Thursday, April 30, 2015

Pete Ashton, Alvin Lucier and the futility of originality

Pete Ashton’s Sitting In Stagram is a digital art project that takes as its starting point the absence of a repost function in Instagram; users have to create a fresh screen capture when they send an image, causing subtle, cumulative deterioration each time. Ashton’s work was also inspired by Alvin Lucier’s sound piece I Am Sitting In A Room, in which the repetition of recorded speech degenerates into incoherent noise.

Of course, repetition doesn’t necessarily always mean a downturn in quality but it’s a pretty good rule of thumb — just look at the trajectory of most movie sequels. And even when a project doesn’t become objectively worse, we seem to lose interest ever more quickly. Think how fast memes die away these days; how soon did the various iterations of the Harlem Shake lose their charm? Inevitably it turns out that Ashton’s idea isn’t a new one, a fact that he readily acknowledges: “There are no original ideas and that is an awesome thing.”

So does Sitting In Stagram become less good as its originality recedes? Does it transcend the process of representation and become the very thing it’s depicting? There’s one thing to be said for it in this age of stunted attention spans, at least by comparison with the Lucier piece — it’s a damn sight shorter.

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