What is the role of the artist in a world operated by the codes of computational thinking? What will the future for art look like when it is progressively influenced by both past normalisations and by normalisations in the making? In this chapter, I speculate on the development of the role of the artist in the larger context of society, and apply my conclusions about the future and about the role in the field of art and culture to analyse the direction of current movements. Most importantly, I try—as an artist, as a member of society, and as a human facing the relentless approach of computational thinking on ethics and morality—to provide strategies for dealing with the future. 

I want to begin this chapter with a disclaimer borrowed from Peter Frase, who introduced his book Four Futures, by noting that he does not, in his writing, wish to display his predictions of events in their totality as a would-be futurologist, but rather that he creates fictions based on his extrapolation of current developments. The result is what Frase calls “social science fiction”:


Science fiction is to futurism what social theory is to conspiracy theory: an altogether richer, more honest and more humble enterprise. Or to put it another way, it is always more interesting to read an account that derives the general from the particular (social theory) or the particular from the general (science fiction), rather than attempting to go from the general to the general (futurism) or the particular to the particular (conspiracism). 


Like Frase’s narratives, my story is too just that—a story. What follows is a narrative that, like countless narratives before it, helps us to accommodate the unknown future. It is a fiction based on facts, yes, but a fiction nonetheless. 

I chose to examine the dynamics of art and culture, and not, say, economics or politics, because I believe that these “humanities,” are, from my vantage, furthest from the direct influence of automation and computation. However, these areas are not impermeable to computation’s influence, and I suggest that computation will eventually, inevitably overtake artistic creation and cultural experience. Still, as the following chapters show, the concepts of art and culture have always been volatile conceptions, shifting normalisations determined by the Zeitgeist and by generational changes The object form of art, and the process of the creation of an art object—and I mean object in the broadest sense of the word, including theatrical works, music, and architecture—can be included in the totality of computational data: what art is, and what art was are both answerable questions, at least according to histories and historiographies of art. But by asking the question “Why do we make art?” we are able to look beyond the object and into the process of creation, beyond the experience of the result and into the drive and desire of the artist to create and of the spectator to engage. The role of the artist, then, becomes disconnected from material tradition and object expectation, but its essence, an essence given form by the whims of contemporaneity, remains intact.




And so, finally, I suppose, he would be able to look upon the sun itself and see its true nature, not by reflections in water or phantasms of it in an alien setting, but in and by itself in its own place.
— Plato 


In Books III and X of his Republic, Plato addresses his quarrel with poets and, by extension, with artists in general. He deduces that they are imitators of the world, and therefore far from the truth: “The tragic poet is an imitator, and therefore, like all other imitators, he is thrice removed from the king and from the truth.” Plato blames the poet for her corrupting and passion-inciting words, which he considers of a lower quality than the words of reason. Society, according to Plato, should only consist of people who imitate nothing, who produce no stories, fictionalise nothing, and who only play one role (if “play” is the right word at all). 


If then we adhere to our original notion and bear in mind that our guardians, setting aside every other business, are to dedicate themselves wholly to the maintenance of freedom in the State, making this their craft, and engaging in no work which does not bear on this end, they ought not to practice or imitate anything else; if they imitate at all, they should imitate from youth upward only those characters which are suitable to their profession—the courageous, temperate, holy, free, and the like; but they should not depict or be skilful at imitating any kind of illiberality or baseness, lest from imitation they should come to be what they imitate. Did you never observe how imitations, beginning in early youth and continuing far into life, at length grow into habits and become a second nature, affecting body, voice, and mind?

When these guardians are to imitate anything or reproduce anything, their acts should be virtuous. Artists cannot by this logic be virtuous, as they imitate what they see without necessarily evaluating the virtue of what they imitate. They create without understanding. 


This was the conclusion at which I was seeking to arrive when I said that painting or drawing, and imitation in general, when doing their own proper work, are far removed from truth, and the companions and friends and associates of a principle within us which is equally removed from reason, and that they have no true or healthy aim. The imitative art is an inferior who marries an inferior, and has inferior offspring.


Poets, Plato decides, should therefore not be allowed in a society of reason. Only those who can prove that their art is useful for the continuation of the state are allowed. Those who express narratives of other’s lives, or appeal to the emotions “feed and water the passions instead of drying them up.” 

It is striking, then, to see Plato conjure an allegory of the world, a fictionalisation of reality, when he explains the configuration of cave-dwelling, shadow-loving prisoners and fantasises about their escape therefrom. When he tells this picturesque tale of transcendent possibilities, he turns himself into a storyteller of the highest degree. The entire thought experiment of the Republic, in fact, in which Plato discusses the possibility of a nation governed by laws based on righteousness, virtue, and the will of philosopher-kings, is an image of utopia. He envisions a world with and suggests how it ought to be based on his own experience and insights, making him the imitator of his own dreams: he is a philosopher-poet. 

The allegory of the cave’s many adaptations in a wide array of forms and genres of fiction are testimony to its poetical value. That we are prisoners, shown only the shadows of true form from our limited vantages; that we are bound to look at projections, unable to turn our heads around; that if we were to break free, the light source would blind us and scare us back into submission; that only the most persistent and pure of people can overcome the blinding light and start to find their way out of the cave; that once outside, the urge is great to free others, but that these others will only appear lost to those enlightened; and that the imprisoned will only ridicule the free, for the enlightened view of the world will seem incomprehensible. From the story of the resurrection of Christ to The Matrix, from Also Sprach Zarathustra to The Truman Show, from The Fountainhead to City of Ember, the story has been transformed, updated, and reimagined. It posits that an individual can escape, almost physically, with much hardship and persistence, from the clutches of a feigned reality, through which she or he will overcome a generalised, status-quo mindset. It is a story of climbing, of taking off, of traversing, of raising, of taking a step, of going forward and upward, of awakening, of opening the eyes, and of expanding the mind. It is a story of transcending the human.

And as Plato, in his mission for rationality and for his own escape from the cave, was inevitably also a great fabulator and poet, so were those who came after him and those who were brought up with expectations of transcending the cave door. The position at the helm of time and the universe, with superior vision and virtue, is given only to those who control the techniques of storytelling, those who combine knowledge and image in fictionalisation. They imitate their experience in formats that permit their transmission. Plato did so with poetic words, others might find painting or drawing to do the trick, and music or sculpture could work for yet another group. For Bergson, the masters are those who paint the story:


The great painters are men who possess a certain vision of things which has or will become the vision of all men. A Corot, a Turner—not to mention others—have seen in nature many an aspect that we did not notice. Shall it be said that they have not seen but created, that they have given us products of their imagination, that we adopt their inventions because we like them and that we get pleasure from looking at nature through the image the great painters have traced for us? […] If we reflect deeply upon what we feel as we look at a Turner or a Corot, we shall find that, if we accept them and admire them, it is because we had already perceived something of what they show us. But we had perceived without seeing.

We seenature and the world through the frames provided by others, by the poets and storytellers, the wordsmiths and marketeers, the artists and masters. And they themselves have created this transcendent story about themselves—promising us that they see more than others, that they see the inner mechanics of reality, that they can cast off their shackles and bear to step outside the cave. We look at the paintings of the master and see a superior view of the world. And then what? Are we supposed to follow their leads, mimicking what they create? Are we to follow in their footsteps and find the keys to our chains ourselves? 

What is the goal of this transcendent dream? Plato believes that a nation’s ruler should be the enlightened, cave-exploring philosopher because he thinks himself one. Ideas of individual transcendence have spread through societies like wildfire, kindling the flame of greatness in those who presume themselves to be capable of reaching it. Often referred to as a calling, a vocation, or desire, transcendence—the want to leave a legacy—is presented as innately human, as natural, as human nature: our counteractions to the natural limitations of time and our corporeal existence. 

Nature does not permit things to stay the same forever. Progress is a normalisation, an assumption based on the natural progression of time’s arrow. Transcendence, then, represents the final step forwards in ideas of progress. It is an evolution, yes, but not a necessary one. It is only a story we use to cope with time’s dynamics. And like all stories, it is an incomplete one. 


3_1_1_What Comes Naturally


Why do we make art? This is hardly an easier question to respond to than “What is art?” not least in contemporary society. As for what it was in the past, we can outline an answer, if incompletely. There are records of objects in early cultures dispersed all over the globe that resemble one another: rock paintings, musical instruments, ornamental pottery, jewels, and collections of feathers or exceptional rocks, clay figurines, monolithic formations, symbols crafted into the soil or mountainside. Seemingly unrelated peoples on far sides of the planet produced these objects, which, on the surface, seem definitively related to each other. With this in mind, I want to return to Steven Pinker, the sociobiologist, who sees causality between the creation of art and human nature. In an attempt to refute the blank-slate dogma, Pinker dedicates an entire chapter of his book The Blank Slate to framing the desire to create as an innate, even genetically determined trait, rather than as a cultural production. 


Art is in our nature—in the blood and in the bone, as people used to say; in the brain and in the genes, as we might say today. In all societies people dance, sing, decorate surfaces, and tell and act out stories. Children begin to take part in these activities in their twos and threes, and the arts may even be reflected in the organization of the adult brain: neurological damage may leave a person able to hear and see but unable to appreciate music or visual beauty. Paintings, jewelry, sculpture, and musical instruments go back at least 35,000 years in Europe, and probably far longer in other parts of the world where the archaeological record is scanty. The Australian aborigines have been painting on rocks for 50,000 years, and red ochre has been used as body makeup for at least twice that long. Though the exact forms of art vary widely across cultures, the activities of making and appreciating art are recognizable everywhere.


However, in a 2003 TED Talk given mere months after his book was published, Pinker states that, while his book links a wide variety of controversial human patterns—such as crime, free will, education, evolution, gender differences, homosexuality, Nazism, parenting, rape, religion, and warthat—to biological and evolutionary impulses, his chapters on both the arts and on parenting were the ones met with the greatest resistance. Critics were unable to reconcile with the idea that the arts are a result of biological evolution, of genetic determination, or of natural origin at all. 

It is in some ways poetic, then, to see that it is the statement that the arts could somehow be influenced by human nature that draws so much ire and not its opposite. This is a reaction brought about by twentieth and twenty-first century understandings of what art is or what art is supposed to be. 

To this, Pinker responds with Dennis Dutton’s seven universal signatures, or facets of art that are recognisable everywhere, in every culture: 


Expertise or virtuosity. Technical artistic skills are cultivated, recognized, and admired. 

Nonutilitarian pleasure. People enjoy art for art’s sake, and don’t demand that it keep them warm or put food on the table. 

Style. Artistic objects and performances satisfy rules of composition that place them in a recognizable style. 

Criticism. People make a point of judging, appreciating, and interpreting works of art. 

Imitation. With a few important exceptions like music and abstract painting, works of art simulate experiences of the world. 

Special focus. Art is set aside from ordinary life and made a dramatic focus of experience. 

Imagination. Artists and their audiences entertain hypothetical worlds in the theater of the imagination. 


Which one of these rules is truly linked to human nature and can undoubtedly be considered as untouched by the normalisations of society? Where can we say, without any ambiguity, that any one of these is not determined by social relations? Expertise is recognised in art as being a trait of the master, but when performed outside of the arts, say, by a crane operator or an electrician, it is not admired as such. Nonutilitarian pleasure is entirely framed by the definition of utility. Style can be attributed to tradition, which makes it referential and thus recognisable. Criticism can, by definition, only take place within a society and is very much dependent on the normalisations of that time. Special focus is put on art solely by society, as many other activities performed by humanity fit all the other categories yet do not receive a special focus. This leaves us with numbers 5. and number 7., Imitation and Imagination, which I would consider to be closer to each other than is commonly accepted. Imitation is the creation of stories from experience, the creation of normalisations; one could say the same about imagination, at least, when it is brought from the mind to the world. 

I do not agree at all with Pinker, but I am fascinated by the reaction to his proposal. His account of the evolution of the arts is approximative at best; he cherry-picks events and transformations of ideas to fit his generalising comparison between high and low art, as if the former was an unfortunate choice and the latter a natural development. Still, the defensive attitude shown by cultural intellectuals towards his questionable argument exposes that cultural values, as universal as they can be thought to be, are wavering. 

I do not believe, as Pinker does,that modern or postmodern art has doomed itself by neglecting or actively counteracting human nature. It is Pinker’s focus on the idea that “art should reflect the perennial and universal qualities of the human species” and on an ill-informed concept of the transformations of art throughout modernity that makes him suggest that recent art history was a mistake, a folly of human culture moving against nature. He conveniently leaves out the modernist movement, with its near-maniacal search for universalities and for scientific explanations for forms of beauty and well-being. Pinker reviles Le Corbusier, the grand hero of modernism, who devoted his entire life to the impossible search for commonalities between all humanity and aimed to build cities on the ruins of what he saw as a historical rejection of human nature. Le Corbusier imagined the history of architecture as one long detour from the natural, a bifurcation leading away from essential ways of living, and wanted to bring it back on course with one generous act of tabula rasa—the blank slate, which Pinker then confused with his idea of the blank slate, denoting the malleability of mankind’s spirit. Both Pinker and Le Corbusier lay their trust in human nature, but place their benchmarks on where human nature starts and where it was disrupted by fictionalisation or culture differently. For Pinker, it started with the modernists, who renounce any type of convention—conventions that Pinker assumes to have originated in human nature. For the modernists, it started much earlier, when highly ornamented, richly adorned, and baroque facades polluted the simple functionality of architecture.

Pinker’s vision of human nature, and the universality thereof, is ultimately imbued with the heroic spirit of computational thinking, the same that fascinatedBoole and Pointcaré and Laplace and Lorenz. The predictability of nature is achievable, and necessarily includes humans; any diversion from this mission is a dismissal of our fullest potential, and therefore useless. What flows through Pinker’s reasoning is an all-or-nothing dogma, obfuscating the fact that his search for universality may very well turn out unsatisfactory, as it did for the modernists. Moreover, his sermon on the timelessness of the human condition directly contributes to the generalising nature of computation. For when the promises of technology do not deliver, the adepts of computational thinking will do everything they can to convince us that computation can and will address its own faults. When universalities cannot be found, averages and the approximations of the human conditions will do just fine. 

Computational thinking pushes the essence of art towards universal reason, just as does Pinker. It demands an indivisible basis, like the basis upon which universal units of measurement are built. Moreover, it demands a formal basis, linking the production of art to evolutionary principle, hard-coded genetic urges, or necessities. When Pinker describes the decline of the (high) arts, and the reasons for its decline, he also takes part in this decline. Once the basis of art is determined, all art that does not comply, anything that seems to sprout from elsewhere, is considered unnatural or artificial. This situation cannot be maintained by computational thinking, and therefore computational models exclude it. Art in the age of total computation cannot be random or chaotic; it cannot be a story made by artists based on the complex and ambiguous selection of the totality of information, which is, in turn, influenced from all sides of the natural and cultural environment. No, in a computational world, art requires a computational foundation.


So it is with most of the things we care about—food, friends, recreation, art. Biology reverts to the mean; civilization does not. The mind is a fabulator. It is designed (by natural selection, if you like) to dream up ideas and experiences away from the mean. Its overriding instinct is to be counter-instinctual; otherwise, we could put consciousness to sleep at an early age. The mind has no steady state; it is (as Wallace Stevens said) never satisfied. And it induces the organism to go to fantastic lengths to develop capacities that have no biological necessity. The more defiant something is of the instinctive, the typical, and the sufficient, the more highly it is prized. This is why we have the “Guinness Book of World Records,” the Gautama Buddha, and the Museum of Modern Art. They represent the repudiation of the norm.


The arts are declining not because they are rejecting human nature, as Pinker bemoans, but because they do not comply with a computational mindset. And because computation simulates the fabulating capacities of mankind, we are not even aware of this evolution. The repetitive nature of the popular arts is so popular because it presents its output as new ideas and experiences away from the mean, but does so by adhering to statistics and means. As computation spreads further into societal systems, fixing normalisations, stories, fictions, along the way, it will not only make thinking away from the mean more difficult, but also simulate the impression that thinking away from the mean and along the mean are one and the same. 

We are all artists in our own capacity, but those we call artists are those who produce their stories with certain “artistic” media. A child produces stories, but starts to draw because we give her crayons. Art, then, is only necessary because society thinks it important. But the selection, and the capacity to express stories in the spoken language, or the language of colour, dance, image or others, comes into the world through the fabulating mind. Limiting this mind will not stop it from fabulating, but it might stop us from giving crayons to the children. 


3_1_2_Against Heroics


A 2017 parody of a generic blockbuster smash-hit trailer, made by the Youtube collective Auralnauts, sums up the standardised build-up of an epic Hollywood preview. Meant as a comedic persiflage, the thirty-second video exposes the highly repetitive nature of contemporary filmmaking, especially within the genre of action movies or superhero movies. An unknown threat arises, prompting a hero to counter it. The villain does not make the struggle easy, but in the end, the hero overcomes. 

What is striking in the video is the epicness of it all, with music building up, loud dramatic horns, strings whipping up the pace, cutting images in quicker and quicker succession, and an overload of special-effects shots. It is an epicness that has become the standard of our expectations. As each new movie, basically a variation on a theme, tries to attract an audience, this idea of heroism is trotted out yet again, reiterating this same template over and over. 

The top fifty all-time highest-grossing movies all feature heroism as their main attraction: from Star Wars and Frozen to Harry Potter and Toy Story. For the number one, Avengers: Endgame, and all its super-hero prequels, heroism is made so explicit that it becomes impossible to see anything else; it is literally embodied by the characters onscreen. Every new iteration of the series, and of the entire superhero genre for that matter, must go over and beyond the heroics depicted in the prior movie, snowballing into a bombastic exposition of ever more legendary champions facing exponentially growing threats. Each battle is more epic than the last.

The morals of heroism, embedded in the scripts of these extremely popular movies, tell a story of individual endeavour and struggle, of personal choice and sacrifice. At first, they glorify a superior character; a person with an unwavering dedication to a cause, with a razor-sharp moral compass and unparalleled perseverance. Yet they also suggest that this person could be anyone. All it takes is a sturdy sense of right and wrong. “It’s the right thing to do” is a phrase often uttered just before an epic clash. This convincing moralistic message is then interrupted by the realisation that, actually, it could not be me or you who defends the planet against evil: we do not have super powers. Unless you are born in an alien world, or bitten by a radioactive spider, or have even just inherited a large business empire, you have no role to play in this legendary quest. Even if you know what’s right and what’s wrong, you are asked to stand aside and let the real heroes do their jobs. 

The less direct variants of this script, say, Finding Dory or The Lion King, Furious 7, or even Titanic, do not make use of an explicit superhuman personality with matching superhuman powers, but their main characters boast superhuman morality regardless. Persistence, motivation, and purpose, all balanced on significant moments of insight and revelation, guide the hero towards resolution. These heroes live dramatic lives, built up from epic and legendary moments. The contrast with real life could not be greater. Yet as the box offices suggest, their lives, stark contrasts to ours, the viewers’, attract us. For the duration of the film, we live vicariously through them. And afterwards, the moralistic weight of their stories resonates with usl. 


