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From Turing to Abbey Road, Kentish Radar Stations to Bletchley Park

September 12, 2013 1 comment

I am writing a chapter for the Routledge Companion to British Media History. It’s on media archaeology, and I try to offer some insights to how we can decipher British media history through contemporary media arts. This is what I call a minor perspective to media history of Britain – often such a glorified master narrative.

This is just a brief glimpse to the beginning of the chapter. The book should be out in 2014.


Media Archaeology: From Turing to Abbey Road, Kentish Radar Stations to Bletchley Park

British media history has many great stories to tell. It has been one of the biggest inspirations for a range of accounts and for scholars that have tried to decipher the main trends of the media of modernity; from the nineteenth century establishment of standardized mail to the twentieth century Britain of the BBC that, for instance, for this author became a central symbol when he turned on the television in 1980s Finland. BBC content traveled across national boundaries, both in the structural form it provided for public broadcasting as well as through Bergerac and the FA Cup Finals over the years. British exports from television to microcomputing continued, and have established such a status that writing Britain into media history is rather redundant. It is already there, and always was there; even before actual media technologies became subsumed into the consolidated consensus about media as mass media emerged. Indeed, Britain was already there with its investment in transatlantic cables as well as pioneering scientific inquiries, in electricity and electromagnetism, prehistories of computing from Babbage to Turing and so forth. Early on, British media history was already transnational, like the transatlantic cables and telegraph clicks. It is irreducible to a simple national story, and more like something that presents an interesting case for consideration in relation to both the master narratives and the minor themes of media history.

Archival Infusions. An Interview with Robin Boast

October 23, 2012 2 comments

Here another earlier recorded interview I did, this time with Dr Robin Boast. Our chat was inspiring for me, as usual; we talked archives, metadata, cultural heritage institutions and digital culture, and I always find Boast’s insights so provocative, so fresh. Boast is really someone who can talk of archival fevers and the history of the discipline; archive as a profession and an institution. He offers wonderful archival, museum science and anthropological insights, infusions, into digital culture.

You can find the interview Mp3 here. The timing of re-uploading of the interview, from January 2011, is good; Boast has just been appointed Professor of Cultural Information Sciences at the University of Amsterdam in Netherlands, leaving behind UK and Cambridge. Great catch for Amsterdam!

Just to remind: all of these interviews I have been posting were made originally in the context of the Creative Technology Review podcasts, that I did with Julio D’Escrivan.

CoDE conference in March

February 6, 2012 Leave a comment

Categories: Cambridge, CoDE

Platform Politics-conference: Opening Words

May 15, 2011 2 comments

We organized a very successful Platform Politics-conference in Cambridge, May 11-13, where our speakers included such exciting scholars and writers as Michel Bauwens, Michael Goddard, Tiziana Terranova, Nick Couldry, Nick Dyer-Witheford, Felix Stalder, and Tim Jordan. And a lot more (check out the link for names and abstracts too).

These are my short opening words to the event:
Platform Politics takes place as part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council founded networking project on Network Politics. We pitched it to the AHRC with the suggestion that it takes one to know one: to understand emerging forms of social action and politics on networks and in network society, one has to develop networks, to crowdsource ideas from leading scholars, activists, artists; to map and to bring through various channels such partipants together in order to identity themes and directions which need more focus. Hence, we have arrived at the third and final event of the project – now on Platform Politics, following the first event in Cambridge on Methodologies of Network Politics research, and last year in Toronto at the Infoscape research lab with help from Greg Elmer, Ganaele Langlois and Alessandra Renzi we discussed object oriented  and affect approaches to network politics.

We wanted to keep the notion of platform quite broad in order to solicit a more open range of papers. Hence, from software platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to robotics, from theoretical insights that draw from post-Fordist theories of politics and labour to object oriented philosophy, and much more, we have a privileged position to think through the platform (often seen as technological, as in platform studies) as a platform for our investigations (hence, also as a conceptual affordance). This does not mean to say that platform studies as represented in the Bogost and Montfort led series is techno-determinist, and solely focuses on such – quite the contrary, it tries to find a specific relation between technology and aesthetics. Yet, it is good to emphasize the mobilization of the concept as part of various transitions, and translations: platforms in technological (and again there various levels from apps to clouds, online platforms to technological hardware structures), conceptual, economic and of course political sense (expect at least a couple of references to Lenin in this conference).

So if Bogost and Montfort make sense of platform studies through this kind of layering:

Bogost and Montfort: Platform Studies

I would add that the notion of platform politics is able to articulate various levels together, and bring smoothness and movement to the interaction of the layers. In other words, in addition to the specific level of “platforms” we can think of the platform itself as distributed on a variety of layers as assemblages (in the manner Manuel Delanda uses the term?). A good example of this – something we were unable to pursue because of the problem of finding the slot for it! – was the idea of organizing a circuit bending/hardware hacking workshop (with Seb Franklin). The idea was to follow Garnet Hertz’s lead, and the way he has organized such workshops both to kids as well as to media theorists — and to use hands-on tinkering, opening up technology such as battery-operated toys, as a way to think through hardware platforms, how design solutions incorporate politics, how they afford conceptual approaches, and act as one node across a variety of other platforms. (An example of such is articulated in the forthcoming “Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method”-text, by myself and Hertz, in Leonardo-journal where we tie the question of such design politics of hardware to media archaeology, art methods and the political economy of network culture).

