October 12th, 2007


The Future of Texture

So that I have them all together in one place, with images, and can throw them up onto the video screen as I give this lecture at 5.30pm to the big theater -- but also so that you can read them and comment! -- here are the notes for my lecture on The Future of Texture at the AIGA conference. I have to cram all this in 20 minutes! I'll be talking like a chipmunk!

david byrne song "in the future"
In the future everyone will only get to go home once a year.
In the future everyone will stay home all the time.
In the future TV will be so good that the printed word will function as an artform only.
In the future no one will be able to afford TV.
the future of texture is all wrapped up with the future of authenticity, with the body and the "soul"
there's a crisis of formats and a crisis of texture, and it relates to our confusion about what is real and authentic
dead formats society
vinyl, cd, mp3... the ise shrine
"some of our treasures are too important to be made to change form and format over and over. others are too important not to."
this has long been a problem in western thought, the struggle between metaphysics or religion, on one side, and materialism -- the body -- on the other. body and soul, then. we could say the current crisis is at the interface between body and soul
but it's also a question of:
form / content
medium / message
signifier / signified
use value / exchange value

body soul plato epicurus
first impressions of denver
sim city
jc penney
camping goods store outdoor world
daniel libeskind's aiga lecture yesterday
the mayor's encouragement of iconic buildings by international architects
katherine and michael McCoy, High Ground Studios
would the "real" denver please stand up?
essence of denver, its soul -- the kind of thing you'd try and squeeze into a logo
(note that that proposes graphic design as a mind body problem, a spiritual activity, and concerned with the thorny problem of authenticity)
scrubby grass, mountains
red indian place, different cosmology
american indians displaced an even earlier indigenous population
stephin merrit conversation about the carter family etc
dark matter, eternally receding horizon of authenticity
as if that slipperiness wasn't enough, we have cultural relativism to contend with
how was it for you?
so what's real? when's it real? and where? and for whom?
we can say "what's here and now is real"
listen to the sound of the room
john cage
but when the texture of a city is an identical jc penney or an iconic building by an international architect?
libeskind's abstract sketches might fall to earth in the form of a building in berlin or new york
we're very cerebral, very disembodied, and becoming more so
gregory of nyssa
4th century constantinople
"everywhere the city is full of it, the alley-ways, the streets, the squares; the men who sell clothes, the money-changers, the food sellers. If you ask about the rate of exchange, you get a lecture on the Created and the Uncreated. You ask the price of a loaf of bread, and you are told by way of reply that the Father is superior, the Son subordinate. You inquire whether the public bath is a convenient one, and he replies that the Son was made out of nothing..."
could design be metaphysical?
metaphysical masochism of the capitalist creative
designers and gay people are the only people (in the west) who care about texture above money
(new york only as good as gold)
but it would be a mistake to say that design was totally materialist -- it's also something that incarnates spiritual values
in fact it's become a sort of religion
design as religion
analogue books in edinburgh more holy than st giles cathedral
paradox -- japanese materialism becomes a sort of microspirituality
Super Normal: Sensations of the Ordinary is a new book by Naoto Fukasawa and Jasper Morrison. It's a compilation of text and photos of 204 everyday objects which exemplify what Fukasawa and Morrison have called "super normal design".
Super normal design means design which, instead of trying to stand out by making a statement or being "stimulating", blends into the background, becoming unobtrusive but indispensable.
"That the 3rd world and the design avant garde of the 1st world might be thinking along the same lines. That normal might be the new special, and that standard might be better than exceptional. That the marketing vocabularies of couture and pret-a-porter might have traded places. That it's precisely the bland middlebrow middle classes who want to call everything "extraordinary", and that it takes someone quite aristocratic to want to champion the virtues of the normal and the standard. That utility might secretly be a decorative value too. That things stand out by blending in. That the designer, having won the right to be a superstar auteur, might suddenly want to be a butler."
but i want to get back to the formats crisis, and how the formats crisis is a crisis of texture too, and of authenticity
what is authentic texture (cooking in us restaurants)
if it says it's a german restaurant, how many layers of staff have to be german before it's "authentically german"?
when i read a book on a screen and ask it, as i asked that waiter at heidelberg, "are you really a book?" will it answer "sometimes"?
does it have the "soul" of a book but the body of my iPod Touch?
these are big questions, because many of us are investing heavily in virtual worlds
second life
465 million global users of virtual worlds
virtual world interoperability: a new era where the many previously walled-garden virtual worlds can share content, currency and even identity, all in the guise of making life easier for end users and, ideally, for enterprises trying to leverage the Second Lifes of the world for businesses purposes.
consortium of IBM, Cisco Systems, Intel, Microsoft, Motorola, Google and Sony, as well as from leading virtual-world developers like Second Life publisher Linden Lab, the Multiverse Network, Mindark and others
Is there a radical impovershment of tactile experience in store?
do these corporations want us to abandon "real" life and "real" textures?
Reality's for losers: give me Wii!
the first biennial in second life