The Randian Hero

Cop stories, which portray the daily routine of members of the police force as danger and evil lurk in the bushes, provide great examples of the glorification of heroics, and how the expectation of heroism is embedded into the credibility of an entire workforce. In crime novels, detective stories, or spy movies, agents of the law or of the state are in constant movement: high-speed car chases are regular, agents’ guns are often drawn, and the bad guys are always taken out. These characters are never tired, never idle, never encumbered by the day-to-day demands of police enforcement. They never patrol, never fill out paperwork, never do the dishes at the precinct; they are never in meetings or briefings longer than a few minutes or even seconds. Hours-long surveillance is condensed into a quiet scene, time for dialogue and character development. The entire reality that police work, much like any other maintenance labour, is in fact very rote and regular, is cut out. By making a selection of only the minimal heroics from the larger monotony of maintenance, cop stories transform the occupation into something epic altogether. Narrative fiction gives us the impression that police officers’ lives, to say nothing of firefighters, soldiers, bankers, doctors, or any other starring role, consist only of significant moments. Fiction obfuscates the repetitiveness of the common life, ignoring the eating and the drinking, the walking, the pondering, the bathroom breaks, the reading and the studying, the waiting—especially the waiting. 

Where does that leave us, the regular folks? We have no points of no return, no MacGuffins to pursue, no Deus Ex Machinas to save us at the very last minute. Our routines are messy, vague, our goals unclear: a sequence of insignificant moments. And even the significant moments might not be so captivating in the moment. Hindsight makes them significant, memory brings them to the surface; we stand in the shower thinking of the more dramatic or concise statement we should have made in the heat of it all In reality, we are disappointed to realise that we missed the moment, just because we had not at the time comprehended the situation as it unraveled. 

This is because we are not, generally, heroes. Not that we are not courageous or zealous, but because heroics are a fictionalisation entirely, a selection of reality shown outside of any context. Online video databases are filled with clips of people doing heroic deeds—saving children from burning cars, say, or animals from flood streams. What they do not show is the befores and afters, the surroundings, the context. They never include the innumerable similar videos in which the child was not saved because no one dared to enter the car, or, even more likely, in which the car did not catch on fire in the first place. Fiction tells us the tale of the few bold soldiers who saved their buddy from behind enemy lines, but not the one of the millions of young people that were killed without ever realising a bomb or a bullet was headed their way. 

Insinuating that anyone can be a hero is a grave and frankly insulting lie. The statement selects a possibility, a meagre chance, from a very large plausible scenario and presents it as a way of life, as a choice. Given this, what makes the ideology of heroism so persistent and so attractive? The image, and additionally the fiction, of the hero is as old as written history, but the normalisation of heroism is not. It was Nietzsche who, in his rage against the mythologies of religion, suggested that transcending the human condition should not be a passive undertaking but an active one. God cannot lift up the spirits beyond mortal realms; only people can do that, by themselves. Humanity could and should transcend its own mortality, its own finiteness. As Zarathustran figures, women and men should therefore not be content with waiting for the afterlife where all would be possible, enabled by something or someone who is not human. 


I love those who do not first seek beyond the stars for reasons to go down and to be sacrifices: but who sacrifice themselves to the earth, that the earth may one day belong to the Superman (Übermensch).


Nietzsche’s vision of the übermensch, however, was spiritual, ascetic, almost as mythological as the mythologies he combatted. His hero was the product of a collective enterprise, of a people, rather than an individualistic ambition. The ideology of the hero as a personal ”lifestyle” is claimed by Ayn Rand, whose novels Atlas Shrugged (1957) and The Fountainhead (1943) each present a hero who overcomes everything by force of moral integrity, choice, and confidence. The Randian hero is the paramount of individualistic agency, determination, and purpose. In the words of Stephen Newman, 


Rand’s fiction characteristically portrays a superior individual, naturally and properly and egoist, locked in battle with the forces of collectivism (usually the state), which would impose upon him the self-denying and ultimately self-destructive doctrine of altruism. More is at stake in the outcome of this battle than his personal fate, for the Randian hero is really Nietzsche’s superman in the guise of capitalist entrepreneur. He is the creator of all value, the source of all wealth, the instrument of human progress. His destruction means the end of Western civilization. 


Rand’s glorification of heroism takes on a humanitarian stance. To be a hero, in her fiction, means to be of value to society, but not because society demands it. A hero desires to push mankind forwards, his unwavering virtue compels him, and it is neither the state nor the collective that forces him to do so. In The Fountainhead, Rand chronicles the struggle of the young, idealistic architect Howard Roark in face of his adversaries, who all try to undermine his relentless vision and will to innovate architecture in 1940s New York. Roark’s uncompromising and absolute design ethics and worldview render him a heroic figure who spearheads an avant-garde conquest against the conservative forces at hand. Imbued with the American capitalist spirit, Rand depicts Roark as the epitome of the self-made man, and models him after the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The character embodies the tenets of Rand’s Objectivist philosophy:his identity is not the product of his upbringing, his economic class, his family, or his social background, but a distillation of his own choices and his own free will. He is his own man from beginning to end, and throughout the story there is no change in the essence of Roark’s character. His fundamental convictions remain untouched. His heroism comes across as a given, and it is absolute. In a dialogue with his competitor and foil, Peter Keating, Roark is accused of displaying an inimitable heroism. Keating asks: 


— “Do you always have to have a purpose? Do you always have to be so damn serious? Can’t you ever do things without reason, just like everybody else? You’re so serious, so old. Everything’s important with you, everything’s great, significant in some way, every minute, even when you keep still. Can’t you ever be comfortable — and unimportant?” 

— “No.”

— “Don’t you get tired of the heroic?” 

— “What’s heroic about me?” 

— “Nothing. Everything. I don’t know. It’s not what you do. It’s what you make people feel around you.” 

— “What?” 

— “The un-normal. The strain. When I’m with you—it’s always like a choice. Between you—and the rest of the world. I don’t want that kind of a choice. I don’t want to be an outsider. I want to belong. There’s so much in the world that’s simple and pleasant. It’s not all fighting and renunciation. It is—with you.

Rand presents Keating as a conformist, someone constantly influenced by others. He is a suck-up, a social climber, throwing his values overboard whenever the situation demands him to. Keating surrenders his self in this way, surrenders his own loves and values in an attempt to win social approval. In Rand’s eyes, this can only lead to a hollow life, one without happiness; a selfless life in the literal sense. The hero never succumbs to the will of the other, nor to the will of the collective. He (in Rand’s novels the hero is always a man) only follows his own values and builds his own judgement. Rand terms this attitude as a virtue of selfishness, as the opposite of altruism. The hero is never altruistic, a state of mind Rand frames as imposed upon the individual by social expectations; this does not, however, mean he cannot be generous if he wishes. 

Being a hero is a choice, a personal vocation, never a forced role. This is the first principle of the heroic narrative that grew popular in the decades after the publication of Rand’s books. In superhero stories, this idea is sometimes obscured by the environmental demands that push the hero towards heroism. Batman becomes a hero because the city’s deterioration, in combination with his background, compels him to, not because his personal virtues demand it. Yet he has every possibility to not engage as a hero, and step away from the misery of Gotham. It is his personal choice to become a righteous defender of the people, not the people’s choice. Superman’s story is similar in this sense, because his environment, the loss of his home planet, drove him to a setting which enabled his heroism. But if his virtues and judgement weren’t unwavering, he would still be a farm boy in Smallville. 

Randian heroics are switched on constantly, and any failure to uphold them leads to a complete destruction of the hero. To lead a heroic life is a constant commitment: every instance must be in compliance with the values of the hero. 


Is it an inspiring sight to see a man commit a heroic gesture, and then learn that he goes to vaudeville shows for relaxation? Or see a man who’s painted a magnificent canvas—and learn that he spends his time sleeping with every slut he meets?


Every action of the hero is a long extension of his virtues and judgement. There is no in between, no half-way, no hidden qualities. The heroic gesture is absolute, and if followed by an unheroic gesture it topples all heroics which came before. Again, the comparison to the superhero motif is striking: both Batman and Superman never kill anyone, never commit any (serious) crimes, as this would be in direct conflict with the values they work to uphold. If they were to use their powers to kill or steal, even once, their heroic credibility would crumbleThe same is true of those real-life heroes who do not live up to our expected visions of them: superior athletes entangled in doping scandals, outstanding politicians with loose hands, world-famous superstars involved in drug incidents, and so on. They hardly ever recover from their shadowy affairs, as their virtuous images are tainted. This constant heroism is the second principle of the Randian heroic narrative. 

As for a third, the message can be found in the contrast that Rand sets up between the character of Howard Roark and that of Ellsworth Toohey, Roark’s direct antagonist. Toohey is portrayed as the villain of the story, the personification of pure evil. He is an anti-hero in Randian terms, as his virtues are as absolute as the hero himself, but they promote self-sacrifice in service of the collective, instead of self-preservation in service of the individual. Moreover, conviction of self-sacrifice counts only for the other, and not himself. He merely pushes others to give up their values, and convinces them that virtue lies in selflessness, in the renunciation of personal desires, and that they must exist for the sake of others. Toohey considers his principles humanitarian, but he ultimately wants to control the collectivised individual.


Look at it. A sublime achievement, isn’t it? A heroic achievement. Think of the thousands who worked to create this and of the millions who profit by it. And it is said that but for the spirit of a dozen men, here and there down the ages, but for a dozen men—less, perhaps—none of this would have been possible. And that might be true. If so, there are—again—two possible attitudes to take. We can say that these twelve were great benefactors, that we are all fed by the overflow of the magnificent wealth of their spirit, and that we are glad to accept it in gratitude and brotherhood. Or, we can say that by the splendor of their achievement which we can neither equal nor keep, these twelve have shown us what we are, that we do not want the free gifts of their grandeur, that a cave by an oozing swamp and a fire of sticks rubbed together are preferable to skyscrapers and neon lights—if the cave and the sticks are the limit of your own creative capacities. Of the two attitudes […], which would you call the truly humanitarian one? Because, you see, I’m a humanitarian. 


Toohey presents the heroic achievement as a result of a collective endeavour, whereas Roark represents the heroic gesture of the individual, overcoming collectivised expectations. Rand chooses here to demonise the collective, criticising it for its docility, its compliance when confronted with someone who intends to control it.Toohey, in Rand’s telling, is a parasite who rides on the backs of the people. He creates nothing, he contributes nothing; he merely seeks the minds of people like Keating. However, he has no power over the independent heroes like Roark, whom he cannot persuade to jettison their values. Without a personal heroic stance, anyone could succumb to the influence of puppet-masters like Toohey. It is therefore imperative to be a hero if society is to withstand the forces of collectivised mind-control. 

These are the three principles of the Randian hero: heroism is a choice; heroism is absolute;and heroism is necessary. Ayn Rand’s books are all-time bestsellers, translated into innumerable languages and still today disseminated as mandatory literature in schools all over the world. And, though Rand’s philosophy was fervently criticised in the decades after the books’ publication, and though their popularity skewsAmerican despite global familiarity, Randian principles spread consistently through popular culture in widely varying quality: from novels to comics, animated series, and Hollywood blockbusters. Through these channels, the fiction of heroics spread across the world, and ultimately settled in today’s cradle of technological advancement, Silicon Valley. There, Rand’s vision remains much admired by self-proclaimed disruptors, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists—people who see themselves as shaping the future, taking risky bets, moving out in front of everyone else, relying only on their own instincts, intuition, and knowledge, and going against the grain. They feel connected to Rand’s interpretation of the hero, and see themselves as performers of heroic gestures, destroying the established, conservative forces along the way like Howard Roark. This is where computational thinking meets the philosophy of heroism. 

Not only do the heralds of tech innovation embody the Randian hero, they also incorporate him into the functionalities of the technology. Apple’s mantra “Think Different,” Google’s “Don’t be evil,” and Facebook’s “Move Fast and Break Things” depict heroic gestures. The famous 1984 Macintosh Super Bowl commercial, set in an Orwellian future of mindless drones clustered around a dictatorial screen, presented the new Apple product as an epic hammer throw, shattering the mind-controlling drudgery. An athletic heroine rushes through the crowd to liberate them from their collective slumber. The message? Technology will give each of us the opportunity to become our own hero. It would allow us to “think different” where before it was not possible. 


This wasn’t a machine where you were going to be kowtowed in the workplace, this was a machine for the young, innovative, entrepreneurial mind. It really inspires the creative individual to break free and start something different.


To break free. To wake up, to cast off the shackles of conformism. To innovate. These are the demands of computational heroism. You have the possibility to make a choice, to choose for a heroic life, a creative life, against all odds. Now, we all can achieve heroism. Every moment can become significant, more significant than the last. What computation actually induced is a mediocre world with a collective aversion towards mediocrity; an adoration, a glorification of heroes, mirror-images of Ayn Rand’s champions, who are in fact very average people; a disgust for anyone who does not succeed in transcending her or himself, who is therefore considered a parasite or a scrounger, a coward. She who is not able to fit the hero role is discarded, discredited, neglected, forgotten, and blamed for not trying hard enough, for not wanting it enough. But even those who do see themselves as heroes, following the Randian definition, are never able to fully fill said definition. The principles of heroics as a choice and heroics as a necessity are what attracts people towards the heroic “lifestyle,” but the principle of heroics as an absolute is what makes it impossible. There is always a mundane side to life. Much is left out of the hero-image. As these middling parts of life become less and less relevant, they become more attractive as the territory of the artist. 


The Avant-Garde

The epic pressure to perform heroic scenes, modeled after the examples of heroism in history, is what the artist has to deal with on a daily basis, and will have to deal with even more in the future. The great painters, sculptors, architects, writers and musicians of history—the Da Vincis, the Michelangelos, the Le Corbusiers, the Shakespeares, the Mozarts—serve as benchmarks of artistic mastery and vision, to which every creation thereafter must relate. They are the untouchable heroes, pure in essence and virtue, the women and men of the past whose image remains (more or less) untainted by excessive recollection of mediocre, insignificant events. Having access to these prototypical examples of heroism, spurred by the expectation of heroic gestures, forces contemporary artists to go out and beyond, to break through or perish. Only a dream of ever progressing avant-gardism remains. 

The avant-garde—the vanguard—is the apogee of heroism in art: the spearhead, leading the way, breaking the front-lines and opening up a path for the regular foot-soldiers. Framing the role of the artist as a catalyst for achieving cutting-edge newness, born out of sheer persistence and personal desire and genius rather than as a result of collective efforts or a cultural evolution, is what characterises the avant-garde as an ideology. As a military term transformed into a cultural or political expectation, the word avant-garde is inevitably loaded with an epic undertone: the scouts on the field, the explorers, the mappers. In the cultural field, they are the harbingers of innovation, the tokens of the new, either expanding on the existing or chopping away the average and the known. Going against the conventional is their trademark. 

By promoting avant-gardism as a desirable way of life, as a necessity for heroism by Randian standards, and thus setting artists on an endless conquest for innovation, the cultural world simultaneously creates an adoration for heroes and solidifies the impossibility of becoming one. Firstly, the early heroes—the ones who have not been corrupted by excessive details on their non-heroic lives, or at least the ones who’s unwanted details are left out voluntarily—are mystified to such an extent that their vigour and virtue is unattainable today. This leads to the fallacy that, for instance, individual scientists of yesteryear, for instance—Einstein, Skłodowska-Curie, Darwin, Tesla—are heroes that we must strive to match or even surpass, but who are so epically prolific in their discoveries and their scientific virtues that we will never be able to match or surpass them. Many have tried and still try to recreate the innovative atmosphere of the 1919 to 1932 Bauhaus scene, to match its incredible impact on society. This call to arms transforms a historical setting into an impossible heroic scenario.

The adoration of heroes also implies the constant incorporation and commodification of heroic gestures into the expectations of a general public, of a mainstream. Every act of heroism is quickly recuperated by the agents of computation—by the marketeers, the PR departments, the corporate image designers, the news media and the social networks, but also by the cultural and artistic world—to take advantage of these historical moments of bravery and heroism. In 2018, the athletic shoe and clothing company Nike, picked up the NFL outcast and social rights activist Colin Kaepernick in a new advertisement campaign. Since 2016, Kaepernick had then been protesting the injustice and oppression against Black people and people of colour by kneeling during the American national anthem at the start of every football match he played in. The ad featured a black-and-white close-up of Kaepernick’s face overlaid with the caption: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” Selflessness through selfishness, a true Randian recuperation of heroism. You’d almost forget that Nike sells shoes. Avant-gardism is now the standard, the expectation; the exact opposite of what an avant-garde stands for. Avant-gardism takes on heroism as a normalisation. 

This blind race for innovation had led us to an all-encompassing glorification of exceptionalism. But we were never given the tools to be exceptional. On the contrary, everything that we expect to be exceptional is in fact anticipated or quickly integrated, normalised, every dream for exceptionalism placed so far out of reach that it is unattainable, and reduced to a festering nostalgia for non-existent times when it was still attainable—when strong men could still achieve strong results. 

Fictional narratives of heroics, however, are in direct conflict with computational thinking, which reduces everything to the median. Computation requires a world without heroes, without renewal and innovation, without individuals who struggle against conformism and repetition. So it therefore incorporates heroism into its models, integrating heroic gestures into a list of possible actions. Every act of moving against the system becomes one that supports it. 

Avant-garde artists set the expectation of the role of the artist: the artist must innovate, be a creative mind, think outside the box, solve problems in new ways. They live their bohemian lives, turning everything they touch into creative gems, subversively criticising conventions and imagining new ways of living. They stand on the barricade between the dull, known world and the refreshing, inspiring world of the future. They are the heroes of the creative class. At least, that is, according to Richard Florida’s 2002 best-selling but highly criticised The Rise of the Creative Class. Florida projects an image of the artist, or rather of the creative worker, as a highly flexible individual, fuelled mostly by personal determination, by desire, and by confidence rather than by money or by any other external motivation. She is a catalyst for community building and urban renaissance, fertilising the creative soil in the area where she is stationed by inspiring the original population and attracting a new one in the process. Placing the subversive, disruptive, and open-minded character of the creative individual in an economic framework, Florida succeeds in modelling a world where the heroic artist, the avant-garde artist, plays the key role, where the artist serves as an example for any other profession. Under the term “creative class,” he places the painter, the tech developer, the sculptor, the marketeer, the architect, the graphic designer, the writer, and the coder all together. All lead similar lives of irregular hours, moments of contemplation, preparation, and reflection followed by moments of incubation, illumination, the “Eureka!” step, and then a period of laborious perseverance. They exhibit their creativity, even if it is unwanted, even if they are given every opportunity to hide or halt it. They chase their dreams without anyone telling them to do so, just because they believe in themselves, because they have built up their own values, their own judgement regardless of external influence. They are Howard Roarks in their own right, now not just being subversive for subversiveness’s sake, but serving the economic goals of gentrification and city branding. 