Platforms reveal to be ontogenetic – i.e. creative forms of interaction, not just stable backgrounds for a continuation of the social. They organize social action in a double bind where social action organizes them. Platforms rearticulate the social. For instance software platforms constitute a catalyzer for specific social forms, and as such incorporate in themselves a multitude of social, political, economic forces. It is a question of production – and of what kinds of social relations are being produced, a good example being the Telecommunist project and the Thimbl open source distributed microblogging service that incorporates a different sociability than proprietorial web 2.0 business and software models. And yet, this sociability is grounded on the level of the potentials of networks, the P2P instead of Web 2.0, distributed instead of the centralized client-server-model.

At the beginning of the project, we started with the question of “”what is network politics?“” and requested initial position papers from some key writers in the field – today of those we have Tiziana Terranova and Greg Elmer attending. Other theorists included Alex Galloway, Eugene Thacker, Katrien Jacobs and Geert Lovink.

The idea was to organize this as a form of request for comments – the RFC format, familiar from internet design culture, of questioning, lining up comments and positions, which however did not pan out as extensively as we wanted (this has to do with other organizationally interesting themes concerning spam management in participatory platforms, and so forth). However, what we got from the position papers were some initial leads. Furthermore,  we started with some assumptions where to start tracking network politics:

-       politics of new network clusters, services, platforms – Twitter, Facebook, as well as mapping alternative forms of  software-based ways of organizing traditional political parties as well as new formations, NGOs, and temporally very different groupings/phenomena – whether the suddenly emerging and as suddenly disappearing “like” protests for instance on Facebook, or the more long-term effects of Wikileaks– leak not only in the meaning of leaking secret information, but leaking across media platforms, and reaching a long term sustainability through “old” media trying to come grips with such online activities.

-       biopolitics of network culture, or in other words, the various practices which form internet cultures – hence a step outside of the technological focus, to look at what practices define network politics, and as such the links between work and free time, of play and labour, the circulation of affects, sociability, and so forth. Cognitive capitalism but as much affective capitalism. Yesterday (referring to the pre-conference event with Michel Bauwens and Michael Goddard) we got a bit into talking about investments of affect, desire and such topics.

-       we were interested too in the metaquestion: what form would investigating network politics have to take? Outside the normal practice of humanities, writing and meeting up in conferences, what are the specific pedagogic and research tools/platforms that are actively changing the politics of education and research inside/outside academia. What are the research/creation platforms that are able to articulate this, so that we are not only stuck with “master’s tools”?

-       And in a way, as a more unspecified but as important was the question of politics of the imperceptible: what kinds of forms of politics there are out there that are not even recognized as politics? From artistic practices to the grey work of engineers, new arenas of expertise, skill and again, social action contribute to the way in which politics is fleeing from traditional institutions.

The project has been able to map various positions to such questions, and raise new ones – which has been the purpose of this all: to produce more leads for further work. The same thing applies to this conference, and we are hoping to come out with excellent contributions, that do not fall within such original ideas.  During the project’s unfolding, “network politics” became a wider popular media phenomenon too, where old media started to focus on what is was able to brand as “twitter-revolutions, or facebook-revolutions” – and yet this only emphasized the need to complexify the notions, and the histories of such events and platforms, as has been done on various email lists, and various other debate forums already. I am sure we can continue on that, and produce some really exciting discussions – and as always in our events, we really hope that a lot of the emphasis is on discussions in the sessions, as well as outside them.

Launch events for Insect Media – Berlin and Cambridge

January 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Now that Insect Media is out, I am organizing a couple of events sort of as book launches—with a little help from my friends!

One takes place in Berlin, at the Generalpublic.de cultural venue on Schönhauser Allee 167c ( 10435 Berlin) on March 4, Friday, 7 pm – Shintaro Miyazaki will be interviewing me, and hopefully with drinks and nibbles (there has been talk of some Japanese finger food!). Also the book is on sale there, with a small launch discount.

Even before that, in Cambridge, we are organizing a joint event with Joss Hands whose own book @ is for Activism came out in December as well! This takes place February 22, Tuesday, 5 pm at Anglia Ruskin University at 5 pm. The room will be Helmore 251.

Below, a short blurb about that event which we use to discuss more widely some interesting current and future directions of media studies as well:

‘New Directions in Media Studies: Questioning The Digital Turn’.

In their new books Anglia Ruskin lecturers Joss Hands (@ is for activism) and Jussi Parikka (Insect Media) address some of the pressing new issues in Media Studies emerging from the digital revolution in communication technology. This event will act as a book launch, but also offers the chance to address the relevancy of innovative cross disciplinary themes in contemporary Media Studies.

Both books are characterized by distinct theoretical and political perspectives on issues such as the impact of digital networks on collective action, the ontology of politics, economic production, the ‘post-human’ subject and science-arts interdisciplinarity.

