New Luddites

In a commercial culture in which new technologies are constantly being pushed out onto the market, it's not surprising that a renewed interest in older, obsolete, even forgotten technologies should emerge. Nintendo NES Systems, Atari, the Commodore 64--these are the kinds of technologies that seem dinky to the gearheads, gamers, and Apple poster-children of today. And, yet, a growing number of artists and musicians are drawn to this hardware and the aesthetic possibilities their limited bits can yield. Fittingly, this frenzy of hacking, repurposing, and tweaking falls under the headline of 8-Bit, a movement that has swung back and forth between Europe and the U.S. since the 90s and will be celebrated in New York with a four-day festival from November 29-December 2, 2007. Co-organized by Manhattan art space The Tank and artist collective 8bitpeoples, the Blip Fest will present contemporary engagements with what the organizers describe as "primitive video game and home computer technology" through nightly concerts and daytime workshops that will democratize engineering skills for all who attend. The festival will be complemented by the coyly titled, packed group exhibition BITMAP: as good as new at Brooklyn's Vertexlist gallery. Organized by artist, gallerist, filmmaker, and 8-Bit chronicler Marcin Ramocki, BITMAP reflects on the history of the digital image, focusing on early computing and video-game consoles. The exhibition features artists working across the spectrum of 8-Bit practice, including Dragan Espenschied, Olia Lialina, Tom Moody, Nullsleep, and Paul Slocum. Their works allow us to glimpse at the historical moments in which these early technologies were made and demonstrate that the history of technology is often best told through its mistakes: technical failures, glitches, and unintended functions. At the same time, they ask us to reflect on whether the availability of more options, in an electronic system, enhances creativity or paralyzes it. Will kids ever look at the icons and tangibility of the iPhone nostalgically, when the product's signature "voice" has been implemented in their brains? Only time will tell. - Lauren Cornell