Florida’s analysis of the creative class led him to the conclusion that these stubborn individuals called artists actually transform the environment around them, turning their neighbourhoods into creative hubs, bringing together a community into a creative factory—a loose bond of colleagues, competitors, and everything in between, all of whom push one another to be more productive, more creative, and to influence each other’s work and ideas. They increase not only the land value around them, but also each other’s value. This image of the quickly adapting, creatively thinking, highly motivated and independent artist offered a prototype for the workers of the future. Before long, we would have creative nurses, creative plumbers, creative mechanics, creative lawyers, creative taxi drivers, none of whom would be motivated by their wages or boss; they would work because they want to, because they share an ability to adapt to any situation and find joy and pleasure in doing so. They too can become heroes of their own making. 


Creative Class Heroes

Richard Florida later corrected his theory and even renounced parts of it, mostly due to critique on his definition of the creative class, which some saw as nominally associating urban renewal and development with the bohemian lifestyle rather than with the influx of highly educated (and privileged) people traditionally associated with creative positions. Still, Florida’s ideas were quickly picked up by mayors and officials of cities and towns all over the world, who mostly saw his theories as a quick fix to boost their abandoned downtown areas or their rundown industrial plants. They opened their derelict warehouses to artists and designers and their vagrant shopping district to start-ups and pop-ups and leased entire neighbourhoods to arty initiatives and collectives of bohemian artisans all in an effort to create an atmosphere favourable for high land value.Every city with some space to spare started pinning their renovation hopes on Florida’s creative class. 

But some saw the definition of this class as a waypoint towards redefining the entire workforce. If it was possible to give a polluted, dilapidated industrial complex a second profitable life by simply releasing the creative horde upon it, then it might also be possible for other domains to increase their value by becoming “creative.”. Factories, hospitals, farms, harbours, shops, offices, schools, public transportation services; their employees, the theory held, could learn a thing or two from these creative geniuses. The artist had become the blueprint for every kind of worker based only on the artist’s capacity to rely on her or himself. In 2005, the ministries of economic affairs and of education, culture and science of the Netherlands published a vision statement named “Our Creative Capacity,”’ in which they stipulated a policy of cultural and economical parallels to Richard Florida’s creative class. In the document, the ministries set out to promote a creative industry not only by investing in what they delineate as the existing creative industry, but also by encouraging the adaptation of models from the creative industries in other sectors. The logic is that creativity enables innovation, so in order for traditional labour activities to innovate and renew, they need to be creative—creativity, they imply, is the source of prosperity. The political vision of the Dutch ministries thus demanded the transition of the entirety of the Dutch workforce towards the flexibility of the creative class—freelancers, flexi-workers, creative entrepreneurs, producers, and project managers were the new heroes. 

In this model, computational thinking simultaneously generates expectations of heroism and of anti-heroism, of totalities and voids, of absolutes. But the outcome is non-heroic, mundane, trivial, average: shoe companies generate expectations of a heroic lifestyle, but still peddle shoes, while electronic hardware developers whip up visions of epic liberation, but actually just hawk consumer devices, and government ministries capitalize on individual innovation to add value to industry.


Marketing Collective Transcendence

Whether it is the nurse, the cashier, the taxi driver, or the artist that counts as heroic, the reliance of society on their heroics runs deep—that is, the heroic narrative runs deep. In reality, hardly any of these actions or jobs are individual efforts. At least, not in the sense that individual gestures have tremendous impact. As with the police officers depicted by fiction as solitary heroes, reality is simplified to relieve storytelling of the ambitious task of fictionalising a group effort. Dramatising the collective effort of a squad of 150 policewomen and men is something contemporary fiction apparently is not ready to attempt.


The standard action movie narrative require one exceptional person in the foreground, which requires the rest of the characters to be on the spectrum from useless to clueless to wicked, plus a few moderately helpful auxiliary characters. There are not a lot of movies about magnificent collective action […]. Disaster movies begin with a sudden upset in the order of things—the tower becomes a towering inferno, the meteor heads toward earth, the earth shakes—and then smooths it all over with a kind of father-knows-best here-comes-a-hero plotline of rescuing helpless women and subduing vicious men. Patriarchal authority itself is shown as the solution to disasters, or a sort of drug to make us feel secure despite them.

Even when the narrative of heroism adapts to accommodate a group effort, the collective nature of that effort is quickly jettisoned to propagate an idea of individual responsibility. The battle against plastic waste is a great example of this. Instead of reducing or completely banning plastic products after the oil crises of the 1970s and the increasing protests against environmental pollution, corporations producing or using plastics set up a grand marketing scheme to convince the public that individual, private recycling efforts were the way forward, and, most importantly, that the accumulation of these efforts would bring all plastics back into the cycle of production. The plastics industry spent millions on advertising convincing the public that recycling would keep the environment clean while making billions selling new plastic. Those who recycle would be named heroes, those who did not would be seen as pariahs. Meanwhile, the industry remained in the clear. Their heroic fiction drove the public to be concerned about something they had no stake in. 

Corporations, governments, and nonprofits offer a similar approach to tackling the current climate crisis. They distort a collective predicament into an individual challenge, emphasising the “challenge” aspect. The “A better world starts with yourself” ads overwhelm the actual question: Who bears the responsibility for this crisis? Who owns the largest share of the problem? Rhetoric like this drowns out any attempt to hold anyone or anything accountable for the state of the world. Critiques are rebutted with numerous memelike evocations of the 18-year-old Dutch self-made environmental hero Boyan Slat and his Ocean Cleanup initiative followed by the deafening words: “What’s your excuse?!” Even within the cohorts of fervent climate disciples, the solution for the climate challenge starts from within: taking fewer or no airplanes, buying fewer or no plastics, eating organically grown food, or, more extremely, deciding not to have children. And while this movement is not necessarily a negative evolution—actively rejecting consumerism is a legitimate form of protest—it also offers corporations and governments an avenue to avoid responsibility. They pose as though the “general public” needs to change its habits before they change theirs, providing merely what the market bids, but are meanwhile actively engaged in altering public opinion altogether. Because the problem is transformed into an individual challenge, the need for more and more heroes becomes incorporated in models of computational thinking. Thus emerges heroism as an expectation we have both of ourselves and of others Computational thinking demands everyone attempt to transcend themselves, constantly, everywhere. Everything now, every battle now, every struggle now. And it demands us to expect it from everyone else too. Everyone now. 


Risk and Return

For an artist, and by extension, for any occupation currently besieged by the relentless demand to be creative, the avant-garde image of history is the expectation—to be famous, cutting-edge, legacy-worthy, and authentic—but the threshold to get to this point is simultaneously reachable and continually moving beyond reach. Historical examples, to which we must conform, are magnified to mythical proportions, but what these historical people achieved seems so much less complex than what the demand for heroics was then. T They were pioneers, so they could take risks. Now, these risks are incorporated into computational thinking. 

Pioneering engineers, avant-garde artists, scientists, firefighters, police officers, taxi drivers and cashiers —all are asked to take on all the risks of heroism and none of them simultaneously. The result is a confusing inertia, where the riskless deeds are presented as heroic gestures, and where heroic gestures are dwarfed by the crushing weight of the legendary past. The philosophy of “great risks yield great returns” is ubiquitous, but only as inspiration, not as blueprint. We can and should take risks, but only if they fit within the parameters of calculation, of anticipation, and of computation, which tend to bring risk to zero. 

This great paradox of computational heroism raises the question as to why we need to perform these grand gestures at all. Does it take a journey to our natural satellite, or better to Mars, to satisfy our transcendent desires? Can we not be happy and content without the pressure to perform heroic gestures? Why should we take risks to lead a good, full life? Maybe it comes naturally, as part of our transcendent raison-être. Or maybe it is an expectation instilled upon us by artificial competition, by an ideology that glorifies individual achievements and cold-shoulders collective risks. 


Against Heroics

I am conflicted about the position the artist should take in this imposed dilemma—I too wish for a life studded with heroic gestures, one in which considered risks pay off. I do wish for a life of movement, progress, and evolution, in which the drudgery and stagnation of daily routine is broken and the greyness interrupted. So I ask myself if this sentiment is natural, or if it is an expectation, a normalisation. Must we invent the glorious future all by ourselves? Or is that heroism itself part of a larger story that has been used and abused to ensure the chase of a dream, like a carrot on a stick? I guess both can be right. 

Therefore I do not wholly condemn heroism:. The desire to perform heroic gestures are part of life, as much as is the reality of non-heroic gestures counteracting them. Our fascination for transcendence is part of our confrontation with the unknown future. It is our dream of a better world, one without decay, deteriorating progression, without the complex, the random, and the inevitable. It is a dream of a life without compromise, without doubt, without uncertainty. And it would be foolish to think that this dream is a construct of technology or computation, that it is an external fiction imposed upon us. To think that would be to destroy any concept of imagination and desire, and to ultimately descend into a never-ending spiral of nihilism and futility. We want things, we want them to be better than they are now, regardless of where this betterness lies. And if the things are at best the way they are now, we wish to preserve them, defend them and sustain them. 

However, it is out of this dream that technology and computation arose. Computation finds its source in the sentiment for betterness, in the heroic vision of a graceful future, beyond the ails of the human body and mind, beyond the unknown future. Prediction, anticipation, and foresight are views of the world of tomorrow and set the course for how to be heroic in it. 

It is therefore particularly conflicting to see that computation deals with heroics as a liability in need of moderation, as a calculated risk. Computation is set in motion through heroics, only to annul it thereafter. The heroic artist, the heroic taxi driver, the heroic paramedic, and the heroic politician, superstar, or movement leader are all starting to fit within the anticipated models of the future. They remain artificially heroic, within the set parameters, as to meet our expectations of heroic dreams, but computational thinking does not allow us to go beyond. Computation implores us to be the best in a battle of comparative heroics, only to create an infinite array of possible differences between each and every participant. 

If heroics are the amplification of differences between individuals and computation is unable to process differences except through the selection of averages, then how can we escape from this great equaliser? How do we perform gestures of heroism, and make them significant without triggering a glorification of heroism? Or is it possible to counter said heroics, or better, avoid them? Because countering them could easily be interpreted as yet another heroic act, ready to be recuperated. Every anti-heroic gesture is as epic as the heroic gesture it wishes to undo. So, how can we produce an anti-heroic gesture? A gesture so banal, so common, so regular, so repetitive, that it barely registers in the enormous databases and statistics of computation? 

Heroism is marketed as a way of life, as a necessity. Heroism as fiction is presented as an absolute virtue, without any of the daily practicalities. Heroism is pure creativity put to use, it is an example for everyone to follow. Heroism is used as a strategy to divide a collective into individuals. Heroism is a disregard of risks, but these risks should never be taken. These are the ways in which the sentiment, the desire to perform heroic gestures is abused by computational thinking. So they are strategies that must be circumvented in order to achieve the non-heroic gesture, which is still heroic, but not registered as such. 

The non-heroic gesture must therefore not be a way of life but unnecessary and determined. It must always be relative and focused on daily practicalities. It must be trivial creativity, unexemplary. It should enable collectivity. It should never be recorded nor fractalised. And most importantly, it should reject any form of risk-taking. It is, in its essence, maintenance. 





Before we move too far into the practicalities of anti-heroism, I want to further address the evolution of transcendent ideologies, and both the positive and negative implications of what I call übermenschlichkeit. As I have said before, the development of computation stems from our desire to transcend our corporeal limitations and predict the future. While this techno-optimistic motivation has often been used to cover more nefarious uses of computational technologies, I believe that it indeed originates in a good-faith vision of humanity’s potential advancement. The early ambassadors of cybernetics imagined a symbiosis between human and machine, and through it a collaboration between all people. Buckminster Fuller, one of the heralds of cybernetics and systems-thinking, often made claims to this effect in his numerous publications. In the conclusion of his famous Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, he wrote: 


You may very appropriately want to ask me how we are going to resolve the ever-acceleratingly dangerous impasse of world-opposed politicians and ideological dogmas. I answer, it will be resolved by the computer. Man has ever-increasing confidence in the computer; witness his unconcerned landings as airtransport passengers coming in for a landing in the combined invisibility of fog and night. While no politician or political system can ever afford to yield understandably and enthusiastically to their adversaries and opposers, all politicians can and will yield enthusiastically to the computers safe flight-controlling capabilities in bringing all of humanity in for a happy landing.


So, planners, architects, and engineers take the initiative. Go to work, and above all co-operate and don’t hold back on one another or try to gain at the expense of another. Any success in such lopsidedness will be increasingly short-lived. These are the synergetic rules that evolution is employing and trying to make clear to us. They are not man-made laws. They are the infinitely accommodative laws of the intellectual integrity governing Universe. 


As much as I admire Bucky—for his prescient view of the planet as a closed system in itself, for his endless search for universalities, for his grand design gestures, and for his persistence to assuring the well-being of the entirety of the human population—I have to admit that his reverence of a computational world seems, in hindsight, somewhat perverted. Fuller’s 1969 dream for the technology-guided governance of the planet and its population did not come true as he would have expected. His romantic dreams of the possibilities afforded by technology, I believe, in fact helped launch the development of computational systems that resurrect the past rather than set us moving forward. While Fuller’s techno-utopian declarations and hyper-optimistic cybernetic manifestos today seem hyperbolic, even laughable to some, his vision has largely become reality, though devoid of his futurist optimism. Cybernetics, as Norbert Wiener coined the techno-optimistic field, cannot be mentioned anymore without skepticism or derision; its development grew entwined with the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s, ridding it, in some circles, of its seriousness.. Still, politicians and scientists alike enthusiastically take to the field of research borne from cybernetics—combining mechanical, physical, biological, cognitive, and social systems. The difference is, these parties no longer call such thinking cybernetics anymore—it is so integrated into technological development that it need not be named anymore. 

Cybernetics proposed a systematic view of the world, one in which the connections between moving parts can be represented by mechanical or electrical circuits. A cause triggers an effect, which turns into a cause that triggers a further effect. Every process in the physical world can be abstracted into a virtual counterpart, resulting in complex schematics of actions and feedback systems. This analytical mindset went hand in hand with the development of computational devices, which were increasingly able to simulate said schematics, to reproduce them inside the circuitry of the computer. By further analysing and abstracting the systems of economics, ecology, social interactions, communication, psychology, biology, and others, researchers were able to produce parallels between them. All of these systems were seen as transposable. 

When researchers revealed the mechanics of interaction between these systems, they came to the conclusion that we, people, were also ultimately nothing more than moving parts in an information-processing system. The brain, then, was understood as similar to, if not exactly the same as, a computer’s processor and memory storage.

In time, the distinction between human and machine faded, and the dream of symbiosis became a dream of assimilation. Humans and machines were no longer complementary, but part of one and the same system. Before long, propagators of this new interpretation of cybernetics came to the conclusion that, if humans were computers, then they were ultimately inferior in power to artificial, electrical computers, which were capable of running numerous cognitive calculations at once, at incredible speeds, and with numbers impossible to process by the human mind. 

The sole purpose of the human in this system, then, was to create a computer in its image, and to improve this device until it could completely surpass every human capability, making humans obsolete. The role of mankind would be to launch this superior life form into being and then get out of the way. This ideology is what we call transhumanism. 

Infused with a cynical form of heroism, transhumanism proposes an austere view on humanity’s future. It is a transcendent creed, placing us, humans, in the transitionary phase between rudimentary civilisation, hardly distinguishable from nature, and a higher form of consciousness. Transhumanism is propelled by a quest for singularity—a universal artificial intelligence, a unified mind of interconnected, hyper-efficient computers, programs, algorithms and world-observing sensors with instant access to the totality of information available in the universe—after which humans either become a part of said singularity, through cognitive augmentation and genetic modification, or live like a subspecies. 

This is, of course, a far less generous image of the future than that of the early cyberneticists, at least regarding the position of the human. As digital ethics professor Sarah Spiekermann writes: 

Transhumanists confound emotionality with irrationality, dormant potential with stupidity and disability with dispensability. And as a result of this confusion they promote and push for a future that blindly heralds ubiquitously wired, genetically optimized, computing-led societies, in which supposedly fallible humans are manipulated and enhanced by an invisible, presumably controllable and more optimal, robot-driven machinery called the next stage of ostensible “evolution” for humanity. 


In their Human Manifesto, a team of scientists led by Spiekermann takes action against the growing influence of transhumanist thought in science and against the hegemonic claim that transhumanists enforce upon the supposedly necessary transformation of the species. The scientists outline the problem of transhumanism as being based on three flawed beliefs: “Reality is the totality of information; Humans are nothing but information processing objects; Artificial intelligence is intelligence in a human sense.” Based on these three beliefs, the team summarises, transhumanists argue that “decision-making should generally be based on information and the artificial intelligence that operates on it, because this kind of decision-making leads to better decisions; and we should welcome a next phase of evolution, in which humans can be enhanced; for instance by artificial intelligence that is more powerful than human intelligence.” 

The Human Manifesto then goes on to tackle these erroneous assumptions one by one, foregrounding human emotionality—“our fragility, our sentience, our self-awareness, and our embodied sense of ‘who’ we are”—as the characteristic that distinguishes us from any comparison to biological computers, brains in vats, or information-processing objects. What strikes me most in the philosophy of transhumanism is the desire for a next phase in evolution and the welcoming stance that transhumanist ideology adopts towards the idea of a more powerful entity.

This idea, however futurist, is rich with nostalgia.. Transhumanist belief states that the natural evolution of computation will lead to the birth of a superior species, under whose rule the current species, homo sapiens, will not likely triumph. Some proponents of transhumanism try to help humans compete with this new, better iteration of sentient life, but most have given up on this entirely. We will either perish, they believe, or, preferably, be demoted to a servient species, for whom everything will be taken care of, like a pet or reserve animal. Protected by the next stage of sentience, by an all-knowing entity, humanity will be able to return to nature, and become part of an ecosystem again which it has, in the past centuries, tried to subdue and master. Humanity will be able to live without worries of the future, without the constant strife and struggle against the unknown future that have long characterised our existence. 

This nostalgia, a sort of neo-naturalism, is embedded within both the hyper-optimism of cybernetics and the techno-inevitability of transhumanism. The widespread ideology of the techno-realists, who fervently combat the woolly image of early systems-thinkers, finds its origin in a return to nature and an abdication of the responsibility of constant improvement. Their heroic next-phase-for-humanity crusade is actually an endgame strategy in disguise. Their dreams of transcendence are but a script for the reenactment of an idealised past. 

