James Bridle lecture at the Whitechapel Gallery

I went to this lecture SYSTEMS LITERACY by James Bridle  because I’d come across his work on Drones when I was researching for the Reading Room project.

He also coined the term New Aesthetic  link to a Wiki but I expect he wrote it anyway so thats OK...Also I remember (!)  a chat session we had on the MA course about literacy and its meaning.

The lecture  was associated with the Electronic Superhighway exhibition at the Whitechapel which I will blog about separately.


He is one of the artists I should look deeper into their work as there are several overlaps of thought from the p.o.v. of warfare, space and hidden ideologies, but I find  his website  so full of information it is hard  for me to assimilate.

(There is a subtle irony here associated with the name of his website .. I assume this is related to the content for him … but for me an my recent personal experience it has a different resonance!)

I decided that If I took the trek it would be worth it to understand more about his underlying thinking.

It was worth it. I did observe though that I was the  oldest  in the audience by 10-15 years until another ( 60 +) woman came in just before the start. The audience was about 50:50 split gender wise which I thought was interesting.

It is going to hard to convey everything from the lecture here so I will just write some “Soundbites” I apologise if some of them are misinterpretations!!! These notes are more for me than for any other audience.

It is very fragmented with some key illustrations being missed out for ‘brevity’ but these are the things that stuck.

He was joined by friends and colleagues Tom Armitage, ex- games designer – analogue and computer; and Georgina Voss and here 

Does the Network have agency?

There is increasing use of holograms at airports for e.g.. to meet greet and warn, and at a US border, a digital interface which  senses from skin heat and pupil dilation etc  whether people are telling the truth…These are to be used on some European Borders.

He highlighted the politics embedded within these machines.

Drones  were developed specifically to survey and target within civilian areas.

Despite their ubiquitous use now, this ideology embedded in warfare exists within them, their use and operations. The link between Code and Law

‘Citizenship is  the right to have rights’ Hannah Arendt said.

He explained an example of how if someone’s Citizenship is removed, the UK government has no responsibility if this person is killed in another country

The hologram he has exhibited in Electronic Superhighway is Homo Sacer, which represents the power of something that yells at you but you cannot answer back.

His opinion is that art now misses the interaction generated by the Systems Literacy of the internet.

He cites JODIE  and explains how is possible to access the code and frameworks in this work and so  find out what constructed the image.

BUT the observer would have to do  it,so it is a work both of literal and action. Both are needed…

Viewing sources is a REVOLUTIONARY ACTION… but he said … we live in Counter-revolutionary times.

So is this artwork made to dazzle or to teach stuff?

He believes that though not necessarily didactic or polemical it must share in the literacy.

He talked of the failure of metaphor in the transition for example from Books to e books where the things we enjoy most about our interaction with the objects had been left out

( I wonder whether they were just too difficult to developing the timeframe and the market was responding to demand first and foremost with a development for reading documents in Word…)

He talked briefly about LambdaMOO, an online community of the variety called a MOO [ A MOO (MUD, object-oriented) is a text-based online virtual reality system to which multiple users (players) are connected at the same time.] It is the oldest MOO today.

Piracy and how it related to books and web material and the locations regarding the availability of the books. How far they are from the place of publication.

Then he moved on to discuss how Fundamentalisms of all sorts flourish in the environments of huge amounts of information such as the internet and that

“the lessons the internet is trying to teach us can be misunderstood”

– this implies that the internet has a life of its own but I guess he was meaning the life imbued in it from us -the users, creators and our interactions.

“The internet is not a medium but a context”

he explains that the network is the internet AND US- and so is akin to speech, music and writing not painting etc. It is an UNCONSCIOUSLY generated system and we are using it UNCONSCIOUSLY  everyday.

I’d actually disagree that this applies to all people.

Some of the people I encounter in my work do not even have access to email! Yep it is true.

Some of them are very wary of the underlying ideologies even if they are not really able to describe   what it is they are vary of. They feel it implicitly, as it is a different system and language, which they have difficulty understanding. and I don’t mean code.

