A case-study of the technological sublime


“– And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean, and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man,”[1]

British poet William Wordsworth describes in Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey how his appreciation of the natural surroundings has changed over time. When he was younger, the meadows and streams were merely a great joy; but now, revisiting the site again, he is aware of the deeper thoughts nature instils in him.

This image, set in the eighteenth century, of a man wandering through nature, his complete being elevated by looking at a glorious sun, a seemingly endless ocean or vast sky, is typically what the concept of the sublime as an aesthetic category has been associated with.[2] One could ask why then, would such a concept be still so influential on contemporary art practice today?

Many authors from as many fields have picked up on the notion of the awe-inspiring absolute great, expanding or renegotiating the key eighteenth-century texts on the concept – notably those of Edmund Burke and Immanuel Kant – as will be discussed below. However, the argument of this essay is that there is one other particular angle from which the continuous effect of the sublime could be interpreted.

As American historian David Nye has argued, the sublime is not an immutable, but a historic category, subject to social, cultural, and political change.[3] More specifically, this entails that the meaning of the sublime has been accorded to our contemporary society; a society which is increasingly technological. The Dutch philosopher Jos De Mul elaborates that “the biotope in which we used to live has been transformed, in this (post)modern age, into a technotope. We have created technological environments and structures beyond which we cannot survive.”[4]

Consequently, it should not come as a surprise that “one could not now find the sublime where it was to be found two hundred years ago.”[5] Or perhaps it can, but then no longer solely there. Where nature used to be thought of as the only source of the sublime experience, man-made technologies should now be considered as another one.[6] This phenomenon of feeling overwhelmed, to a slightly terrifying degree sometimes, by human technologies, is succinctly summarized in the now generally accepted notion of ‘the technological sublime’. It has led professor of American literature Gerhard Hoffmann to believe that the sublime in contemporary culture is fundamentally a human sublime, “not only in the sense that man is the receiving pole of the sublime, but also in the sense that not metaphysical forces revealing themselves in nature, but human achievement, especially in technology, attains an awe-inspiring sublime dimension”.[7] The concept of the technological sublime supposedly knows two different roots and has been studied from different angles, however, for contemporary art the term has proven difficult: theory is scattered and practical application is limited.[8]

Hence, on these points this essay would like to contribute. It attempts to provide the conceptual framework of the technological sublime, and to scrutinize its concrete workings through the analysis of a carefully chosen case-study.

Plane Scape (2010-2015) is an audio-visual environment created by artists Wolfgang Bittner, Lyndsey Housden, Yoko Seyama and Jeroen Uyttendaele, who all met during their MA in ArtScience at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague.[9] Their project proposal for Plane Scape won the BNG Bank Workspace Competition, an annual competition for experimental film organized by Filmhuis Den Haag, which made the realization possible. Plane Scape’s subject matter, medium and experience are playing in with characteristics of the technological sublime. In order to clarify how so, it is crucial to examine the conceptual framework of the ‘classical’ natural and technological sublime.

Plane Scape (2015) ©Yoko Seyama


It is not the scope of this essay to discuss the countless reinterpretations of the concept of the sublime. However, to understand where the technological sublime comes from, a brief overview of the main strands of thought is necessary.

In general, the genealogy of the sublime has been agreed upon in most literature.[10] Every investigation of the term starts – often after tracing its Latin etymology – with the treatise Peri Hypsous of (pseudo-)Longinus in the first century AD. This unknown Greek author emphasized that the sublime was an “attribute of oratory and fine writing”[11]. This means that the spoken and written word could have ‘transporting’ or uplifting effects on its audience. Furthermore, he also articulated the idea that the sublime is recognizable because it is a universal experience, and it can be experienced through repetition.[12]

