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Title: An Improper Materialism: On Aesthesis, Synesthesia, and the Digital
Authors: Scarlett, Ashley
Issue Date: 13-Jul-2016
Abstract: The last five years have witnessed a considerable uptick in the exploration of digital materiality within media art practice and critique. This emerging area of research posits digital materiality as an irreconcilable though sustained duality; it typically accounts for either the physical infrastructure that undergirds digital systems or the semio­material expressions of digital code. While the analyses emerging from these camps of thought have filled critical gaps in a field plagued by a rhetoric of dematerialization, much of this work relies upon a dated conceptualization of “materiality,” that falsely conceptualizes it as a property belonging to stable entities. In a world that is increasingly being articulated by the micro­temporal refresh of digital devices, a new understanding of materiality needs to be developed that can better account for the material dynamism of digital processes. According to Johanna Drucker (2009), a promising point of departure might be sought through aesthetic engagement with the interpretive strategies that digital material(ity) “cues.” To this end, this paper explores synesthetic catachresis as one of the key interpretive strategies that contemporary media artists are drawing upon in an effort to conceptualize and grapple with new modes of “digital materiality.” Grounded within a series of material­driven interviews that I conducted with forty international media artists, I will provide: a concise review of emerging research on digital materiality within the field of contemporary media art; and a critical analysis of occasions where artist­respondents conjured their senses synesthetically as a disoriented means of grasping at the material attributes of their digital works. Furthermore, framing these accounts as instances of “synesthetic catachresis,” I will end with a discussion of the broader implications that this particular interpretive strategy has for how a uniquely digital materiality might be better understood.
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