Blog archive February 2016
last sunday i was at electronic superhighway (2016-1966) at the whitechapel art gallery. the exhibition works backwards, from the latest artworks dealing with the internet, data and surveillance, to early experiments in computer related art and composition. i preferred the earlier stuff, from the 1980s back. partly this is about aesthetics. i have modernist tastes - clear structures, strong colours, flat planes - which were more characteristic of early electronic work (because that's all the computer could do!).
but there's also something about the early stages of a technology, when it is open to significant manipulation by talented amateurs (see also the early days of the motor car), when it can be broken down into graspable pieces, when nobody knows what the answers are yet, or the optimal solutions. these conditions are fertile ground for happy accidents (see also the eames' display of process and iteration in their work). where is that place now?
or how do we break technologies apart to the point where they are manipulatable again? how do we reclaim things that are so technically sophisticated that they are inaccessible, or so aesthetically sophisticated that they are inhibiting? many things, from social media silos to phones, are deliberately constructed to encourage only passive consumption and predetermined involvement. we are offered 'ease of use' and 'free' as if it were an enabler, when in fact this locks us into the paradigms and pathways that are chosen for us. we are not encouraged to take ownership of what we use.
today i bought LED lightbulbs for the kitchen, to replace the compact fluorescents. and i'm a little freaked. not by the brightness, though that is a blessing, but by the way the light hits full brightness instantly when the switch is flicked. i've had 15 years of light coming up slowly as i enter a room. there are rooms i seldom see brightly lit, because i enter and leave before the fluorescents have got going (this shortens their life more than any other thing). it feels wrong to have bright light instantly, as though something is going to blow.
of course this returns us to what used to happen in the days of tungsten lightbulbs (at an eighth of the power consumption). it now seems that compact fluorescents were an intermediate technology. in commercial lighting, too, fluorescent sources have had their day, except where they give some quality that can't be had from another source. the tinyness and lack of heat of LEDs is radically changing the nature of lamps and their locations - thin lines and point sources can be drawn across architecture, tucked unobtrusively into joints and pinholes. in the domestic sphere the forms of light sources are still largely constrained by the fittings of the tungsten age - everything still gets wrapped up into a bulb shape. eventually we'll get past that.