After some early-modern detours in which (pseudo-)Longinus’ work is rediscovered and translated in French and English, the inevitable next theory of the sublime is British statesman, political theorist and philosopher Edmund Burke’s. In A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757) Burke sets out beauty and the sublime as two separate categories. Whereas beauty is a relatively simple pleasure, the sublime is more of a ‘negative pleasure’, relieving a threat to our existence. This menace was crucial for Burke; he regarded a passionate astonishment as the core of the sublime experience, “and astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror”[13] The human subject is at once delighted and terrified when engaging with the sublime object – or more specifically, when confronted with its obscurity, power, darkness, vacuity, silence, vastness, magnitude, infinity, difficulty, and/or magnificence. According to Burke these were the properties arousing a sublime experience and they could best be found in nature.[14]

German philosopher Immanuel Kant expanded on Burke’s observations in his Critique of Judgement (1790). He agreed that the sublime was mainly experienced in nature, but did not think of the sublime as a combination of an object’s attributes, but rather as a “subjective conception”[15] of a boundless object, which exists only in our mind. Accordingly, Kant sees the sublime experience as a triumph of the human mind, because regardless of their inability to directly experience the infinitely large or terrifying, people will always have their mind to conceive of such a sublime object or the safe position from which they experience it.[16]

Both treatises of Burke and Kant inspired many of their artistic contemporaries to depict sublime objects; painters attempted to instigate the same sublime feelings one might have had when actually being in one of their awe-inspiring landscapes.[17] But how can a painter actually paint something we cannot completely take in?

Perhaps remarkably, it is only after a more than a century that these artistic attempts are being questioned. The French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard, inspired by the theory of Kant, took to the sublime to address the question of how to represent the unrepresentable in art.[18] Largely commenting on the artworks of American abstract-expressionist painter Barnett Newman (who also wrote his own essay on the sublime), Lyotard argues that paintings are sublime precisely because they resist any representation or reference, yet hence make the viewer reflect the significance and limitations of representation.[19] This contemplation does not lead to a specific outcome however, and since the viewer does not know what is presenting itself before his eyes, he is left to ask: “Is it happening?”[20]

With Lyotard’s slight crisis-like state, usually the genealogy of great thinkers on the sublime comes to an end. However, from these roots grew a new discourse. The technological sublime was introduced. Unfortunately it is not entirely clear who launched this offshoot first. Moreover, it is rather baffling that seemingly no one has picked up on this before – perhaps this goes to show how dispersed and little interdisciplinary discourse on the technological sublime really is.

Historical literature usually points to Perry Miller, father of American studies and master of intellectual history, as the one who coined the term technological sublime.[21] In his book The Life of the Mind in America (1966), he “noted in passing the almost religious veneration that sometimes attended the experience of new technologies in the early republic.”[22]

Nevertheless, the point is not really expanded upon, and usually the most thorough account of the concept is credited to David Nye.[23] In The Technological American Sublime (1994) Nye examines “repeated experiences of awe and wonder, often tinged with an element of terror, which people have had when confronted with particular natural sites, architectural forms, and technological achievements”[24]. In order to do so, he draws extensively on the theories of Burke and Kant to characterize the sublime as an astonishing, oftentimes terrifying, experience. Yet, he also emphasizes the sublime as a historical construct, the particularity of the (technological) sublime in the American context, and the experience of the sublime in group.

The fact is that these studies are not specifically focussing on the arts, and this could be part of the reason why a second originator of the term seems to exist. Nearly thirty years after Miller, the Italian philosopher Mario Costa published The Technological Sublime (1990). Costa states that available techniques always shape the artistic output of a set period. Given the dominance of techno-science[25] in our way of being in the world, “new technologies, therefore, constitute a new extreme, creating conditions for a new kind of sublime to manifest itself.”[26] This recent sublime experience does not originate from an object or a form, but rather from the absolute great possibility of technique, which radically threatens the human (causing a so-called weakened subject), but also could lead to contemplation.[27] Costa thus pays particular attention to the arts, and inserts technology in the sublime debate.

Expanding on both sources of the technological sublime, also technological studies have picked up on the term. A good illustration is Vincent Mosco who writes in The Digital Sublime (2004) that “today, cyberspace has become the latest icon of the technological and electronic sublime, praised for its epochal and transcendent characteristics and demonized for the depth of the evil it can conjure.”[28]

From a critical point of view, it could nonetheless be argued that all studies ‘merely’ replace nature with technology to designate the sublime experience, which is in essence unaltered from Burke’s and Kant’s characterization – the sublime is utterly great, makes the human subject tremble, and inspires reflection on its disposition. But could it really be as simple as an exchange of words?

