It is a mistake to believe that painting produces images. Images are what the eye tells the brain. Painting produces images on a support or substrate, such as oil on canvas – in other words, image objects. The camera obscura cast images on the wall; it was thus similar to the process of seeing and did not create image objects. With photography came the machine-aided production of image objects, the entry “into the universe of technical images,” to borrow the title of Vilém Flusser’s refinement of his philosophy of photography, first published in German in 1985. One of the earliest publications on photography, by William Henry FoxTalbot, bore the revealing title “Some Account of the Art of Photogenic Drawing, or the Process by Which Natural Objects May Be Made to Delineate Themselves without the Aid of the Artist’s Pencil” (in: The Athenæum, no. 589, 1839). This title is both correct and incorrect: It is correct in stating that the artist is no longer involved in the creation of the image. It is incorrect in claiming that the objects depict themselves; it covers up the device with which the objects are depicted. Accordingly, Talbot’s theoretical and artistic magnum opus, The Pencil of Nature (1844), is incorrectly titled as well. The correct title would be “The Chemomechanical Pencil.”
Technoaesthetics begins with photography, meaning the mechanical, technical production of image objects. According to Flusser, technical images are “[…] different from all previous images, and not only […] because they are produced by technological devices. On the contrary, [it is] because they originate in a different – and more abstract – layer of consciousness […].” (Ins Universum der technischen Bilder, 1985, p. 140; translated from the German) 1).
Abstraction is necessary to calculate and compute the point elements into mosaics, using the keys of the device. Technical images “are generated in automatic devices and automatically conducted along channels to the receiver” (ibid., p. 141; translated from the German) 2). There is thus a danger of “mechanical totalitarianism” (ibid.; translated from the German) 3). Only by means of the technique of dialogue “can totalitarianism give way to a democratic structure” (ibid.; translated from the German) 4). Telematic dialogue has the power to produce a society in which all participants are creators and critics, a cybernetically controlled network (ibid., p. 142) 5).
Consequently, human-machine interaction and public participation play a central role in technoaesthetics. These are made possible by “keyboards” – that is, by interfaces with machines. This is why I wrote, in my essay “Transformationen der Techno-Ästhetik” [Transformations of Technoaesthetics], that “[t]he techno-transformation[s] of art, from photography to digital images, are machine art forms.They are based on a fundamental triple: object – apparatus – image.” (Weibel, “Transformationen der Techno-Ästhetik,” in: Rötzer, Digitaler Schein, 1991, p. 241; translated from the German). So in technoaesthetics, we write “sign” in place of the word “being.” Technoaesthetics is a semiotic, postontological aesthetics originating in the Industrial Revolution, the revolution of the machines (see Talbot).
Original article by Peter Weibel