“We have never been human: between animality and techne” is the new special issue of Angelaki. It is released just now and features a range of exciting articles – thanks to Ron Broglio for his work in getting this edited together.
More seriously, it is about visual and non-visual cultures of the eco crisis, and aesthetic epistemologies and ontologies of it all. It also elaborates on the term “medianatures” that I have been using recently. An abstract below.
This text focuses on how to think the visual culture of disappearance – more closely, disappearance of animals. It takes as its starting point the Ernst Jünger novel The Glass Bees from 1957 in order to start an excavation into obsolescence, animals and the ecological crisis. The aesthetic themes of visibility/invisibility are entangled with the ecological questions of disappearance and pollution. This sort of media ecological question is unravelled, furthermore, with examples concerning the mass extinction of bees, also discussed in Lenore Malen’s video installation The Animal That I Am (2009–10). In this way, it argues for a media theoretical understanding of the visual culture of ecocrisis as well as the complex question of epistemology of such a visibility/invisibility.
Huhtamo wrote a book on the moving panorama - Illusions in Motion – and here is an interview with him. So if media archaeology is what keeps you up all nights, dig in.
And if you are a lucky one, and in Paris, here is something connected. Below a press release of an exhibition endorsed by Huhtamo. The text below is from his keyboard.
Where Curiosity Cabinets, Dioramas, and Augmented Realities Meet (Erkki Huhtamo)
If you happen to be in Paris between now and the end of June, make sure not to miss the exhibition Virtualia: Fééries Numeriques, an unusual event featuring works by Jean-Paul Favand, collector, artist, “natural magician,” and the founder of the Musée des Arts Forains (Museum of Fairground Arts, Paris – Bercy). For years, Favand has been designing extraordinary exhibits for his huge museum. Using original objects from his collection as backdrops and projection surfaces, he has been turning then into magnificent animated spectacles by means of digital projections, or “video mapping.”
With his team of technical experts, Favand has created an outstanding mastery in this emerging field. However, there has been a problem: Musée des Art Forains is a private museum. Although it is open for banquets and organized events all year around, the general public is only able to visit it a few times a year on special occasions. It is therefore not so easy to experience its sumptuous displays that combine traditional fairgrounds and digital magic in the spirit of the Cabinets Fantastiques of the past.
For the first time, Favand has brought his imagination out of the museum, displaying his creations at the Centre des arts d’Enghien-les-Bains near Paris (a 15-minute train ride from Gare du Nord). What one experiences at Enghien-les-Bains, an idyllic lakeside resort town that seems very far from the French capital, is a series of curious and inspiring works one is tempted to call media archaeological. Although they use ideas of Favand’s museum displays and exhibits, that are also entirely new.
At first look the exhibition seems eclectic, but one soon discovers the common spirit behind everything. There are found objects like a Japanese doll, unusual pieces of wood, and a Chinese stone slab inserted in a wooden frame, all animated by projections. There are also two unique diorama canvases from Favand’s collection. They were originally displayed by a nineteenth-century touring show named Théatre Mécanique Morieux de Paris. Its remains were discovered some years ago and bought by Favand. A once so popular but lost medium re-emerges at Enghien-les-Bains, restored by Favand’s team of experts. Already experiencing the dioramas and their effects is worth the visit.
But there is more: the exhibition also includes a mechanical spectacle named La Fete du Soleil (the Festival of the Sun), also from the repertory of the Théatre Morieux. Ingenious mechanical marionettes traverse the scene, brought to life by digital projections. It is not possible to discuss all the exhibits here, but I would like finish be mentioning a favorite of mine, an interactive display that allows the visitor to manipulate a digital 3D simulation of a seemingly ordinary stone, much like the stones that form the pavements of Village de Bercy, a popular destination in the heart of Paris. No-one seems to pay any attention to them, except Favand.
This exhibit takes us to the heart of Favand’s art: whether it uses antique objects, found pieces of naturalia, or digital and interactive displays, it constitutes an extended act of looking. Favand persuades the spectator to stop and wonder. He seems to say: there is nothing prosaic or boring; everything is saturated with meanings and experiences; the task is to stop, pay attention, and wonder. Virtualia does exactly that. Its exhibits are not as spectacular as the ones at his museum (the exhibition hall at Enghien-les-Bains is rather limited), but the spirit animating them is the same. Go and see yourself!
Look at this range of topics and exciting themes: Movement, Aesthetics, Ontology at the University of Turku (my alma mater!).
We started the New Materialisms-events in Cambridge, at Anglia Ruskin and they are going strong: the events are extremely well attended and raise a lot of interest. I still remember a job interview I had in 2007 when one of the members of the interview panel asked me: ” So what’s the difference of this new materialism to the old materialism of Marx..?”
Over the past years, we have had a range of good responses to that question, while also reminding that in the midst of the current enthusiasm for the non-human, it was already in the first years of 1990s that Rosi Braidotti coined the term “neo-materialism” – a Spinozian version of monism of intensities, becomings and feminism.