A way to find out is to try to answer the question how the technological sublime actually works in contemporary art practice. Henceforth, this essay will attempt to outline some issues at hand through the case-study of the audio-visual environment Plane Scape.

Plane Scape (2015) ©Yoko Seyama


Plane Scape consists of a maze of white elastic bands, spun between a specially made wooden grid on the ceiling and the floor. In a fully darkened room, dots and lines are projected on the elastic structure, creating a dynamic, abstract landscape. This projection is accompanied with a six-channel sound composition, a drone-like noise which reinforces every movement of the projection – from seemingly slowly burning, to moments of fireworks-intensity. The audio-visual composition runs in a loop of forty minutes. Not only is the visitor allowed to view the installation from the outside, he is actually invited in the maze, to truly experience the diverging landscape around him.

Plane Scape addresses aspects of the ways the sublime has traditionally been set out in canonized literature.

First off, Plane Scape is huge. Although the specific room where it would be displayed needs to be spacious in itself, the installation really makes it seem ten times larger. Upon entering the space, it feels as if the visitor sets foot in an area that is almost literally exploding beyond physical confines. This is already an indispensable element of the sublime experience. For example Nye asserts that the scale of the sublime is too large to be taken in at once[29], and British artist Simon Morley voices the common idea that “such intimations of otherness or infinity”[30] are what constitutes the sublime. Of course, this dates back to Kant who defined the sublime as the infinite, as that which cannot be contained within the frame. The frame-metaphor actually fits in nicely with an interpretation often given to Plane Scape, that it is as if one were to step beyond a cinematic screen.

Furthermore, this infinite can give rise to a feeling of terror and it is no different in Plane Scape. Since visitors hardly ever knew what to expect, part of their first reaction was to try and make sense of it. Countless times the question “But, what is it?” was asked out loud – very much in sync with Lyotard’s questioning state and the notion that the sublime is what exceeds all our comprehension.[31] Most of the times they only would enter the maze after a couple of minutes adjusting themselves to the environment. Even then, many were cautious and afterwards expressed that they were scared to wander through (especially in the beginning and during sudden moments of intensification in the projection dynamic and sound volume). This has to do with the fact that Plane Scape has an immensely disorientating effect on people. Sight, hearing, and the physical position on the ground are what enables a sense of balance, but those are precisely the elements Plane Scape directly targets.[32] Visitors could no longer make reference to the time of day, the sounds of the surrounding or the specific space they were in (many for instance had trouble figuring out how deep it was). This Burkean association of the sublime with an element of terror is here based in a disruption of time and space.[33]

Nonetheless, it is also based in a new kind of fear, unique for the technological sublime. Despite the fact that technology is a human achievement, people take fright at the possibility of it becoming an independent force which they do not know the full potential of and which can control and threaten them.[34] In the eloquent words of British painter and art theorist Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe, technology is increasingly perceived as a “trace of the human now out of the latter’s control”.[35] Plane Scape indeed appears as an intricate system, operating completely on its own.

Through the very combination of its immense and distressing characteristics, Plane Scape becomes an almost textbook-reaction of sublime awe[36]: senses and thoughts of all visitors were halted and many wanted to come back for more. Herein lies also a reference back to (pseudo-)Longinus, since it was truly a universal reaction and the willingness of people to experience it again only points in the direction that the significance of the sublime grows with repetition.[37]

It also affirms that “the sublime experience still retains a fundamental structure, regardless of the object that inspires it or the interpretation that is given to the experience.”[38] According to Nye, this structure could potentially be the one American scholar Thomas Weiskel set out in The Romantic Sublime (1976). In this, a sublime object evokes a certain astonishment, breaking up the normal perception of an unsuspecting person, who then has to recalibrate its relation to this very object.[39] This three-stage process then also takes notice of the fundamentally transformative character of the sublime experience.[40] In Plane Scape this can definitely be distinguished, but additional case-studies are required – especially if this underlying structure is to be seen as a justification of why literature has not yet investigated differences in experiencing the technological, rather than the natural sublime. This decidedly would be an interesting, yet not a necessarily straightforward quest, because as Plane Scape also shows, there are some peculiar parts in contemporary artworks taking on the technological sublime.

