[ISEA2011] Paper: Ksenia Fedorova – 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

  • Ksenia Fedorova. Media art researcher and curator. She holds MA in Philosophy (Ural State University, Russia) and MA in Art History (University of Colorado, Boulder, USA). She is currently completing her PhD in Philosophy at the Ural Federal University (Ekaterinburg, Russia) and is a PhD fellow at the Cultural Studies Graduate Group, University of California, Davis (USA). She has been an initiator and curator of the “Art. Science. Technology” program at the Ural branch of the National Center for Contemporary Arts (Ekaterinburg) where she has curated a number of international exhibitions and events. She has taught classes on media art theory and history at the Ural State University and the Danube University, Krems (Austria) and has participated in many national and international conferencesand workshops. She is an author of articles and essays in Russian and international editions and is a co-editor (with Nina Sosna) of the collection of articles on Media Theory (in Russian, with contributions by J.Ranciere, A. Galloway, W.J.T. Mitchell, J.L. Déotte, G. Lovink among others; coming out in 2011-2012). She serves as a member of the 2011 selection committee for PRO & CONTRA, a symposium and media art contest based in Moscow, Russia. Her research interests locate within the spheres of media art theory and history, aesthetics, philosophy, techno-cultural studies. In her dissertation she fathoms the concept of the ‘technological sublime’ in relation to media art as a term that addresses the potential and the ambiguities arising from the power of media technologies, informing the debate with a historically grounded epistemological discourse (e.g. of the negative order of representation).

Full text (PDF) p. 808-809