January 19, 2016
This weekend I came across the work of Dr. Daniel Rubinstein, a philosopher, photographer, artist, and researcher. Rubinstein is writing, researching, and curating work on the place of the image in contemporary culture, studying how the fundamental shift in photography from film to digital can be seen as a lens through which to understand larger societal shifts from the industrial age to the technology age.
After doing some internet investigating, I found a video recorded titled “Five Untimely Meditations” recorded in July 2015 in honor of the opening of the NEW WEAPONS exhibit (a collaborative exhibit between Central Saint Martins and the BLITZ art space in Malta.)
NEW WEAPONS explores, “the proliferation of the networked image in the online environment” with particular focus on the idea that “an image can exist in many different areas simultaneously – across technological, geographical and social borders.”
In the past, photos were somewhat (relatively) scarce and were about capturing particular moments. Today with the proliferation of technology, photos are more a continuous stream that people are producing at all times and distributing widely via networks. Thus, today photos becomes less about the actual captured image and more about the time/atmosphere from which it was created as well as the ways/networks through which it is distributed.
Rubinstein advocates moving beyond the whole Plato’s cave idea where images (or things you can perceive visually) are merely surfaces and the actual substance/truth is found in its core/essence. His feeling is that the world as being constructed now is all surface and essence simultaneously and to try and divide, distill, or otherwise find binaries only degrades the experience. When we’re working in an online environment, there isn’t a distinction between the appearance and the essence because the new scheme of logic under which we’re working is one that does not abide by binaries. Surfaces beget surfaces beget surfaces and that is actually alright because within the surface itself there is depth and essence.
Regarding images produced by, distributed by, and mediated by technology, Rubinstein says: “When the surface is produced by the code, the surface is an essence.”
As a designer, these ideas deeply resonate with me as it means that every time I make an illustration or an invitation or a set of digital slides for my students the manner and choices with which I make what I’m making matters and convey a message just as much as the end piece matters and conveys a message. The surface is just as valuable as the essence because they’re fundamentally intertwined.
It’s interesting stuff to think about particularly when you insert an actor-network filter (which I think lends itself seamlessly). The talk ended with Rubinstein saying that he thinks we’re currently creating what will be the cave paintings of the digital age.
Kind of wonderful and mind-blowing, eh? Though the work is admittedly quite heady, the ideas are fascinating to think about particularly in light of how they might also speak to online arts education, networked learning, and the larger philosophical underpinnings of what is played out day to day in art/design education.