Theoretical framework

Excerpts from Web Aesthetics:

“Viewing a video downloaded from the Net differs from other home viewing experiences in the overall decay of the quality of the experience. The necessary compromise between
file size and quality is evident at the first moment of viewing. The less users pay in terms of time spent downloading, the more they will pay during viewing downloaded content. The data decay typical of selective compression systems (so called because the decrease of a file size is obtained by erasing some of its information) is, in fact, the exception to the rule for digitally coded media. As opposed to analogue media, digital media can ideally be incessantly copied without loss of quality.” [p.153]

“At the present time, we continue to share ‘impure’ digital material, in full awareness that this imperfection is inevitable, almost necessary, to the viewing experience itself.” [p.154]

“The widely used MP3 format is similarly based on the compression of digital data, with a concomitant degradation of the quality of the listening experience.” [p.154]

“I believe that the defining aspect of the experience of cultural contents attained from the
Internet is that they are what might be termed ‘disturbed aesthetic experiences’. One openly accepts interference, background noise, the loss of pixellation in the image, saturated colours, jerky switching between images, faded outlines, deflated low tones or screeching high tones – a catalogue of flaws that become part of everyday aesthetic experiences and irreversibly alter our perceptive universe.” [p.154]

“Although there are still of course digital sound systems capable of providing high-level listening experiences, today our attention seems to have shifted towards quantity rather than quality.” [p.155]

“The search for a pure, incorrupt sound has been abandoned for the utopia of an archive
capable of holding the unity of the whole; the myth of the sound like the ‘angel’s trumpets’ has been substituted for the myth of a fluid archive capable of being crossed by an absolute sea of digital sound.” [p.155-156]

“The absence of barriers to the free flowing of cultural digital data seems to have become of higher value than the quality of aesthetic experience that cultural objects give us. Thus the question becomes: What is the value of a disturbed aesthetic experience?” [p.156]

“Having clarified that the concept of disturbed aesthetic experience is not a new one, and acknowledging [...] that selective compression may soon become redundant, we face two alternatives in relation to digital cultural contents: the ‘model of perfection’ represented by digital supports offering the highest possible quality in terms of archiving and reproduction of digital data, such as CDs, DVDs, and Blu-Ray technology; and the ‘model of fluidity’ in which quality is secondary to absolute shareability. These models embody opposing political positions: the explicit or implicit acceptance of the logic of the market on one side;
and its total rejection on the other. It is important to note, however, that the sheer expense of ‘noble’ technological supports leads a large proportion of the population to opt for the ‘model of fluidity’, without necessarily acceding to its political premises. In relation to aesthetic enjoyment, society divides into those who have access to aesthetic experiences approaching perfection and the growing masses bound to accept disturbed experiences. Whereas in the past lower classes were simply unable to access certain forms of culture, here we see a more complex relation of inclusion and exclusion. As long as economically disadvantaged individuals have access to digital networks, they have access to forms of
culture, although those forms are subject to the mediations typical of the amateur processes of archiving and reproduction of digital data.” [p.159]

“The use of digital tools in cinema and the consequent lowering of standards of quality are not, however, necessarily a consequence of the low budgets confronting young independent directors. They might be the effect of an aesthetic transformation taking place in society that is, as always, detected by artists before it becomes an overt phenomenon.
If the quality of a film is related to finances only, why would important European directors and Hollywood stars with access to generous budgets participate in the production of films using low-cost digital technologies?” [p.161]

“Whether independent or mainstream, directors are increasingly choosing to use DV cameras and other technologies ‘beneath’ the standards of international cinema as the result of an aesthetic choice. Certainly, there is a generalized fascination with the new potentials offered by digital media. There might, however, also be a deeper fascination
with the everyday images that shape the tastes of the average Internet user. The contemporary visual landscape is dominated by YouTube clips, movies downloaded from P2P networks, television news from all over the world that increasingly hires freelance workers rather than specialists, and of the trembling images produced by millions of webcams pointed, now, towards everything and everyone. This landscape is characterized by low resolution images, jerky movements, pixellation and bad lighting – a disturbed landscape, certainly, but one that is far closer to reality than the sleek perfection of cinematic film. In this new aesthetic sensibility, speed and immediacy are preferred to refinement; documentary to fiction; and Lumière to Méliès.
The preference for DV’s over traditional cameras might be the result of an attempt at realism, although one is of course not dealing with reality as such, but a reality recounted, now, through digital media. Rather than judging this reality, it must be experienced and imagined, its images must be somehow reproduced.” [p.162]

“Somewhat unexpectedly, perhaps, many of the elements underlying those aesthetic experiences that I have defined as disturbed are evident in Zen Buddhist thought. Here, concepts such as asymmetry, indeterminacy and imperfection are valued; emptiness is placed before fullness, poverty before wealth, and incompleteness, disharmony and transience are placed before a static, Platonic cosmic harmony that has tended to dominate Western culture. To a greater degree than concepts such as wabi and sabi (recently popularized in the West, thanks to books such as Leonard Koren’s), which offer an aesthetic appreciation of poverty and insufficiency, I mean to recall that immediacy of the gesture (in Zen texts: ko-tzu) that underlies that which Daisetz Suzuki defines as an imperfection that ‘becomes a form of perfection’. In painting an ideogram, the Zen master is required to make one single gesture, which can never be corrected or erased. In this very condition, the inevitable imperfection of the trait confers upon the calligraphy a higher degree of truth than the impersonal perfection of typographic print. The imprecise sign, the stain that the ink leaves on the rice paper, become expressions of the instant transfer of inspiration from the artist to the sheet, without intervening filters and – finally – they ensure the authenticity of the gesture itself.” [p.165-166]

“Of the disharmony of Japanese art, Gillo Dorfles states that it leads to a condition whose aim is a perfection that does not belong to this world, and that cannot be reached by such a civilization as the present one, which is dominated by the perfection of technique, ‘but to which people have always aspired as if it was the “paradise lost” of an cosmic harmony that has enchanted Mankind across history, but that seldom could find a proper realization on our torn planet’. In the context of a general dissemination of Japanese culture in the Western world, thanks to cinema, literature (and Kawataba must be mentioned here), manga, anime and fashion, features of imperfection are winning over the Western sensibility. Without wanting to push the analogy with Buddhism, it is possible to state that the praise of imperfection strengthens the hypothesis that the present age is open to more authentic, imperfect images and sounds, in concert with a generalized distrust of the cold perfection of the cultural industry as a whole.” [p.166]


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