In this nostalgic vision of the future, the cynicism of the widely held belief of transhumanism converges again with the techno-optimist persuasions of cybernetics — a vision embodied in Richard Brautigan’s famous poem, “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace”:


I like to think 

 (and the sooner the better!) 

of a cybernetic meadow 

where mammals and computers 

live together in mutually 

programming harmony 

like pure water 

touching clear sky. 


I like to think 

 (right now, please!) 

of a cybernetic forest 

filled with pines and electronics 

where deer stroll peacefully 

past computers 

as if they were flowers 

with spinning blossoms. 


I like to think 

 (it has to be!) 

of a cybernetic ecology 

where we are free of our labors 

and joined back to nature, 

returned to our mammal 

brothers and sisters, 

and all watched over by machines of loving grace. 



3_1_4_On Nostalgia


Nostalgia is blamed for alienating people from the present. When not catastrophic or fearsome, today’s world becomes “undistinguished, unexciting, blank,” charges a critic, “a time that leaves nothing for our imaginations to do except plunge into the past.” The enormous popularity of the reconstructed “landscapes that we never knew, but wish we had,” suggests refusal to face up to the dilemmas of the present. 

— David Lowenthal 


Maybe the past was better. I say this not as a critique of today, but as a suggestion. The problem is that we will never know. Contemporary movements of ecological preservation invoke images of an idealised natural habitat, one unsoiled by human activity. But in doing so, they enter a dream of utter nostalgia, longing for a world they never knew—a return to the original state of things. As we now know, this recovery is unfeasible, because even if we knew what this original might be, the relentless motion of time’s arrow is irreversible. Entropic decay annuls any possibility of an original. A building can never be restored into the sand, clay, and limestone from which it was made. The soil which was displaced to make way for its foundation is dispersed, spread over the land, and eroded. To return to its original state would require a perfect recollection of the position of each and every particle of soil, and to place it back precisely where it came from—in other words, a total reconstruction. Nostalgia for the originality of nature, then, amounts to an impossible dream. 

Perhaps it is this unattainability that renders nostalgia so powerful a sentiment. Our knowledge that we will never come near the heroes of the past generates a longing for bygone times, despite that we know it is impossible to return. The past is spoken of in superlatives, but so is the process of returning to said past. And so, this want for a return too becomes a heroic goal in itself, laced with a mist of transcendence: to achieve the unachievable, to produce the unproducible, to retrieve the irretrievable. 


Yet we can no more slip back to the past than leap forward to the future. Save in imaginative reconstruction, yesterday is forever barred to us; we have only attentuated memories and fragmentary chronicles of prior experience and can only dream of escaping the confines of the present. But in recent years such nostalgic dreams have become almost habitual, if not epidemic. 


Our times are characterised by a split between ideas of a radical return to the past, so that we can cut our losses before things get out of hand, and of aresolute stride forwards, so that we can transcend the unknown future. And, as we have seen, even the most progressive ideas about the computational future betray a longing for the past. Techno-escapists wish to fly to Mars and start over, to escape the mess on Earth and do it the right way next time. Techno-optimists daydream of a symbiotic technocracy in which we live in balance with nature and technology. Techno-realists envision a world governed by computation, one in which we are but pets that frolic through the meadows. Even techno-nihilists predict the inevitability of a restoration of the original state of the world in the absence of humanity, under the watchful eye of the transcendent next phase of evolution. All forms of techno-futurism are permeated with a naturalist nostalgia. 

As for those who advocate a 180° turn away from technological advancement, for abandoning all projects that propose to eliminate, subjugate, or liberate us, they clamp onto a polished version of the past in which technology has not soiled our true connection to nature and our origins. These Neo-Luddites propose giving up on ideas of progress in favor of pre-industrial concepts of cohabitation with nature. They want to cash out of the technological race. Some suggest the need for a new plague or natural holocaust to initiate such return, ousting technological development with it, while others suggest a complete withdrawal into a parallel society. Both proposals aim to recreate the conditions of a world before we turned onto a road towards computation. Again, nostalgia prevails. 

Between these looks backwards and forwards, both prophesying the return to nature, is the dynamic world, the world in motion, balanced on this bifurcation, on the choice between discontinuation and acceleration. Instead of heralding the new order of superior cognition through acceleration, the mechanics of computation suspend this in-between world in a state of constancy. Stability, envisioned by transhumanists to come into effect when computation reaches its full potential, has already been attained. It is a stability of repetition and of reiteration. As David Lowenthal notes of the current state of things, this world “leaves nothing for our imaginations to do except plunge into the past.” Computation reinforces the heroism associated with nostalgia. 

Lowenthal’s 1985 book forebodes a nostalgic future. He registers, even then, society’s tendency to gravitate towards the adoration of an unlived past. And while the term nostalgia—from the Greek nosos, meaning a return to the native land, and algos, denoting suffering or grief—was first coined in 1688 as a deadly medical affliction, commonly contracted after travelling far distances away from the homeland, its definition as the reaction to a physical displacement shifted over time towards a longing for a temporal displacement, a homesickness induced by a longing for faraway times. The growing uncertainties of the future, and the computational camouflage of unpredictability, push our current nostalgic desires towards ubiquity. The glorification of a past when such uncertainties were nonexistent renders the exhaustive wave of nostalgia overwhelming, swelling it, once again, to near medical proportions. 


Mistrust in the future […] fuels today’s nostalgia. We may not live the past as excessively as many did in the nineteenth century, but out misgivings about what may come are more grave. […] Prospects of economic ruin, of resource depletion, of nuclear Armageddon make the past a crucial haven, and so extensive is our regression that one authority fears “we are entering a future in which people may again die of nostalgia.”


I believe it is the overwhelming bore, not of repetition itself but of the realisation that this repetition brings no change at all, that bombards people into nostalgia. People are, indeed, again dying of this depression. The futurelessness of computation has caught us by surprise exactly because it is masked so well by the stories of heroism and transcendence. In Samuel Beckett’s famous En Attendant Godot, the protagonists Vladimir and Estragon wait for a nonexistent character, day and night. Both characters stand at the ready for Godot’s arrival having nearly forgotten the preceding days in which they did exactly the same. Vladimir and Estragon find themselves in a sort of purgatory, waiting for their release, but forgetting why, again and again. It seems almost like torture for a person to perform the same action repeatedly and forget why. In the first act, Estragon removes his boots, which do not fit well and hurt his feet. Then, in the second act, now barefoot, Estragon is euphoric when he finds his boots again, forgetting that they had already caused him much agony. 

The risk of returning to a life of maintenance, as a rejection of heroism, is this crushing bore, the repetitiveness and repressiveness of upholding the same while not knowing why. Heroics tend to counteract this by inserting the feeling of daily accomplishment into everyday tasks, making everything a challenge. Computation, in this way, builds in and relies on its illusion of heroic gestures. 

This is why stories that position their protagonists either for or against technology end in nostalgia. Our imaginations of the past act as escapes from the iterative nature of computation: we take our great leaps forward into the past. We escape from Plato’s cave only to see that the sun’s true nature lies in history. But even this is a simulation run by computation. 

David Graeber, in his essay on our collective disappointment about the failed promise of flying cars from the 1950s and 1960s, addresses computation as a method of simulating the realisation of visions of the past. The idea of flying cars was one such vision, yet we still drive around in vehicles that are essentially the same as they were then. We are now nostalgic for those times when grand visions of this sort were still common, but instead we are served simulations of these visions, drenched in tropes of vintage fiction and retro-hopefulness. 


That last word, “simulate,” is key. What technological progress we have seen since the seventies has largely been in information technologies—that is, technologies of simulation. They are technologies of what Jean Baudrillard and Umberto Eco used to call the “hyper- real”—the ability to make imitations more realistic than the original. The entire postmodern sensibility, the feeling that we had somehow broken into an unprecedented new historical period where we understood that there was nothing new; that grand historical narratives of progress and liberation were meaningless; that everything now was simulation, ironic repetition, fragmentation and pastiche: all this only makes sense in a technological environment where the only major breakthroughs were ones making it easier to create, transfer, and rearrange virtual projections of things that either already existed, or, we now came to realize, never really would.


What now offers us comfort is that we can still perceive this pattern. We can identify nostalgia as nostalgic and heroism as heroic. We can still create stories without copying the script, and we can perform repetition while feeling that, somehow, we are still moving forwards.



3_1_5_Use and Abuse of Creativity


The word “creativity” typically boomerangs about, used in corporate and political interpretations as much as in artistic or cultural-origin stories. It is the central concept for innovation and progress and in problem-solving and thinking-outside-the-box. It is the driving force behind artistic creation, scientific research, and engineering. It is an emotional exponent of passion, desire and willpower, but also a technical quality, needed to engage in maintenance. It is an expectation for some and a prohibition for others. 

Creativity is a concept that conjures the new, the unknown. It can be seen as a necessity when playing games like chess or Go, but creativity can also be undesirable in games like World of Warcraft, where min-maxing is protocol and where the exact strategies need to be followed in order to win the game. Creativity can be marketing strategy or a personal motivation, it can be used to develop land value or the inner spirit. It can represent new ways of doing things, or signify the creation of something out of nothing. In this sense, creativity enabled the exploration of the moon, but also the blitzkrieg. It is the start of both the construction and the destruction of the World Trade Center. Creativity can stand for a personal trait or for the efforts of a collective. It can mean interpretation, reconfiguration, or rejection. An electrician can be creative, in the same way a graphic designer can. It is a product of the imagination. So, confronted with these seemingly contradictory definitions, how do we define what creativity means? For Oli Mould, there is a more universal definition of creativity: 


Creativity has always been a slippery and nebulous concept. But strip away the millennia of etymological layering, and you are left with a kernel of truth: it is the power to create something from nothing. And it is a “power” rather than an “ability.” Being creative is more than the “ability” to create something from nothing in response to a particular need or lack. Nor is it simply an ability to produce a new product that the market has deemed necessary. Creativity is a power because it blends knowledge (from the institutional and mechanistic level to the pre-cognitive), agency, and importantly desire to create something that does not yet exist. Far from being reactive, it is proactive; it drives society into new worlds of living.


I agree with Mould that creativity is a power, and that it requires desire to be activated; both facets are related to humanity’s story-making capacity. But I am more reserved about the idea that this power is out to bring something new into the world. It is exactly this concept of creativity—the idea that it is a motor to create something from nothing—that has led to the countless definitions of the word, and ultimately to its abuse. This fixation on the new is fuelled by thoughts of transcendence, and the normalisation of endless progress. It is a normalisation in and of itself. 

Creativity has been a central concept in the development of artificial intelligence in recent years. For an automated brain to function along the design of the human brain, it is generally thought to need some sort of creative ability to solve complex problems. The idea of artificial intelligence is to outsource the capacity of the human brain, which is now used to code if-this-then-that algorithms, and let the machine handle this difficult task by itself. If the challenge of automation is the problem of updates—the machine always performs the same tasks regardless of the change of environment or demand—which always requires human interference, then it is significantly more convenient to let the machine take care of itself, releasing the human of the burdensome task of maintaining it. For these kinds of tasks, however, there is no straightforward protocol. What is necessary is an adaptive response, a fluid readiness to address any type of problem. And, for now, only the human brain is capable of deconstructing a complex problem, repairing its dysfunctional parts, updating the whole and putting it back into action. Many complex questions rely on such proactive and associative thinking to keep a production running. The process is dynamic, versatile, and flexible, and it requires a constant reinterpretation of known and unknown factors. It is this composite of insights and adaptability that is referred to as creativity. And its simulation has become the holy grail of computation. 

During the 2019 International Symposium for Computational Media Art, I was part of a panel that included two young researchers from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication. In their presentation, called “Artificial Intelligence, Artists and Art: Attitudes Towards Artwork Produced by Humans vs. Artificial Intelligence,” they explained that, in a test, a group of people could not differentiate between human-made and artificially generated paintings. When told that some were “fake,” most participants indicated that it did not influence their evaluation or appreciation of the artwork. The researchers argued that, if machines could produce artworks indistinguishable from human-made artworks, then these computers had reached a human level of creativity. They summarised:


The results of this survey-experiment shed light on the ways that people evaluate AI and human artwork, including the degree of skill and creativity they assign to each. Such evaluation has implications not only for the way that society views AI created creative projects, but also for the ways that society defines concepts like creativity and art more broadly.


Through the conference, a number of presenters offered creative applications of artificial intelligence, such as computers producing products we might consider artworks. Yet none of the works displayed any creativity by Oli Mould’s definition. Some were thought to carry proof of knowledge, such as a machine that creates new poetry in the style of Shakespeare, having gone over every text by the English writer. But none of them could reasonably demonstrate agency, let alone desire. There were no works or papers or videos presented of, for instance,a welding robot in a car factory that all of the sudden decides that its repetitive work has no relevance, only to turn away from the assembly line and weld a sculpture. Not one presentation told a story of how researchers fed a computer all of van Gogh’s paintings, only for it to then start painting something completely distinct from the data set. 

While many of the conference’s featured projects were impressive, eerie, or seemingly magical, none could confidently speak of artificial creativity. The programmers envisioned an effect, and worked towards an expectation. Some were surprised by the result, stating that it exceeded all expectations. But the text-processing program processed text, the video-rendering software rendered video, and the sound-generating algorithm generated sound. The artists and programmers projected their own creativity onto the machine, and attributed the aesthetics of the artificial artwork to the unfathomable black box of artificial intelligence, neglecting their own input in an effort to present the device as self-sustaining and as creative. 

Why do these scientists, artists, designers and programmers work so hard to synthesise creativity? And why does this mission lead them to apply the word creativity to anything that might be remotely associated with it? The transcendent belief, the transhumanist ideology, that the creative process, at least as undertaken by humans, is slow and cumbersome, takes detours and unnecessary shortcuts, and should therefore be streamlined and optimised for society to reach its full potential runs deep within the community experimenting with the potential of AI. But in their blind fascination for the dream of the self-sustainability of extra-human intelligence, they conflate the power to combine agency, desire, and knowledge with the capacity to solve complex problems. 

While I do not mean to belittle these computational media artists’ creations, I do mean to contest their implied understandings of creativity. What incites their creativity is their fascination for the functionalities of generative adversarial networks, for complex coding, and for deep learning. Their minds spur this lifeless code to produce something it was first intended to do, and made it produce something never before produced. They bring together a team of specialists to find a solution to a problem they desire to solve. This is the power to combine knowledge, agency, and desire. What the machines they make ultimately execute is not. 

Ultimately, it was computational thinking that implores them to define their work as part of a whole, as a road to something greater. Computational normalisation forces them to anthropomorphise the machine, calling it creative. At the conference, researchers talked about computers “thinking” in unexpected ways, its cameras “watching” paintings or “reading” texts, and its microphones “listening” to thousands of hours of music. Computers “learned” how to speak. The actions of computers were seen as decisions that follow reason and logic. The attendees saw their devices come to life. And in their fascination for this newly created life, they forgot that the origin of this creation laid in them, the creators 


Creativity and desire—what we often reduce, in political economy terms, to “production” and “consumption”—are essentially vehicles of the imagination. Structures of inequality and domination—structural violence, if you will—tend to skew the imagination. Structural violence might create situations where laborers are relegated to mind-numbing, boring, mechanical jobs, and only a small elite is allowed to indulge in imaginative labor, leading to the feeling, on the part of the workers, that they are alienated from their own labor, that their very deeds belong to someone else. It might also create social situations where kings, politicians, celebrities, or CEOs prance about oblivious to almost everything around them while their wives, servants, staff, and handlers spend all their time engaged in the imaginative work of maintaining them in their fantasies. Most situations of inequality I suspect combine elements of both.


David Graeber refers here to the dynamics of structural violence and political economy that distort the imaginations of workers. I propose that computational thinking works similarly, in that it creates a structural expectation, a normalisation, of what creativity—desire and imagination—is supposed to be. Computational thinking, as a politico-economic strategy, reduces creativity and desire to production and consumption, and renders humans subordinates in the service of the proliferation of this production and consumption rather than agents of their own creativity and desire. As in the examples of the heroic, creative taxi driver or the creative nurse, true creativity is only condoned if it contributes to the system that ultimately negates their creativity altogether. This means that creativity, in the computational sense, has hardly anything to do with the power to synthesise knowledge, agency, and desire. But it also means that those who do wield this power are enlisted to propagate the structures antithetical to creativity. 

The words of the two communications scientists are particularly striking because they acknowledge unknowingly that their research, which betrays a computational definition of the notion of creativity, will change our understanding of the concept. They confirm that looking at creativity through a purely functional lens will ultimately alter “the ways that society defines concepts like creativity and art.” 

This implicit claim makes it easier for us to declare that creativity is intrinsically non-computational, non-automatic, and anti-heroic. If society evolves towards the normalisation of computational thinking and its collateral expectations of creativity, then creativity becomes its own opposite. Any use of the word in a context that complies with these expectations of computation becomes meaningless. If creativity is used to incentivise dockworkers, mechanics, and factory workers to adopt a more flexible attitude towards labor expectations, then the word becomes hollow. If creativity is exemplified by the ability of people to solve problems that computers cannot, then these become the actions to avoid when engaging in true creativity. 

The anti-heroic act of creativity is triggered by fascination, an inexplicable curiosity for things—a desire to understand that which we do not fully comprehend, to elaborate on that which we do understand, and to probe for the edges of what cannot be understood.In other words, it is triggered by our need for stories and our desire for quality, betterment, improvement, and stability, as well as conservation, structure, order, and a means to combat entropy. Creativity, then, becomes an act, rather than a creation in the productive sense, a process that includes the sensations of fascination and frustration and that originates from our power to combine knowledge, agency, and desire. Creative acts utilise only a pragmatic attitude towards computation; creative people are fascinated by it but also frustrated by it. In this sense, the makers of the painting machines at the conference acted creatively. But creativity, ultimately, does not work like that. Despite computation’s tendencies towards these actions, creativity is not transmittable, not projectable, and not transposable. 

It is this conclusion that leads me to propose the act of maintenance as an act of potential creativity—anti-heroic, non-automatic, and non-computational creativity. The expansion of computational thinking will inevitably lead us to perceive creativity as embodied by mind-numbing, boring, mechanical jobs—those conventionally traditionally seen as the opposite of creative. Maintenance defies this abuse of creativity.

Computational thinking always assumes that repetitive actions are not creative, that they are dull and useless. Its logical conclusion is that these actions therefore need to be automated to liberate humanity from routine and free our spirits to engage in creative activities. It is easy to speculate that the masons, electricians, and cleaners of this world think of their jobs in society as repetitive, making them easily replaceable by automations. But this mindset completely ignores the joy and fascination one might find in the repetitive act, one in which every iteration contributes to the long-term development of mastery

Without claiming that every act of maintenance incites fascination, joy, or contentment, I want to posit that maintenance holds the potential for creativity in a world defined by computational thinking. Maintenance, as the gesture we most commonly associate with computation and automation, simultaneously upholds and offsets computation. The continuation of computation depends on the mechanical interpretation of maintenance, but this continuation is undone by our creative interpretation of such repetitive acts. For, in the end, the repetition in creative maintenance is not at all as circular as is its mechanical counterpart. Every iteration starts differently; every repetition can lead to a different result. 

