Publication Details

Ballard, S. "Cloud-watching robots: Douglas Bagnall's machine aesthetics." Convergence: the journal of research into new media technologies 20 .3 (2014): 352-368.


Can a robot waste a day away watching clouds? Aesthetics as a means to approach the world is a form of control until recently limited to humans. This essay uses two works by New Zealand artist Douglas Bagnall to examine the relationship between machines, information and aesthetics. I discuss how Bagnall’s Film-making Robot (2004) and Cloud Shape Classifier (2006) are examples of aesthetic machines that, rather than being defined by information, repetition and the digital specificity of the pixel or the binary, are characterised by an aesthetic dynamism formed between emergence and mutability. Building on the recent identification of ‘new aesthetics’, I argue that processes of emergence and mutation contribute a new way to think about machines, information, humans and aesthetics. Finally, I suggest that Bagnall’s works do not just demonstrate machinic vision but prefigure a move in contemporary art from the stable aesthetic object to the unstable and impure real-time process of machine aesthetics.



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