I may be missing the point here, but maybe those who have embraced fully all the opportunities are those who no longer see the ‘bigger picture’ and that a level of internet ‘innocence’ also brings with it some caution, which is often ridiculed…! They are right to be cautious…as they do not have and are unlikely because of their social position or/and age gain the literacy to fully engage in the way described…

his final message was that

” We must understand it as we too are crucial parts”  I agree.Writer and Researcher Georgina Voss @gsvo


described Miscellaneous Symbols involved in aviation mapping as Complex Systems.

Aviation mapping is cartography for the sky and she described how it developed from people looking up at the sky from the ground, then balloonists looking down from the sky at the ground and mapping that, through to electronic classifications mapping things that were’t visible to maps of just the airspace with no ground references.

Here main message was that Complex Systems are not just lots of small things together.I think the analogy was something like.Lots of ducks together don’t make a horse!??

Complex products systems  are the  high technology capital goods which underpin the provision of services and manufacturing the technological backbone o f the modern economy.

Hobday, Rush and Tidd.( 2007 ) see this paper here 

These systems are layered in a hierarchy , like a Russian egg, one inside the other.. so where do we fit in that.

She mentions how this can be seen as a Butterfly Effect but this idea is too linear and ignores multiplicity.

I was glad she mentioned that.. this is how I think of Simultaneity, action and agency and  I try to demonstrate that through my work…

She spoke very, very quickly and so confused rather than clarified I felt but I think I got the gist….

Technologist Tom Armitage

Unknown-7talked about how Games are in our imagination and are systemic media..made from rules and systems.e.g chess is based on conflict, Mancala a metaphor for agriculture and seed sowing.

He states that Alan Kay  ( see this TED talk about ideas )thought it to be like reading and writing, and that criticism is also a form of literacy.

So systems need Automation, regulation and rules.. Such systems may be a form, Usb, containers or a Battleship game on paper.

Basically a thing is not just a thing but part of something larger.

Stating the obvious really but then I guess we all miss the room that the elephant is in as well as the elephant!….and this is sometimes what if eel and know but do not express explicitly  in my work! The system I have recognised… I assume it will be recognised already…

So the significance of the system is Disposition or a tendency to act in a learned way….. it needs a player in the system.  Play is our verb for interrogation of a system… we test the ‘play’ in it.

When we play we come across frictional points in ‘the game’ where things don’t necessarily work…

These become our opportunities for making changes

So maybe we should not try to make things seamless!

Hmm this started to sound like an esoteric self- help book! but I know what he means…

He showed the work by Caleb Larson A Tool to Deceive and Slaughter  about provenance in an Ebay age.

In the end, people are at the bottom of the system and as mentioned before… everything happens at once, there is no single Malevolent Butterfly.

It is like building Minecraft inside Minecraft!

He cited Nyman Game Theory ?  and the Cybernetics Group of the 1950’s

The aesthetics of the system area important for the engagement…

i.e. The art is the action and the interaction of curation for example he sees as part of the system. Criticism is also a form of interacting with the system.

Bridle I think summarised by stating that The Internet is illuminating pre-existing structures  bout is not yet changing society only an instrument of reflection of things that were/ are ? not accessible.

We have yet to find metaphors to understand it

Personally I wonder whether we already have the metaphors hidden in our culture and used differently or rathe perceived differently as we see them in our own time… I wonder if they are already in the non-linear structure of our fiction and myth. I can’t elaborate and give example of this here because I’m tired but will work on this further. 

The spatialiatsion of the internet raises questions about What is Art?

He finished mentioning Lived Experience ,Unknowing and how Aesthetics signify and the Sublime nature of the interne

Finishing with:

The internet is an inherently generative medium ( context!)

We are in the very early 21st century and most of this has happened in the late 20th.

We are at the beginning and so to understand out position in the system is essential

Generally a great talk and very full of energy and it was so Young! just like this!

These notes are for me to refer back to…



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