Ambiguity as a Signature of the Sublime in Media Art


Session Title:

  • Perfection, Error, Sublime

Presentation Title:

  • Ambiguity as a Signature of the Sublime in Media Art



  • The concept of the sublime has been widely appropriated within the technological arts and culture: as the computational sublime in relation to autopoeisis in generative art (McCormack, Dorin), in immersive systems, as digital sublime (Mosco), anti-sublime (Manovich). The uncanny feeling of being confronted with the limits of comprehensive abilities, with the unpredictable and the unknown often works as a sort of litmus, testing the “seriousness” of the produced effect, the transformative potential that reveals through nonattachment and groundlessness.

    Marge d’indetermination – “margin of indeterminacy” – this point by Gilbert Simondon in description of characteristics of machines (as open and dependable on a human creator) is also an opening towards the problem of (in)determinacy and ambiguity in our own actions as well as towards the broader paradoxes of structural and ontological causality (quantum indeterminacy).

    Theories of distributed intelligence, emergence, and complexity present challenges for newer types of representation of reality as a self-organizing flux, with a role of the observer as a measurer of the operations of chance.

    In my paper I will focus on the examples and the effects of media artistic representations of ambiguity and uncertainty in perspective of the classical aesthetic question of presenting the unpresentable and “negative capability”. The examples will include illustrations of conceptual dualism of complimentarity in works that collide the virtual and physical reality (like the work-in-progress by a Russian group “Where the dogs run” “Quantum Mouse” that visualizes the double-slit experiment in a form of interaction between the movements of an alive organism and its virtual doubles). Other examples will address the reactions of anxiety and perplexity in relation to the qualities of equivocality and vagueness like in such natural and social phenomena as (respectively) the immune system, colonial organisms, cellular metabolism, spontaneous order in economic systems, social networks, etc.

    The concept of the sublime reveals how representations of indeterminacy and ambiguity in relation to decentralized systems are capable of creating a temporary gap in cognition, a disruption of conventional contexting cues, and thus enhancing the feeling of potentia, opening towards the reality of nonconceptual mind and interconnected being