Hands and Parikka will offer short introductions to key themes in their books and welcome questions and discussion over wine and nibbles.

The event is sponsored by CoDE – Cultures of the Digital Economy research institute at Anglia Ruskin, and the campus bookshop John Smith’s is offering both books to be purchased during the event.

>Dave Boothroyd talk on censorship, secrecy and memory in digital culture

January 16, 2011 Leave a comment

>A forthcoming talk in Cambridge hosted by the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences and CoDE-institute, Anglia Ruskin University:

1 Feb, 17.00, Anglia Ruskin University, East Road, room Helmore 251
All welcome!

Dr Dave Boothroyd (University of Kent)
‘Lest we forget’: censorship, secrecy and memory in the age of total recall

Censorship and secrecy are widely regarded as antithetical to the open society and the public sphere. In the digital age the decentered communicative network of the internet facilitates the proliferation of data, data-storage capacity and the generalised intensification of surveillance as well as the apparent weakening of censorious control over information and the security of secrets all kinds. The ‘Wikileaks scenario’ not only exposes the easily ‘switchable’ nature of secrecy/disclosure in the context of digital communications culture, it raises issues pertaining to the technicisation of memory and the memorialisation of events.

In this paper I shall approach the interconnections between censorship, secrecy and memory in relation to contemporary techno-culture with a view to identifying the significance of this nexus for the cultural formation of ethical subjectivity (as Levinas, in particular, writes about this). I am not so much concerned here with normative ethical questions related to the technicisation of the censorship, secrecy and memory ‘nexus’ (interesting, even urgent as these often are) but more with how the ethical Subject is produced in this context.

Bio: Dave Boothroyd Director of Cultural Studies, School of Social Policy Sociology and Social Research, University of Kent. He’s the author of ‘Culture on Drugs: Narco-cultural studies of high modernity’ (Manchester University Press, 2006) and is currently writing a monograph for Edinburgh University Press, ‘Ethical Subjects in Contemporary Culture’. He’s a founding Co-Editor of the on-line journal ‘Culture Machine’.

The Creative Technologies Review-podcasts

August 12, 2010 Leave a comment

One of the highlights of my pre-academia career as a freelance journalist when during a phone interview the interviewee, a female at a telecommunications company marketing department or something of approx. 35 years of age, interrupted me: “Oh I am sorry to interrupt the interview but I just have to say you have an amazing telephone voice.”

I blush, stutter, and for a second wonder if my future career is somewhere where I could put my voice into better use, such as in some of those dubious 0800-numbers that offer services of very wide variety.

Instead, I end up as an academic.

Despite the shortness of the flirtation with the idea of using my voice to make money, I have been drawn into something again where I need to talk – publicly. The shock horror at first, but then realizing its actually enjoyable despite the fact that there is always a tiny region in your brain that is probably trying to say something very inappropriate.

Anyhow, CoDE-institute and me with Julio D’Escrivan (whose original idea this was) present: the Creative Technologies Review-podcasting series that commenced in August 2010.

We label it as
“A podcast on technology and creativity, technology mostly misused, unintentionally artistic technology and music technology with the odd splattering of digital economies” and hope it to be usually a 30 min aberration into the interminglings of technology, net culture, a slight dash of political economy, academic stuff and lots of media arts.

It features interviews of creatives, techs and academics, and aims to throw a spotlight both on the work done at CoDE institute in Cambridge but also more widely (as in globally) on creative technology and arts. I am suspecting it turns out to be quite focused on sound, knowing Julio’s interests and expertise in sound art, sonicity, but it will definitely splash into other fields of expression too and I am sure to throw in a nice dose of media theoretical meditation.

Its hopefully soon available on Itunes, but meanwhile episodes can be downloaded here.

Please get in touch if you have feedback, or suggestions for themes, sites, projects, etc. to be featured!

What is New Materialism-Opening words from the event

June 23, 2010 1 comment

As promised, please find below the opening words to the recent New Materialisms and Digital Culture-event by Milla Tiainen and me. The event was filled with great talks by a range of scholars with differing disciplinary backgrounds, and ended up with the dance/technology-performance Triggered (composed by Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Tom Hall and Richard Hoadley, choreography by Jane Turner). In the midst of the text, images (taken by Tim Regan) from the performance and the conference. A warm thank you to all speakers, performers and our great audience in both parts of the day!

NEW MATERIALISMS AND DIGITAL CULTURE
Anglia Ruskin University
CoDE: Cultures of the Digital Economy –research institute and Dept. of ECFM, convened by Milla Tiainen and Jussi Parikka
21-22 of June, 2010
Milla Tiainen and Jussi Parikka

Opening words: What is New Materialism?

I

As stated in the programme we’d like to begin by just briefly engaging with one of the key components, or actants, of the symposium’s setup: the concept of “new materialism.” The purpose of this is definitely not to identify a stable referent for that term so much as to point towards some of the problems it arguably connects with. Whereas I will in few words consider the concept’s broader resonances across current cultural, social and feminist theory, Jussi will subsequently comment on ‘new materialist’ modes of questioning in conjunction with digital media culture.

