What is Media Archaeology? gives no direct answer to the question that it poses. Instead, it gives a map – a cartography of how to see the field of media archaeology defined by various theories and directions, that help us to go to places – and think things. However, I remember trying to think through definitions of media archaeology – a useful task to bring clarity. I originally doodled something like this for my working blog for that WiMA book, but let’s return to that now. This thinking aloud was partly triggered by my soon to be new colleague Sunil Manghani’s question…so how does media archaeology differ from media history.
Here is one attempt to give a definition – sort of coordinates, although this does not exhaust the richness of MA and its various traditions.
Media archaeology can be understood as a heterogeneous set of theories and methods that investigate media history through its alternative roots, forgotten paths, neglected ideas and machines. It explicitly challenges the supposed newness of digital culture. Media archaeology gives new ideas to understand media cultural temporality. The definitions have ranged from emphasising the recurring nature of media cultural discourses (Huhtamo) to media archaeology as an-archaeology, or variantology (Zielinski) which in its excavation of the deep time layers of our means of seeing and hearing tries to find an alternative route to dismantle the fallacy of linear development.
Furthermore, I see media archaeology as a joint history & theory venture in which temporal excavation of media functions as a theoretical force as well; it can be characterised as a reading of old media and new media in parallel lines. Media archaeology is decisively non-linear, and rigorously theoretical in its media historical interest of knowledge. In a Benjaminian vein, it abandons historicism when by it is meant the idea that the past is given and out there waiting for us to find it; instead, it believes in the radical assembling of history, and histories in the plural, but so that it is not only a subset of cultural historical writing. Instead, media archaeology needs to insist both on the material nature of its enterprise – that media are always articulated in material, also in non-narrative frameworks whether technical media such as photography, or algorithmic media features such as databases and software networks – and that the work of assembling temporal mediations takes place in an increasingly varied and distributed network of institutions, practices and technological platforms.
Indeed, what media archaeology investigates are also the practical rewirings of time, as is done in media artistic and creative practice work, through archives digital and traditional, as well as DIY and circuit bending which recycle, and remix obsolete technology as much as they investigate aesthetic and political economic conditions of technical media.
Media archaeology takes place in artistic labs, laboratories where hardware and software are hacked and opened, but also in in conceptual labs for experimenting with concepts and ideas.
So as you can see, it moves into certain material characteristics that I want to keep close to media archaeology. It does not mean that this it the only to approach MA. For instance, here is what Huhtamo wrote.
I am honoured to join the Advisory Board of the Media Archaeology Lab (University of Colorado in Boulder). Lori Emerson, the director, has been working hard on this project that I have been following for a while now. It brings its own pedagogical and research mission as part of the discourse of media labs. Go back, slow down, but in order to do something exciting, it seems to be shouting to the digital calculating power boasting jazzy institutions which are a university senior management’s wet dream. Indeed, it is pitched as “is a place for cross-disciplinary experimental research and teaching using the tools, the software and platforms, from the past.”
As a parallel, I want to point to the Media Archaeological Fundus in Berlin, at the Institute of Media Studies, as one significant, already existing example. With a slightly different pitch, it also uses “media archaeology” as the nodal term through which to articulate its research and pedagogical mission. For it’s director, Wolfgang Ernst, this ties to the idea of “epistemic toys” — toys however only in the German meaning of “Spielzeug”, with a nod towards Heideggerian Zeug. What is significant for the objects in the Berlin Fundus is their epistemological value — media objects as epistemological objects that open up specific knowledges that are irreducible to their cultural techniques, as the introductory text to the Fundus states.
As part of the Colorado/Boulder Media Archaeology Lab, their motto “the past must be lived so that the present can be seen” actually corresponds to some of the ideas about processuality of the Berlin Fundus. I argue that one has to take this motto literally. The past (media technologies) must be experienced in operation, in process, so as to understand their epistemological value, so to speak. That way, to refer back to Ernst, they are able to smuggle a bit of the past as living present — an undercutting theme in media archaeology more widely, as Vivian Sobchak argued in the collection Media Archaeology. This is why we need these kinds of labs, as a form of critical education – and engineering – of past media technologies to understand the current electronic culture.
As part of MAL advisory board, I am in great company; other advisory board members include Matthew Kirschenbaum, Lisa Gitelman and Garnet Hertz, among other great folks. Wonderful initiative!
(Images and logo from the MAL lab and their website)
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:
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.
Slightly perhaps shadowed by the Nobel prize announcements, the nominees for the Transmediale 2011 theory award – the Vilem Flusser award – were revealed this week.
I happy and excited being one of them, for the piece we wrote together with Garnet Hertz: “Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method”. The text is a theoretical excavation into thinking such art methods as circuit bending as media archaeological, and hence, expanding the notion of media archaeology from a textual method into something more strongly connected to the political economy of clipped shut information technology and material digital culture art practices: tinkering with technology that is not meant to be opened, changed, modified. Hence we mobilize such key themes as “black boxes” which have of course been well thematized in Science and Technology Studies (STS), but now in a media archaeological and hacktivist setting. Hence, the name zombie media: not dead media, even if old, passed away even; we write in the conclusions: “media never dies. Media may disappear in a popular sense, but it never dies: it decays, rots, reforms, remixes, and gets historicized, reinterpreted and collected. It either stays as a residue in the soil and in the air as concrete dead media, or is reappropriated through artistic, tinkering methodologies.”
Here the info from the Transmediale 2011-website:
Vilém Flusser Theory Award
Congratulations to the following four nominees of Vilém Flusser Theory Award 2011!
The Vilém Flusser Theory Award (VFTA) promotes innovative media theory and practice-oriented research exploring current and pending positions in digital art, media culture and networked society. The call was open to publications, positions, and projects from a broad range of theoretical, artistic, critical or design-based research that seeks to establish and define new forms of exchange, vocabularies and cultural dialogue.
Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method
Garnet Hertz & Jussi Parikka
GATHERINGS 1: EVENT, AGENCY, AND PROGRAM
_Social Tesseracting_: Parts 1 – 3
Digital Anthropophagy and the Anthropophagic Re-Manifesto for the Digital Age