One of these facets is the correlation between the material and immaterial qualities of the artwork. Plane Scape consists of material properties (the wooden grid and the elastic bands), but hardly anyone will contend these form the artwork evoking a sublime experience. Rather, the immaterial lights and sounds constitute the sublime object. In line with Gilbert-Rolfe the technological sublime is then “a sublime found not in the presence of the forest but in the presentness simulated by the computer”[41]
This is especially true for new media artworks, and introduces another, rather thorny matter, namely the interaction between technology as the object and as the affective framework of the sublime. It is as former Tate curator Christine Riding notes: “Painters and other artists aspire to address the sublime in their art but, in addition, through their art they aim to create works that will have a sublime effect on the spectator.”[42] So it is both the subject matter of the artwork, and the entirety of the artwork itself that make the viewer experience the sublime. In the eighteenth century this signified that a painter could paint a landscape, and that his own painting would evoke the same sublime feeling as the one the landscape in reality would have. Reformulated in terms of the technological sublime, this becomes a fascinating starting ground for further discussion.
On one hand, it means that, as the technological sublime has done away with nature as source of the sublime experience, technologies themselves become the sublime object. Impressive technology as subject matter is however not new. Already in antiquity Roman poets praised lanes and villas, in eighteenth-century England architecture was included in the sublime[43], and one could easily interpret Joseph Mallord William Turner’s Rain, Steam, Speed (1844) as a depiction of the train evoking pleasurable, yet horrifying feelings.
What is novel, on the other hand, is the fact that – in keeping with Mario Costa – the framework and everything it entails, are purely technological. It is only now that art media evoking a sublime experience can be immaterial or boundary-pushing technologies (such as the Oculus Rift). This discussion could be especially of interest in relation to immersive installations, since they seem to be the medium par excellence to transport or elevate the visitor to another place of sublime sensations.[44] They integrate the body, the object and the framework, without the visitor even noticing the (technological) complexity behind it. It concurs with British art theorist Eugénie Shinkle, who “posits that a feature of the technological sublime in the digital age is the absence of a consistent and uniform boundary between the self and the machine.”[45]

In this discussion, Plane Scape is a curious case. The technological framework, the immaterial side of the artwork’s medium itself provides indeed the sublime experience. It is the light and the sound that disorient the visitor and elevate him beyond himself. However, it is perhaps rather ironic that the subject matter of their projection is mostly described as something that is also considered to be one of the symbols of the natural sublime – a vast celestial sky.[46] It shows indeed “how to a large extent it is now the man-made world of machines that produces in us many of the kinds of emotional states once associated with nature.”[47] But it does raise the question if these technological structures are replacing the limitless found in nature, or are actually just reproducing it.[48] What it then comes down to again is to what degree technology now functions as the sublime object or as the affective framework. This separating of the technological artistic subject matter from the technological artistic medium could be useful in defining the technological sublime in more depth – but this has yet to be fully explored.

Finally, there is one other aspect of the technologically sublime that has been slightly neglected in literature, but which could manifest itself as an important one. Based on the indication of Russian philosopher Ksenia Fedorova that “the term ‘sublime’ often functions as a sort of litmus, testing the ‘seriousness’ of the produced effect – something that makes (media) art not a mere entertainment or media park”[49], one could ask whether this is actually the case. Artworks taking on the technological sublime – be it as object and/or as framework – testify “to the human need for a sentiment of wonder and the marvellous”[50], but can they evoke a profound sublime experience? Or are they precisely a product of what Italian author Alessandro Baricco has termed the ‘barbaric mutation’ in our contemporary culture, wherein every search for meaning has become and needs to be a rapid, simplified experience at the surface of things which instantly leads to the next?[51]

