Introduction

We live in a sad era. We are witnessing maybe the most important drama of humanity unfolding before our very eyes. It is absolutely impossible to pass it “now” positively and simply because we no longer will have any “later”. This challenge requires our response. That is why it is necessary to talk and write about it.

Human society has demolished cruelly all the main significant ideas, finally losing faith, remnants of meaning and any guidelines. The murder of God did not lead us to the triumph of the Human, any general prosperity and the victory of Reason. Moreover, the Humans themselves were destroyed after religion, and their minds, being questioned at first, were crossed out completely soon. Gradually, we began to disappear from Being, flowing into the Virtual and dissolving in a simulation without any source and original.

I. A Brief History of Thought

In order to understand more clearly the whole essence of the unfolding drama, at first it is necessary to at least briefly describe the path the human Thought traveled before our society found itself at the current point.

The first important stage was carried out during the transition from the traditional worldview to the scientific one. Gradually, step by step the positivists, scientists and philosophers, abolished the religious picture of the world and replaced it with natural scientific justifications. Rejecting everything that did not fit into this picture of the world and demonstrating the achievements of technology, they were finally able to convince humanity that there was no God, and the whole world around was of a purely objective mechanistic nature. The church and religion still formally exist at the moment, however, even their most consistent supporters do not fully believe. Science replaced religion, put everything in its place, “explained” how the world worked and supplanted everything divine. The peoples of the traditional worldview are now considered lagging and non-progressive. Abidance by most religious norms is, at best, just an unreasonable formality, if not an extravagant trick. As mentioned above, the murder of God took place, and we survived it.

Further the Humans began to tackle the little that was left with a peculiar enthusiasm: the world around them and themselves.

The world around us fell even faster than religion. Pretty soon it became clear that, most likely, no surrounding world does exist at all. Everything that we know about the world around us is located exclusively within ourselves. Not outside, but inside! Everything that we know and see is the result of the work of our own brain, its thoughts. We cannot go beyond our own body and see if there really is “we” and “the world around us.” We are all the time inside the system we try to understand. But it is impossible to fully understand in principle how the system works without going beyond its limits. Thus, the existence of the surrounding world ceased to be an unconditional fact of life and turned into a conditional assumption. It is good if our brain really produces its thoughts on the basis of something external, but it is equally possible it simply “hangs” in the middle of the emptiness and hallucinates.

The last frontier of cancellation were the Humans themselves. We began to explore the brain actively to see how it works and how it makes decisions. The problem of Consciousness has become acute. It turned out the brain performs a huge number of operations per unit of time. However, we are not aware of almost any of them. Consciousness is just a narrow ray that snatches out some very few facts from the whole process of thinking without seeing the whole picture. Moreover, scientists have found that our decisions are made by our brains a few seconds before they enter the field of consciousness and we “truly” become aware of them. Thus, the point of free will began to play out with fresh colors.

There is freedom, of course, the brain makes decisions quite freely. But whoever expressed the will regarding these decisions is a big question. It has become almost impossible to understand where those “we” are when we talk about “us”. It is unlikely that we are consciousness, as it is clearly secondary and limited and real decisions are made at other levels unconsciously. But if we are somewhere on those deeper levels, then we remain a mystery even to ourselves. It’s not that we don’t exist at all now, rather we don’t have any data about our existence and location. How can you even talk about the world around us, if, as we found out, it is just a product of ourselves, and we have zero facts about ourselves. We seem to exist and do not exist at the same time.

II. A Brief History of Action

Parallel with Thought and in full accordance with it human activity also changed.

As soon as we threw off the “shackles of tradition” and the world around us became just a world of objects without any additional meanings, we began to avidly operate with these objects, since there was simply nothing else left for us. The main operation on an object is its consumption in the broad sense of the word. Consumption as a process of production and absorption of things.