There is sometimes a bit of an amnesiac tendency in philosophy discussions. One troubling phenomenon that Braidotti recently pointed towards was the writing out of feminist theory out of discussions concerning materiality and the non-human. Hence, let’s remind that even “new” materialism itself has longer roots, and the more recent discussions are rather late-comers when reminded that the term was used by Braidotti herself in the early 1990s in her Patterns of Dissonance and systematically ever since (see more in New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies) . It is not reducible to her, but we need to compose our theoretical genealogies carefully.
Wired (UK) ran a story about Insect Media, discussing some of the themes of the book but also more widely the topic of animals and technology. Indeed, I don’t think the relation to animals is only metaphorical (who could claim it is when we are thinking of using spider silk for optical fibre communications and computer chips). There are much more interesting things that can be thought about in terms of the ecology of media, nature and subjectivity.
But I don’t think insects are hackers or that we should say that telegraphy is the Victorian email (like Tom Standage hinted at in his book The Victorian Internet). The connection happens on other levels. There is definitely a historical geneaology of insects, animals, nature and technology, and it ranges from modes of thought concerning technological, scientific culture to the material basis of technology. The fascination with entomology introduced already in the mid 19th century (oh well, and earlier for sure) a mindset which started to see in the microscopic an inspirational realm of movement, communication, sensation, and affect.
Part of that was carried over into Science Fiction and some trails are to be found in 20th century thoughts concerning architecture, media, technological arts from avantgarde cinema to later embodied media arts and robotics. It ranges from the algorithmic thinking inspired by ant trails, pheromones and collectivities to the visual sphere of animation, at least in the 1980s and artificial life type computer graphics objects with ‘relational intelligence’ of sorts, like boids: flocking behaviour, swarming.
Hence, remember the computer animation pioneer Craig Reynolds’ words:
“I would like to thank flocks, herds, and schools for existing: nature is the ultimate source of inspiration for computer graphics and animation.”
Greg Hainge has a new book out on noise – Noise Matters. As part of the launch, Greg has written a short position statement on noise and asked a number of theorists and practitioners to respond. I was among those, and here briefly my brief intervention on noise, a response to Greg’s position statement on ontology of noise.
You don’t need an etymology book in your hand to know that noise connects to nausea. Just turn up your stereo loud enough and persist. Loudness turned into noise can make your bowels turn, and sickness overtake your body. A classic function of media: disorientation of the senses. Noise can clear out the room when you want it to. You can clear spaces, push people away if you want. Or make someone wish they were not in the space, when you debilitate their possibility of saying no to sound. Connecting it to psychoanalytic theories of sensation, sound is hard to resist.
Noise connects to contemporary politics, as is well argued by a range of scholars from Steve Goodman to Suzanne Cuzick. Such cultural theory-musicologists as Milla Tiainen have convincingly argued about the multiplicity of sounds that constitute bodies as collectivities of becoming. The continuum between sound-noise is the axis through which to understand the political constitution of contemporary bodies and collectivities. What holds bodies together is affect, but that glue is also a force of push and pull.
What is interesting about noise is that it is emblematic of the emergence of technical media culture. Noise too has a history, and not only in the aesthetic or even urban development sense. Noise has an engineering oriented media archaeology. Imagine the sounds and noises Denis Kaufman, better known as Dziga Vertov, created at the Petrograd Psychoneurological Institute, in the Laboratory of Hearing.
Engineering noise is related to the wider communication theory issue formally formulated in the 1940s: communication takes place always in the presence of noise. Any kind of consideration of the ontology of noise is at least an implicit nod to the fact that noise becomes measurable in the age of technical media. It becomes an issue of epistemology, in a manner that bypasses the semantic understanding of noise. We are not dealing with meaning, but with various frequencies and patterns that define the world of information and sound. Both information and sound are ontologically time-critical: they unfold in time, and in ways that are not only experiential in the sense that phenomenology taught us, but speculative. There is noise everywhere, as Hainge points out, referring to Bogost and the black noise of objects. Even humans are “noisy narrowband devices” as Licklider coined us in comparison to computers.
“Message or Noise?” This was a shorter text by Michel Foucault, and picked up by the media archaeologist Wolfgang Ernst, who has been one of the theorists keen to rescue noise and signals from meaning-based approaches. Instead, in the age of information, even human perception becomes conditioned by the events of signal processing and signal-to-noise ratio in the transmission of mediatic content. This argument by Ernst resonates with a range of material media theory emphases of recent years, including that of Friedrich Kittler. In the age of technical media, we are able to record pure noise as obediently as the harmonious meaningful phrases of poetry, and transmission takes place in a careful engineering of that aforementioned ratio: signal to noise. Hence, it is not a question of message or noise, just that of messages in noise. And noise in messages.