Aptly, there are three books forthcoming soon whose respective titles include the concept “new materialism”—while it in each case links with varying further concepts and associated planes. “New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics”, to be published by Duke, features such writers as Rosi Braidotti, Sara Ahmed and Jane Bennett; the essay collection “Carnal Knowledge: Towards a New Materialism through the Arts” is edited by Barbara Bolt and Estelle Barrett and involves contributions by Australian and European scholars including a chapter by Jussi and myself; and two of the speakers of this symposium, Iris van der Tuin and Rick Dolphijn, are currently working on a book on philosophy of science that is entitled “New Materialism” and will come out later this year. Thus, as these particular ‘capturings’ of ongoing research for their part evidence, the concept of new materialism is increasingly partaking in the flows of language and thought of specific areas of cultural and critical thought; its “rhythms of arrival and departure”, to borrow Brian Massumi’s expression (Parables for the Virtual 2002, 20), as well as connections with various other concepts are becoming growingly regular and rich in intensity within these flows. A momentum of at least some intensive magnitude is gathering round “new materialism.” Or, perhaps better put, the concept is being utilized so as to try and couch such a momentum which is unravelling transversally across fields of inquiry whilst at the same time displaying a notable degree of consistency in terms of the implicated topics of concern.

What, then, are the problems that would lend “new materialism” its meaning or usefulness? Evidently, the precise configurations of sense and effect that the concept invokes are singular to its every usage along with being more generally in the making within the debates involving it. At its broadest, nonetheless, new materialism can be said to concern a series of questions and potentialities that revolve round the idea of active, agential and morphogenetic; self-differing and affective-affected matter. Indeed, this summary would probably be endorsed by most proponents and sceptics of new materialisms alike. To be sure, this ideational assemblage or its part-problems have also already inspired incisive critique from prolific scholars. These critics remain unconvinced about both ‘new materialism’s attempts to reconfigure the persistent dichotomies of nature/culture, body/thought, concrete/abstract etc. and the allegedly dubious politics of the category of the ‘new’ in the concept of new materialism. To paraphrase one prominent critic, Sarah Ahmed (it will be interesting to see what her contribution to the New Materialisms essay collection looks like!), the new materialist conceptions of dynamic human and non-human materialities that acquire shapes, operate and differentiate also beyond human perception and discursive representational systems are, at least within feminist new materialisms, in danger of positing matter as an it-like fetish object precisely because of their insistence on its ontological distinctiveness (Ahmed, “Imaginary Prohibitions: Some Preliminary Remarks on the Founding Gestures of the ‘New Materialism’” 2008, 35). This fetishizing is moreover enabled, according to Ahmed, by strategic amnesia regarding the previous rich engagements with biology, the body and matter that were carried out within science and technology studies and other areas of human and social sciences (again her focus lies mainly in feminist genealogies). Ahmed therefore concludes that despite intentions to the contrary many new materialist gestures actually solidify rather than ‘fluidify’ the boundaries between nature/culture and matter/signification. At the same time these projects’ declarations of the newness of their endeavours conveniently conjure up an image of theorists who embark “on a heroic and lonely struggle” (32) against the collective non- or anti-materialism of former cultural and social-theoretical stances.

Now unhinging and confounding habitual dual oppositions remains undoubtedly a challenge for any ‘new materialist’ (as well as a theoretically differently oriented) project. Yet in order to end my part of these opening words I would like to point out three aspects that go some way in responding to the criticisms Ahmed presents—along with hopefully resonating with the talks of today.
Hence:
1) First of all, one of the signalling features that cuts across the heterogeneous projects we would like to propose as new materialist is their sustained commitment to developing models of immanent and continuously emergent relationality. Through insisting on the felt reality of relations for instance in the wake of William James, on the irreducibility of the in-betweens to the connecting terms, and on the intensive topological spaces of co-affectivity these models, we would argue, provide some of the most effective means on offer at the moment for thinking past the traditional rigid dualisms of nature/culture, subject/object and so on and for articulating the intuited processual co-substantiality of these facets.
2) Secondly and connectedly, the notion of the outside or virtual, which within new materialist undertakings relates or overlaps with such more specific concepts as affect, potential and variation, certainly diminishes the risk of ending up with a re-essentialized and reified conception of matter.
3) Thirdly and finally, we would like to think that the newness in the ‘new materialism’ refers less to a discrete stage let alone a point of culmination on a teleological line of theoretical understanding than to a multiplicity of attempts to live with newly composed problems whilst refreshing the vocabularies of cultural, artistic and feminist theory with “conceptual infusions” (Massumi 2002, 4) from hitherto overlooked or presently rediscovered sources.

