“And the future, to be honest, is already the past. Futurism is a very old fashioned concept. That whole idea of futurism is 19th century. So I really like to give it that twist, to say “OK, it’s not really important where it is on the timeline, it’s important if it makes sense in its elements”—Uwe Schmidt - The Ecstasy of Simulation (Wire 793)
Take a look at the source code. A keyword search for “envatowebdesign” will turn up a prompt comment from the site’s theme seller telling the person who bought it how to customize. Only whomever built the thing for Pyongyang didn’t bother. It’s a bit like leaving the plastic overlay on your fancy new TV telling you about the screen size. A quick check on the source code of the IgniteThemes “Blender” templateconfirms that it’s what North Korea built. Price check? $15.
Not exactly a web presence that screams, “We’re an elite nuclear power that must be respected.” In fact, it took a Fordham University computer science undergrad a couple minutes’ sleuthing to determine the embarrassing origins of the site design.
I also think about the morning of May 5, 1961, the day that Alan Shepard was scheduled to become the first American to fly into space, an act that would help commit his country to a full-fledged moon race. That same morning, newspapers all over the country showed a picture of a bus set ablaze by white racists wishing to quell a movement by black and white civil rights activists to ensure racially integrated travel on interstate bus lines in the South.
At the time, the tendency was to think of such events as being at best mutually exclusive. I think they are now both logical and synchronous outgrowths of the human impulse to break down barriers and move ahead. The less afraid we are to think outside the box scientifically, the less afraid we are of other barriers, other things that constrict our natures
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.
Greek fire. Damascus steel. These are two technological innovations whose secrets are said to be lost to time. Even the original schematics for the Apollo missions have disappeared into the mists of history, forever hidden inside hopelessly obsolete computers. How do we lose technologies that were once so important? Some say that they aren’t really lost, and are working on rediscovering them.
Certainly, the specific techniques and materials required to construct some of the famed inventions of the ancient world (and the late 1960s) can be lost. And it’s definitely true that people can forget how some ancient invention works for hundreds, even thousand of years. But the history of technology is very much the history of ideas, and as you’ll see, ideas are pretty much indestructible - even in the face of truly terrible record keeping.
“If anything’s missing, it’s actually more the explanation. I mean there is some stuff that will never be found again, but it’s all there, and the stuff that isn’t you can sort of figure out backwards. Sometimes you need the equivalent of a Rosetta Stone, because sometimes the way we think today is not the way they thought back then. Sometimes you need an index or a document that explains how they did things or their nomenclature. That’s the one thing that’s sometimes hard to find is what I call a bridge document, an answer guide to how they did the thing back in the sixties. There’s no FAQ.”—Technologies that we’ve lost - and the quest to find them again
Doctors examined 27 astronauts who had flown long-duration missions with the US space agency and found a pattern of deformities in their eyeballs, optic nerves and pituitary glands that remain unexplained.
In this blog, I will describe many space missions and programs that never were. I’ll seek to place them in historical context, and to explore why they failed to make the difficult jump from plan to reality. Along the way, I’ll write about our evolving knowledge of the Solar System, NASA’s symbiotic relationship with the Soviet space program, and intricacies of the U. S. political process. My posts will tend to run long, and some might be serialized over several weeks. Above all, they’ll be a meaty treat for my fellow space fans and, I hope, a window into a new world for people who have seldom given spaceflight more than casual consideration.
“In the simplest terms, these photographs tell a story about men and women who show up to work every day and launch spaceships. It is a marvel, a symbol of the United States’ twentieth century dominance. But it is a tragic story. The U.S. is abandoning not only its manned spaceflight program but the individuals behind it whose ingenuity, bravery, and attention to detail made the program not only possible, but reliable… In looking back, we can look ahead to find the next adventure over the horizon.”—notes.husk.org (via iamdanw)
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.
“It’s contemporary. It’s temporal rather than atemporal. Atemporality is all about cerebral, postulated, time-refuting design-fictions. Atemporality is for Zenlike gray-eminence historian-futurist types. The New Aesthetic is very hands-on, immediate, grainy and evidence-based. Its core is a catalogue of visible glitches in the here-and-now, for the here and for the now.”—An Essay on the New Aesthetic
My point is, all our metaphors are broken. The network is not a space (notional, cyber or otherwise) and it’s not time (while it is embedded in it at an odd angle) it is some other kind of dimension entirely.
But meaning is emergent in the network, it is the apophatic silence at the heart of everything, that-which-can-be-pointed-to. And that is what the New Aesthetic, in part, is an attempt to do, maybe, possibly, contingently, to point at these things and go but what does it mean?
Anyway. It’s not just sci-fi. I’m also depressed about the lack of future in fashion. Every hep shop seems to be full of tweeds and leather and carefully authentic bits of restrained artisinal fashion. I think most of Shoreditch would be wondering around in a leather apron if it could. With pipe and beard and rickets. Every new coffee shop and organic foodery seems to be the same. Wood, brushed metal, bits of knackered toys on shelves. And blackboards. Everywhere there’s blackboards. Cafes used to be models of the future. Shiny and modern and pushy. Fashion used to be the same - space age fabrics, bizarre concoctions. Trainers used to look like they’d been transported in from another dimension, now they look like they were found in an estate sale.
“I sometimes think all this talk of atemporality is an abdication of sci-fi responsibility. SF writers seem very keen to deny that they’re writing about the future. They’re not doing prediction, they’re telling us about the now. OK. Well. Pack it in and get on with some prediction.”—russell davies: something something something
The common denominator is, of course, authenticity and nostalgia for a time when things were “real.” J. Crew has been uncommonly smart in leveraging this trend without having to alienate their core customers by changing the brand and products too much. Instead, through an ingenious strategy of co-branding, they have extended their offering and brought in outside brands that possess that singular patina and heritage that we yearn for.
