Interlude – the digital sublime

Away from the ETCON flock, Tomski unearths this nugget:

“Our artists no longer try to put us in touch with God and the eternal, but with the infinity of our own archives.” -James Flint on Brian Eno

This reminded me of some things I’d been thinking about on the ‘sublime’ in digital art. The sublime – the ‘shock and awe’ of aesthetic experience – was, in 19th century culture, normally represented by nature, as in the paintings of Caspar David Freidrich. The sublime is a vertiginous moment – the moment when an excess of visual pleasure leads to a kind of terror, or awe – usually interpreted as a humbling realisation of God’s power.

In a Godless world, the sublime is invoked by the achievements of science of technology. Its understanadable that contemporary artists will reflect our vertiginious, ambiguous responses to technological progress – this is not so much the infinity of our archives, as the infinity of the spaces we can describe through the application of logic.

My favourite ever piece of digital art is an excellent example of this kind of sublime infinity. In Every Icon, John F. Simon Jr created a Java app that systematically explores every possible combination of black and white squares on a 32×32 grid. Starting at the top left in January 1997, the app has been cycling through combinations every since.

It took about 16 months to cycle through the entire first line of the grid, so how long do you think it would take to go through all the possible combinations of the 32×32 square? 100 years? 1,000 years? a *million* years?

Not even close. more like several hundred trillion years.

That’s what the digital sublime looks like.

One comment

  1. Tomski

    Wired UK archive

    I’ve just been browsing the Wired UK archive in a moment of morbid fascination. This jumped out from a sexywiredstyleinsidecovergraphicthingy…

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