This process is also important for another reason. In the days of tradition human life was clearly determined as it had the meaning and the purpose. Every activity was described by rules and regulations. It was cut and dry what to do to achieve a particular spiritual result. Having abandoned all traditional attitudes, the Human lost all meaning of existence and any obligations. Science established that the emergence of life was an accidental consequence of factors of a cosmic order. Therefore, human life was extremely meaningless and everyone in this regard could do anything. Therefore, the consumption of things of the object world became a satisfactory general action in conditions of a total lack of meaning.

And we began to produce and consume material values avidly and voraciously. The moment came when supply exceeded demand, and we had to invent a lot of tricks and games to convince ourselves that we needed all this. Production-consumption-accumulation, production-consumption-accumulation. It became clear that scientific and technological progress did not lead us to the new galaxies reclaiming or penetration into the essence of life, but only to the improvement of everyday objects. Dependence on things became so total and all-embracing that the Humans first fell into dependence on things and later began to turn into things themselves. The attributes of things began to appear in the Humans. The body turned into packaging. Everyone began to think about how to sell themselves more expensively or how to brighten up their own unique selling proposition.

However, as we remember from the first part, the surrounding reality as an ensemble of objects, did not last long. The piercing intuition that all objects as they were existed and did not exist simultaneously, demanded a revision of the entire process of their consumption. The surrounding emptiness and the need to operate with objects that did not exist posed a difficult task for humanity. Scientific and technological progress came to rescue. Humanity created Virtuality as a special dimension that simultaneously existed and did not, where there were special things that were absent in real life and they were signs.

New opportunities opened up for us. Signs can be generated and consumed in huge quantities at a time. This is done much easier and much faster than in the case of ordinary things. At the previous stage in the course of consumption of things the possession of things and their accumulation still came to the fore. But the moment they disappeared the very process of operating them naturally became frontmost. Possession is no longer important, because behind the sign there is no longer any real thing, it is just a sign. It is important to enjoy the very process of consumption as a game of juggling with signs. This is what became the main trend of human activity after the traditional meanings were lost.

And if at the previous stage the Humans turned into things, now they’ve got the opportunity to turn into virtual objects. Moreover, not even into one specific virtual sign, but into a whole diverse set. We’ve begun to gradually “slide” into the Virtual. Not finding ourselves inside ourselves (or perhaps simply forgetting about it), we’ve begun to say goodbye to the world and the body, smoothly dissolving ourselves in the virtual world of simulated signs. And when this process is completely over, the history of mankind, as we know it now, will also end. This is precisely the main drama of our time. The Humane leaves the Human, rapidly flowing out of this world like water through our fingers.

An attempt to find the humane in Humans, to imagine it somehow and to grasp and then identify it, and after that to prevent the Human from disappearing in the ethereal world of total simulation is that little that is really important. It is necessary to talk and write about it right now, precisely because there will be simply no one to talk about it later.

III. Art’s Reaction

Artists noticed, of course, the unfolding drama as they always had a particularly keen sense of the spirit of the times. This is how contemporary art was born. Provocative, offensive and sometimes even disgusting and mercilessly primitive, it reflected precisely the chaos and the result befalling our civilization in the best possible way.

If shopping malls have become new temples for us, why not make the urinal an object of worship? If the only thing that worries us is the consumption of grub, then why are we surprised by the label of the soup in the picture? If the black rectangle on the desktop is a window to the world for us, then why shouldn’t the black square hang in the museum? If the digital portrait of each of us is hundreds of multi-colored avatars on social networks, then perhaps we are the ones drawn in the picture with a bunch of colored circles. Art has always been a reflection of its era. Contemporary art is not the delirium of an inflamed mind, but the help of a ruthless diagnostician.

However, contemporary art has two significant disadvantages. First, it has simply ceased to be modern. This happened due to the above-described transition of humanity to the Virtual. Humanity is no longer interested even in its own form, and the body has become secondary as attention has completely flowed into the digital environment. Why should such people be interested in some other material objects in museums or actions, performances taking place in the real world, which is not really there? Only what is happening here and now on the Web is really relevant. If the object is not digitized, it is no longer relevant. For this reason, the only truly contemporary art can only be created digitally. Digital art equals contemporary art.