We must therefore not deny the repetitive nature of creativity, and the joy, pride, and fascination we uphold in the accomplishment of yet another iteration of the same. Our lives are not mechanical, as the transcendent ideologies of computational thinking and transhumanism might suggest. They are not circular, with continual return to a mechanical starting point. No, maintenance is the anti-heroic and therefore creative—by the true definition of the word—act of repeating a similar but not identical act ad infinitum. It is this creative maintenance that allows us to build our bodies, to keep our houses upright, to become specialists, to play a theatre piece, to do research, to talk and write, and to produce artwork. 

Albert Einstein’s apocryphal quote in which he supposedly defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results marginalises repetition and its creative potential. Rather, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is, for me, the definition of creativity. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting the same results is, in fact, the exact goal of computational thinking. 



3_1_6_Art for Art’s Sake 


If art is deprived of the purpose of preaching morality and of improving mankind, it does not by any means follow that art is absolutely pointless, purposeless, senseless, in short l’art pour l’art—a snake which bites its own tail. “No purpose at all is better than a moral purpose!”—thus does pure passion speak. A psychologist, on the other hand, puts the question: what does all art do? does it not praise? does it not glorify? does it not select? does it not bring things into prominence? In all this it strengthens or weakens certain valuations. Is this only a secondary matter? an accident? something in which the artist’s instinct has no share? Or is it not rather the very prerequisite which enables the artist to accomplish something?... Is his most fundamental instinct concerned with art? Is it not rather concerned with the purpose of art, with life? with a certain desirable kind of life? Art is the great stimulus to life; how can it be regarded as purpose less, as pointless, as l’art pour l’art?

— Friedrich Nietzsche


I want to return to my initial question, “Why do we make art?” and my discussion of the implications of heroism, nostalgia, and creativity in light of the rising influence of the transcendental mindset of computational thinking and transhumanist ideology. I would like to elaborate on the reasons to create art in the future, taking note of the role of the artist in the past. If the concept of transcendence, as a reflex of mankind facing the unknown future, is the origin of the creation of art, then why do suggestions of the opposite—that art can have no origin, nor a purpose—persist?

I wonder, here, if there is a universal reason to create art. Because if this reason is universal, then there is no ground to believe that this will radically change in the future: the creation of art will always, by this logic, remain intrinsically the same, or at least the basis on which art comes into existence will remain consistent. Yet this can only be so if art exists without purpose, that is, if art does not depend on its context to be defined as such. But, indeed, it is context that determines what can be called art and that obscures the question of whether the creation of art is naturally bound to humanity’s reflexes. How, realistically, could we rid ourselves of context? 

Despite this point,we have for centuries searched for the essence of pure creation, a reason for artmaking unaffected by expectations of social normalisation. Were this essence were to be found, art would cease to change, to follow style, or to adapt to any whim of political preference or commodity value. Art would remain art without master. 

Further, and for this account more importantly, art would then be unfazed by the forces of computation. If the essence of art were inherently human and thus, through generations, permanent, then computational thinking would not be able to alter our understanding of it. But this can only be true if art exists for art’s sake, if it is possible for art to serve no purpose, and so to remain untouchable, pristine, neutral, or in other words, universal. 

L’art pour l’art has been a fascination of Western artists since the nineteenth th century, when ideas of utilitarianism, morality, politics, or didacticism were questioned alongside other fixed societal ideas. Art should not, these artists thought, bend to the will of society, or conform to the rules of industrial production or of the political state. Rather, art should sprout only from the desire of the artist to bring forth a work of art. It should levitate in the void of purposelessness, without touching anything or anyone in a way that could render the work utilitarian. With the purpose of the artwork made obsolete, its creation becomes a pure, untainted, and primordial act. As Edgar Allen Poe put it: 


We have taken it into our heads that to write a poem simply for the poem’s sake, and to acknowledge such to have been our design, would be to confess ourselves radically wanting in the true poetic dignity and force: —but the simple fact is, that, would we but permit ourselves to look into our own souls, we should immediately there discover that under the sun there neither exists nor can exist any work more thoroughly dignified—more supremely noble than this very poem—this poem per se—this poem which is a poem and nothing more, this poem written solely for the poem’s sake.


The creation of a poem for the purpose of instantiating poetry, and then assuming that it has come into existence without reason nor purpose, has, in hindsight, been a futile endeavour. Art that sprouts solely from the soul needs to stay in the soul in order for it to remain supremely noble. Once an artwork is loosed upon the world, it becomes part of the world. It is integrated into the selective nature of human society as words or as colours, shapes, surfaces, forms, buildings, sounds, or movements. Once an artwork is actualised, it becomes a sequence of choices, decisions to use a certain material and not another, to place words in a certain order and not another, and so on. It inevitably follows the mechanics of normalisation, and specifically the impulse to demarcate what the soul, mind, or spirit can come up with. 

This shows that, regardless of the effort involved, every work of art complies with the expectations of normalisation once made unto the world. Or, as Nietzsche asks: “Does it (art) not select?” It does. It is an act of pure selection. But in this act, all hopes for nobleness is lost, and with it its purposelessness. Nevertheless, this reasoning has not stopped artists in the past 200 years from trying to achieve l’art pour l’art, as exemplified in styles such as formalism or abstract expressionism. Or from trying to achieve the exact opposite for that matter, reaffirming art’s ability to serve grand purposes.. The detachment of art from societal context, and the situation of art production in the sterile void, with the artist reduced to the role of spectator while generating work originating in pure self-expression, is a modus operandi still vivid today. 

Adam Curtis, in his documentary Hypernormalisation, describes an evolution concerning the activist artists of the 1970s, who, confronted with an every more complex barrier of political pressure and economical prioritisation, resorted to a life of reflection instead of one of direct action: 


The radicals and the left-wingers who, ten years before, had dreamt of changing America through revolution did nothing. They had retreated and were living in the abandoned buildings in Manhattan. The singer Patti Smith later described the mood of disillusion that had come over them: ”I could not identify with the political movements any longer,” she said. “All the manic activity in the streets. In trying to join them, I felt overwhelmed by yet another form of bureaucracy.”


What she was describing was the rise of a new, powerful individualism that could not fit with the idea of collective political action. Instead, Patti Smith and many others became a new kind of individual radical, who watched the decaying city with a cool detachment. They didn’t try and change it. They just experienced it.


[Smith strolls through the neighbourhoods of New York and comments on the life in the city] “Look at that. Isn’t that cool? I love that, where, like, kids write all over the walls. That, to me, is neater than any art sometimes. Jose and Maria forever.”


Instead, radicals across America turned to art and music as a means of expressing their criticism of society. They believed that instead of trying to change the world outside the new radicalism should try and change what was inside people’s heads, and the way to do this was through self-expression, not collective action.


It is this change in mindset, this focus on self-expression—that art is an excretion of the individual mind rather than the result of a purpose-driven collective enterprise—that heralded in a new understanding of art for art’s sake still widely supported today by artists and teachers of the arts. For these individuals, art cannot exist within an exterior context—as do design or architecture, or even music—but can only come from within. There can be made no compromise at the starting point of the work as the essence of the work would then be forfeited. And even the intention of “changing what is inside people’s heads,” inside the spectator’s heads is hardly permitted. What the artwork does to other people’s minds is their business, not the artist’s. 

I understand this reflex as a method to sterilise the work prior to its existence. This way, the artist can disclaim any wrongful understanding or recuperation. The apathetic comportment fobs off with any responsibility towards a community, and can claim a position for the artist that is no more and no less than a primordial and thus inevitable expression of artistic desire and intuition. The sole impulse to make art then becomes the only raison d’être of art. 

Of course, as I have discussed, the distinction between the natural impulses of mankind and those influenced by normalisation is hard to make. We cannot exist, nor has anyone ever lived, apart from the world around. Artists who can sincerely claim to act only out of pure individual incentive, out of the innate desires linked to the genetically determined personality, and thus not for reasons followed by a purpose in the realms of inter-human relations, are scarce, if even existent. Every artwork that has been brought into existence, whether it is made public or not, has been shaped by what is exterior, even if the intention of the artist is to make it expressly without purpose. Every incentive to make anything is, therefore, unavoidably affected by the position of the artist within the whole, by the role they create for themselves in the process of making an artwork. Therefore, any product of that position is bound to serve some sort of purpose within that role. In other words, purposelessness is impossible, which renders our ability to find a static, pristine foundation upon which art can come into being impossible as well. 

There is, however, another way to frame the universality of art. Because art for art’s sake explicitly dictates a state in which art must be created, and because radical reactions to this position popped up at the same time, the art world has remained in an almost synchronously oscillating state between these two positions. I believe that the strength and survival of art and artmaking resides in the area between these poles, in the ever-changing position of the artist.. 

One can wholeheartedly defend art as pure individual expression or prove the opposite, and both positions can support the making of art. Art survives as art because it is never the same, because it is never absolute or universal. Ideals of beauty or form that are considered the essence of art can be overthrown by yet another perception of what these ideals should be, showing that the principles once considered universal mean very little. But at every instance, there is someone out there who produces something which is then or later viewed as art, and then, even later, not viewed as art anymore. The re-interpretation of what art is and why we make art is what makes art universal. It is always something other. And this is exactly why it is so difficult to define art, and why it is becoming increasingly difficult to justify, and simultaneously so attractive to engage in, l’art pour l’art. 

The current hegemony of computational normalisations demands a fixed purpose for everything, particularly in the market-economical sense. Every action serves an end, which then contributes to a pre-fixed expectation of the future. But if the purpose of that action changes all the time, it becomes increasingly difficult to categorise. Some artists may find financial benefit in their actions, modifying their practices to meet market demand. Their purpose is to produce products to be desired and to sell them as such. Others might not find satisfaction in this, and might produce the exact opposite, demonstrating that their products are purposeless. Can we then claim that one is art and the other is not? Only contemporary context, which transforms at tremendous speeds, defines any particular work as art. 

What attracts people to art is that it can be anything and that it should be anything. Which is why, as with the monasteries following the Rule of Benedict remaining intact after 1500 years, art keeps adapting, keeps changing, and keeps renewing after every generation. When someone or something tries to keep it in place—by, for instance, claiming a universality in l’art pour l’art—artists tend to produce the exact opposite, proving once again that the universality, the rule, cannot be wholly true. 



It was, for us, a brilliant and vanishing vision, lost in the crowd of those visions, equally brilliant and equally vanishing, which become overcast in our ordinary experience like “dissolving views” and which constitute, by their reciprocal interference, the pale and colorless vision of things that is habitually ours. The painter has isolated it; he has fixed it so well on the canvas that henceforth we shall not be able to help seeing in reality what he himself saw. Art would suffice then to show us that an extension of the faculties of perceiving is possible.

— Henri Bergson 


All the glorious traits attributed to the artist—heroism, vision, the ability to transcend time and space—elevate the artist’s role beyond the human and into the übermenschlich. The artist is an extraordinary being, capable of seeing what others do not, creating what others never thought of, selecting what others discarded. But this is only because she has turned away from the practicalities of life. 

The artist is the one who carved magnificent statues, built dazzling buildings, mixed illustrious colours. She is the one who, out of the purest of emotions and intuitions, lifted a breathtaking image of beauty into existence. Yet she is also the one who individually raised a community above itself, and with it the neighbourhood. And she made no concessions, and no compromise to anyone, not in the least to herself. She is the one who thinks outside the box, who heralds innovation, who follows authentic passions and desires, and who perfectly narrates perception. Yes, she, the artist, the grand example and antithesis of automation, the ultimate expression of humanity. 

If all other activities of mankind were to be automated, at least we would have the artists. All the bookkeepers and cleaners and market brokers and accountants and cargo agents and sewer hands and models and tellers and referees and cashiers and taxi drivers and cooks and nuclear-power-reactor operators and tire builders and fiberglass laminators and pharmacy technicians and tour guides and lawyers and roofers would finally have the time and mental space to engage in the practice of artmaking. 

All of these tropes characteristic of the artist would fall onto the suddenly unburdened shoulders of the people of the world, who would see their daily activities taken over by the engines of computational automation. And while some would want to enlist these newly broadened spirits into the noble enterprise of completing the next phase of human evolution, the majority would propose a nostalgic vision of humanity in equilibrium with nature, where frolicking artists interact with their surroundings in the constant pursuit of ever-growing novelty and impossible innovation in a neverending expression of their individual, unique humanness.

This vision is nostalgic, the vision of epic heroism, for it only looks back at how artists have lived in the past, and not at how they have adapted their images to fit the expectations of their times. Yes, artists will survive the oncoming totalitarianism of computation, but not for the reasons we would like them to. It will not be because of the supposed archetypical need for constant innovation, nor for their moral or cognitive superiority, nor for their mastery of super-human skills, nor for their uncompromising steadfastness. It will be because the very definition of their role will change, again and again and again. 

Maybe we could consider everyone an artist in the future, but only because the word “artist” will become a synonym for “human” and an antonym for “robot,” or because the lack of work will turn every remaining activity into art production. Perhaps the word artist will not exist anymore, and we will call everyone narrator, or imposter, or poet, or something else entirely. 

The bohemian poet of the nineteenth century did not transform into the radical avant-garde intellectual of the twentieth century because everyone decided it was the better option, or because some higher authority threw a dart at a board with possible roles for the artist, but because the environment in which artists thrived demanded a change. The romantic vision of the eternal, neutral, and universal artist bearing art, fully detached from a political or economic reality, was washed away by the atrocities of the First World War, which implored people to respond by any means necessary, and not just limit themselves to the primordial actions of l’art pour l’art. The meaning of art changed. 

There is no indication that this could not happen today, even though computation attempts to prevent it—that is, to prevent change. There is always the danger of integration, of recuperation by the engines of commercial automation. There is also the temptation of self-limitation, of living life as a roleplaying game. There is the expectation of a stable future, in which all divergent alternatives must be obscured. But these pitfalls are exactly what drives the change of definition. They are the extremes which art will have to contrast. 

This is why, in the spirit of roleplaying and the expectations of computational automation, I here propose a set of possible roles for the artist in the future. It is a grid set out according to possible attitudes towards computation, on axes that stretch from assimilation to resistance and from progressiveness to conservatism. The horizontal scale represents the artist’s position towards computation: they can either dissolve into it or go against it. The vertical scale depicts the extent of renewal or preservation embedded in the position as being either progressive or conservative in their actions towards computation. This grid gives us nine possible roles, all opposed to every other. Yet it is imperative that we see these roles as complementary nonetheless. They each have the flexibility and adaptability that will be required of the artist of the future. 

As these nine roles come together in a confusing mass of contradictions, the expectations of the artist vanish completely. The artist can be one or some of the roles, or all of them, or none of them. As roles change according to the landscape in which the artist finds herself, they can be chosen from accordingly, put on or taken off like a jacket. 

From specialist to generalist, from avant-gardist to saboteur, from observer to re-enactor, from artisan to demolisher, the artist becomes whatever she is required to become. In the middle stands the maintainer, who can both resist and assimilate, and take neither a progressive nor a conservative stance. Together, these roles form the careful mix that we need to navigate the margins of computation. And they form the basis not only for the artist of the future, but for anyone at all. All of us, here, are agents of the mantra Everything, Now. 



3_2_1_The Avant-Gardist


The avant-gardist represents the continuation of the artistic tradition of the past century. This position is our received expectation of the heroic artist. This role can be critiqued for many reasons, as it assimilates to computational thinking no matter how much it tries to resist. It is part of the goal of computation

Nevertheless, the artist is part of a possible art world, and should be validated as such. Just because the market wants avant-garde artists does not mean that this position should be less valued. When art fairs, biennials, and auctions thrive on the sale of critical artwork and the foregrounding of the artists who produce it, or when neighbourhoods are revived through the actions of the “creative class,” why should we dismiss these actions as being lesser? 

We cannot blame this role for its opportunism, for opportunities should be grabbed when they arise. What we can do is blame the artist for pretending to be anything more than an opportunist.The conceit of the role being more than a job is what makes the role of the avant-gardist hard to play. The avant-gardist role can be about pure, heroic creation, about the expression of the self, but only if the intent is to abuse this position for opportunistic reasons. 

The art practice of Dutch artist Renzo Martens is a prime example of good practice. As shown in his documentary Enjoy Poverty, Martens worked together with people still living in and around the abandoned Unilever-owned Leverville palm oil plant in Congo—founded in 1911, when the country was under Belgian rule—to produce sculptures, which were then 3- scanned and reprinted out of pure chocolate in Europe or the US and subsequently sold by Martens at galleries and art fairs for profit. The profits from these sales flow directly back to the town and are used to turn the community into a creative-class neighbourhood, with its own galleries, studios, and workshops. Martens uses—and abuses—the expectation of the avant-garde without scruples and makes no attempts to hide the neocolonial aura of his project. He even moved to the village to increase the impact of his presence on the development of the community. 

For Martens, the objective is clear and so are the implications of his actions. His neocolonial approach is unapologetic because he operates exactly the way computation would operate. And so he positions himself as a saviour, a hero of the West elevating the people around him. But by abusing this expectation, he also generates a real income. He presents himself as relentlessly pragmatic, going along with the expectations of the system to generate a desired outcome. And in his act of pragmatism, he is able to expose the greater dysfunctionality of the normalisations we have put in place to justify exploitation in service of industry, in service of the art world, and in service of development and progress. 

Regardless of the opportunism of the artist, which can potentially reveal an underlying power structure, this role can also be seen as the standard producer of meaningless art objects. I see no objections, per se, in this mode of mind, as long as it has no ulterior motive. And as l’art pour l’art, the meaningless art, is nearly impossible to achieve, this position is extremely difficult to manage. The artist’s goal might be to create something that has no connection to anything else, and which comes from the deepest of personal desires, but the result is hard to keep sterile and unaffected by the exterior. 

It is this which strikes me most at art fairs and biennials. In the same halls and expo complexes that showcase artwork, there are food fairs and car salons being held at times, but when the art moves in, the public is supposed to witness something greater than cars or food, something higher up the spiritual ladder. Suddenly the convention centre transforms into a labyrinth of white cubes and black boxes, ready to exhibit only the purest creations. No, these objects in a room are no different than the car placed in the same spot weeks later. And therefore our attitude towards it should not be different. 

