Revolutionary Convergences: History and Symbolism in Anonymous and OWS Art

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Left: United Nations Officials with an unofficial U.N. flag, 1947, Right: Anonymous members with flags in the UK from flickr, 2008

Anonymous operates under a well-designed logo. Does it belie their dispersed identity or siphon power from historical symbols to disrupt our own associations to them? The aesthetics of past revolutionary movements point more towards the second possibility. We see this link to history in the poster designs of Occupy Wall Street — new digital tools under visual constraints produce an early 20th century screen printer’s aesthetic with formal motifs of the same era.

New technology and historical technique are converging, and so are the symbols being used to deliver the message. The visual traces of current aesthetics draw on the deep roots of history and the powerful associations images and symbols therefore possess, allowing us to make quick associations to the power of the Roman Empire or the strength of the Greek Gods all in a glance at a tiny logo. Turning back to Anonymous —What can we learn by systematically decoding their symbolism? And how do their aesthetics relate to their actions as international and anonymous activists? 

Searching for these convergences online often reveals infinite Platonic shades of nearly identical images. But occasionally, if you sift past the first helping of results, you can uncover some remarkable connections.

Born in part from the image boards of 4chan, internet image culture was Anonymous’ early stock-in-trade. But above the rabble of trollish GIFs and dinosaur ASCI art they have developed themselves into a brand. Their logo, which dramatically leads many Anonymous affiliated YouTube videos, is wrapped in screen interference, reminiscent of military surveillance cam signals, and backed by equivalently dramatic classical sound clips. On the AnonOps blog the logo lives in static forms; black and white, ironically layered against a sea of 1s and 0s, and as the favicon...

 

 

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It’s Only Humanist

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Frank Eickhoff, Application To The Entscheidungsproblem, 2010

A headless statue of winged Nike, black pixels swarming above her stumped neck. A collage of ancient, sand-colored busts and patterns drawn with a Sharpie. A Michelangelo’s Pieta coated in blue-streaked purple sludge. These are some of images you will find on Sterling Crispin’s Tumblr, “Greek New Media Shit.”  As I write this, the most recent post is a looped animation by Jennifer Chan. Two Hellenistic statues remain static in the foreground as a violet blob belches out a browser frame. Flat green letters brand it “recipe art.” Chan, apparently, thinks mixing classical references with internet imagery is formulaic. The opinion is somewhat sympathetic to Crispin, who told me in an email that his blog “started as a criticism of a cliché that I identified and has started self-perpetuating.” But Crispin added that since he started the Tumblr he has become more curious about the reasons behind the formula’s appeal. No recipe passes through so many hands without being good.

To me it tastes like a desire to locate man’s place in a world that he perceives primarily with the aid of machines. The art of the Greeks has been used in the past as a touchstone for artists who measure their own vision against an anthropocentric one. “Greek art had a purely human conception of beauty,” Apollinaire wrote in an essay about a 1912 exhibition of Cubist painting. “It took man as the measure of perfection. The art of the new painters takes the infinite universe as its ideal, and it is to the fourth dimension alone that we owe this new measure of perfection […].” The modernists never determined what the “fourth dimension” was, besides a plane of activity beyond human perception. Today the internet—and the spatial and perceptual relations it has engendered—make a familiar substitute for it. “Greek new media shit” puts representations of the visible and the invisible in the same frame.

 

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Put a Corinthian Column on It

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via justshutty, via greeknewmediashit

Hellenistic references in new media art might appear at first as a clumsy way to position digital work in the timeline of art history. But there seems to be more to it than that. As arguably the world's most famous sculpture, the Venus de Milo is from a moment in time that seems as abstract and far away as a future world of martian space colonies. The juxtaposition of antiquity with new technology often appears to disengage the former's historicity. In such context, the Venus de Milo is an icon as neutral as robot — it does not offend or politicize, but instead speaks only of its endearing beauty.

Recommended: Sterling Crispin's Tumblr collection Greek New Media Shit.

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