“Through the eyes of the nomad, time is somewhere that can be travelled to and inhabited. For when we travel, are we not also travelling to cultures with a different temporal sequence than our own? Appropriated from biology, heterochrony is the timing of the developmental variation of an organism in a species, leading to differing results. It is with this application of evolutionary understanding of history that the radicant travels through Altermodernity: a multitude of possible worlds, each with their own narrative of events.”—Nevolution: The Altermodern Nomad
Through the use of lexicography, Bourriaud equates the Modern individual with that of the tree root, a Radical. While Modernity is predicated on a rupture with the past and a desire for progress, it was also concerned with it’s historical roots. The duality of the sprouting tree encapsulates Modernism and the Radical individual: focused on the future but aware of it’s heritage. Not content to view their writing as a mode of binary oppositions, Deleuze and Guattari look to the image of the Rhizome: an underground root system consisting of only horizontal offshoots, such as ginger. This metaphor is one that indulges in it’s plurality: Any point of a rhizome can be connected to any other, and must be. This is very different from the tree or root, which plots a point, fixes an order. The need to create this distinction was to delineate away from Cartesian dualisms, that of the vertical tree and root system, and instead to comprehend the notion of horizontal multiplicities. However, this multiplicity has neither subject nor object. It is only able to reference itself, forever deconstructing the environment amidst a desert of self referentialities. By continuing with the botanical metaphor Bourriaud utilizes the image of the Radicant: a vine or creeper plant that plants it roots constantly as it moves along. Unlike the rhizome, which is defined as a multiplicity that brackets out the question of a subject from the beginning, the radicant takes the form of a trajectory or path; the advance of a singular subject. This is a clear difference than the others. It accepts the need for multiplicities and the need to not be fixed upon one stable point. It articulates not only the need for movement, but the way in which it can be done. The conceptual link between the constant daily travel and the idea of the radicant are unmistakable. Bourriaud continues by stating that “it [the radicant] exists exclusively in the dynamic form of wandering”. This denotes an identity that moves away from a static existence to one in which we are only able to understand our identity through a dynamic process.
This notion of history as geographical and “constituted of multiple temporalities” is similar to the idea of Atemporality put forth by Bruce Sterling. He defines the difference between previous notions of history and our current one as a result of the intrinsic capabilities of the dominant medium of our day. The contrast between moving through a history book understanding the narrative as a linear process as opposed to the result of attempting to search online for an aspect of a historical narrative is a important one.
“Our inability to move on from the past has made us unable to properly invent the future. We’ve forgotten how to forget, and as a result we’re drawn inexorably into the all-consuming black hole of an unsurpassable archive. We know how to recreate, but not how to create. We are miserable, dismal epigones. We are all Oasis, parasites nesting on the shoulders of giants, pilgrims rather than prophets, so awed by “there” and by “then” that we’re totally unable to be here and be now, and even less able to prepare for a future that might want to feel any nostalgia for us.”—http://mrstsk.tumblr.com/post/17586466159
“I’d sit on my tatami mats in Osaka, watching London tourists line up in real time to reproduce the Abbey Road sleeve. Better yet, I’d catch the cam in the middle of the night, when nobody was there, the Beatles were forgotten, and I could listen to the subtle sounds of traffic and rain.”—http://mrstsk.tumblr.com/post/17586466159
Those who don’t have much personal investment in the idea that popular music should always be pushing forward probably won’t be especially troubled by the current pop scene’s muddled mix of stasis and regression. But those whose expectations have been shaped by growing up during more fast-moving and ever-changing pop decades — which is basically all of them to date except for the 2000s — are likely to be perplexed and disheartened by these developments. In particular the innovation-obsessed ’60s and the cyber-optimistic ’90s instilled an ideal of pop music as herald of the future, a vanguard sector of the culture that was a little bit ahead of the rest of society.
“We can access all this stuff with incredible speed and convenience, share it and store it with minimal effort. But a potential downside of this sudden “affluence” is a flood of influences that can overwhelm the imagination of young musicians, who are absorbing five decades of pop history in a frenetic jumble.”—New Pop Music Sounds Like Its Predecessors - NYTimes.com
By questioning our reality, and proposing new alternatives, it does not mean that these will ever come about. Instead it lets us imagine a landscape where the normal constraints disappear. This can be very useful when it comes to design commercial or “practical” products too. In design, as in any discipline I feel, an over reliance on the “norm” or status-quo can be crippling. Speculative design can inspire and give ideas for possible or desired futures, and more importantly, presents, which can be translated into numerous forms – whether these be consumer products, film, literature, policy etc.
The future of design as a critical tool for debate is certain. But more than that, the evolution of speculative design to go beyond this task, to not only ask questions of the future, but to excite and propose alternative presents and ideas about reality is a vital role in the maturity of design as a discipline. I am not suggesting that we stop extrapolating into the future and wondering about the world to come, but lets use design to ask more questions about today, a critique of the present – to challenge todays social, technological and cultural paradigms.
A joint research deal was signed yesterday between North-Eastern Federal University of the Sakha Republic in Russia and South Korea’s Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, marking the beginning of a project to clone cells from woolly mammoth remains recovered from Siberian permafrost.
As previously reported here, a mammoth could be born in five years if successful. The team will replace the nuclei of Indian elephant egg with the cloned mammoth DNA. The fertilised egg will then be placed in the womb of the Indian elephant for 600 day gestation period and birth.
While cloning extinct animals is controversial enough already, the team also includes Hwang Woo-Suk, who was found to have falsified data in a past stem cell research “breakthrough”.