3-2-1 the whistle blows. Click-click-click-click…
It’s image making but not just photography – instead, it provides an alternative route for histories of media; instead of a preference for the centrality of the seriality of the moving image, try starting from the cybernetic. “The cybernetic hypothesis”, as Alex Galloway coined it in his talk at the Winchester Centre for Global Futures that was a kick-starter for the project.
The whistle, the 24 cameras, set around a circular studio, a rotunda on which a stool for the model – an assemblage that connects the early 1860s with the 2012 reconstruction inside which I too sat to be photographed, and to be sculpted from those 24 shots. Originally this was Francois Willeme’s photosculpture, a curious arrangement and a patent from 1860s Paris that defined what Galloway calls one early model for parallel media.
Winchester School of Art Fine Art undergraduate students took up the original blueprints and the idea as their own model for a project led by Ian Dawson and Louisa Minkin and produced a fantastic remake of the Willeme-device. Inspired by Alex Galloway’s talk, and partly framed as a media archaeological project, it presents indeed a very inspiring way to address sculpture, parallel imaging and informational culture. Like so many media archaeological art works, it suggests how you can presence old media ideas – often not very mainstream – in current settings; like taking an alternative viewpoint not only to media art history, but also to current image cultures.
The photosculpture – which indeed as sculptural mediates the imaging into physical three dimensional objects and presents a sort of an archaeology of 3-D digital imaging/modelling – shifts our perceptual coordinates. It forces itself as a rather (in a good way) weird part of the cultures of digital imaging with its historically “out-dated” way of understanding media. That is the beauty of the device and the arrangement; it is a historical and media archaeological exercise in practice-led activity that investigates the conditions of visuality and perhaps even cybernetic culture, as Galloway claims.
“A sculptor and the sun will become collaborators working together to fashion in 48 hours busts or statues of a hitherto unknown fidelity of such great boldness in outline and admirable likeness.” Those were the words of the journalist Henri de Parviel, describing the original piece by Willeme. You can see how it describes the emerging business in quickly produced, sculpted visuality – a bust in “admirable likeness” in no time! The WSA project taps into the way in which visual technologies were starting to be mobilized into consumer products and services, but old media ideas can be cheap R&D too (to use the phrase by Garnet Hertz) for artistic ideas and reappropriations, and engage with the multiple medialities that our media technologies consist of: it’s not only about the photographic visuals, nor just sculpture, nor just a genealogy of the informatics, but a folding of various medialities. Even a single technological assemblage and practice can contain so much, as the project demonstrated. Media are never about single objects, devices or apparata – but a multiplicity of techniques and technologies assembled. Hence, a hands on assembling is itself a process of thinking through this multiplicity of media and arts apparata in order to get a sense of the delicate materialities and techniques which they enable, and how they are themselves enabled.
(For further reference, a film from 1939 from the Pathe archives, with Marcus Adams in his studio demonstrating the photosculpture)
Media Art Histories-events are warmly recommended — so heads up for Riga 2013. The themes revolve around obsolescence, media archaeology, environment as well as archives. I am glad also to sit on the Advisory Board of the event!
Call for Abstracts:
Media Art Histories 2013: RENEW
The 5th International Conference on the Histories of Media Art, Science and Technology
Riga, October 8 – 11, 2013
The 5th International Conference on the Histories of Media Art, Science and Technology, Renew, will be hosted by RIXC and held in Riga, Latvia, October 8 – 11, 2013, coinciding with the international festival for new media culture Art+Communication. It will host three days of keynotes, panels and poster sessions on the histories of networked digital, electronic and technological media arts.
Besides general topics of the call, the theme of Renew, Media Art History 2013 addresses current tendencies in sustainability quests from various perspectives. As media art is based on increasingly out-dating technology and it is dependent on energy (electricity) the conference will discuss sustainable approaches towards the issues of producing, preserving and representing media artworks – how to ‘renew’ them through both – tools and histories. By focusing on networked media arts, the Renew conference will cover a broad range of topics to include early communication art (mail, fax, radio, satellite, etc.), net.art and net.radio, open source and network culture, locative media and wireless communities, hybrid networks and electromagnetic art, and last but not least – artistic investigations in sustainability, and future visions of art within the convergence of information and energy technologies.
* Histories of networked art and media technologies
* Archiving, preserving and representing new media art
* Media archaeology
* Paradigm shift – from new media to post-media conditions in art
* Writing histories of media art across Eastern Europe and the Baltics
* Revising the geospatial aspects – for writing comparative media art histories
* Resilient networks and emerging ‘techno-ecological’ art practices
* Multifarious potential of expression in media art – ‘new imagery’ of our times
* * *
DEADLINE for abstract proposals: January 25, 2013.
Notification of acceptance will be announced in March 25, 2013.
Individual proposals should consist of a 250-word abstract with title.
Proposals and inquiries regarding submissions should be made on www.mediaarthistory.org web-site.
* * *
Selected papers from the conference will be published in Acoustic Space and other venues. Founded in 1998 by E-Lab as artistic journal for sound art, networked audio experiments and new media culture, since 2007 Acoustic Space comes out as peer-reviewed journal for transdisciplinary research on art, science, technology and society, published by RIXC & Art Research Lab of Liepaja University.
* * *
The conference will be complemented by a variety of affiliated events, including the Art+Communication festival, with a thematically related media art exhibition, experimental film and video screening programme, live performances, concerts and workshops.