As for biennials, they have increasingly become scenes to show the compassion of artists with the state of the world, hallmarks of Everything, Now, showcasing artists from all over the world along with their individual takes on a prime issue. Documenta 14, in 2017, was a collection of images depicting the misery and toil inflicted on and by humans, with every participant going over and beyond to convey their message to the privileged spectators able to visit this provincial city in central Germany. And with every iteration of the Venice Biennale, more and more works with the grandest of consciences are placed next to works whose authors try hard not to address anything at all. As much as I enjoy visiting, I am always confronted with conflicting emotions, baffled to see anindividual installation on mass-migration beside one addressing global warming, one on social injustice, then financial inequality, racial discrimination, colonialism, labour exploitation, and then l’art pour l’art. It feels like this cascading display of issues renders the entire event hypocritical, mostly because the year after all the old problems are forgotten and new ones are found. There is no continuous project, no recurrence, no commitment. And because biennials are not unapologetic about the marketing value of their events, the blunt displays of city branding and tourist advertisement, they render the entire happening as a grand contribution to computational normalisation and its cynical disposition for heroism. 

Relentless pragmatism is what should drive the avant-gardist—cutthroat recuperation and commercial exploitation and an almost vulgar advertisement of computational logic. The artist should manipulate the markets and squeeze the heroic image. When the avant-gardist is expected to present the new, she should instead fake the new, reuse the old, and exhibit it as though it were conjured from thin air. 

If there is one artist who has fully pushed this to its limit, it would be Damien Hirst. After producing the world’s “most expensive artwork by a living artist,” a diamond-encrusted skull called For The Love Of God, in 2007, Hirst saw images of his work pop up in collages made by then 17-year-old graffiti artist Cartrain, who was selling them on his website. Hirst pursued the legal confiscation of the collages on grounds of copyright infringement, and ultimately gained possession of the artworks. Cartrain, as an act of revenge, then “stole” a box of pencils—a very rare “Faber Castell dated 1990 Mongol 482 Series,” according to Hirst—from Hirst’s £10,000,000-installation Pharmacy at the Tate Modern in 2011. He sent ransom notes to Hirst, demanding his diamond-faced collages back:


For the safe return of Damien Hirst’s pencils I would like my artworks back…it’s not a large demand; he can have his pencils back when I get my artwork back. Hirst has until the end of this month to resolve this or on 31st of July the pencils will be sharpened. He has been warned.


The “borrowing” of the pencils was framed as the biggest art theft of the twenty-first century, as they were valued by Hirst at £500,000. Subsequently, Cartrain was arrested and the pencils were recovered, unsharpened. Of course, because of its absurdity, the story was big news. And it instantly made the name Cartrain known to the public, pushing the price of his other artworks up. Now, it would not be unimaginable that Hirst, known for his conceptual approach to the art market, schemed together with Cartrain to manipulate the dynamics of the art market and the farce of valuation. The collaboration was never revealed as such, but if it were so, this scheming would be the ultimate way to operate as an avant-gardist in the computational world. 



3_2_2_The Specialist


The specialist is the agent of definition. As a master of any infinitely divisible area of expertise, —the specialist can account for the veracity of any statement, so long as she trades off general agency for depth. Within the field, the specialist rules. But when she finds herself in other fields, such authority dissolves: the mechanic does not tell the psychologist how to do her job. Moreover, the establishment of ever deepening fields of expertise reinforces the exclusion of those not operating at the same depth. 

This is a common syndrome in academia, where the expansion of specialisation is part of the general architecture of research. Specialists dig themselves in further and further but become isolated in the process. Within their borehole, they are able to increase the resolution of their knowledge, yet it renders them unable to keep up with the rest. When the expert is placed, then, next to other experts, there is no real method of comparing the respective validity of the research. Researchers have a tendency to underestimate the strength of their own achievements compared to others because of this. They feel they are imposters, pretending to be experts. 

Because we are not able to measure the depth of each area of expertise, it is plausible that they are indeed not all equally deep. Some experts get the impression that they are in the shallowest hole, but receive the—according to them, unjust—praise of digging at the same depth as the rest. But they are still expected to keep digging, and that is indeed what most experts will do: fake it ‘til you make it. 

Yet the real problem is that, because the depth of expertise is not measurable and thus not comparable, and because the barriers between specialisations are becoming less and less permeable, it is just as easy to be an actual imposter as to be a specialist and feel like one. Moreover, the metrics on depth of research are an expertise in and of itself, which makes the people who deal in them supposed experts in a hollow field. The consultants, the assessors, and the auditors trying to measure progress and innovation, efficiency and profundity, are themselves facing the dilemma of either pushing the illusion further or exposing their scheme altogether. 

This is why the expert is in the corner of assimilation with computation. The normalisation of the contemporary expert is a computational one, because it trades off expansion of knowledge for an augmentation of resolution, while presenting it as expansion all the same. The specialist is kept in check by the protocols of epistemological metrics, and designated to a delineated area. Like archaeologists uncovering an ancient ruin, square by square, the dig site is determined by computation, as well as the division of the grid. The diggers then only need to shovel their way down until they reach the expected goal. They are praised when they do. It is not hard to imagine why they might feel like imposters. 

Researchers are told to “think outside the box” or use their creativity, but the results expected of them do not allow it. Their findings should be innovative and groundbreaking but also directly applicable in the highly normalised economy. Their methods need to be visionary and heroic, yet they should also follow the scripts of benchmarks and reproducibility. While imposter syndrome is often referred to as an inferiority complex, it is actually part of a larger dynamic in computational specialisation. It is the go-to comportment for people who feel like they are underachieving in a world that really does not demand them to go out and beyond; in fact, it demands the opposite. They then start to question the capacity of their own intelligence and knowledge, as it is compared with something incomparable. The specialist gets the impression that anyone could get to their depth. 

They might be right. According to the code of computational expertise, the difference between an expert and an imposter is quite small. If it is just a matter of checking the right boxes, then what separates the expert from the pretender is not excellence or insight or genius or superior knowledge but the ability to follow instructions. And even that is only the case when there are metrics involved. The experience-based expert does not need authority bestowed upon her, except for her own. In the individuated roleplaying game, either the specific task is hyper-defined, or the character chooses it, defines it, and differentiates it from anyone else. It makes the expert position untouchable. We are then experts on our own bodies, our own minds and our own environment, defying anyone else entering our specific domain. 

The expert is therefore a fragile role, inhabited by imposters and people who feel like imposters. Experts play a role within a role: we enable experts to pursue their frustrations and fascinations without distractions, but they also need to don such extraordinary self-confidence in presenting these fascinations and frustrations as being in service of the general knowledge or the general progress, that they feel they are putting on a show. 

This creates an opening for the artist of the future. The imposter-expert, balancing compliance with the protocols of computation and the search for profound insights, seems like a dreamed condition for the artist looking for the margins and blind spots of computation. She can place other experts in her slipstream by manipulating the protocols and pretending to follow the rules, while allowing herself to break the rules and follow her fascination to the fullest. 

Specialists in many ways follow humanity’s innate search for focus. But computation prevents the reinterpretation of these focuses, and places fixed barriers between different methods of focus in an attempt to quantify and compare. Computational protocols, designed to subdivide different fields of research based past subdivision, becomes the baseline of interpretation for the next generation of specialists. Specialists do not follow their own focuses, but the focus of computation. 

The role of the specialist as artist aims to confuse these protocols, allowing for the prevalence of fascination above the fixation on bureaucratic technicalities. In this way, the concept of art-research fits best with this imposter-expert role. Artistic research differs from scientific research in that it has become a (close to) pure exploration of personal fascination and a safeguard for focus, and its practitioners are mostly unapologetic about this. Yet the increasing influence of computational expectations demands that artistic research take place within the same institutions as its scientific counterpart, with the idea of having it contribute to “general” epistemological accumulation. 


Scientific research is normally taken to be a specialized mode of inquiry dedicated to testing hypotheses through the collection and analysis of data under controlled conditions, and to the advance of theory through conjecture and refutation. […] Anthropologists have always felt uneasy about these expectations, knowing full well that the destination of their research can never be known in advance, that the conditions under which it is carried out are largely beyond their control, and that it never really reaches any conclusion. […] Yet anthropologists are still inclined to dress their inquiries in a scientific garb, masking conversation as elicitation, experiences of life as data for analysis, lessons learned as final results. As for artists, who find increasingly that they have to present what they are doing as research in order to access the institutional and financial support on which they depend, to present and justify their work as research takes an even greater stretch of credibility. Must they pretend to behave like scientists? If so, what are they trying to find out, and what kinds of knowledge do they think their art can contribute that science cannot? 


Tim Ingold here raises a tough question, asking if artists should pretend to behave like scientists. I think they should, at least if they want to play the part of the expert. As this part is particularly important to the aspect of fascination and focus, it cannot be neglected. But it can also not be performed, in computational society, without the exterior structure of institutions, trying to measure, compare, and ultimately predict. The artist should therefore become an institutionalised imposter, mimicking the behaviour of scientists to blend in with the academic superstructure, dressing their inquiries up as computational expectations, and wielding its vocabulary, symbols, and rituals. 

Like the avant-gardist, the expert needs to be extremely pragmatic, in that she complies with computation. She does not resist, nor critique computation in a direct sense. Ultimately, the role can be viewed as subversive, but should never be exposed as such. Exposure would ruin the entire role, turning it into a gimmick or a joke, and denies any further exploration of this role. To pose as an imposter is not a laughing matter or an ironic undertaking; it is a necessity. The expert must sneak about, camouflaged, in a quest for deepening research, focus. and for avenues of exploration for her fascinations.



3_2_3_The Artisan


Perhaps the strangest role to place in the category of computational assimilation is the role of the artisan. Where the artisan and the specialist might be closely related in that they both deepen their focus, they are separated by their outcome: the artisan produces authenticity rather than knowledge. 

In this sense, the artisan embodies a rejection of technology. Considered a counter-reaction to the culture of mass-production, craftsmanship is a pure expression of human skill and ability, and negates progress in the industrial sense of the word. It is the return to the forgotten crafts: tailoring, gardening, woodworking, food processing, metal casting and porcelain pouring. In many ways, craftsmanship can be considered a revival of an older way of living, and thus is imbued with a great deal of nostalgia. It is a return to the physical quality of olden times. 

This is why it is easy to assume the artisan’s reactionary position towards computation—it actively despises the use of any type of technology or external process. But the craftsmanship is also integrated into the computational expectation: crafts as pastime activities are seen as necessary to improve one’s creative capacity and to train or relax the mind and body, making it more capable of dealing with the stressing demands of the “real” work. We all need to be more creative, and every hour awake should be spent being productive, even if productivity means charging up the proverbial batteries only so that we are more productive afterwards. 

When the hobby gets out of hand, which is almost always the goal in a computational society set on expansion, there is always the option of turning your hobby into your profession—the ideal situation. Knitted hats and gloves are now produced on a near-industrial scale and sold online on numerous platforms. Lathed wooden stools are available in chestnut or oak, both handmade.Jams and pickled vegetables are shipped worldwide. A hobby cannot remain a hobby when you are good at it; it instead enters a state of near-professionalism, which requires the integration of bureaucratic and managerial—computational—processes once again.

Since craftsmanship relies on the creation of objects, no matter the virtuous intentions, it always has a physical impact. The physical properties of an object are easier to quantify and compute than, say, knowledge. Objects can be given a value based on their material and labour costs. For most (amateur) artisans, this “dry” value is what counts at the market, and the products they make are intrinsically not more valuable than their machine-produced equivalent. However, in a society where mass production takes up the largest portion of the goods in circulation, by far, and where the reproducibility of objects is nearly instantaneous, the homemade, artisanal, and handcrafted gain a certain label, or aura, per Walter Benjamin, that cannot be reproduced by machine. 


Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: Its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.


A want for authenticity is, in many ways, the ultimate reaction to the repetitiveness of computation: a unique object, marked by knowledge that only one, the original, was produced by human hands. The artisan, then, as a producer of authenticity, inherits this aura. She is the originator. In this sense, authenticity in the reaction towards the computational realm has little to do with provenance or aesthetics, but is only defined as contrary to mass production in that authenticity merits an author.

Yet it is this aspect of aura that makes artisanal objects so interesting for computation. A truly unique object pushes its maker into the position of the hero, the master, the skilled, the authority. A market develops around aura desiring the ubiquity of the unique, and the artisan provides. What ensues is a paradoxical branding and marketing strategy, providing artisanal products for the masses and attempting to authenticate mass-production simultaneously.

This is why artisanal olive oils from southern Italy, made from hand-picked olives and following a family recipe but pressed and bottled in batches by machines, can be considered authentic, but the shoes stitched together by women in crowded sweatshops in Bangladesh are not. When these same shoes are produced as limited-edition sneakers, suddenly they become authentic, valuable, and unique. 

Computation has absolutely no interest in the random variations produced by artisans. They are unpredictable, unqualifiable, and thus untrustworthy. Their products display a variable precision, including mistakes and oversights, and defy the perfectly quantifiable standard. Computation does well without the follies of humans, making goods that could very well be produced automatically and procedurally. But it seems that the reaction against the uniformity of computation is one that cannot be suppressed by any other means than by integrating the reaction into the standard. As computation does so well, the artisan is eventually collected into the expectation. 

But this tendency does expose a human dynamic valuable regardless of computation. Craftsmanship is an extension of care and quality, in that it involves the transformation of material into a better form. And what this “betterness” is, can be determined by computation, but can also be determined otherwise. It can be an expression of skill and ability, of tradition and of focus, to produce change.. The attractiveness of crafts lies in the visualisation of this change: the creator must see the creation come to life.

Unlike the avant-garde, dedicated to innovation and newness, the artisan does not deal in the new. On the contrary, craftsmanship is per definition a reprise, and therefore the artisan is closer to the reenactor than to any other role. The artisan is conservative, nostalgic, and longs for return. She is inspired by tradition, even if that tradition can be deconstructed entirely by contemporary standards: analogue photography, ancient pottery techniques, traditional wood joinery, and fabric restoration.The artisan studies the evolution of technique from the present. She then recreates them, combines them, and updates them, but never desires to transcend them entirely. The process of creation itself is of too great importance to the artisan to radically throw tradition and praxis overboard. 

In our contemporary situation, I would consider most artists to be either avant-gardists or artisans, mostly because the artisan role lends itself perfectly to the amateur-art scene. Since art has long been intertwined with craftsmanship in the past, and since the contemporary artisan represents a return to these past values and techniques, it is not surprising that amateur art has gained such a large following. It is a very attractive position in the sense that it has a rich background, and that this history is readily retrievable. Most art-education programs start off as a schooling in craftsmanship because of this. And they only gradually transition into demanding avant-gardism. In the amateur arts, this transition is often not made, and not without reason. The artisan is desirable in many ways, mostly because she relies on a material tradition. 

Again, one easily falls into the clutches of computation when playing the role of the artisan, when the act of creation is not focused on creation itself but serves an alternative purpose: to market the products of authenticity, to offload the stress of the ”real” job, or to learn a skill for skill-learning’s sake. As with the avant-gardist and the specialist, this position needs a certain amount of pragmatism. When wading the shallows of computational thinking, the artisan’s intentions must be firstly to chase the rush of creation. What comes next can give a boost to this chase, but can also bring it to a halt. Does the selling of the object allow for more creation? Or is creation necessary for selling? 



3_2_4_The Narrator


In the more impartial slot, between assimilation and resistance vis-à-vis computation, I consider the narrator to be the most progressive role. She is the storyteller, the situation-builder, the curator, the editor, the scenographist. All art can be narrated, but narration is not an obligation. Furthermore, all narration can be art, but it does not need to be. 

The narrator frames art. In this sense, she is auxiliary to all other roles of the artist. However, she can still be considered a full-fledged, free-standing role because she creates a story about art that can in turn become an artwork in and of itself. Contemporary curators tend to separate themselves from the equation of art creation, but only do so to keep their position distinct and insubordinate. And while their role has been both popularised and scrutinised through the past few decades, making of them managers of the art world, there is more to the curator role than this reputation suggests. Thus, I assume them to be part of the artistic subset of the future for three reasons:

Firstly, because narration is, in the ever more pervasive hegemony of computation, presumed to be the last activity of mankind. The narrator makes stories because that is what humans do. In this sense, her role is inevitable. This makes the role of the artist as narrator not very different from any other role in the future. To put it in the word of performance artist Allan Kaprow in his 1966 “Manifesto,” part of his Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life:


The decision to be an artist […] assumes both the existence of a unique activity and an endless series of deeds that deny it. The decision immediately establishes the context within which all the artist’s acts may be judged by others as art and also conditions the artist’s perception of all experience as probably (not possibly) artistic. Anything I say, do, notice, or think is art —whether or not I intend it—because everyone else aware of what is occurring today will probably say, do, notice, and think of it as art at some time or another.


Kaprow here expresses the future of art. The idea that if someone else thinks of something as art it is art reinforces the position of the narrator. To think of something as art is to narrate, and to narrate is to make art. Anything we do to make sense of the complex, random and infinite future—any normalisation—can then be considered art. The narrator, aware of this logic, uses this blurring between art and life as her canvas. 

Secondly, because of her mediating nature, meddling with different stories of different sources, the narrator can create a new kind of normalisation; one in between assimilation with and resistance against computation. In this sense, the narrator is a figure of reconciliation, bringing together two different stances. She is able to do so because she understands the dynamics of computation, and the expectations attached to it. 


Contemporary art, which tends to “think” in multimedia, intermedia, overlays, fusions, and hybridizations, more closely parallels modern mental life than we realized. Its judgements, therefore, may be accurate. Art may soon become a meaningless word. In its place, “communications programming” would be a more imaginative label, attesting to our new jargon, our technological and managerial fantasies, and our pervasive electronic contact with one another.


The narrator is an extension of the managerial fantasies imagined by Kaprow in the 1960s. She guides, administers, and oversees communications between the artist and others. Art may become a meaningless word in the traditional sense, but it will be up to the narrator to let it die or change its meaning instead. 

So lastly, the narrator will play an important role in the future of art because she will be the one who decides what is viewed as art and what is not. Artists have always been notoriously good at making a stand for their self-importance. Much of this has to do with the fact that artists are storytellers, in the position of proclaiming the significance of stories. Many of these stories are about the delineation of art. The artist of the future will have to deal with the fact that every story is art, opposing the non-narrative narrative of computation. Framing or unframing art will therefore be the main occupation of the narrator. 


Contemporary artists are not out to supplant recent modern art with a better kind; they wonder what art might be. Art and life are not simply commingled; the identity of each is uncertain. To pose these questions in the form of acts that are neither artlike nor lifelike while locating them in the framed context of the conventional showplace is to suggest that there really are no uncertainties at all: the name on the gallery or the stage door assures us that whatever is contained within is art, and everything else is life.


Yet the narrator must also question the necessity of this separation between art and life, between art and computation, and, so, ultimately between life and computation. If narration—the act of thinking, forgetting, selecting, and abstracting—is what divides us from computation, then it also divides us also from anything else. Therefore, narrators play an indispensable role in the future of art as curators, caretakers, and managers of its very essence. 



3_2_5_The Maintainer


‘After the revolution, who is going to pick up the garbage on Monday morning?

