Interview with Imperica

Dan O'Hara Imperica
Dan O’Hara at the Virtual Futures salon, TROVE Birmingham, 24.10.12

There’s a lengthy and admittedly dense interview with me on Imperica today, covering the recent J. G. Ballard interviews volume I edited with Simon Sellars, Extreme Metaphors; the new edition of the 1995 glitchcyberpunkphilosophy classic Cyberpositive; and the dismally dim commercial colonialization of the virtual that is currently trading under the moniker ‘new aesthetic’.


Interview on Skeuomorphism with The Machine Starts

The Machine Starts
The Machine Starts – How We Started Calling Visual Metaphors “Skeuomorphs” and Why the Debate over Apple’s Interface Design is a Mess

Earlier this month I spoke several times with Chris Baraniuk about the febrile skeuomorphosis currently smearing itself across the internet. UI designers seem particularly immunodeficient as disease vectors in this regard, and present a clear viro-semantic danger to the 99.9% of language users who are not UI designers. Chris has now published the results of his research on The Machine Starts:

How We Started Calling Visual Metaphors ‘Skeuomorphs’ and Why the Debate over Apple’s Interface Design is a Mess


Virtual Futures salon @ TROVE, Birmingham

October 24th saw the first of a series of Virtual Futures salon events.

Virtual Futures salon @ TROVE, 24 October 2012
Virtual Futures salon @ TROVE, 24 October 2012

This was a very sexy event: held in the TROVE gallery, a very Berlin-style disused warehouse right in the centre of the city, and showcasing some of the strangest and most avant-garde art and thought happening right now.  Prof. Johnny Golding from the Centre for Fine Art Research at BIAD, Birmingham City University, introduced the evening, which was organized by the director of Virtual Futures, Luke Robert Mason.

I spoke about maps and wiring diagrams, ‘photogenic drawing’, glitch, and (implicitly and probably entirely predictably) the dangers of animism, anthropomorphism, and the god in the machine. Dr. John Pickering from the Psychology department at Warwick University told us about the limitations of AI in military (and other) robots, digging a little deeper into the ways in which our mental constructs conspire to produce sympathy for machines, and bringing some much-needed historical rigour to the current drone-delirium. Sascha Pohflepp gave us selected glimpses of his artworks from the past five years, ranging from his genetically-modified plant visions (created with Daisy Ginsberg) to his simulations of spaceflight weightlessness, which touched a Stelarc-like VF nerve in their evocations of the human body reaching escape velocity.

The event then marked the return of Orphan drift, after fifteen years, to Virtual Futures and to the UK, when Mer Roberts introduced a screening of the Orphan drift film ‘A Wilderness of Nowheres’: timely, as the Orphan drift book Cyberpositive has just been published in a new edition. Franken Beaumont‘s eerie installation artwork sat behind the audience, its mouth moving as if echoing the speakers; Liam Worth‘s dynamic ferrofluid sculpture was also on display, as were J.R. Dooley‘s dancing, dynamic sonic/visual cellular forms. Pat Cadigan capped the evening with a masterclass in story-telling, her apparently effortless facility with verbal imagery giving us all a metaphorical lesson in the proper use of tools.

But the most momentous statement of the evening was left to Luke Robert Mason, who announced that the Virtual Futures conference will return next year, taking place as a city-wide festival in Birmingham, running from the 25 – 27 October 2013…


Extreme Metaphors

My new book is out.

JG Ballard: Extreme Metaphors
JG Ballard: Extreme Metaphors. Front cover of the hardback edition.

Extreme Metaphors: Interviews with JG Ballard, 1967-2008. Available in the UK and Germany via Amazon (and, of course, in all good bookshops etc., etc.)


First Five

First Five features my five cannot-live-without websites today.


New edition of O(rphan)d(rift>) Cyberpositive

A new edition of the O(rphan)d(rift>) book from 1995, Cyberpositive is out on the 19th of July.

Two pages from Cyberpositive.

This is a very timely re-issue given the recent vaunting of the ‘New Aesthetic’, which may be interesting insofar as it expresses some digital artists’ felt need for *something* new at the present, but gives the rest of us a sense of weary deja  vu. As McKenzie Wark notes in interview with David Cox, the ‘New’ Aesthetic has been around since the late 80s and early 90s; most of its central themes and tendencies were documented and theorized by, among others, Scott Bukatman in his 1993 book Terminal Identity.