II

In the context of digital media culture, the notion of “materiality” occupies a curious position in itself. As observed by Bill Brown in his entry for the recent Critical Terms for Media Studies (Chicago UP, 2010), our understanding of the media historical modernity has been infiltrated early on with the idea of “abstraction” — abstraction as a driving force (as with standardization of techniques, processes, and messaging) and an effect (represented in forms of power, subjectivities, cultural practices) of modernity. Recognized by a range of different writers from Karl Marx to Debord and Baudrillard, such a process has been influential in forcing us to rethink not materiality but dematerialisation as crucial to understanding the birth of technical media culture. Regimes of value, and regimes of technical media share the same impact on “things” – homogenisation, standardisation, and ease of communication/commodification in a joint tune with each other are in this perspective, and a perspective that branded critical theory for a long time, crucial aspects in any analysis of media culture’s relation to materiality.

Hence, the move from the critical evaluation of emergence of capitalist media culture seemed to flow surprisingly seamlessly as part of the more technology-oriented discourse concerning “immateriality” of the digital in the 1980s and 1990s. Here, in a new context, materiality was deemed as an obsolescent index of media development overcome by effective modes of coding, manipulating and transferring information across networks that become par excellence the object of desire of policies as much cultural discourses.

Yet, the recent years of media theory introduced an increasingly differing elaboration of how we should understand the notion of “medium” in this context. Instead of being only something that in a Kantian manner prevents access to the world of the real or material, or things (Brown, p.51) the medium itself becomes a material assemblage in the hands of a wave of German media theorists, who have develop a unique approach to media materialism, and hence new materialist notions of the world. Here the world is not reduced to symbolic, signifying structures, or representations, but is seen for such writers as Friedrich Kittler (and more recent theorists such as Wolfgang Ernst in a bit differing tone under media archaeology) as a network of concrete, material, physical and physiological apparatuses and their interconnections, that in a Foucauldian manner govern whatever can be uttered and signified. This brand of German media theory came out as an alternative exactly to the Marxist as well as hermeneutic contexts of theory dominating German discussions in the 1960s-1980s, and carved out a specific interest to the coupling of the human sensorium with the non-human worlds of modern technical media. In this insight, and ones shared by writers such as Jonathan Crary, on the one hand, the birth of modern media culture owed to the meticulous measuring of the human sensorium in various physiological settings and extending to experimental psychology labs in the late 19th and early 20th century. On the other hand, modern technical media showed such wavelengths, speeds, vibrations and other physical characteristics in itself that it escaped any phenomenological analysis, and hence tapped into a material world unknown per se to humans.

Without wanting to sound too reductionistic, I believe this is one of the key directions where media theory more recently has developed its own enthusiasm concerning a new more material understanding of media. Naturally filtered into new contexts, and transforming the way it works, such directions have however inspired also in the Anglo-American world new directions, new interests in material constellations of “platforms, interfaces, data standards, file formats, operating systems, versions and distributions of code, patches, ports and so forth”, to paraphrase Matthew Kirschenbaum. Naturally, post-representational approaches are present in a wide range of work and other thinkers, from the Deleuze-inspired cinematic philosophies of Steven Shaviro to sociological ideas of Nigel Thrift, the new materialist mappings of subhuman bodies such as blobs by Luciana Parisi to the politically tuned analyses of network culture of Tiziana Terranova — and the range of theories and theorists we are able to enjoy today.

Indeed, if I would be forced to summarize the intimate link between the analytical perspectives that go under the general umbrella term New Materialism and media theory and digital culture, it would have to do with at least three directions
1) The seemingly immaterial is embedded in wide material networks; information is informed by the existence of material networks, practices, and various entanglements, that expand both to the materiality of political economy of ownership, access and use, but also to the material assemblages which govern the way we are in media milieus.
2) Yet, technical media is also defined by non-object based materialities, which makes it slightly more difficult to conceptualise. As a regime of electromagnetic fields, of pulsations, electricity, and such fields as software, technical media and digital culture escape the language of solids.
3) The intimate connection between the dynamic human/animal body and media tech, which since the 19th century and for example experimental psychology labs has now extended to the various design practices in HCI and such that tap into the physiological thresholds of the human being in novel ways – hence the interest in affect, emotion, non-conscious and somatic levels of the human body, and emergence of various forms of interfacing, whether from the consumer tech of Kinect-gaming body-in-movement-meets-Xbox interface to still very aspirational Brain-2-Brain, B-2-B, networking and such. Its here that the knowledge about the kinetic, dynamic, and relational body feeds into understanding the moving-situatedness of us in mobile network cultures.

>New Materialism abstracts

>

For the forthcoming 21st June event New Materialisms and Digital Culture, here are the abstracts which promise very interesting crossdisciplinary perspectives into investigating what is new materialism in the context of various practices and arts of digital culture.


