An Introduction to Hypercubism

Technological convergence and acceleration. Collapsed space. Compressed time. Deconstruction and fragmentation have given way to pure particles via digitization. We witness an emergent aesthetics which is not new so much as it is a distinctive iteration of its conceptual predecessors; an aesthetic which is not post- anything, but rather hyper- everything.

This emergent aesthetics is networked and decentralized, connecting seemingly divergent expressions and forms. A not exhaustive list of these forms might include: augmented reality, projection mapping, interactive art, net art, generative art, code art, video art, videomusic, audiovisual performance, street art, urban interventions, videogames, cinemagrams, animated gifs, digital photography and multitudinous as-of-yet unnamed forms.

In taking up the task of articulating the dynamics of these aesthetics we are reminded of the Cubists and their efforts to push beyond the limitations of painting and sculpture to express aspects of another dimension outside those media. Yet these aesthetics we describe are not as readily identifiable as the works of the Cubists. On the contrary, these aesthetics interrogate space and time in ways which require a more sensitive eye, a more subtle rubric, to be detected. In the spirit of this investigation – this desire to express that which is beyond our current dimension – we offer this introduction to Hypercubism:

  1. Hypercubism is an object-oriented aesthetics concerned primarily with the mediation of the transformation of objects. It is an aesthetics of manipulation which transgresses the plasticity of the frame by “reaching into it” – as if with invisible fingers – to control its constituent objects. By transformation we mean chiefly the change over time in the form, state and/or properties of objects independent of their frames. By objects we mean things which we recognize as discrete visual units, virtual or physical, living or inanimate, concrete or abstract – videogame characters, pepper grinders, bus drivers, water droplets, tornados and blurred license plates alike. By frame we refer to an object’s mediated setting (inszenierung) or context, virtual or physical – from web browsers to shopfronts; from opera stages to software setup dialogue windows; from video codecs to city streets.
  2. Hypercubism is a temporal aesthetics characterized by the simultaneous experience of multiple timelines. These timelines are often object-oriented, which is to say the object appears to – independently of its frame – either be subject to and/or generate its own time. The experience of hypercubist time is characteristically – yet not necessarily – mediated by screens, projections and/or displays. This sense of time resonates hyper-awareness or multi-tasking. Hypercubist time is therefore simultaneously the time of the videogame sprite, the distributed denial of service attack, the app, the video embed, the real-time rendering, the automatically updating feed, the playlist and the status update – but also the time of the late appointment, the early train, the stock market crash, the thirty second TV advertisement, the solar eclipse, the massage appointment reminder and the grocery store shopping list.
  3. Hypercubism is an aesthetics of dimensional collapse contingent on what we see as the formal limitations of the basic units of visual digital media: the pixel and the frame. The rectangularity of the pixel and the flatness of the frame are responsible for this dimensional collapse insofar as they are units of a codec – a compression / decompression algorithm. This collapse limits transformation to simulations in three dimensions – length, width and time – and structures these transformations in terms of pixel resolutions and frame rates, whether explicitly or implicitly. While current technology may allow for the capture and conception of objects in four dimensions – point clouds, databases, vectors, voxels – it does not permit the realization of objects in four-dimensions. What current technology does allow, tragicomically, is our seasonally renewed seduction by the rather antique technique of stereoscopic 3D, dressed up in megapixels and higher frame rates.
  4. Hypercubism is an aesthetics of simulation and speculation which suggests a possible future medium whose basic unit can be described poetically as a hypercube – a volumetric unit of hypercubist space which is frameless and generative. The hypercube would be a basic unit capable of infinite transformation in four dimensions: length, width, time and depth. The simulation of the hypercube is a necessary precursor to the development of the hypercube insofar as it creates the allure of aesthetic experiences which cannot be fulfilled using frames and pixels. We know these simulations exceptionally well, as they inhabit the heart of our popular science fiction culture – coming in a variety of familiar flavors such as the matrix, the hologram and the holodeck. At increasingly higher resolutions, the means of production of these simulations are in the hands of independent artists – resulting in the current widespread emergence of hypercubist aesthetics.

Hypercubism values synthesis over analysis
Hypercubism values transcendence over critique
Hypercubism values transformation over destruction
Hypercubism values object-orientation over objectification
Hypercubism acknowledges the limits of sensory perception
Hypercubism strives towards a higher dimensionality
Hypercubism is not a movement but rather a vantage point

Further Reading:

The dimensionist tendency identified in the Dimensionist Manifesto which shows the universal tendency of the arts to strive towards “a new form of expression inherent in the next dimension. (N+1)” and the prediction of the arrival of a “Cosmic Art. The Vaporisation of Sculpture: ‘matter-music.’ The artistic conquest of four-dimensional space” (Charles Tamkó Sirató, 1936).

The critique of the hologram in Simulacra and Simulation which exalts the dimensional collapse in aesthetics; “only what plays with one less dimension is true, is truly seductive.” (Jean Baudrillard, 1981).

The “timeless time” hypothesized in the essay An Introduction to the Information Age from the Journal City (Volume 2, Issue 7) defined by “the use of new information/communication technologies in a relentless effort to annihilate time, to compress years in seconds, seconds in split seconds.” whose “most fundamental aim is to eliminate sequencing of time, including past, present, and future in the same hypertext” and that which compels us to live “all our tenses at the same time” (Manuel Castells, 1997).

The “tyranny of the frame” as a legacy of celluloid cinema, identified in the lecture Have We Seen Any Cinema Yet? (Peter Greenaway, 1999).

The possibility of polysingularity as a dimensional collapse which “emerges through our inability to perceive things at once and everywhere at the same time” as described in Polysingularity Letters Volume 3 (Dmitry Paranyushkin, 2012).

The concept of an ontograph which “records the presence of many potential unit operations, a profusion of particular perspectives on a particular set of things.” as detailed in the book Alien Phenomenology (Ian Bogost, 2012).

An Introduction to Hypercubism was presented in its first printing in pamphlet form at the Frankfurter Kunstverein, NODE Forum for Digital Arts in Frankfurt, Germany 2013 (see this segment of the video documentation of the symposium talk); 2nd printing for KUVA lecture, Helsinki, March 2013; 3rd printing for Flatpack Festival, Birmingham, March 2013; 4th printing for the AFIM/MINT-MOF Symposium/Workshop Music Notation #1, Université Paris-Sorbonne, Paris, June 2013. The text on this page is the second edition update from the original, posted here in June 2013.

Download the PDF of the pamphlet.

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A related text, The Hypercubist Manifesto, was performed at Pecha Kucha, Berlin on August 31, 2010; watch the documentation video.
Read a review on Create Digital Motion by Peter Kirn.