The “old” contemporary art has a second and much more significant problem. It somehow too quickly came to terms with the givenness of the time. Reflecting the era as in a mirror, with all its horror and disorder, it has not even tried to somehow influence it and has not extended a helping hand to the Human. It has sort of said: “Yes, the world is like this now, so just get over it.” But the problem is that we will not get over it.

IV. The Project of ExcelArt

ExcelArt is a new contemporary digital art project. Created exclusively with digital tools and existing initially only on the Web, it is located at the forefront of modernity. ExcelArt is that very attempt to grasp the eluding Humans and to identify more clearly the roads that lead them to disappearance. An attempt to once again talk about the most important and vital.

ExcelArt arose out of a common technical experiment. The previous five years were a period of protracted but important development. It was necessary to figure out what it was capable of regarding a technical point of view. To identify the most important thing in it and see whether it was able to be an effective method of dialogue with people about people.

2020 was a decisive year. This year the “366 days of ExcelArt” test was completed, in which a new image was created in this technique every day. It made possible to finalize the vision of the method and finally resolve all the technical aspects of the issue.

The test was successful. Over the years of improvement ExcelArt has proven its effectiveness as a method for creating vivid artistic images, and its external uniqueness makes it easy to attract excessive attention of people to it. It’s time for the next step. It’s time to give ExcelArt a voice. It’s time to talk about important things.

V. ExcelArt technique

Since the goal of ExcelArt is to see something and to tell something to contemporaries, therefore, it should be clothed in a fairly understandable modern form. And modernity means the process is now much more important than the result. The process should be simple, fun and playful. This is partly why the process of creating ExcelArt is so important and unusual. It attracts attention on its own, makes you wonder and make the first unexpected contact with it.

Another side of the creation simplicity is also the fact that the instrument itself does not distract the Artist from producing a meaningful work by its complexity. Today almost all specialized graphics software is a huge combine with a lot of functions and buttons. Of course, such programs allow you to create a fairly complex and realistic image, however, you need to focus on the technical side of the issue in order to achieve this. Forgetting about the content, the Artist begins to focus on the form. So, the meaning flows out of the work. ExcelArt has no such problem. The functionality is mastered easily and quickly as it’s extremely simple and the work on the message embedded in the image comes to the fore as a result with no blind form improvings.

As for the form itself it is also not accidental. ExcelArt images are deliberately simple and bright. In conditions of loss of meaning, when playful entertainment becomes the head of all human activities, it is so important to be able to speak in simple language. It is important to choose catchy and intelligible images. Paradoxical metaphors work well here as they catch the eye easily and refer us to the main idea. ExcelArt visual reference is a poster, a label or an instruction for the game; it’s like a construction toy. Also, the author’s comments and explanations to the images are fundamentally important in ExcelArt in order to even more clearly and more accurately describe the meaning laid in them. So, the text becomes a necessary part of the graphics.

If you think broadly enough in general there is some irony in the fact a program for calculations and tables is used to create images about the Human. Scientific worldview was based on an attempt to calculate the world, indeed. To describe the world in numbers and to arrange it by columns in a spreadsheet. Even decoding a human genome is a kind of way to describe the Human in numbers. Artificial intelligence creation is an attempt to create life from numbers. Then it’s funnier that an image (a thing itself alien to the very idea of Excel software) appears from digital environment of columns and data. It goes in the opposite direction, and there’s no total or sum but a result of pure creative impulse. It turns out such a reverse decoding of the world. A kind of meditation for the Artist. Breaking the habitual for simulation operation rules.

Afterword

The most important secret of ExcelArt is that Excel itself as software is completely unimportant here. It never was a starting point. And the term ExcelArt itself is used rather generically from the word excel so that to surpass, stand out and refine and as a symbol of such an art that needs to surpass the problematics and environment within which it arose.

As for the software itself, of course, not only Excel at all can serve for the same purposes. Here and now, it is simply the most satisfactory for these tasks. In general, tools are not important. Technology is not the deciding factor. And the Human remains, as it was said at the beginning, the most important.

Alex ExcelArt Shelkovnikov
Spring 2021