— Mierle Laderman Ukeles


Perhaps the most complex character in the list of roles is the maintainer. This role is at the centre of the grid, but in reality she might just be the least visible of all. As she is the embodiment of anti-heroism, her entire goal is to remain hidden and therefore irrecuperable. While all other roles carry some potential for heroism, the maintainer actively attempts to avoid it. Although it is impossible to fully negate heroism, the maintainer tries to disassociate from the torrent of transcendent thought that incites the desire for epic behaviour. This places her opposite from both the avant-gardist and the demolisher, but in a way also from the artisan and the saboteur. 

The maintainer is imbued by the dream of repair. This dream is ambiguous, for it implies conservatism—upholding a status quo—and progressivism—renovation and renewal. To replace a part means to keep the whole intact, but also to introduce the new. The maintenance of a building epitomises this dichotomy: by renovating the building, preservation is enacted. It is renewed to its original state, perpetuated, but only by adding new and removing old. The maintainer initiates renewal under the guise of sustentation, or vice versa. It is this ambiguity that makes the maintainer so powerful. She can be completely submerged in the realms of computation, and yet she can always stay out of the way from recuperation. 

Wim Cuyvers, the Belgian architect-forester, has devoted his life to the role of maintainer. Although preferring the title of “janitor,” after Nico’s Janitor of Lunacy, Cuyvers decided to embody maintenance as a principal role when he bought a piece of forest in the middle of the Jura Mountains, close to the French-Swiss border. From his refuge on the Montavoix, the mountain with a voice, he takes care of the forest and all the buildings and roads in it. His mission, as he states himself, is to “maintain and only to maintain, there is no goal after.” To maintain is not to keep something fixed in place, but to acknowledge its indefinite nature and the temporality of things and to move with it instead. Maintenance—from the French word maintenir, literally “to hold in hands”—completely blurs the lines between art and life, as Kaprow proposed. Clearing the roads after a storm, cutting dead trees, repairing a rickety shack just to prevent it from collapsing entirely, putting rocks back after the rains wash them away—these are the acts of the maintainer, according to Cuyvers.

For performance artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles, who wrote the Maintenance Art Manifesto in 1969, maintenance can be considered an auxiliary mode of actions, one that negates the expectations of progress. It is not a time of progress or progression, but of continuation, day in and day out. “Maintenance is a drag; it takes all the fucking time (lit.),” she writes. Ukeles produced the manifesto in the time after the birth of her first child, when her time was split between being an artist and being a mother, a creator and a caretaker. Displeased with others’ perception of her artist work as productive and her maintenance work as unproductive, she drafted the manifesto in “a cold fury.” 


I am an artist. I am a woman. I am a wife.

I am a mother. (Random order).

I do a hell of a lot of washing, cleaning, cooking,

renewing, supporting, preserving, etc. Also,

(up to now separately I “do” Art.


Now, I will simply do these maintenance everyday things,

and flush them up to consciousness, exhibit them, as Art.

I will live in the museum and I customarily do at home with

my husband and my baby, for the duration of the exhibition.

(Right? or if you don’t want me around at night I would

come in every day) and do all these things as public Art

activities: I will sweep and wax the floors, dust everything,

wash the walls (i.e. “floor paintings, dust works, soap-

sculpture, wall-paintings”) cook, invite people to eat,

make agglomerations and dispositions of all functional


The exhibition area might look “empty” of art, but it will be

maintained in full public view.



The maintainer negates the demands of computation as much as she complies with them. For instance, the architectural renders of buildings always incorporate moments of of families walking about, of businessmen rushing to their jobs, and of children frolicking, but never the moments of maintenance—embodied by janitors, repairmen, window washers—nor roadwork or sewage drainage, scaffolding or construction signage. The ideal incorporates no maintenance. Yet in reality, these buildings need repair like any other. The maintainer performs her tasks of maintenance despite being excluded. She is ignored and praised simultaneously, and that is precisely her strength.

Yet the maintainer is an extremely difficult role to adopt. Firstly, because it requires a complete endorsement of the motives of maintenance. To maintain is to truly repair, and not to pretend to repair. A maintainer cannot impersonate. Secondly, because the necessary banality of maintenance makes it complicated to present as art. To document or report on the actions of maintenance, as is expected of artists, shifts the position towards other roles, like the avant-gardist. The entire idea of maintenance is that it stays undocumented and unpresented, unappreciated yet indispensable. To communicate the acts of maintenance seem to undo the entire intention, making anti-heroic deeds heroic again. 

The constructivist movement of the early Soviet Republic, which explored the use of architecture, art, and design to reflect modern industrial society, had a great deal of experience with this tendency of maintenance to drift off towards avant-gardism. Although their intentions were initially to spearhead a progressive movement in the spirit of Bolshevism and its communist ideology, they quickly surmised that in order to fully embrace the modes of production, so centrally placed in all their endeavours, the final step in this exploration would be to become producer instead of artist. In her book on The Artist as Producer, art historian Maria Gough asks the following question: 


What happens when a Constructivist finally reaches the place of his or her aspirations? What happens, that is to say, when a Constructivist manages to enter the industrial environment, rather than simply express a utopian desire to do so? 


Gough uses the example of Latvian-Soviet artist Karl Ioganson, who went as far as to assume a job as factory worker in a metal manufactory, from 1923 to 1926, to respond. She frames him as one of the only Constructivist konstructors who was actually able to penetrate the industrial due to his ability “of avoiding being defined by management as an artist.” Others, like, for instance, Osip Brik,were less successful. Brik wrote that:


Indeed, artistic labor and factory work are still disunited. The artist is still an alien in the factory. People treat him with suspicion….They cannot understand why he needs to know technological processes, why he needs information of a purely industrial nature. His job is to draw, to make drawings—and the factory’s job is to select suitable ones and to stick them onto a ready-made, finished product. 


The basic idea of production art—that the outer appearance of an object is determined by the object’s economic purpose and not by abstract, aesthetic considerations—has still not met with sufficient acceptance among our industrial executives: they think that the artist who aspires to penetrate the “economic secret” of an object is poking his nose into somebody else’s business.


Ioganson does not make the tactical mistake of arriving at the factory with the proposal to establish a production laboratory or to introduce avant-garde notions of production art. Instead, he hides by becoming a worker, simply and wholly. 


Gough points out the irony of the fact that Ioganson, the constructivist who has spent the most time in the industrial environment, is precisely the one about whom published historical records have been the most silent. About his work as a konstruktor, little is known, and the entire, lengthy story of the episode had to be reconstructed from defunct Soviet labour archives because his work was industrial labour, rather than artistic in the traditional sense. This in itself answers Gough’s original question about what happens to the artist who enters the industrial environment: he or she disappears or he or she does not enter at all. 

The maintainer fades away into the processes of normalisation, and more specifically into the processes of computational normalisation: below layers of management, statistics, and archives. She dissolves into the records. 

Can the maintainer, then, still claim the position of the artist? In other words, can an artist be an artist without claiming to be one, and without making the work part of public record? As for presentation, I believe that it is the only way to frame maintenance as art, yet it is only in combination with the narrator—and not the avant-gardist—that this can be done in a sensible manner. The maintainer must remain maintainer. In this sense, Gough is Ioganson’s narrator. But as artists’ roles are interchangeable at all instances, the artist of the future can embody both roles simultaneously. And this will be a matter of necessity. Because when the world is completely automated, governed by computation, we will have narration to account for the interactions between humans. But in our interaction with computation, there will be only maintenance.



3_2_6_The Reenactor


History was being recycled almost as soon as it happened.
— David Lowenthal 


In the world of Everything, Now, any vision for the future is redirected into a configuration of repetition. As the databases of computation fill up with recollections of the past, memories become the primary sources for building this repetition. Near-perfect reconstructions of past events, no matter how close or far back in time, are available to us at any time and in any situation. They make reliving the past not only a cognitive enterprise, as an expression or dream of nostalgia, but also a physical act: a reenactment. 

For the artist, this evolution means that the position of reenactor, the agent of nostalgic expression, can become a valid role. The reenactor is a choreographer, a director of past movements and former occurrences—someone who controls the stories, created out of the selection of vast data describing the past and someone who steers the unbridled glorification of nostalgia and produces the historical lores and tropes of the roleplaying game we all play. 

In this sense, the reenactor is a conservative role, as it avoids the alteration of historical accuracy. The reenactor reconstructs time, and transports the people involved back in time. Everything is set in the past, and every player is temporally frozen in the chosen period. But as we have seen, every story is a selection, and so it is told as is requested by the reenactor. 

Reenactments initiate a return, but only one that reaffirms the current moment. Reenactments are therefore reactions to our contemporary predicament, but only for a limited amount of time. For most reenactments, this offers the soothing assurance of the outcome of events. When reenacting historical battles of Waterloo or Gettysburg, participants do not question how they ended. And as no one involved in these battles is still alive, there is hardly any discussion possible once the story is made up.


Re-enactments differ from enactment above all in that actors and audiences, like historians, know the future of the past portrayed.


The English artist Jeremy Deller used the position of the reenactor for his 2001 work The Battle of Orgreave, reconstructing the 1984–1985 miners’ strike in South Yorkshire, England. Deller brought together ex-miners and ex-police officers to act out their violent clashes of some seventeen years earlier in a peaceful but realistic military-style reenactment. Because of the engagement of people involved in the original incident, the event turned into a strange reminiscence, including contradicting accounts of events, heated arguments, and also reconciliation. Without pressure from the heat of the moment and external causes and motivations, the entire conflict seemed rather silly or absurd. The ire driving battle between the miners union and the police, however real at the time, now proved to have been obviously misdirected: workers pitted themselves against workers rather than against the apathetic government and the Thatcher administration that enabled it. The entire event became a play, rather than a struggle, with the players always aware of the outcome.

Nevertheless, in reenactments, participants strike a nostalgic note, reliving the motives of the past and watching how these motives unfolded into action. Deller used reenactments to critique the neoliberal policy of 1980s England and to gather insights on the outcomes of this policy. His work is as much a reconstruction of its subject as it is a deconstruction of its own context. 

But not all reenactments are written in this mindset. In general, reenactments are nostalgic trips to a delineated past. In historical amusement parks or heritage sites, reenactments are used to transport visitors to a day in the past. But the actors, working to create the illusion, play the same role over and over, reliving the same day every day. In Bokrijk, a cultural heritage park in Limburg, Belgium, actors reenact a day in the life of a typical 1913 Flemish villager, inhabiting the role of the pastor, the teacher, or the farmer, and interacting with each other and with the audience. Their lives are banal, their stories simple, and the setting mundane. They do not fight heroic battles or defend epic motives. They do not make a stand nor critical gesture. They just are, living their 1913 lives. 

As computation stores and processes events nearly instantaneously as they unfold, it becomes technically possible to reenact a story mere seconds later. Events are captured from multiple angles, involving numerous witnesses, human and non-human, distributed through a wide array of channels, and stored in vast databases, ready for anyone to reenact. Imagine, then, the possibility of reenacting the mundane, as in Bokrijk, of fifteen minutes ago. Computation gives us the tools to do this: to reenact a meeting, a garden party, a restaurant dinner; to live and relive the history of a day ago. 

The role of the reenactor therefore becomes very interesting when we try to reenact the stories most affected by the progression of time. In these instances, it becomes evident that reenactment is a futile return in time and in no way an exact recreation of the past. Like the Battle of Orgreave losing its original political relevance but gaining another, the reenactment of recent history and the fleetingness thereof show the irreversibility of time and the inevitable change that computation tries to hide. One article on Deller’s work sums it up quite vividly: 


The sight of the giant Virgin logo behind the battling police and miners dispelled, for a moment, the illusion that we were back in 1984, at a pivotal and emblematic moment in the war between trade unionism and Thatcher’s monetarism, wondering if the pickets might break through the thick blue line of policemen protecting “scab” lorries delivering coal to the coking plant.


Reenactments take place in the now. To include the context of today in the illusion of yesterday is unavoidable. Like the Virgin logo dispelling the mirage, context can be seen as a powerful tool to snap people out of their nostalgic voyages and show that their longing for return is impossible.

Were we to reenact an iconic football match, we would have to plot out the exact course of every movement of every player in relation to the ball for the illusion to hold. Every hesitation disrupts the reconstruction. A reenactment of the attacks on the World Trade Center would require the construction of the twin towers anew. And for the reenactment of the Lunar Landing, we would need to shoot a rocket at the moon. This brings us back to Funes, trying to recreate the days of his life:


He was able to reconstruct every dream, every daydream he had. Two or three times he had reconstructed an entire day; he had never once erred or faltered, but each reconstruction had itself taken an entire day.


But then, the role of the reenactor can be exactly that: to show that reconstruction is not possible, and that reenactments are excerpts, summaries, or fantasies entirely. We relive the past because of the cancellation of the future, but we all the while avoid the reality of the progression of time. It is up to the reenactor to use the tactics of reconstruction to reveal this impossibility. 



3_2_7_The Demolisher


Now, we look at those roles that can be considered most aversive towards computation, those that actively combat the expectations of our computational world. The previous six roles have the capability to move against their expectations, but work principally close to computation. The following roles do not. They are reactionary, destructive, or confusing. Yet, they risk the most when recuperated by computation, since everything can be recuperated. 

The first role is the demolisher, by far, the most heroic, when heroism is needed. But it is in its anti-heroic form when confusion kicks in and recuperations become more difficult. The demolisher is traditionally violent, and acts of demolition can be considered acts of violence. It is this violence that can be quite attractive. Like V in the movie V for Vendetta, blowing up the Houses of Parliament as a tribute to Guy Fawkes’s gunpowder plot and defying the authoritarian state of dystopian England in which the film takes place, demolition instantly makes the demolisher a hero of great significance. Demolition, no matter how destructive, can be sublime. 

Thousands gather to view the pyrotechnical razing of old chimneys’ industrial cooling towers, or the explosions used to splinter a mountain into pieces to make way for a road or to delve into its natural resources. Demolition is the most definitive way of expressing progression. There is no way back afterward; it is beyond repair. It is the purest exhibition of time’s arrow. 

In this sense, demolition opposes computation. It is a definite halt to repetition and the recreation of the past into the future. It negates the infinite sustainability of the same. Once an object is reduced to another state of being, it cannot perform its function as before. Moreover, once the object is pulverised, transformed in chemical composition, it could very possibly be irretrievable entirely, as in breaking concrete or exploding natural gas. This makes the role of demolisher an interesting position to deal with the demands of computation. 

Belgian artist Pieter Van Den Bosch has specialised himself in the exposition of demolition. In his series Attacks Without Consequences, Van Den Bosch engages a small army of technicians to initiate one or multiple explosions in the context of a performance, setting fire to gas-filled balloons or inserting demolition charges into blocks of ice. Most of his performances take only seconds, if not fractions of seconds. But it is the entire buildup, the anticipation of demolition, that pays off when the objects disappear in flames.

While most artists are involved in the creation of objects, it is hard to imagine true demolition as a practice. Van Den Bosch might achieve it in the form of performance and explosion, after which the physical object disappears into thin air, but most demolition in art has the intent of transforming one object into another, rather than having the object disappear entirely. Ai Weiwei’s Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn from 1995, in which the artist destroys a priceless antique vase, constitutes the transformation of the act of demolition into a photographic triptych, rather than the disappearance of the object entirely. His work Template from 2007, a collection of doors and windows from old Chinese buildings demolished to make way for new development became a building in itself. And even when that building was destroyed by the elements after standing outside for many years, the structure was placed inside in its demolished form, turning it into sculpture yet again. Even Van Den Bosch transforms his demolition into another form when he documents it photographically. 

This is not my interpretation of the artist as demolisher. The demolisher is here contra-computational, working against the expectation. Both Ai and Van Den Bosch are artists working with demolition, but they are not demolishers themselves, for they recuperate their destruction for avant-garde purposes. The demolisher enables the disappearance of objects, taking material away and making it inert. Architect Keller Easterling clarifies:


The object form that most architects and urbanists are trained to work with often results in the addition of more buildings. Could an active form be instrumental in the removal of buildings or roads?


The demolisher destroys and destroys only. Afterwards, there is nothing left. Like with the demolition of a building, the bricks and concrete pillars are taken away and out of sight. No glorious life for the rubble. 

Not all demolition works suddenly. Moreover, most demolition has nothing to do with explosives. Rather, it is often a tedious process of pulverising material, tearing down the structure, and removing it from its original site to a dump of a landfill. And even though the demolition of a building can be quite impressive, it is a process comparable to that of maintenance, its material opposite, anti-heroic, unremarkable, and common. The only presence of demolition is the absence afterwards: a hole in a row of houses, the dirt unsettled, track marks on the road leading to the disposal site. It can be still more anti-heroic than that: a building can be demolished over the course of decades by the forces of nature and decay. Demolition can be achieved through abandonment, or the complete negation of maintenance. 

The role of demolisher is progressive in a crude sense. She exemplifies progression and the irreversibility of time. The dramatic disappearance act of demolition counteracts any form of progress, and shows that progression is not necessarily an improvement upon a given state of the world. 

Now, the demolisher can work in all degrees of heroism, but the more heroic the destruction, the more easily it is noticed by the strategies of computation. Explosions and multi-tonne excavators place the removal of the object in the spotlight. Demolition becomes an event in itself. The demolition must therefore be about the removal itself, and not the recuperation afterwards. Once the destruction has taken place, the object must be gone, and not transformed, spectacularly or otherwise. Only destruction for destruction’s sake can remain in the demolisher’s act. 



3_2_8_The Generalist


I am a comprehensivist in contradistinction to a specialist.
— Buckminster Fuller


As the opposite of the specialist, the generalist is different in the sense that she does not hide as imposter among imposters, but very openly specifies her aversion towards specialisation and the refinement of the resolution of knowledge. The Generalist works horizontally, broader and broader, hovering over many fields of expertise but never diving into one completely. 


In his famous Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, Buckminster Fuller poetically refers to the seafaring, world-exploring sailors and traders of the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth century as the original generalists and addresses them as the Great Pirates. As navigators of oceans, managers of sailing crews, naval strategists, trade masters, and political fixers, the Great Pirates roamed the sea free from the laws and normalisations governing the soil. 


I call these sea mastering people the great outlaws or Great Pirates […] simply because the arbitrary laws enacted or edicted by men on the land could not be extended effectively to control humans beyond their shores and out upon the seas. So the world men who lived on the seas were inherently outlaws, and the only laws that could and did rule them were the natural laws-the physical laws of universe which when tempestuous were often cruelly devastating. […] They were the antithesis of specialists. They had high proficiency in dealing with celestial navigation, the storms, the sea, the men, the ship, economics, biology, geography, history, and science. The wider and more long distanced their anticipatory strategy, the more successful they became. 


