Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Media History Digital Library

Clara Bow on the cover of Motion Picture Magazine (November 1928, Vol. XXXVI, No. 4). Image Source: Media History Digital Library.

There is a great new popular culture archive devoted to television, radio and film now available for free online. It is called the Media History Digital Library and it features American content, mainly from the early-to-late 20th century.

Ad: "I'll give you magnetic power to attract people to you instantly, wherever you go." Motion Picture Magazine (November 1928, Vol. XXXVI, No. 4). Image Source:  Media History Digital Library.

Ralph Forbes. Motion Picture Magazine (November 1928, Vol. XXXVI, No. 4). Image Source: Media History Digital Library.

Olive Borden. Motion Picture Magazine (November 1928, Vol. XXXVI, No. 4). Image Source: Media History Digital Library.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Retro-Futurism 25: Tozo - Empire of the Spider

Tozo (4 September 2013) © By David O'Connell.

You may recall this post and this post, in which I described a great Web comic that is a perfect example of Millennial retro-futuristic style. The cartoonist, David O'Connell, combines steampunk-ish early-modern-to-nineteenth-century costumes and imagery with futuristic tropes. He sets his hero's story in a world that looks like a cross between Renaissance Venice, the fin-de-si├Ęcle Ottoman empire, and 1970s' sci-fiction, all at the same time. One minute, the characters have Elizabethan lace collars, the next minute they are interacting with Star-Wars-type robots. It's just great. O'Connell finished his first odyssey with this character, Tozo the Public Servant, in 2012. Yesterday, after a long hiatus, he started a new story, Tozo - Empire of the Spider (see the beginning here).

See all my posts on Retro-Futurism.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Historical Figures Turn Millennial

The Telegraph posted photoshopped artworks designed to show how five major historical figures would look today: "The artworks, which took three months to create, were created under the watchful eye of award-winning academic, author and historian Dr Suzannah Lipscomb to ensure the new artworks accurately reflect how the historical figures might look in 2013." (Hat tip: Curious Portraits of Dead Elizabethans via -C. Also posted at Gizmodo and elsewhere.) All images are from The Telegraph. The selection includes an adaptation of the disputed Cobbe portrait of the young Shakespeare. This is one example among many of how technology has changed our awareness of the past and made it plastic and anachronistic.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Genetic Surveillance Art

Heather Dewey-Hagborg: artist's self-portrait, demonstrating the surveillance capacity of DNA trace information. "6/28/12. Self-portrait. Based on mtDNA, Ancestry Information Markers and 50 trait specific SNPs describing gender, eye color and detail, hair color/baldness, hair curliness, complexion, skin lightness/darkness, tendency to be overweight." Image Source: Stranger Visions Project.

BBC reported this summer on an artist who creates portraits from DNA traces found on found objects. Beyond a Millennial artistic statement that is a weird interface of the scientific and transcendent, Heather Dewey-Hagborg aims to make the public aware of how much information really is there:
Heather Dewey-Hagborg is an artist who creates portraits of strangers based on DNA extracted from random rubbish. The project is meant to raise awareness of genetic surveillance, Dewey-Hagborg says. "We should be concerned because we don't know, yet, how our DNA might be used against us in the future," she says. Genetic artefacts such as cigarette butts and chewing gum yield enough DNA to determine one's ancestry, eye colour, and whether or not the person has a tendency to be overweight.
Some participants in this project have waived all copyright to their DNA information, which raises the prospect of understanding how copyright law applies to one's DNA.

While Dewey-Hagborg argues that she is not invading people's privacy and there is 'no way you could recognize someone' from her DNA reconstructions, two possible outcomes from her work immediately spring to mind.

One is the potential for criminal police investigations. The other is that we can trace the actual impact of external life upon our genetic heritage by observing the gap between the DNA reconstruction and the appearance of the real person. The DNA reconstruction provides an image of each person's basic 'blueprint.' The real person presents the 'blueprint' plus the impact of real life. That gap, between 'nature and nurture,' is something that has been the core of (often disturbing) debates in Darwinism versus Social Darwinism, left-right politics, political philosophy, and anthropological analyses since the 19th century.

Dewey-Haborg also identifies a very important aspect of the current mentality that drives technological change; she examines how inductive reasoning, or 'bottom-up' logic, runs rampant through the turn of the Millennium:
the concept of inductive bias, an inextricable component in the framework of intelligent computer systems. ... [T]his bias represents an abstract danger which could have very real social and political consequences. ... [M]y recent art projects [also] experiment with taking the apparatus of surveillance technology and re-purposing its mechanisms for the intention of play rather than the reinforcement of power.
Heather Dewey-Hagborg: Her DNA-Reconstructed-Self-Portrait and the artist In Real Life. Image Source: Design Boom.

DNA hair sample collection at site. Image Source: Thomas Dexter via Design Boom.

Petri dish of DNA samples. Image Source: Heather Dewey-Hagborg via Design Boom.

Sample 10: (Left) Bushwick - Adonis Grocery, 209 Wilson Avenue; (Right) DNA sample from haplogroup: H1+16189 (Spanish, Berber, Lebanese). Image Source: Heather Dewey-Hagborg via Design Boom.

Left: Sample 10 and Right: Sample 12. Image Source: Heather Dewey-Hagborg via Design Boom.

Sample 12: (Left) Bushwick - laundromat, Himrod Street; (Right) DNA sample from haplogroup: H2a2a (Eastern Europe, Near East). Image Source: Heather Dewey-Hagborg via Design Boom.