David M. Berry: Software Avidities: Latour and the Materialities of Code
The first difficultly in understanding software is located within the notion of software/code itself and its perceived immateriality. Here it is useful to draw an analytical distinction between ‘code’ and ‘software’. Throughout this paper I shall be using code to refer to the textual and social practices of source code writing, testing and distribution. In contrast, I would like to use ‘software’ to include products, such as operating systems, applications or fixed products of code such as Photoshop, Word and Excel and the cultural practices that surround the use of it. This further allows us to think about the hacking as the transformation of software back into code for the purposes of changing its normal execution or subverting its intended (prescribed) functions. However, this difficulty should not mean that we stay at the level of the screen, so-called screen essentialism, nor at the level of information theory, where the analysis focuses on the way information is moved between different points disembedded from its material carrier, nor indeed at the level of a mere literary reading of the textual form of code. Rather code needs to be approached in its multiplicity, that is as a literature, a mechanism, a spatial form (organisation), and as a repository of social norms, values, patterns and processes. In order to focus on the element of materiality I want to use Latour’s notion of the ‘test of strength’ to see how the materiality of code, its obduracy and its concreteness are tested within computer programming contests. To do this I want to look at two case studies: (1) the Underhanded C Contest, which is a contest which asks the programmer to write code that is as readable, clear, innocent and straightforward as possible, and yet it must fail to perform at its apparent function. To be more specific, it should do something subtly evil; and (2) The International Obfuscated C Code Contest, which is a contest to write the most Obscure/Obfuscated C program possible that is as difficult to understand and follow (through the source code) as possible. By following the rules of the contest, and by pitting each program, which must be made available to compile and execute by the judges (as well as the other competitors and the wider public by open sourcing the code), the code is then shown to be material providing it passes these tests of strength.


Rick Dolphijn: The Intense Exterior of Another Geometry
Starting with several examples from contemporary ‘animal architecture’, this paper proposes a search for how anything ‘surrounding’ the organic body (a box, a piece of cloth, a house), in the alliance it creates with this body, is mutually united with it. It brings us to the practices central to this paper as they concern envisioning our “urban exoskeleton” as DeLanda calls it, and how this sets forth the emergence of a “future people” as Proust already foresaw it. In other words, our interests lie with how life comes into being in its intense relationships with urban morphology. We then needs to accept the definition of life offered to us by Christopher Alexander who considers life “a most general system of mathematical structures that arises because of the nature of space” (2004: 28). To speculate the future lives (unconsciously) hidden in the morphogenetic qualities of urban form today, should then be pursued in terms of the (aesthetic) principles of creating space. Conceptualizing these principles in the Occident and in the Orient, we allow ourselves to conceptualize a difference between two wholly other urban bodies of which especially the latter (the Oriental) has hardly received any attention in contemporary theory. This Oriental ‘city of axonometric vision’, as we develop this next to the (Occidental) ‘city of linear perspective’ allows us to think the urban exoskeleton in terms of a multiplicity of dynamic surfaces (as opposed to a centralized pattern), through an “equal-angle see-through” (dengjiao toushi in Chinese) (as opposed to a linear perspective) and through a non-dualist felt-togetherness. It allows us to think the creative dynamics of unlimited growth as the new proposition of what the bodies can do.

Eleni Ikoniadou: Transversal digitality and the relational dynamics of a new materialism
The relationship between digital technology and matter has preoccupied media and cultural theorists for the last two decades. During the 90s it was articulated through a celebration of the disembodied, immaterial and probabilistic properties of information (cybercultural theory). More recently, it has been asserted through a reliance on sensory perception for the construction of a predominantly observable, otherwise void, digital space (digital philosophy). However, alternative materialist accounts may be able to offer more dynamic ways of understanding the heterogeneity, materiality and novelty of digital culture (Kittler, 1999; Mackenzie, 2002; Fuller, 2005; Munster, 2006). Following on their footsteps, this presentation will aim to rethink the ontological status of the digital as immanent to the flows of a ‘new materialism’. The latter is understood as a transversal process that cuts across seemingly distinguished fields and disciplines, such as the arts and sciences, establishing new connections between them. New materialism, then, becomes a concept and a method proper for investigating digital media and their tendency to bring together different aspects of the world in new ways. The paper discusses how an abstract materialist new media theory can enable transversal relations between science studies, philosophy and media art, as well as between the actual and the virtual dimensions of reality; allowing the emergence of heterogeneous digital assemblages of material, aesthetic and scientific combination.

Adrian Mackenzie: Believing in and desiring data: ‘R’ as the next ‘big thing’
How could materialist analysis come to grips with the seeming immateriality of data network media? This paper attempts to think through some of the many flows of desire and belief concerning data. In the so-called ‘data deluges’ generated by the searches, queries, captures, links and aggregates of network media, key points of friction occur around sharing and pattern perception. I focus on how sharing and pattern perception fare in the case of the scripting language R, an open source statistical ‘data-intensive’ programming language heavily used across the sciences (including social sciences), in public and private settings, from CERN to Wall Street and the Googleplex. R, it is said, is a ‘next big thing’ in the world of analytics and data mining, with thousands of packages and visualizations, hundreds of books and publications (including its own journal, /R Journal/) appearing in the last few years. In this activity, we can discern vectors of belief and desire concerning data. The tools and techniques developed in R can be seen both intensifying data, and at times, making the contingencies of data more palpable.

