Joseph Nechvatal

With the flurry of neo-abstraction as simulation, our shaky notion of
progress, it seems, has become terminally obsolete. Linear history (or
even difference) no longer exists in art. Mutating versions of a hollow
past, we are told, has replaced the now archaic notion of originality, a
notion crushed to death under the weight of a monolithic capitalist
technological determinate. Neo-Geo's claim at a symbolic representation of
this (or any) sociopolitical circumstance is an idea I intend to
investigate here, along with the appearance of a new and more plausible
decadence; one which in many ways parallels the decadence/symbolism of the
Fin de Siècle (1880-1899). Hyper-real Simulation, like Fin de Siècle art,
does not lead back to the organic world but to the nothingness that we have
discovered within ourselves. Both represent the despair of Romanticism and
Modernism, respectively, and to a great degree are a reversal of their
principal tenets. That we, as they, live at the end of a century (what's
been called the American century), and at the end of an art age (i.e.
Modernism) is obvious when we consider the decay around us. We live in the
days of odd hallucinations and of fixed ideas passing into mania.

Today, in a culture of massive electronic deluge, the reproduction of
images and meanings has blurred into a complex, networked abundance,
referred to often as overload. The idea that a reductive abstraction can
refer to this state of affairs (the free floating signifier) is an act of
great and wishful imagination/projection. The essential specificity of
abstract pictures seems to mitigate against their capturing the contents of
general, social ideas. Berkeley criticized Locke for thinking that an idea
can be simultaneously general and pictorial, an objection to Neo-Geo's
abstract representationalism dating back to the empiricist theories of
meaning. Berkeley tried to solve this problem by claiming that specific
pictures represent general ideas by a process of abstraction in which we
selectively ignore certain specific features. All pictures work in
partnership with something decidedly non-pictorial, but don't many general
terms fail to have corresponding images? (i.e. God, Spirit, Information,
circulation, patriotism). Behaviorists argue against the use of images as
explanatory constructs on the grounds that their use involves the empty
positing of homunculus, the need for mediation. Even discounting these
objections, can abstract pictures trying to serve mental ends work as
explanatory constructs in portraying the Postmodern information glut?
Since no one signal can transmit an infinite number of distinct images, the
answer must be no. Where the signal considered is simultaneously a
physical object (painting) and a representation, one is attracted to the
possibility of collapsing both concepts into each other. But can this be
done? Only epistemicly; by ignoring the physical limitations of the
painting. One tries to see how social contents is inferred from the
object, to see how the judgmental content of a viewing experience is
postulated by the visual model to contain semantic information. But
without the use of association it cannot be seen. Representations have
syntactic structure because they exist in a representational system. The
association of elements within that system is what makes up a pictorial
language. From this, can we conclude, that the positing of
representational, not abstract, systems is required in the portrayal of the
free floating signifier as circulated by the media and TV. Surely abstract
art exists as a minor subset in the mise-en-scene of imploded information,
but only a very small one. Neo-Geo represents nothing at all. It's
inferential representationalism has no existential hypothesis. Like
delusions, they have false existential claims as their sentential
surrogates (or general proposals which lack specificity) and therefor
remain only sentential.

What we see in any picture is always lines and colors (shapes) arranged on
a 2D plane. How can a flowing, glutted society which has been decentered
and devalued by information saturation be depicted? Postsimulation
representation does so with the use of dissolving established
representational forms for the purpose of creating a more pervasive
inference. As the sun in a picture of a sunset, the ever expanding
electronic grid which links society together in a general complex of
information/representation can be implied, but not directly shown. It can
be implied through a logical use of decayed and imploded representational
desiderata. This NU DECADENCE subverts the dominant media forms while at
the same time constructing an emancipatory alternative. It consciously
exploits unfulfilled expectations by elaborating existing representational
(including abstract) tradition to the point of apparent dissolution. It is
heresy within the faith. It is elaborate, heady, intricately composed,
grotesque and artificial. Unlike the art of the simulacrum, the Nu
Decadence is an advancement and a reversal all at once. It makes the
familiar world of the simulation seem chaotic; annihilating the rejected,
the external, the given, in our minds with Nietzschean slyness, intensity,
and disgust. It is an art of dissolving (not merely circulating), form
which better represents the decentered ideological space inherent in the
postmodern sensibility which we can clearly see as the beginning of the new
end. 20th Century forms have been exhausted, so form now becomes
exasterbated in an accelerated imploded and mannered form. A new
irrationality, confusion and non belief emerges as the dominant forms are
subverted without being surpassed. The current image bank has become
terminally polluted with the collapse of once fundamental distinctions, the
collapse of meaning (and the subject) through over circulation, and loss of
meaningful context.

