Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Kill the darling, part 2: Brewster gets the boot

More garbage coming out from the Media Archaeology and Digital Culture: yet another footnote who hit the wrong note, had a date with the guillotine, and finished his days. This one on Brewster's kaleidoscope.

Sir David Brewster’s ideas concerning the ontological and practical implications of his device are intriguing and hint both towards a history of genetic algorithms and the birth of the creative industries. He outlines the kaleidoscope as an machine for infinity of forms, where to paraphrase Brewster (1858: 132) even one single line as the object of the device is able to vary into “an infinite number of figures from this single line.” Patterns emerging out from objects, lines, and mathematical simplicity reminds of the artificial life patterning that took hold of the aesthetics of the 1990s digital culture, but it also points towards how Brewster imagined this to revolutionalize design and the creative process. Indeed, in the midst of the industrial revolution in England, it was not only the manufacturing of “simple” objects such as pins that could be automated – but visual culture too: “When we consider, that in this busy island thousands of individuals are wholly occupied with the composition of symmetrical designs, and that there is scarcely any profession into which these designs do not enter as a necessary part, so as to employ a portion of the time of every artist, we shall not hesitate in admitting, that an instrument must have no small degree of utility which abridges the labour of so many individuals. If we reflect further on the nature of the designs which are thus composed, and on the methods which must be employed in their composition, the Kaleidoscope will assume the character of the highest class of machinery, which improves at the same time that it abridges the exertions of individuals. There are few machines, indeed, which rise higher above the operations of human skill. It will create, in a single hour, what a thousand artists could not invent in the course of a year; and while it works with such unexampled rapidity, it works also with a corresponding beauty and precision.” (Ibid.: 136).

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