It is definitely harder to find proponents than critics – which maybe has more to do with the limited debate there has been surrounding this topic, rather than an actual agreed upon judgement. Although “Jean-François Lyotard and eager followers have employed the almost forgotten concept of the sublime to illustrate the contrary function of literature and art in a postmodern age of global information, endless entertainment and an “anything goes” attitude”[52], as Hoffmann argues, they of course were not talking in a time where every art show apparently had to be Instagram-worthy and queueing-compulsory. The closest to a positive evaluation is perhaps British painter Julian Bell’s statement that “when Burke is talking about the sublime, he often sounds like a drug user seeking a ‘rush’. Except of course that his thrill-seeking falls within respectable channels – the appreciation of nature and of art.”[53] In other words, even if these technological works were mere excitement-providers, at least they are under the guise of respectability, because they are art. [54]

Admittedly, a poor attempt, and critics do not fail to underline the sensational nature of not just contemporary art, but society at large. Hoffmann for instance remarks that people are now so satiated with images and stimuli, they are no longer entertained by the sublime. They can only speak about it without actually experiencing it, which paves the way for ‘mock-sublimities’.[55] Riding and Shinkle add to this that whereas the sublime used to be achieved through a certain level of contemplation, now the “visual presentation – awe-inspiring size or complexity – came to replace self-reflection as the key dimension of the sublime experience.”[56]  Moreover, not many artists use the term (technological) sublime themselves.[57] Probably often associated with a depthless ‘consumer-sublime’ found in Las Vegas or Disneyland[58], there is a lot to say for Morley’s case that “trivialized and knowingly kitsch devices trading on the ersatz experience of the sublime are thus pervasive in contemporary society, and are designed to stimulate an increasingly jaded consumer. The discourse of the sublime is therefore tainted by association with both malevolent politics and inauthentic mass culture.”[59]

In Plane Scape arguments could be found for either side. During the guided tours – which was the most popular way to visit the exhibition – people were in fact rushed, and even then some spent most of their time making photographs or videos, because they found it ‘so cool’. Also, the artists themselves never explicitly spoke about their work in terms of sublime experiences either. Nevertheless, it does not take away from the fact that some expressed feelings where truly characteristic of the sublime. Phones or cameras were actually forbidden inside, so no digital distractions were lurking, and visitors had the time to contemplate, since there was no time limit to visit. It could hence be argued that the installation slowed visitors down, truly engaging them in a transformative experience of immensity and terror.


Whether contemporary artworks can evoke a profound technological sublime experience, is up for debate. But what is sure is that there are a lot of aspects that require thorough attention in the field of the technological sublime.

Teasing out the conceptual framework surrounding the technological sublime has shown that it is commonly agreed upon that “the power of divine nature has been transferred to the power of human technology.”[60] However, the literature on the technological sublime has so far looked almost exclusively at the experience of the sublime and suggests that the experience of the technological sublime does not differ all that much from the natural. The debate could hence profit from research into the concrete workings of the technological sublime in the contemporary arts (and especially in new media artworks), but to achieve this, it will need to be more interdisciplinary integrated and inclusive of in-depth case-studies.

In this essay, Plane Scape functioned as an example to put some of these conceptual remarks to the test. It verifies that the technological sublime experience is similar to the classical one, but furthermore also testifies to some peculiarities. Especially the correlation between technology as a sublime object and technology as an affective framework could be crucial in further studies. Furthermore, Plane Scape directed attention to the notion of immersion, which could be a useful concept to incorporate in future analysis of the technological sublime. Also the referral to nature is an issue that could be investigated further.

Lastly, as Morley writes “the sublime is an experience looking for a context. In the pre-modern period, this context was mostly provided by religion. From around the Romantic era onwards, some forms of art took on this role. And more recently, spectacle and mass media have given the sublime a new if not unproblematic nature.”[61] Hence, there is a need to problematize the sensational nature of artworks attempting to evoke a sense sublime.

A fascinating field awaits.