being a performance artist at the whitney biennial
being a musician, the prime switching from cds to concerts
the post-bit atom
"hey, this is special because it can't be turned into zeroes and ones"
77 BOADRUM and other events, including AIGA conference, draw more and more power from "not being the internet" -- not being digitizable
money imposes an unnecessary degree of abstraction
"don't ask me what rice is, don't ask me my advice
i've no idea what rice is, all that i know is its price"
use value
exchange value
why doesn't the world's richest country have the world's richest textures?
answer: distribution, but also priorities
noisy streets, smelly garbage, tasteless (or too-sweet, too-spicy) food...
quaero: chirac's search engine, which would have given us super textural search... maybe!
search engines which search virtual worlds for virtual objects, perhaps a blue car search will yield real blue cars and virtual ones
it is rockist to say that the white thing I read off must feel like paper. if instead it has a glossy screen and can be pinch-zoomed, like the ipod touch, who am i to say this is an impoverishment? is paper always to feel like paper?
must the soul of literature always be carried on the body of paper?
must music be something i get on a plastic disc?
but if the medium is the message...?
mcluhan, painting's role after photography
window on the world has the tendency to make the medium invisible
just as we all think we don't have an accent (or personality), so we think our dominant media don't have their own texture, flavor, smell etc
this is revealed as illusion when they're displaced by an arriving new medium
the newly-revealed texture of the old representational medium is presented in a fetishized manner
painting after photography is no longer about representation (a window on the world) but about the brush-stroke, the texture of paint, etc.
it suddenly has a "smell", a texture, after all
actual research into transmitting smell over the internet
but maybe we're looking in the wrong place, maybe instead of looking at smell as we know it we should look at new things we're making which are like smells
back to mcluhan again, the idea of every new technology being an extension of an existing human sense -- seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting.
watching the wifi networks go by it occurred to me that these are very much like new "smells" that we've created. sitting in a taxi going up park avenue i can see all the networks go by, with their names, and they're almost like smells.
same thing with ubicomp, ubiquitous computing. little readers pick up localized data streams and tell the bearer of a handheld gadget information about specific things he's passing by means of tags

picture of bees, boston graffiti
but it's not quite a case of AND AND, or of "it's all good" or "the more the merrier". as this graffiti i saw on the sidewalk in boston spells out, there may be a clash between these new textures we're creating and the ones nature has developed. bees might be killed off by cell phone signal. and in that case it would be a case of having to choose between our new "smells" (in the form of localized clouds of data) and the old, natural ones.
back to basic materialism: we really do have bodies, and the world is real
but materialism is not without its own spiritual value
al gore's nobel peace prize
the future of texture is above all about getting things right in the real world
byrne again:
In the future no one will fight with anyone else.
In the future there will be mini-wars going on everywhere.
it's up to us.