Stamatia Portanova: The materiality of the abstract (or how movement-objects ‘thrill’ the world)

Gilles Deleuze and Alfred N. Whitehead have defined the ‘virtual’ not as an unreal simulation but as a real potential, an idea (respectively conceived by them as a ‘mathematical differential’ or a ‘mathematical relation’) around which an actual fact takes shape. Drawing on Deleuze and Whitehead’s concepts of ‘virtuality’, this paper addresses the possibility of a materialist approach that is able to take into account the virtuality of matter, i.e. how the abstract dimension of ideas (‘the mind’, ‘thought’) possesses its own consistence. The concrete object analyzed to exemplify this approach is the relation between digital culture, digital technology and movement, from which something like ‘virtual movement-objects’ emerge. More specifically, the paper explores the use of several technologies of movement creation and distribution (Motion Capture, digital video editing, the Internet) in mass-media environments such as pop music clips and You Tube amateur videos, dance video games and choreography web sites. The main objective is to understand how these applications generate and replicate what will be defined as ‘virtual movement-objects’, digitally generated dance steps that are widely imitated and adapted. From an ‘abstractly materialist’ point of view, the numerical data produced through the digitalization of dance will be considered as virtual movement ideas with a potential to be repeatedly actualized (in videos, live events, games). These ideas have the possibility of infinite reanimation: the same step can be endlessly repeated, becoming a dance of graphic shapes or 3D images, but also a movement across people and cultures. This definition also draws on Gabriel Tarde and Bruno Latour’s understanding of imitation. Imitation, in Latour’s words, weaves a sort of contagious ‘behavioural network’ based on the return of ‘virtual centres of gravity’, ideal patterns attracting a repetition of movements that ‘look the same’ but are always different and unpredictable. This paper therefore explores how, despite their designed nature, movement-objects appear as open and creative movement ideas able to autonomously circulate in transversal social networks and generate unexpected rhythmic behaviours. The diffusion of Michael Jackson’s Thriller dance on YouTube, in Sims animations or in the choreographed performance of 1500 detainees of the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (Philippines), can e considered as one of the most famous examples of how dance steps have become virtual movement-objects to be infinitely actualized.

Anna Powell: Affections in their pure state? The digital event as immersive encounter

Digital video offers a distinctively immersive encounter. In its early analogue days, video art seemed to validate Deleuze’s diagnosis of ‘electronic automatism’ (Cinema 2, 1985). Its characteristics include ‘omnidirectional space’, framing which is ‘reversible and non–superimposable’ and the unpredictable motion of ‘perpetual reorganisation’. Spatial composition becomes an opaque ‘table of information’ on which data ‘replaces nature’. Some of Deleuze’s anxieties for the (then new) medium have been fulfilled by surveillance and the mainstream spectacle of GGI, as in the ‘gigantism’ of Avatar’s 3D optical illusionism. Yet, this ‘original regime of images and signs’ has also proved its credentials for the schizo will to art.One obvious formal distinction between cine and digital video is editing. Video editing does not operate by cutting and splicing footage but by ‘dragging and dropping’ sections of film on top of each other. Rather than being excised by cuts to produce temporal elision, uploaded video clips are pulled down on top of a ‘master’. An editing decision can be reversed by using a sliding tool to reveal that the first layer of images is only temporarily overlaid by another. Digital editing thus increases the density and depth of the plane of images by potentially limitless conjunctive synthesis.Deleuze argues that without a sense of the out-of-frame, time and space are overwhelmingly immanent in electronic automatism. This apparent removal of the out-of-frame and the elsewhere leads instead to an intensive meld of brain and screen that can move the mind/screen in schizoanalytic directions. Video art’s preference for gallery installation or live performance with VJ-ing and music rather than cinema screen offers further haptic immersion in the medium.Digital videos that repudiate both the televisual and the cinematic regimes can express what video artist Mattia Casalegno calls ‘affections in their pure state’. The aesthetic properties of digital video bring affect, perception and time closer together. What are the implications of this apparent removal of the gap between actual and virtual? If, as Deleuze suggests, the brain is the screen, what kind of schizo images and thoughts might future digital art unfold? Starting from the overt distinctions of cine and video this paper investigates the impact of the digital body without organs. It references work by video artists specifically Deleuzian inspiration whose works express new materialist intent.

Iris Van der Tuin: A Different Starting Point, A Different Metaphysics: Reading Bergson and Barad Diffractively
This paper provides an affirmative feminist reading of the philosophy of Henri Bergson by reading it through the work of Karen Barad. Adopting such a diffractive reading strategy enables feminist philosophy to move beyond discarding Bergson for his apparent phallocentrism. Feminist philosophy finds itself double bound when it critiques a philosophy for being phallocentric, since the set-up of a Master narrative comes into being with the critique. By negating a gender-blind or sexist philosophy, feminist philosophy only gets to reaffirm its parameters and setting up a Master narrative costs feminist philosophy its feminism. I thus propose and practice the need for a different methodological starting point, one that capitalizes on “diffraction.” This paper experiments with the affirmative phase in feminist philosophy prophesied by Elizabeth Grosz, among others. Working along the lines of the diffractive method, the paper at the same time proposes a new reading of Bergson (as well as Barad), a new, different metaphysics indeed, which can be specified as onto-epistemological or “new materialist.”

