SAM HARDING | 2023LONG AGO IN A GALAXY FAR FAR AWAY, planet earth was counting down to the new year, waiting for time to crash. The Millennium Bug, a computer t/error lying dormant in the world’s digital calendars, embodied sweeping anxieties about the internet and the vulnerability of global data systems, casting a shadow over the logic of progression and unity that modernity had so far distilled into an elegant binary of 1s and 0s.
In the end, Earth 2.000 was installed. Doomsday was overhyped. Time ticked on.
But twenty three years later, the generation born into the aftermath of this averted catastrophe seem to be re-imagining the present as if the glitch had actually happened— longing for a pre-web3 techno-babel where everything was simpler, where global bugs and internet conspiracies were as inconsequential as playground rumours or Mayan prophecy.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the alphanumerical code of Y2K_90s_GENZ_00s aesthetics— an abbreviated set of styles and cultural references spanning the many trends of the early internet era. Hashtagged across Tiktok and Depop, these labels, and the eclectic periods they evoke, are remixed with a now-familiar online admixture of irony and sincerity, kitsch and cool, reflecting the cyclical nature of fashion, the tailored gloss of nostalgia, and an underlying sense of loss— a mourning for a time before we became obsessive consumers of our own youth.
We now live in an automated, augmented reality, one defined by excesses of information that require increasing reduction into units that can be readily digested. This is the essence of processing power and algorithms— the refinement of more and more into less and less; a procedure that often internalises and overlooks its own gaps. One example of this is when we started abbreviating years into two digits, a digital optimisation that also resulted in an unanticipated ambiguity as to whether, for example, 99 meant 1999 or 1899, leading to real consequences that sent the globe into a panic.
Hence the Millennium Bug wasn’t an anomaly or side-effect of progress, but a fundamental feature of our modern technological paradox. On one hand we have the efficiencies of capitalism, globalisation and the artificial packaging of diverse existences into the data-sets of mass consumption. But on the other we have the understanding that our computerised desire to filter time and reality into a linear, simplified set of values is underpinned by the entropic logic that even a stopped clock is correct once a day.
Because time did stop. And it didn’t. The Millennium Bug both did and didn’t happen. Each timeline exists at once, in a flickering of 1s and 0s that give us access to a world that is both better and worse than before, more ordered and more chaotic, headed backwards and forwards simultaneously. The truth is atomised and also obvious. The decade is decaying. We are all living in 1899 and 1999 and 2099.
XYBER— a clothing brand distinguished by its AI-generated designs— stands as a recognition of these multivalent realities. Our disturbed innocence staring back at us across bright red ‘baby’ tees. Both conceptual and metal, XYBER enacts and shreds modern overlaps between product and consumer, pre-birth and post-production. These lacerations can be traced back to when Lina Eldaly, AKA Drowning Carpets, began using AI programming to generate facial models for her photography. The ensuing shift from fabricating models to using AI to design the clothes themselves is a reversal that lingers uncannily across the faces and figures that comprise XYBER’s visual universe, in an immaculate conception of computer babies and biblically-accurate angels.
The X in XYBER could be the graph representing the increased automation and decreased primary production that defines our post-industrial society. It could also stand for the collision of temporalities, affects, references and trends that comprise the multiplicity of both the present and the past. From the original movement of retro-futurism, with its maxi-minimalist aesthetics, to a sub-cultural cross-section spanning heavy metal, hyperpop, drainers, ravers and video-game avatars— XYBER uses its AI prompts to condense these vast constellations into humanoid shapes: fairies, aliens and robots; glistening abstractions of youth created via the filter of our digitally-fried brains.
The result are a vivid range of airbrushed halters, fluorescent tees and mesh fabrications, rendered in embryonic, molten states that combine the polished rawness of AI with the innovative potential of human error. Two sides crystallised in an eerie balance that points directly towards the real world. Because XYBER’s algorithmic substrate is belied by an emphasis on slowness and sustainability. Eldaly's garments are unique, limited pieces that reject the standards and imperatives of fast fashion. The significance of this cannot be overstated when it comes to the imbrication of concepts and practices, bodies and machines.
The line between coolness and ambivalence is about as thin as the one currently dividing robots and humanity. We cannot avoid walking it on our way to the future.
And with XYBER, we can do so in style.
florence rutherford-jones morgana rubini cathy chrysanthoux tabitha bennett
XYBER features in Issue 2 of TWIST