing with reality. We expected jetpacks and flying cars; what we got were iPads and wars fought by drones. The previous generations had a clear vision of how the future would be, but that future did not come to pass. Proto-surrealism mashed up the old expectations with the new reality. The result is an art form designed to elicit a frisson of excitement. You recognize the old concepts, but realize the possibilities that exist when they are given new form.
We expected giant robots and wonderous devices but were unable to make them with electronics, so we dreamed them out of brass and steam. A better example of proto-surrealism might be the photoshopped WWII posters, like the one below. It’s an old style poster, right at home in the 1940’s, and with the ‘Big Brother’ tones that they expected the future to hold…but it stars a pink pony made out of computer vector art. The old, repurposed and blended with the new, is proto-surrealism.
But now there’s the New Aesthetic, and I believe it is a response to proto-surrealism. Instead of blending the old aesthetic with the present not-quite-what-we-imagined reality, the New Aesthetic is looking at the present with fresh eyes and insisting that there is beauty there.
In my opinion, the New Aesthetic is a reboot and a transitional period. Post-modernism failed. Proto-surrealism tried to resuscitate it. New Aesthetic finally brings in something new. Whatever comes next, building off of and perfecting the New Aesthetic, will make epic works of art. Can’t wait.
“Instagram is the narrative of now, I don’t feel particularly precious about them, I don’t tend to go back and look through old photos. It doesn’t matter that the shots I shoot with it are of lower resolution with a cameraphone lens, that they have filters, these are my transient photos (I understand this isn’t the case for everyone and Instamatic photos can be an art). I don’t need a central place where I can always find them, instead it’s a pooled visual stream of consciousness of myself and the people I know.”
By the way, I’d posit that for most people, most of the time, this is what photography was like before Flickr.
It’s explicitly non-retro, even more so not retro-future, or retro 8 bit. The look overlaps with this season’s aztec fixation, but even appropriating such imagery ruled a piece out of consideration. Sometimes it’s just the right colours, or the cut. It’s more gradient fill than pixels. It’s things that couldn’t be made 5 years ago. Supersymmetry and asymmetry. It’s not about the ‘machine vision’ that the New Aesthetic references, but it’s hard to see how that will not be appropriated and re-emerge into fashion as something not necessarily technically correct but aesthetically interesting.
It requires close attention. If you want to engage with the New Aesthetic, then you must become involved with some contemporary, fast-moving technical phenomena. The New Aesthetic is inherently modish because it is ferociously attached to modish, passing objects and services that have short shelf-lives. There is no steampunk New Aesthetic and no remote-future New Aesthetic. The New Aesthetic has no hyphen-post, hyphen-neo or hyphen-retro. They don’t go there, because that’s not what they want.