[1] “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey”, http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174796

[2] See amongst others: NYE, The Technological American Sublime, p.2; COSTELLO, “Sublime”, p.206; RIDING, “British Art and the Sublime”

[3] NYE, The Technological American Sublime, xvii

[4] DE MUL, “The Technological Sublime”

[5] GILBERT-ROLFE, Beauty and the Contemporary Sublime, p.1

[6] See amongst others: NYE, The Technological American Sublime; MORLEY, “Introduction”, p.12; COSTA, “For a new kind of aesthetics”

[7] HOFFMANN, “The comic and the sublime in postmodern American fiction”, p. 269

[8] FEDOROVA, “New Media Art and the Technological Sublime”, p.35

[9] Personally, I was involved with the production and guided tours of the Artefact Festival in STUK Kunstencentrum Leuven (Belgium) where Plane Scape was shown in February 2015.

[10] Information in the following paragraph is mainly based on: NYE, The Technological American Sublime, p.3-8; MORLEY, “Introduction”, p.12; BECKLEY, “Introduction”, x; DE MUL, “The Technological Sublime”; RIDING, “British Art and the Sublime”; WHITE, “Sublime Resources”; COSTELLO, “Sublime”, p.206

[11] NYE, The Technological American Sublime, p.3

[12] Ibidem, p.3-4

[13] Burke, cited in NYE, The Technological American Sublime, p.9

[14] NYE, The Technological American Sublime, p.5-6; RIDING, “British Art and the Sublime”; BELL, “Contemporary Art and the Sublime”

[15] MORLEY, “Introduction”, p.15-16

[16] Kant actually distinguishes between a mathematical and dynamic sublime. The first one could be described as a “reflexive observation of infinitude”, as Jos De Mul calls it (DE MUL, “The Technological Sublime”). In this experience of the sublime, the infinity of the object makes the subject feel insignificant at first, but once the subject realizes that this infinity is only apparent, which gives him new power, “because the mind is able to conceive something larger and more powerful than the senses can grasp.” (NYE, The Technological American Sublime, p.7) The second type of sublime is a more practical (in the terms of Schiller) one, directly affecting the human struggle to survive. Here the idea is that the human subject is confronted with such a powerful force of nature that the human fears to be destroyed. Then however, the human mind makes it clear that the threat only appears to be so, since the human subject is in a safe position.

[17] RIDING, “British Art and the Sublime”; WHITE “Sublime Resources”
Moreover, Kant actually excluded the sublime from the morphology of the artwork, convinced that it could not capture the infinite of nature. See: GILBERT-ROLFE, Beauty and the Contemporary Sublime, p.45-46

[18] COSTELLO, “The Sublime”, p.206; WILLIAMS, “Jean-François Lyotard”, p.131

[19] WILLIAMS, “Jean-François Lyotard”, p.131

[20] Ibidem, WHITE, “Sublime Resources”

[21] NYE, The Technological American Sublime, xv; SACASAN, “American Technological Sublime”; MOSCO, The Digital Sublime, p.22; SIMON, The Double-Edged Sword, p.21-38

[22] SACASAN, “American Technological Sublime”

[23] SACASAN, “American Technological Sublime”; MOSCO, The Digital Sublime, p.22; SIMON, The Double-Edged Sword, p.21-38

[24] NYE, The Technological American Sublime, xvi

[25] With this, Costa means the mutual influence scientific research and technology have on each other; they comply with each other.

[26] COSTA, “For a new kind of aesthetics”

[27] COSTA, “Technology, Artistic Production and the ‘Aesthetics of Communication’”, p.124-5
However, his conclusion seems quite sombre, since he is convinced that if artists do not operate within these new technologies, art – and its traditional categories of expression, style etc. – no longer has a function in our society. See also: COSTA, “For a new kind of aesthetics”

[28] MOSCO, The Digital Sublime, p.24
Mosco also accentuates his own premise that new technologies often come with the promise of an unseen alteration of the world, whereas in fact, this is more myth than reality.

