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It's time to restart the imagination

   Facebook becomes Meta, and the first major ad for the rebrand shows a museum.

  The video begins with four young men looking at Henri Rousseau's "Tiger and Buffalo Fighting in the Tropical Forest," which is now in the Cleveland Museum of Art. When they looked at the frame, the tiger's eyes flickered, and the whole painting came to life, becoming a three-dimensional animated jungle. Tigers and buffaloes, toucans and monkeys, and little goats in the trees began to dance to an old carnival; the children danced with them. Fruit trees in the gallery grow around them. Above the rainforest canopy stands a mysterious hexagonal portal in the distance, and beyond that, reflected in the ethereal red hills, is the soaring skyline of a great tropical city.

  Watching this, I think Facebook may be returning to Silicon Valley's countercultural origins: the psychedelic dream of a global community sharing collective hallucinations.

  The animation Rousseau employs the popular logic of a "Van Gogh immersive experience" in which dreary old Dutch paintings of starry nights and ominous wheat fields are projected onto walls and floors, creating an enveloping spectacle, magnetism and selfie background. Both the Facebook commercial and the immersive viewing of Van Gogh's paintings assume that the viewer can only appreciate the artwork while it is being destroyed.

  As far as the Van Gogh experience is concerned, the market has proven the marketer right. There are currently at least five different competitive Van Gogh experiences on tour across the United States. The replica has surpassed the original. It shows a salient feature of modern art: modern art is not only a reproduction, but a reproduction that is superior to the original.

  And that's strikingly consistent with Facebook's business theme: it offers a pale simulation of friendship and community in lieu of the real thing. Facebook's incarnation of Meta promises to take us further into the forest of illusions.

  In Paris in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Rousseau and his contemporaries (Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat, Pablo Picasso, etc.) were busy inventing bohemian modernity and creating new ways of life , and new ways of seeing the world. And in our century, that visionary role seems to have shifted from artist to engineer to Zuckerberg and his ilk.

  Who else is trying to invent new universes? Who dares to weave grand utopian fantasies? Artists don't do that anymore. It's the Prometheus founders of Silicon Valley who try -- and often fail.

  An important question about the Metaverse is that none of these immersive things have been made, either the jungle or the technology to demonstrate it. It's impossible to actually do this in a museum. It's just an advertisement for Meta. But the more we watched the ad and listened to Zuckerberg's keynote detailing his vision, the more we felt that he didn't know what he was doing — or what he was selling.

  Meanwhile, companies outside the art world are harnessing digital technology to reinvent timeless masterpieces as projected attractions and animations. But few artists did what Rousseau and his contemporaries did: embrace the realities of new technology—photography at the time—and break the old ways to create something new.

  As in Rousseau's time, the creative artist does not recreate old works from the past, but conjures up fantastical scenes from his dreams: sights he has never seen in his own life, in a kind of A style never seen before is presented. Perhaps for the first time in this century, it's possible to invent entirely new aesthetics - if only someone takes the reins from a technologist.

  Meta's proposal for the creator economy is not appealing. It is not the real outlet for art to have a vision for the future conceived by a creative person, a creative agency, for a large company. The question is not whether today's children can appreciate Rousseau's masterpiece, but that their elders, our generation, don't know how to come up with something that might rival those of Rousseau - we've forgotten how to imagine one. Completely different world. Therefore, there is an urgent need to restart the imaginary world.


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