James Bridle is an artist, theorist, writer and visionary operating in an age which is still difficult to define. Bridle urges us to reflect on the ongoing process of radical transformation and on what the acceleration of technology has brought about in every field and discipline, reconfiguring not only traditional territorial geographies, but also language and behaviour.
New Dark Age. Technology and the End of the Future goes to the heart of this dimension and condition, which while not being entirely new was long shunned as a science fiction prophecy pertaining to a distant future.
The book is an important stage in Bridle’s research which, since the age of 13, has moved between visual arts and writing, the physical and online world. Works, reflections and theories – such as the one on the New Aesthetic – are interconnected and in dialogue with each other on his blog before moving and merging into new transformations.
The new dark age, as Bridle defines it in his book, is shaped by mass surveillance systems, transnational terrorism, climate change and conspiracy, among other things – all topics which the artist engages with in his visual research and are here reworked for a written text ready to continue the journey with new developments. «What all these themes have in common» declares Bridle in a recent interview for Arshake «is their paralysing effect». The most frightening thing, however, is not the transformation itself – which, since the advent of the computer, has arrived at a code/space culture that has spread into every aspect of human action – but the impossibility of understanding it. This is because we exist within it, «we cannot stand outside them [technological systems]; we cannot think without them» (p. 2).
Timothy Morton identified this same impenetrability in Hyperobjects, objects distributed in space and time and in relation to humans which can include the biosphere, black holes and the solar system which all have an opaque dimension, difficult to focus on and frame.
Darkness is anything but negative. It can be a place of freedom and potential. What needs to be done is to acquire an awareness of the fact that our existence occupies an uncertain grey area, hidden behind the veil of certainty which takes its shape and strength ‘in’ and ‘from’ communication channels. The real crisis in this transformation is, therefore, to be found in a crisis of knowledge and awareness, the same as that which is able to transform an area of uncertainty into an opportunity: «uncertainty can be productive, even sublime» (p. 15). This crisis of knowledge emerges in all chapters and topics tackled by Bridle in his book: from computational thinking to climate change, from Artificial Intelligence to blockchain technologies. This is particularly evident when the author focuses on the theme of surveillance, a phenomenon that arises out of hyper-control and which is shaped by our own complicity, where sight is blind: «everything is illuminated, but nothing is seen». All the ideas expressed in this book, bringing together Bridle’s research up to its publication, found an artistic outlet in the exhibition Agency at the NOME Gallery in Berlin, which saw the collaboration of various artists from different backgrounds and countries, revealing diverse aspects of this same direction of thought. Dark Age, therefore, is interpreted in a diverse range of visualisations, written and/or experiential, all aimed at stimulating reflection and becoming an active part of a transformation process which reconfigures perception and, as a result, nature, from obscurity into a wonderful combination of possibilities.
James Bridle, New Dark Age, Verso, London 2018
Interview to James Bridle, Arshake,13.12.2018