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not Luddite but ludic

Svetlana Boym’s Off-Modern Manifesto describes her interest in “broken-tech art”—and this is very much at the heart of my collaborative work on sensory substitution with Brian Glenney:

“Technology, we are told, is wholly trustworthy, were it not for the human factor. We seem to have gone full circle: to be human means to err. Yet, this margin of error is our margin of freedom. It’s a choice beyond the multiple choices programmed for us, an interaction excluded from computerized interactivity. The error is a chance encounter between us and the machines in which we surprise each other. The art of computer erring is neither high tech nor low tech. Rather it’s broken-tech. It cheats both on technological progress and on technological obsolescence. And any amateur artist can afford it. Art’s new technology is a broken technology.”

And this is not a simple critique of technology, a casting-doubt on its promises. It’s something else:

“Broken-tech art doesn’t thrive in destruction. At times, I go so far as to hit my computer, give it a mild spanking, push it to the limit. I want to handle it manually, like a craftsman handles his tools but without craftsman’s faith in the materials. Yet I never wish to annihilate the computer and return to the anxieties of leaking pens and inkblots on the grid-paper of my childhood. Broken-tech art is not Luddite but ludic. It challenges the destruction with play.”

And what can this play show us? Broken-tech art is the “art of short shadows”:

“[W]alter Benjamin wrote about the importance of short shadows. They are ‘no more than the sharp black edges at the feet of things, preparing to retreat silently, unnoticed, into their burrow, their secret being.’

Short shadows speak of thresholds, warn us against being too short-sighted or too long-winged. When we get too close to things, disrespecting their short shadows, we risk to obliterate them, but if we make shadows too long we start to enjoy them for their own sake.

Short shadows urge us to check the balance of nearness and distance, to trust neither those who speak of essences of things nor those who preach conspiratorial simulation.”

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