Messy Notes from the Messy Edge

By Jo Lindsay Walton

 “[…] had the it forow sene […]”

— John Barbour, The Brus (c.1375)

If this is an awful mess… then would something less messy make a mess of
describing it?

— John Law, After Method (2004)

I am in the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts. It is my first time in the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts. It’s a pretty good Centre.

It’s Messy Edge 2018, part of Brighton Digital Festival. The name “Messy Edge,” I guess, is a play on “cutting edge.” It must be a rebuke to a certain kind of techno‑optimism – or more specifically, to the aesthetics which structure and enable that optimism. That is, the image of technology as something slick, even, and precise, which glides resistlessly onward through infinite possibility. If that slick aesthetic has any messiness at all, it’s something insubstantial, dispersed as shimmer and iridescence and lens flare.

My mind flicks to a chapter in Ruth Levitas’s Utopia as Method, where she explores the utopian presence that pervades the colour blue. Blue sky thinking, the blues. Levitas never mentions “blueprint,” and now I’m wondering if that’s deliberate? – an essay haunted, textured, structured, enabled, by its unuttered pun. Like how no one ever asks Bojack Horseman, “Why the long face?”

Utopia as Method – my copy anyway – is blue.

Many artists are really awful at talking about their art. Some artists, I suspect, do this deliberately. Or at least, their incompetence comes from stubborn adherence to something disordered and convoluted, to something in their work that would vanish from any punchy soundbyte. I like them, these artists who are really awful at talking about their art. “Awful” – filled with awe?

By contrast, the digital artists at Messy Edge are, by and large, very good at talking about their art, and about the political context of their art.

OK, I like them too.

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