Prof. Michael Newman , Goldsmiths, University of London
“Is there a measure on earth? ”Art and the Crisis of Metrics
‘Measure’, ‘value’, and ‘standard’ all have a divided sense: on the one hand, a substantive value to which to aspire, to adhere, or according to which to regulate one’s behaviour; on the other hand, a standard of measurement or a price, a medium of exchange or a way of dividing that is generally or universally applicable. The relation to measure as ethical value is thrown into crisis for us by the combination of the application of metrics to every sphere of life – all of which are supposed to be rendered productive – with the use of big data and machine intelligence. However, this crisis is not new. It dates back to the challenge posed to the traditional sources of measure and limit in the 18th century Enlightenment, and by the French Revolution, with the idea that freedom is to be applied to all spheres of life. At the same time, in precisely the same period, there was a massive expansion in the application of measurement, which was universalised and standardised. The rationality of measurement chimed with the economics of capital. In the 20th century, mechanised total war and the Shoah threw into question the ethics of rationality (dialectic of enlightenment) at the same time as rendering an artistic response problematic. If today we are in a new crisis of the relation between metrics and measure, how is this reflected in art, and how might art respond. The talk will consider this question in relation to visual art, cinema and poetry.