The Liquid Electric
Source TitleBalance-Unbalance 2015: Water, Climate, Place: Re-Imagining Environments
PublisherASU Herberger Institute
University of Melbourne Author/sGoodwin, Mitchell
Document TypeConference Paper
CitationsGoodwin, M. (2015). The Liquid Electric. Balance-Unbalance 2015: Water, Climate, Place: Re-Imagining Environments, ASU Herberger Institute.
Access StatusOpen Access
Open Access URLhttps://vimeo.com/129833294
The representation of a life sustaining force, either of technological or natural means, has a deep and evocative history in some of our most elaborate cultural fantasies. Embedded in the fictitious dreamscapes of cinema, advertising and media art are the foundational principles of an emergent digital aesthetics of liquid. The art direction is often blue and luminous in tone, it is always found at the core of the film’s novum, and it often takes on a kinetic electrical form. It is as if these cultural artifacts - reaching back to the earliest uses of CGI, such as Disney’s 1982 film Tron and on to more recent Hollywood parables such as A.I. and Avatar – recognize the very Gothic anxiety we hold for our environment in the twilight years of industrialization. Appearing in all manner of image constructions, the liquid electric is presented as the source code - the host, the conductor, the origin – of our very human struggle with technology and evolving notions of artificiality. It has emerged from a place of darkness, this liquid energy, stylized as a predominately luminous surface texture contrasted most commonly against a narrative setting of loss and foreboding. Very much like the anxiety we feel for the contemporary perils of creeping urbanization, of resource exploitation and climate instability, the liquid electric operates in a contested space where the usual laws of physics, logic and nature have become unstable. This light-on-dark aesthetic has a somewhat deeper history. It is a technique once used by the Italian Futurists and the imagineers such as Thomas Edison and Norman Bel Geddes to promote the wonders of technology and electrification – sometimes with troubling and unwanted consequences. However, it is now being exploited by a new breed of digital artisans to foreground the perils of resource scarcity, to question the ubiquity of virtual networks and to interrogate the rise of the machine in a fragile imbalanced ecosystem. Indeed there is a discernible influence of machine vision at work here, and theorists such as Foucault, and, more presently, Paul Virilio and Zygmunt Bauman, have noted its ubiquitous rise. Most certainly it is strongly felt in the data visualizations emerging from the ATLAS observer at CERN, in the animations of NASA and in the marketing iconography of device technology and software, but there is something else at work here too. It is as if this liquid – this essence of life – is speaking, indeed screaming, through our mediated cultural artifacts. Perhaps through our fictions can we truly grasp the gravity of our most dire realities? It would seem that the liquid electric is not just an aesthetic turn or a narrative device but an explicit visual sign – nature’s digital avatar – reminding the audience of the precarity of existence in both the realms of the virtual and the real.
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