New Materialisms and Digital Culture -symposium

April 30, 2010 2 comments

Please find below information and registration possibility for our symposium
on new materialist cultural analysis as well as info for the launch event of the
CoDE institute and the affiliated Digital Performance Laboratory.


An International Symposium on Contemporary Arts, Media and Cultural Theory

Date: Monday 21 June 2010
Time: 10:00 – 17.30 (18.00 Performance and CoDE Launch)
Venue: Hel 201, Anglia Ruskin University, East Road, Cambridge

Far from being immaterial, digital culture consists of heterogeneous bodies, relations, intensities, movements, and modes of emergence manifested in various contexts of the arts and sciences.

This event suggests “new materialism” as a speculative concept with which to rethink materiality across diverse cultural-theoretical fields of inquiry with a particular reference to digitality in/as culture: art and media studies, social and political theorising, feminist analysis, and science and technology studies.

More specifically, the event maps ways in which the questions of process, positive difference or the new, relation, and the pervasively aesthetic character of our emergences with the world have lately been taken up in cultural theory. It will engage explorations of digital culture within which matter, the body and the social, and the long-standing theoretical dominance of symbolic mediation (or the despotism of the signifier) are currently being radically reconsidered and reconceptualised.

The talks of the event will probe media arts of digital culture, sonic environments, cinematic contexts, wireless communication, philosophy of science and a variety of further topics in order to develop a new vocabulary for understanding digital culture as a material culture.

Speakers include: Dr David M. Berry, Dr Rick Dolphijn, Dr Satinder Gill, Dr Adrian Mackenzie, Dr Stamatia Portanova, Dr Anna Powell, Dr Iris van der Tuin and Dr Eleni Ikoniadou.

The academic programme will be followed by a physical computing and dance performance involving CoDE affiliated staff (Richard Hoadley and Tom Hall) along with choreographers Jane Turner, Cheryl Frances-Hoad and their dancers.

Following the symposium there will also be a short workshop for PhD students on Tuesday 22 June led by Van der Tuin and Dolphijn along with Milla Tiainen and Jussi Parikka. The aim of the workshop is to enable students to discuss and present brief intros to their work on the theme of new materialist analysis of culture and the arts with tutoring from the workshop leaders. The workshop is restricted to max. 10 students. Participation for the selected ten is include in the registration fee. If you are interested, please send an informal message to either milla.tiainen@anglia.ac.uk or Jussi.parikka@anglia.ac.uk along with a short (approx. 1 page) description of your PhD work and its relation to new materialism.

In addition, we are planning an informal introductory workshop for Tuesday afternoon on experimental performance and physical computing.

The event is sponsored by CoDE: the Cultures of the Digital Economy research institute and the Department of English, Communication, Film and Media at Anglia Ruskin University.

Please register your place here
Fee: £20

Programme
Anglia Ruskin University. East Road, Cambridge, UK, Helmore Building, room Hel 201
June 21, Monday

10.00 Welcome and what is new materialism, Milla Tiainen and Jussi Parikka
10.15 Anna Powell (Manchester Met): Electronic Automatism: Video Affects and The Time Image
11.10 Break
11.30 Iris van der Tuin (Utrecht): A Different Starting Point, a Different Metaphysics”: Reading Bergson and Barad Diffractively
Rick Dolphijn (Utrecht): The Intense Exterior of Another Geometry
12.30 Lunch
13.45 Stamatia Portanova (Birkbeck): The materiality of the abstract (or how movement-objects ‘thrill’ the world)
Eleni Ikoniadou: Transversal digitality and the relational dynamics of a new materialism
Satinder Gill (Anglia Ruskin/CoDE and Cambridge University): “Rhythms and sense-making in responsive dense-space’
15.20 break

15.40 David Berry: Software Avidities: Latour and the Materialities of Code.
16.10 Adrian Mackenzie (Lancaster) Believing in and desiring data: R as ‘ next big thing

17.00 closing and a break

18.00 Open launch and drinks event for the Digital Performance laboratory (CoDE, Music and Performing Arts, Anglia Ruskin) and a science-arts interdisciplinary performance Triggered. Recital-hall, Helmore Building (029), East Road, Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge.

‘Triggered’ showcases the results of a practice-as-research project into methods of interdisciplinary collaboration between a group of contemporary dancers, musicians and music technologists. The nature of this collaboration has allowed performance to emerge from artists and disciplines interacting and responding to each other. The bespoke technologies used in the project enable sophisticated dialogue between movement and sound, between music composition and choreography. The nature of interaction and narratives created are key areas of investigation and these areas will explored in a workshop on the second day of the conference. Performing, choreographing, composing and building the production are Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Tom Hall, Richard Hoadley, Jane Turner & dance company.

Day 2 (June 22)

10.00-12.30 Helmore 251
New materialism: art, science, media –workshop with selected PhD students with Dr Iris van der Tuin and Rick Dolphijn, along with Milla Tiainen and Jussi Parikka
12.30-14.00 lunch
14.00 an experimental performance/HCI workshop and interaction possibility with Jane Turner, Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Dr Satinder Gill, Dr Richard Hoadley and Dr Tom Hall.

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