Spectacle vs. speculation: A spectacle is something commonly associated with the "higher end" while its purpose is more often than not profit-oriented and less about its own awareness. Speculation is more related to the social engagement that is more ambiguous with its goals, but it is focused on the actual content itself (radicality, relativity, disempowerment, etc.) rather than for an ulterior motive.

One of my previous looking outwards project describes the AIBO (or Artificial Intelligence Robot). Although at first, I assumed it would be more related to being a spectacle in its mass production and appeal to the crowd (design and functionality wise), I believe it is, in a way, both a spectacle and speculation. I think it's inherently tied with speculation in that the AIBO soccer matches were started as a way to further AI technology, with groups around the world participating on advancing their own AIBOs to improve and share information with others. Acceleration: The AIBO are constantly being renewed and improved not just from one company, but by other groups and individuals across the world. Visibility: They are creating events like the soccer tournaments to raise awareness of AI technology. Surplus: Each generation of AIBOs have the potential to be further renovated by others; nothing is "wasted". Commerce: Production of AIBOs were created with its introductory goal being commerce.


Spectacle describes work that uses technology in novel and spectacular ways, but does it at an inaccessible scale and doesn't acknowledge the context and implications that surround it.

Speculation uses technology as a medium to explore society and technology itself, but it is inaccessible because of its lack of polish, and it out on what could be explored when the artist themself is working directly with the technology.

One project that comes to mind are the "satisfying" simulations done by Andrea Wannerstedt. It seems to fall more into the category of spectacle, engaging the viewer with its polish and using the precision of technology to hit the sweet spot with timing. It comes closer to acceleration than drag, as it seems to have be operating at the height of 3D modeling in a 2D canvas and has some aesthetics that make it universal. It is hard to judge that at this time though. It falls more along visibility because it reaches a large audience. It comes sits between surplus and waste, simply because its scale is so small, although maybe more on the surplus side given its association with quick, cheap social media entertainment. It is closer to commerce than art, in its current contexts at least, because it is so easily accessible, spreading as GIF loops through social media and second-rate news blogs, eventually without credit on many. And it is a style that has already be used in many advertisements. It is very squarely on the function side, scrubbing out all chaos as much as possible to leave us with the impossibly perfect graphic.


Spectacle: art that has some kind of intentional aesthetic appeal, mainly to impress the viewer/consumer and introduce new technological advancements; technical, straightforward, and unidimensional.

Speculation: art that intends to bring awareness to a specific topic of societal concern; metaphorical, critical, and self-aware.

I decided to explore to work of Warburton himself, and I found that he tends to test the limits of software while also questioning reality and societal conventions -- in doing so, he often blends spectacle and speculation in his projects. One that struck me in particular was Primitives, an exploration and experimentation with crowd simulation. In this project, he worked with a dancer to highlight the nuance and relevance of crowd simulation in today's graphics; how such algorithms have made it so easy for designers to manipulate multiple "beings" and their parameters in the same way, all at once, at the click of a button. Crowd simulation is useful for effortless but accurate creations of conflict, disaster, and death in films and TV.

At first thought, this is merely technical. However, Warburton dives deeper into speculation by questioning how crowd simulation software could be challenging our definitions of freedom and agency -- that a computer having such power over "human" entities with so much ease of manipulation could be representational of the future we may have, with artificial intelligence eventually gaining control over us and finding ways to manipulate our own daily "parameters." In the project videos, he tries to simultaneously individualize and humanize the dancers while testing the limits of the software, illustrating how core standards of life are being called into question.


Speculation subverts itself in the overwhelming hodgepodge of digital media that is constantly being produced. Spectacle attempts to elevate above it in order to be considered refined and immortal.

Marco Brambilla's Civilization is interesting in the sense that it takes various spectacles from movies and hodgepodges it into speculation. It is overwhelming by design and almost mocks the artwork it's made out of by stereotyping all items into either heaven, hell or somewhere in between. Based on the dichotomies Warburton presents, it could be categorized as digital acceleration, visible, surplus (in the sense that it's reveling in it's overwhelming nature), art, and dysfunction.

I really like this artwork because it makes a familiar image out of works that are trying to be original and insightful. In other words, it displays how every new item that we as a society tries to produce simply fits within an ancient image of heaven and hell. As much as we can try to escape our traditional concepts of the world, it will follow us.


Spectacle: Use avant-garde technologies in a work merely for what it is able to achieve, both inters of complicity and novelty. Thus this kind of work often lacks content outside of where it has been applied.

Speculation: Use a range of technology to create works that are socially engaged. Speculation often engages itself into a conversations that commercial works could never talk about, because of it's impracticality.

Based on Warburton's argument, this work would be qualified as a spectacle. As a commercial advertisement that is trying to sell customers their need to own a new piece of avant-garde technology, it is produced only to showcase the capabilities of the device. Beyond that, there is really not much that can be said about it. In other words, the technology here is highly visible which perfectly compliments the central message of this video. However, the work lacks context otherwise and would never work as a stand-alone piece.