The Nu Decadence conveys this sense of loss through abundance; specifically
a loss of the spirit. Spiritual longing in the Nu Decadence, atomizes the
material/reproduced world in order to compose it anew, but it does so in an
indirect way to subvert it's material. It rejects the inelegant
contemporary world, and stresses the longing for another; a higher
consciousness, a higher aesthetic and ideal, a superrepresentationalism, an
ecstasy. Embodied in the network of electronic/computer simulation,
information and images flow interchangeably in an ever shifting context of
signification perversion. Forms start snowballing and stampeding towards
their end by overfeeding on themselves. Systems devour their own reality
principle, ultimately causing their own downfall by being absorbed (by
their own success) into a dissolution of the form, thereby completing it's
life cycle. The subversion of the Nu Decadence takes place in the
completing of the cycle.

As a model of conversion, ND visualizes change with it's employing of
existing convention on one hand, and it's negation of them on the other;
denying normal grounds of interpretation and reception. It concerns itself
with the violation of codes in a much more radical way than the
Neo-Geo/Simulation art, as it utilizes occult systems to oppose what is.
It uses codes without accepting those codes. It emphasizes tantalization
and provocation. It dwells upon the pain and longing which is symptomatic
of our time. No state is permanent, all is open to rearrangement in a
society where there is no distance between categories of information, or of
style any longer. Where the art of simulation was uncritical thus
supportive of this condition, ND emphasizes the violation of these and
other expectations while forcing an intellectual re-creation of form in the
minds of the audience. ND balances and mixes conscious elements and
depends upon predictable audience responses to manipulate, as it weaves
composition into a rich mix of contending elements, the order and
significance of which can be recovered only through an intellectual effort
at comprehension. The works are embodiments of texts" (in the Barth sense)
and often heavily ornamented. They call upon the viewer to interpret the
various elements of the composition, reading the chaotic and conflicting
abundance of detail, and when received correctly, building up to a tightly
intricate whole. Although they draw their imploded parts into a coherent
whole, they still retain a provocative discord or irritation; tantalizing
the audience towards something (a meaning, a resolution) withheld in the
work. Elements are tantalizing because they are obscure in their
overabundance. The assemblage of signification, whose decipherable
meanings transform their specificity, appropriates these symbols and
reorders their traditional form in favor of some new and higher
psychologically and spiritually grounded structure and subtext. The mind
is stimulated to aspire to a unity of idea that is only implied in the work
of art. Only by penetrating the significance of the various details does
the organization of the composition make complete sense. Otherwise it
seems as utter visual noise.

But in our simulation culture, whose main product is information, a more
highly encoded signification should be expected as we are able to combine
many individual symbols into complex relationships, or chunks, of
information which can be treated as a single megasymbol. As information
becomes our new raw material, a highly processed data based art can be
expected. In a world without closure, one might expect these kinds of
whirlpools to form in the apparatus of art and technology. This is the
site of the ND artist, this site of flux, of the hybrid.

This post simulation decadence is a rejection of the contemporary world and
it's values as it represents a thrusting beyond all existing boundaries.
It is complex and asymmetrical-mirroring our own fleeting impressions which
constitute the movement of our consciousness, the perpetual weaving and
unweaving of ourselves. It better captures the complexity and turbulence
of our age than other previously mentioned attempts. It is not a static,
not a reductive concept or practice, but a dialectical one that carries
it's own opposite in itself. It is the revelation of a new, higher order
hidden in the overexposure of the technological space-time, through a style
imitating the process of transformation.

As Jean-Francois Lyotard says in Drtftworks: Here is a course of action:
harden, worsen, accelerate decadence. Adopt the perspective of active
nihilism, exceed the mere recognition - be it depressive or admiring-of the
destruction of all values. Become more and more incredulous. Push decadence
further still and accept, for instance, to destroy the belief in truth
under all its forms.

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