Indeed, it’s astonishing how backwards-looking the New Aesthetic is: the high Modernist ‘machine vision’ trope derived from Dziga Vertov’s ‘kino-eye’ (1923) and T. E. Hulme’s rethinking of Worringer’s ‘tactile vision’ (1924); the obsession with the virtual repeating Wyndham Lewis’ invitation to enter the “transposed abstract universe” of The Cubist Room (1914); the tendency to reveal structure, a commonplace of postmodern fiction since the 1960s; the use of algorithms and bricolage, a faint echo of John Cage’s aleatoric compositions such as Child of Tree (1975); the discovery of ‘glitch’ a simple duplication of, well, glitch, in everything from the visual glitches in The Max Headroom Show (1985) to the glitch techno movement after Basic Channel (1993)…

Of course, to catalogue the antecedents of a current movement is not to deprive it of its newness in combining those influences. But these particular influences have already combined to produce exactly the same aesthetic once before in the 1990s, from when The Silicon Man was first published (1991) to when Mute magazine’s pilot issue appeared (1994), Virtual Futures took place (1994-6) and O(rphan)d(rift>) published Cyberpositive (1995).

If the popularity of the New Aesthetic does anything positive, it’s to get people talking about aesthetics generally for the first time since the 1920s; though it’s depressing to contemplate the advent of a generation of New Aesthetes. But it also suggests that the mainstream has finally acclimatized to the aesthetic of the mid-1990s. To read Cyberpositive again is like meeting the scarred and tattooed badass older brother of NA, fresh out of prison and hungry to go whoring and scoring. It’s exactly the jab in the arm the NA movement needs.

The book launch is (once again, as it was in 1995) at the Cabinet Gallery in London, from 6pm to 9pm on the 19th July.




Had an extraordinary day at the Lincoln Social Computing Research Centre at the University of Lincoln on the 6th June, having been invited to talk about “Emergence and the Synthetic Aesthetic” by Shaun Lawson. Lincoln’s a place to watch: as far as humanities computing goes at the moment, these guys are streets ahead, for the simple reason that they’re actually thinking reflectively about what they’re doing. Sadly, about two questions into the q&a session, the university had to be evacuated owing to a bomb hoax. Cue reflective thinking in the pub.

Find out more about the work LiSC is doing here.


Recent talks: NEXT Berlin, TED, Science Museum

I’ve given a few talks on skeuomorphism recently which aren’t yet available on video, as far as I’m aware: one on “Emergent Design: How the Skeuomorph helps us to think about Non-Human Agency”, at NEXT Berlin 2012 on the 8th May; and another at TEDx Manchester on “Skeuomorphs, evolution, and technology”, on the 13th February. The video of the talk I gave back in December at the Science Museum is up, though. The hirsuteness is the result of trailing around South America for several months; I didn’t actually get a haircut or a shave until I got to Paraguay two months later. I think it used to be known as ‘going native’:



Science Museum, London

I’ll be coming over to London to speak at Robot Futures: beyond the valley on the 1st of December. It’s a Lirec event at the Science Museum, with the associate editor of Wired, Olivia Solon; the artist Ghislaine Boddington from body>data>space; Matt Jones from BERG; and Peter McOwan from Queen Mary Westfield University.

I’ll very likely be speaking elsewhere whilst in Europe; follow me on Twitter – @skeuomorphology – for updates.


Interviews & talks: video and audio

This year’s Virtual Futures 2.0’11 conference was astonishingly productive, and the results of the new ideas discussed and new collaborations formed are still reverberating around the net, the media and the conference circuit. Hopefully I’ll be able to speak about some of those results in the near future; in the meantime, much of the conference is now available on video.

My opening lecture at VF is below:

Shortly before the conference, Amy McLeod from the Warwick Knowledge Centre interviewed me, mainly about skeuomorphs (the topic of the book I’m writing at present): the podcast of that interview is available here.

There was a lot more talk of skeuomorphs in my live chat, ‘Understanding the Virtual’, following the conference; you can read a somewhat truncated and edited-down transcript here. The actual event was invaded and eventually DoSed by 4chan, the guys who hacked Sarah Palin’s emails… it was quite an honour to get 4channed, but the real transcript is unprintable. picked up on the skeuomorph meme and published another version: Dan O’Hara on Skeuomorphs, JG Ballard, Transhumanism, and the “eradication of individual identity.

And archive video from the 1995 Virtual Futures conference is steadily being digitized and placed on the VF Vimeo channel: below is an interview conducted with me recently, which includes a large chunk of the archive footage of Stelarc’s legendary 1995 performance, in which I’m bobbing around in the background with an orange mohican, trying to fix the sound levels, whilst Stelarc waves his third arm about menacingly…