Spectacle: Projects made with the intention of impressing the viewer with its surface level ideas/aesthetics, but disregards the technological context of today that leads to the ability to create such projects

Speculation: Projects made with full acknowledgement of the digital process/theory, often critiquing it in a self aware fashion, but disregards the actual practise of creating digital artworks

I decided to highlight Mark Leckey's GreenScreenRefridgeratorAction as to me it is pure spectulation. The work explores the systems inherent in a refrigerator through all the types of style that Alan Warbuton. I highlight also because it was introduced to me in Critical Theory, and I found the disjunction between what I had learnt about the work there in context of Duchamp against the modern technology context of Warburton's video a raw example of the Speculation he talks about.

In my eyes it is very much digital drag, given its simplified commercial like animations and rudimentary use of green-screen. It is much more about visibility, considering both its context as a performance and as a highlighting of the inner mechanisms of this everyday technology system. It weighs more on the surplus side as well, given its over-dissection as a highlighting of what is taken for granted proving worthwhile conceptually rather than wasteful of the technology (which it arguably counteracts). It is most certainly more on the art side, given its strong aesthetic and form inspiration from the artistic technologic context that Warburton describes. I feel that it lies between function and dysfunction, its content highlighting the functionality of things while also dysfunctionally using simplified and overused technology.



Spectacle: things made with the intention to 'wow' the audience through technical means or particularly beautiful aesthetics.

Speculation: things made with the intention to critique, either something else or itself- usually very self aware.

This is a demo for Unreal Engine's upcoming support for Ray Tracing capabilities with new Nvidia RTX graphics cards. It was developed by Epic Games and Industrial Light and Magic. Defined in Warburton's terms, it is pure spectacle. It's meant to showcase a new technical feature while serving as advertising for both Unreal Engine and Disney. Technically, it is really quite impressive; it could have been lifted from the next Star Wars movie. It has a little narrative, and the characters are familiar, but there's nothing critical or self-aware about it. It's meant to accelerate technology and real time rendering, and it is meant to be very visible considering it is essentially an advertisement, and it has around 1.5 million views on YouTube. The demo is commerce, it is really quite distinct from the world of critical art. I would say it errs on the side of surplus, it's beautiful and clean and new, but probably unnecessary. Finally, it is functional in that it has a clear purpose and has excelled at fulfilling that purpose.




Spectacle is that which is designed for the explicit purpose of attracting attention through aesthetic means, often by making things bigger, faster, and in greater quantity.

Speculation is work that is less goal-oriented, and more about unpacking, understanding, and critiquing that which already exists.

Midge Sinnaeve's "VJ Loops" is a series of 60 seamlessly looping videos made in Blender 3D. In some ways this project is very much so about spectacle: the loops employ techniques that are showy, there is no primary moral or message, and of course there are 60 of them. However, the artist is not directly profiting off of the creation of the loops, and in open source fashion, even released the videos and source files free to download.

The project is definitely on the side of acceleration as opposed to drag. During the creation of the loops, new features were implemented in Blender, and Sinnaeve always had the latest daily build of the software, utilizing the latest tools. It is also on the side of visibility, because he often exposed the polygons and wireframes by distorting meshes and highlighting sharp edges. The project certainly tends towards waste and dysfunction rather than surplus and function, because it doesn't serve any commercial or practical goals. It seems trapped between commerce and art, without really embracing either one.


From what I am able to understand:

Spectacle is computer art that is technically proficient, aesthetically pleasing, and made for consumers.

Speculation is art that is aware of its limitations and materials and uses those to create self aware work that usually engages broad non-art related issues.

The first thing I thought of when Warburton started to discuss spectacle art was the iconic Gatorade water ad. It's brought up again and again in different classes over the years, but it is... nearly 100% spectacle I think. It creates animation in such a laborious and complex manner that emphasizes the technical brilliance that it required.  It brings all the attention to how unique and beautiful the end result is, and how it was done in a superfluous manner. It very much reminds me of the commercial that he shows in the beginning of the video. The same result could have easily been achieved using CGI, but instead they used something experimental. In terms of not being speculation, it doesn't really represent or deal with any sort of issue outside of itself, exploit the materials or techniques used, and was definitely very expensive to make.

I had a difficult time figuring out exactly what each scale meant, but this is my guess for the ad. (Like, doesn't surplus and waste essentially mean the same thing...I'm not sure).


  • Speculation: Facing the disputed value of digital, and the decaying matter, it actively plays with the digital detritus to investigate something new in the currency of the 21st century.
  • Spectacle: Seeing the decaying matter, it hates digital entropy and tries to escape it by building stable ground for value and profit.
  • "Text Rain" by Camille Utterback, in my opinion, is an example of Spectacle. I heard about this work when I was first introduced to Interactive Art. In my impression, "Text Rain" was considered as a representative of this stream of art. Therefore, I think it fulfills this idea of breaking through the stable ground which exists before it. In Warburton's term at 9'08'', I feel like this work lies nearer towards, acceleration, visibility, art, function. For surplus and waste, I am not really sure about its position.