The Great Pirates were in control of global trade and geopolitics. As the only liaison between emperors, states, and their colonies—kings generally never visited their overseas territories—they were in control of all communications, and all order and commands therefore had to pass through them. They basically had monopolies on the global transmission of information and goods. This position came to an end with the development of computational technologies, conflating communications and pushing them too into modes of specialisation rather than generalisation. 

However, Fuller’s Pirates serve as great examples for the generalists of the future, as Fuller describes them as outlaws in the first place. The generalist does not operate within the fixed delineation of professions or specialisations, which makes her very difficult to define. This, in turn, is an active defiance of the expectations of computation. As the generalist hops from field to field, from interest to interest, she becomes untraceable. For the Great Pirates, this was exactly the point of their tactics:

Their number-one strategy was secrecy. If the other powerful pirates did not know where you were going, nor when you had gone, nor when you were coming back, they would not know how to waylay you. If anyone knew when you were coming home, “small-timers” could come out in small boats and waylay you in the dark and take you over-just before you got home tiredly after a two-year treasure-harvesting voyage. Thus hijacking and second-rate piracy became a popular activity around the world’s shores and harbors. Thus secrecy became the essence of the lives of the successful pirates.


This secrecy protected their position as generalists at first, but it did not prevent the world from actualising the obsoletion of generalism. They were caught by surprise when the highways of communication suddenly opened up after the First World War and consolidated further after the Second. But their tactics of confusion and secrecy still hold today, albeit in updated form. 

Compartmentalised communication is now the standard: bubbles of expertise abound, niches within niches of common focus and depth are commonplace. And although we are told to think outside boxes and to act creatively, combining information in rhizomatic manners, the reality is often quite the opposite: we are often asked to perform depth. Our information flows over the planet in fractions of seconds, with hardly any limitation. Yet instead of Great Pirates, computation has taken over as gatekeeper of communications and shrouded itself in secrecy, pushing us further into alleys of specialisation and experiential division. As James Bridle suggests: 


We have been conditioned to believe that computers render the world clearer and more efficient, that they reduce complexity and facilitate better solutions to the problems that beset us, and that they expand our agency to address an ever-widening domain of experience. But what if this is not true at all? A close reading of computer history reveals an ever-increasing opacity allied to a concentration of power, and the retreat of that power into ever more narrow domains of experience. By reifying the concerns of the present in unquestionable architectures, computation freezes the problems of the immediate moment into abstract, intractable dilemmas; obsessing over the inherent limitations of a small class of mathematical and material conundrums rather than the broader questions of a truly democratic and egalitarian society.


Computation is now a Great Pirate, controlling the flows of trade, politics, navigation, management, and maintenance on a global scale. It is up to the generalist, then, to reject the narrow domains of experience, and to copy the strategies of the Great Pirates of old. She must navigate not the unknown seas but the known land, in unexpected fashions, combining the narrow but deep fields of expertise in seemingly senseless ways. She must know everything about everything, not for useful purposes, but for knowledge’s sake; to act as a gatekeeper of information, not as lubricant in the machine, but as potential power. The generalist places herself in the superior position of overseer, opposing the forces of computation. 

She takes on the role as connector, fixer, arranger. She is the matchmaker of information with people, the liaison between experts. And to inhabit this role, she must know a little of everything. She must be aware of the existence of fields of expertise, and position herself all-knowingly, horizontally above them. She must speak the language, know the currency, and convert herself into any expert that is required by any situation. The artist as generalist is the chameleon that the current state of identity demands us to be, even when it seems impossible to achieve—even when Plato suggests the ignorant and imitative nature of this position: 


And whenever any one informs us that he has found a man who knows all the arts, and all things else that anybody knows, and every single thing with a higher degree of accuracy than any other man—whoever tells us this, I think that we can only imagine to be a simple creature who is likely to have been deceived by some wizard or actor whom he met, and whom he thought all-knowing, because he himself was unable to analyze the nature of knowledge and ignorance and imitation.


To this I can only say that the generalist is not deceived by a wizard or an actor. Instead, she is the wizard and the actor. She is a pirate. 

3_2_9_The Saboteur


The last role in the list, the saboteur has the position most aversive towards computation. Physically struggling for a human position in a human world, the artist as saboteur secretly defies the influence of computation by destructively dismantling its active systems or laying its imperfections bare. 

At the beginning of the industrial revolution in Britain, fast-paced change in the labour market stemming from the introduction of automation led to the resistance of traditional workers, who saw their livelihoods disrupted and outperformed by the steam engine. Weaving factories were some of the first workplaces to transform under the pressure of automation, with skilled artisans replaced by low-wage factory workers. These artisans took action, sabotaging and destroying their mechanical counterparts, and became known as the Luddites. Their “machine breaking” went on for months, in 1811 to 1812, during which they tried to negotiate better working and living conditions to accompany changes and rises in productivity.They were ultimately met by government force in the form of death sentences for those who incited the destruction of machines or weaving frames. Though their demands were not entirely anti-automation—they recognised the advantages and importance of the automated weaving machines—and though their struggle was ended through means of violence and repression, the Luddites have a lot to teach the artist as saboteur. 

The Luddites’ reaction of smashing and breaking only came after a period of negotiations, through which they tried to improve their situation through political means. This shows that the position of saboteur is only a last resort. It really is a reaction, as it is not a proactive role. It comes at the end of all other roles; when they are made completely impossible by the modes of computation. 

Now, the strategies of sabotage have been improved upon in the years after the Luddites’ machine breaking. Unlike the Luddites, we can therefore think of ways to break but not expose, to disrupt but not incite the wrath of computation. The target of destruction is everything, rather than the outcome. The potential for disruption in the smallest gestures is what avoids detection and the subsequent correction.

The Google Maps Hack project by German artist Simon Weckert exemplifies this aspect of the role of the saboteur. In 2020, the artist gathered 99 smartphones running Google Maps and put them in a cart which he pulled through some of Berlin’s empty streets. As the Google algorithm uses the data of all of its users to create a detailed overview of street congestion, the presence of that many devices in one place could, according to the system, mean only one thing: a traffic jam. Cars would have therefore been rerouted to avoid the blockage. In reality, however, there was only Weckert with his trolley, running along the vacant road. 

Another, perhaps even more subtle form of disruption of the system of computational thinking was exhibited by Pilvi Takala in her performance The Real Snow White from 2009. Dressed as one of the classic Disney princesses, Snow White, Takala simply attempts to enter Disney World in Paris as a guest like any other. She is promptly halted by security guards, who, after seeing her give out autographs to children believing she is the “real” Snow White, demand her to leave the premises. When the guards are unable to answer her questions as to why she is not allowed entrance, she is escorted away in front of dozens of children, some of whom are similarly dressed as Snow White.

In her innocent action, Takala shows a form of repression by computational logic: guards follow protocol, based on rules of commerce and copyright law, even when they themselves do not fully understand said logic. 

Takala’s actions are reminiscent of the Simple Sabotage Field Manual, distributed by the CIA in 1944 as a handbook for resistance members to dislodge the operations of the enemy, which can serve, still today, as a guide for the role of saboteur. I have selected here the timeless tips and tricks that I deem most useful in the struggle against computational normalisations. Firstly, the ones affecting organisations and conferences:

Insist on doing everything through “channels.” Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions. 

Make “speeches.” Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Illustrate your “points” by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences. Never hesitate to make a few appropriate “patriotic” comments.

When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and consideration.” Attempt to make the committees as large as possible - never less than five. 

Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.

Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions. 

Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.

Advocate “caution.” Be “reasonable” and urge your fellow-conferees to be “reasonable” and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on. 

Be worried about the propriety of any decision—raise the question of whether such action as is contemplated lies within the jurisdiction of the group or whether it might conflict with the policy of some higher echelon. 


And secondly, the ones concerning production:


Work slowly. Think out ways to increase the number of movements necessary on your job: use a light hammer instead of a heavy one, try to make a small wrench when a big one is necessary, use little force where considerable force is needed, and so on. 

Contrive as many interruptions to your work as you can: when changing the material on which you are working, as you would on a lathe or punch, take needless time to do it. If you are cutting, shaping or doing other measured work, measure dimensions twice as often as you need to. When you go to the lavatory, spend a longer time there than is necessary. Forget tools so that you will have to go back after them. 

Even if you understand the language, pretend not to understand instructions in a foreign tongue.

Pretend that instructions are hard to understand, and ask to have them repeated more than once. Or pretend that you are particularly anxious to do your work, and pester the foreman with unnecessary questions. 

Do your work poorly and blame it on bad tools, machinery, or equipment. Complain that these things are preventing you from doing your job right. 

Never pass on your skill and experience to a new or less skillful worker. 

Snarl up administration in every possible way. Fill out forms illegibly so that they will have to be done over; make mistakes or omit requested information in forms. 

If possible, join or help organize a group for presenting employee problems to the management. See that the procedures adopted are as inconvenient as possible for the management, involving the presence of a large number of employees at each presentation, entailing more than one meeting for each grievance, bringing up problems which are largely imaginary, and so on. 

Misroute materials.

Mix good parts with unusable scrap and rejected parts.


This guide shows the margin wherein the agency of artists lies—that is, in finding the schisms between people and computation, which will inevitably arise, and abusing them to the fullest. In the case of the saboteur, the intention is to use them to bring computation down from within.


I have, paradoxically, defined nine roles for the artist—a finite number, as on Caesar’s die. For many pages and chapters I have been pleading for the appreciation of the undefined artist and the general futility of definition, pleading on behalf of the artist that is constantly changing, evolving, and adapting. Yet, here I fix them once again, enumerating nine, and not ten, and mentioning nothing in between.


Let me conclude by explaining why. 


I have chosen this format, the written text, to inform you of my ideas, my intentions, and my dilemmas. The text form has allowed me to produce a generalist account, including remarks from physics, philosophy, technology, morality, psychology, sociology, popular culture, art history, and from my personal anecdotes. I could imagine no other medium that would permit me to do this with such precision, such detail, and such attention to definition. But most importantly, the text form opens up space for ambiguity. In this text, I express the internal struggle I have with the subject, without leaving too much to the interpretation of the reader. Text is the perfect medium to describe the world of Everything, Now, both objectively and subjectively. 

I am not for nor against technology, computation, or automation. At the same time, I have very distinct opinions about these concepts, both pro and contra. Argumentation is difficult if no nuance can be added. But here, I can speak freely and address my concerns: that I profit from the advantages of computational thinking; that it has influenced my life in many ways and that it has made me part of a privileged society; or at least that it has made the society of which I am part privileged. How then can act as if there is any struggle present in my life concerning technology or computation? I, too, am reaping the benefits of a computational world, where I maintain friendships over vast distances, instantly; where vaccines are developed in under a year; where any food of my preference is delivered straight to my door; or where I can find all the resources to write this text without ever having to leave my house. 

I am sufficiently entertained by this environment of computational normalisation. I watch my shows and play my games, and have all the time to do so. I lack no food, shelter, or money. I can continue my work, no matter the circumstances of the outside world. I am grateful for the stability that computational and analytical thinking provides, even in times of uncertainty. Societal normalisations have been kept upright, and I am profiting from its balance. Why should I bite the hand that feeds me? 

In the world of Everything, Now, all pros and cons occur simultaneously. All dreams of futures and longings for pasts intertwine. Nostalgia and escapism are the same. Contentedness and dissatisfaction are both constantly present. I, and many others I’m sure, feel both resolved and reluctant to change my surroundings, afraid of losing what I have, but am deeply displeased with what could have been, with missed opportunities and failed efforts. The feeling that today might be as good as it gets, that there is no real alternative, is overwhelming. We might know it not to be true, but we are not willing to risk much to find out—unless we have to. This too is an effect of the computational mindset, the ever-averaging, ever-balancing protocols of our statistical society. 

This is a sentiment best described by the popular sci-fi movie from the 1990s, The Matrix, in which machines have created a digital simulation for the minds of the people they “harvest” to live in. There are two aspects of this blockbuster story that come to mind to represent this particular dilemma: 


1) The simulation is imperfect. It includes all the misery and joy andthe ups and downs of the “real” world. The machines first tried to design a flawless construct, but the minds of people would not accept it as reality. Much like in roleplaying games, such as World of Warcraft, the threat of crises never ends. Instability lurks behind every corner. The people of the simulation, of the Matrix, are kept in constant suspension. They are given the illusion of an aberrative world, which, because of its aberrations, can be constantly improved upon. In reality, the Matrix is a treadmill, built to keep humans going, and every update of the system injects just enough crisis to trigger the minds, but not so much as to collapse the simulation. For Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, this strategy is reminiscent of contemporary, computational society, as she point out in her book Updating To Remain The Same:


“It should be no surprise, then, that the proliferation of crises have been so central to neoliberalism, as proselytized by Milton Friedman and as criticized by Naomi Klein. Again, the impasse, or the thin, never-ending chain of decisions, embodies this proliferation of crises: an affectively intense present that goes nowhere. The constant update, that is, deprives habit of its ability to habituate. As soon as one is comfortable, habits are disrupted, so that one is always dependent on and responsive to the environment. One must constantly respond in order to remain close to the same.”

The computational worlds of the Matrix and World of Warcraft float on the idea that a perfect world would be undesirable. Constant strife is what keeps us from rusting shut into perfect habits, according to some popular fiction. The perfect world is full of flaws. 


2) Ignorance is bliss. In order to leave the simulation, one must “take the red pill” and endure the ensuing extraction. The subject “wakes up” and is fully disconnected from the illusion of the computationally governed construct. Suddenly, reality can be perceived for what it truly is—in The Matrix, a post-apocalyptic dystopia. However, in the movie, one of the members of this liberated club, Cypher, decides to strike a deal with the machines, betraying his band of rebels in return for a reinsertion into the simulation, his mind void of all memories from the world outside, from reality. The Judas figure is seen munching on a steak, commenting that he knows the meat is not real, only an electronic stimulation of his senses, and demands his return to ignorance. 

Reality is too much to take for this weak character. Only the hero, the chosen one—the one who can endure the hardship of reality—is able to overcome the illusion permanently. Everyone else could be liberated, only to run back in whenever things get tough—after all, the story of the Matrix is based upon Plato’s allegory of the cave. Yet, though Cypher is portrayed as a backstabber, conspiring with the (profoundly evil) enemy, I sympathise with him in his glorification of ignorance. Why should every individual bear the weight of the world? 


My dilemma positions me between these two extremes: I do not think a perfect world is undesirable (although it might be unattainable) and therefore that we should never stop trying to achieve it. Yet I also believe that our constant and ubiquitous drive to build a perfect world, beginning with ourselves, is exasperating. I see myself yearning to forget about the consequences of imperfect actions: to eat a steak and not worrying about the reality of the appalling meat-industry, to travel by plane and not feel guilty, to make art and not having to be aware of all the implications, but also to perform meaningless actions, without the demand for direct contribution to a grand cause. We are taught, in privileged positions like mine, to see the numbers and causal chains of production and transportation, the never-ending concatenation of symbols and references linking a past to another past, the causes and effects of every action reaching into the far and invisible reaches of the planet due to globalisation—to see, in short, the matrix.We are taught to think critically about our movements and deeds and how they fit into the greater scheme of things. 

The world of Everything, Now demands an attack on all fronts, an all-encompassing countermeasure against the flattening proliferation of computational normalisation: We must address climate change, structural racism, misogyny, globalisation, mass-migration, social and economic injustice, and pandemics, all at the same time, everywhere. Because these issues are interrelated and interwoven due to their operation on a global and complex scale, they cannot be separated from each other and tackled one at a time, nor can they be broken down into parts, into to-do lists or concise strategies. 

All the world’s flaws solved simultaneously. It is a dream. A dream that, in my view, must not be put away as undesirable nor hopelessly impossible, but also a dream that brings about a crushing weight. Under that weight,we desire the objects of our nostalgia, ignorance and simplicity. 

We desire to have computation make the best decisions and solve all of our problems for us so that we can live our lives. That is very much the Matrix, or at least Cypher’s interpretation of it. 

Everything, Now consolidates the dilemmas of instant fixes and the joy of the imperfect, mundane actions with the all-out offensive on world crises. An optimistic stance towards technology and computation can be accompanied by a misanthropic view of changes in society. A lazy, meek attitude can host the wildest opinions on nearly every thinkable topic. For this is too, Everything, Now: all positions, all attitudes, and all mindsets, however contradictory, now. Progressive ideas mix with ignorance; conservative biases collide with nostalgia; dreams of updates become synonymous with dreams of preservation; doing nothing becomes doing everything. 

This strange implosion of normalisations brings us back to the roles of the artist. By defining nine roles, I have chosen the positions of the artist that seem most relevant to this configuration of condensed contradictions. Artists are and should be confusing. The paradox of defining roles while stating that the artist’s role should be undefined is therefore perfectly reconcilable. 

Riding the waves of Everything, Now, the artist of the future—a future that is here, now, and everywhere—opposes and contributes to the computational vision of society. She is a rebel and a conformist, a slacker and a trailblazer, a dreamer and a pragmatist, a maintainer and an avant-gardist, a demolisher and a builder. 

When computation compresses, bringing maintenance into progression and habits into crises, averaging out dreams of heroism, and glorifying the drudgery of repetition—when extremes are folded back into the middle, when nostalgia and futurism concord—we enter the world of Everything, Now. And in order to live in this world, we must get accustomed to its contradictions.

3_3_1_The Roleplaying Artist Manifesto


The future is automated. It is automated because we wanted it to be automated. Don’t worry, it was merely a pragmatic decision, nothing you could do about it. 


And don’t be sad. It is a worry-less future. All the actions and deeds have been anticipated, and defused with care. 


What remains is a resort of tranquility, drenched with nostalgic visions of the past. Up and ready to be reenacted, replayed by us. To see what it was like to worry, to be sad. 


There is no need to reinterpret anything but the past. All the future is known. It is, as I have mentioned, automated. 


So pick a story, pick a side. Put on a record. Put it on repeat. Lets start a revolution for someone else to clean up. 


Or let us land on the moon, Mars or Titan. Let us tear down this wall. 


Light barbecues, hold meetings, clean the hallways. After all, I am now a janitor. Or am I the organiser of our small get-together? Our famous festival?


Maybe I’m a hero, a guru, an inspirational maniac. Someone to look up to. Or am I building hand-made huts in the forests of northern Sweden or Alaska? Basically the same. 


I’ll probably just be playing games all day, thinking about them, strategising, plotting every move. 

Conspiring in groups against the computer, against the system. 


And after, we’ll party like it’s yesterday. 

Have sips of drink that were left unguarded on the counter. 

Never mind my rant, my cynicism. The roleplaying game of the future, the automated future, might be without worry, but it isn’t perfect either. It needs maintenance, it needs renewal. It can’t keep going forever, or it will rust. Can’t it? 



The Avant-Gardist

The Specialist

The Artisan

The Narrator

The Maintainer

The Reenacter

The Demolisher

The Generalist

The Saboteur