[29] NYE, The Technological American Sublime, p.9

[30] MORLEY, “Introduction”, p.12

[31] NYE, The Technological American Sublime, p.9, MORLEY, “Introduction”, p.12; RIDING, “British Art and the Sublime”

[32] Fedorova writes about the decentering (and consequently nearly transcendental) qualities of sound in. See FEDOROVA, “New Media Art and the Technological Sublime”, p.37-38

[33] FEDOROVA, “New Media Art and the Technological Sublime”, p.36-38; MORLEY, “Introduction”, p.12

[34] HOFFMANN, “The comic and the sublime in postmodern American fiction”, p.270; DE MUL, “The Technological Sublime”; COSTA, “Finding a new kind of aesthetics”;

[35] GILBERT-ROLFE, Beauty and the Contemporary Sublime, p.128

[36] MORLEY, “Introduction”, p.18; NYE, The Technological American Sublime, p.9

[37] NYE, The Technological American Sublime, p.15
Nevertheless, as Nye argues, the amazement occurs best when the observer is not expecting it, which troubles the issue of repetition, since nowadays there is often a way people heard about the experience in advance – let alone if they have visited it already.

[38] Ibidem, p.9

[39] Ibidem, p.12-13

[40] MORLEY, “Introduction”, p.12 ; RIDING, “British Art and the Sublime”

[41] GILBERT-ROLFE, Beauty and the Contemporary Sublime, p.80

[42] RIDING, “British Art and the Sublime”

[43] NYE, The Technological American Sublime”, p.xviii

[44] An artist who gets a lot of attention in this regard is the American artist James Turrell, who creates artworks challenging the limits and wonder of human perceptions of light. See: “James Turrell”

[45] SHINKLE, “Video Games and the Technological Sublime”
Shinkle takes this even further, asserting that the sublime can only be experienced when the technological interface that enables experiences fails. In these failure events, the human mind becomes aware again of the basic banal technology, of which it cannot figure out the inner workings, even though it is increasingly intertwined with it. The failure hence becomes more personal, and more destructive towards a sense of self, enhancing the sublime experience.
Arguably, such failure event happened in Plane Scape as well, when visitors got stuck in the elastic bands.

[46] NYE, The Technological American Sublime, p.2; COSTELLO, “Sublime”, p.206; RIDING, “British Art and the Sublime”; BECKLEY, “Introduction”, p.xi

[47] MORLEY, “Introduction”, p.20

[48] Gilbert-Rolfe believes it is in fact the first option. See: GILBERT-ROLFE, Beauty and the Contemporary Sublime, p.xii and also TILLMANN, “The Sublime in Contemporary Arts”, p.145

[49] FEDOROVA, “New Media Art and the Technological Sublime”, p.35

[50] HOFFMANN, “The comic and the sublime in postmodern American fiction”, p.271

[51] BARICCO, De Barbaren

[52] HOFFMANN, “The comic and the sublime in postmodern American fiction”, p.231

[53] BELL, “Contemporary Art and the Sublime”

[54] Bell honestly questions if this should be necessarily such a bad thing: “Does the contemporary art of the sublime have some substantive content in mind? Or do its meanings reside it its very nihilism, its hankerings after the sheer effect of power? Or is that taking matters too seriously? Why should we not simply celebrate showmanship, in this our [sic] age of spectacle?”

[55] HOFFMANN, “The comic and the sublime in postmodern American fiction”, p.270-71

[56] SHINKLE, “Video Games and the Technological Sublime”
Shinkle proposes a possible solution: she argues that the sublime and the banal can find each other, without making a claim to a true transcendence. The stuplime, as she calls it, “suggests a similarly shallow kind of engagement: rather than a challenge to the subjective boundaries and an affirmation of the powers of reason, the subject experiences an attenuation of self in the guise of entertainment.”

[57] MORLEY, “Introduction”, p.19; BELL, “Contemporary Art and the Sublime”

[58] NYE, The Technological American Sublime”, p.281-296

[59] MORLEY, “Introduction”, p.19

[60] DE MUL, “The Technological Sublime”

[61] MORLEY, “Introduction”, p.21


BARICCO, Alessandro, De Barbaren, De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam, 2013

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