Almanac of Contemporary Aesthetics
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At a time when “influencer culture,” inextricably tied to consumerism and the rise of technology, is facing an inevitable decline; when the hierarchies between high and low, authentic and fake, mainstream and minority, are experiencing a seismic shift in collective representation; and when the world’s geopolitical order is undergoing a profound mutation and facing unexpected challenges, this survey affirms the urgency to propose a new critical reading of the notion of “influence.”

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"Like the flailing venture-capital-backed businesses that support it (e.g., Outdoor Voices), the influencer economy has always been artificial. But it’s only now, with the rise of a global pandemic, that the democratizing force of social media has revealed itself as a farce, and the woke consumerism of influencers has been rendered obsolete. So what happens when we are all suddenly locked indoors? When there’s no more money for corporations to spend on ads. If we no longer have careers, or places to be — where will our cultural allegiances lay? Without money to spend, who if anyone, will dictate our desires?"

—Taylore Scarabelli

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"The job of art institutions, meanwhile, has been to care for these truths and to organize them into coherent narratives. To be an art collector was to signal not just wealth but socially progressive values. In a vacuum, the cultural capital of art patronage was underwritten by an ostensible close proximity to the “truth” of our time. But culture doesn't happen in a vacuum, and this system, in recent years, seems to have broken down. Even "art" itself seems to no longer work as it once had. Has art lost its influence? Why?"

—Caroline Busta

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Thus, from the era of the “creative”—a term laced with artistic, neoliberal and technological implications—spawned the prototypical influencer who championed a market-vetted aesthetic: positive, aspirational but relatable, and permanently on vacation. While the optics of Instagram are coded as autofictional, it isn’t our generation’s hunger for authenticity that fuels the demand for influencers (we know they are a simulation) so much as a collective thirst for the visual representation of leisure at a moment when neoliberalism has made each of us a total entrepreneur of the self.”

—Geoffrey Mak

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"Fashion, like other forms of visual narrative, is obsessed with being watched. Brands are the attention cults paradoxically located at the center of a culture which professes an a priori hatred for surveillance. The controversial philosopher Slavoj Žižek understands this paradox of surveillance: that even while our most intimate faculties of emotion and attention are being captured, we will always seek being watched. He would go so far to suggest that being looked over is the very thing that gives the self its meaning."

—Pierce Myers

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Four newly-commissioned essays by Caroline Busta, Taylore Scarabelli, Geoffrey Mak and Pierce Myers, offer four perspectives on influence as legacy, currency and agency—all the while examining art’s own influence on society, and vice versa.

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