* * *
MAH 2013 Renew Conference Chair: Rasa SMITE and Raitis SMITS
Honorary Board: Jasia REICHARDT, Itsuo SAKANE, Peter WEIBEL, Douglas DAVIS, Robert ADRIAN
Renew Conference Advisory Board: Erik KLUITENBERG, Armin MEDOSCH, Inke ARNS, Andrey SMIRNOV, Jussi PARIKKA, Edwin van der HEIDE, Mark TRIBE, Gediminas URBONAS, Marko PELJHAN, Nishant SHAH, Edward SHANKEN, Darko FRITZ, Tatiana BAZZICHELLI, Frieder NAKE
I interviewed Paul DeMarinis in July 2011 in Berlin about his media archaeological art practices and methodology.
It was originally in the context of the Creative Technologies Review podcasts we did with Julio D’Escrivan, but the archives of those podcasts are not available so I wanted to share this interview (audio, mp3) for those interested.
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)
I am here recapping some ideas from an earlier post, but I wanted to flag this as a separate theme…
I want to pick up on Siegfried Zielinski’s notion of deep time of the media – not straightforwardly media archaeological, but an anarchaeological call for methodology of deep time research into technical means of hearing and seeing. In Zielinski’s vision, which poetically borrows from Stephen Jay Gould’s paleontological epistemology at least in its vision, the superficiality of media cultural temporality is exposed with antecedents, hidden ideas, false but inspiring paths of earlier experimenters from Empedocles to Athanius Kircher, Johann Wilhelm Ritter to Cesare Lombroso.
Zielinski’s excavations are not content to stay within the regime of media archaeology, but want to uncover a non-linear layering of variations. Indeed, in a manner that seems to be borrowing from a Deleuze-Guattarian ontology of nomadism and the primacy of variation (I don’t however think that Z makes the link to DG explicit), Zielinski’s methodology is in this sense a refusal of any master plans of media development and a plea against both the drive towards psychopathia medialis (the standardization and uniformity as well as illusions of teleology). Instead, the paleontological conceptualisation of a media history of variations finds surprising case studies of aberrants paths for hearing and seeing, of optics and acoustics, of technical means of guiding, misguiding, educating and mocking the senses.
And yet, as an alternative deep time, I suggest that instead of male heroes, we approach a more geologically tuned deep time – deep in various senses, down to mineral excavation, and picking up some themes of media ecological sort. I want to speculate with a more geologically oriented notion of depth of media that is interested in truly deep times – of thousands, millions, billions of years and in depth of the earth; A media excavation into the mineral and raw material basis of technological development, through which to present some media historical arguments as to how one might adopt a material perspective in terms of ecological temporality.
For instance for the European Union, the future of information technology has to be planned starting from a material level up: The EU does not hold much in terms of critical raw material resources when it comes to advanced technology that are identified crucial for a longer term socio-economic change. Obviously, such issues are always voiced with a concern for the geopolitical-economic consequences. In short, this refers to the crucial status of China, Russia, Brazil, Congo and for instance South-Africa as producers of raw materials, and an alternative material future of technological culture. This connects to a realisation: the materiality of information technology starts from the soil, and underground – 500 meters, and preferably (for the mining companies) lower as the earth’s crust is dozens of kilometres deep.
Cobalt —- Lithium-ion batteries, synthetic fuels
Gallium —- Thin layer photovoltaics, IC, WLED
Indium —– Displays, thin layer photovoltaics
Tantalum —- Micro capacitors, medical technology
Antimony —– ATO, micro capacitors
Germanium —– Fibre optic cable, IR optical technologies
Niobium —– Micro capacitors, ferroalloys
Neodymium —- Permanent magnets, laser technology
From animals to nature as a resource, a material ecology for media is an increasingly important topic. This is the double bind that relates media technologies to ecological issues; on the one hand, acting as raw material for the actual hardware, from cables to cell phones; on the other hand, as an important epistemological framework whether in relation to mapping of climate change or in terms of further resources for exploitation, as in the recent proposal not just for Internet of Things – but Internet of Underwater Things.
Perhaps an alternative sort of a deep time of the media is needed – one that does not excavate deep times of human inventions, successful or just imagined, but deep times of animal and geological sort, and the cultural techniques that are affiliated with such non-human regimes? This could be a further advance to consolidate the work of media ecology and zootechnics (cf. Sebastian Vehlken’s recent work in this area, as well as Insect Media).
The circuit bended and definitely (re)modified fruits of our collaboration with Garnet Hertz are out. True, “Zombie Media” has been circulating as an unborn living dead text for a longer while, ever since it was part of the Transmediale 2010 Theory Award competition — but now it is finally officially out in Leonardo (vol. 45, no 5)!
Working with someone like Garnet is a pure joy, and demonstrates why collaboration is good for you: you learn a lot. A lot lot.
As a teaser to the longer “Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method”-article, please find below the short “manifesto” on “Five Principles of Zombie Media” we co-wrote for the Defunct/Refunct-catalogue (PDF).
Zombie media addresses the living deads of media culture. As such, it is clearly related
to the earlier calls to investigate “dead media” by Bruce Sterling and others: to map
the forgotten, out-of-use, obsolete and declared dysfunctional technologies in order
to understand better the nature of media cultural development. And yet, we want to
point to a further issue when it comes to abandoned media: the amount of discarded
electronic media is not only the excavation ground for quirky media archaeological
interests, but one of the biggest threats for ecology in terms of the various toxins they
are leaking back to nature. A discarded piece of media technology is never just discarded
but part of a wider pattern of circulation that ties the obsolete to recycling centers,
dismantling centres in Asia, markets in Nigeria, and so forth – a whole global political
ecology of different sorts where one of the biggest questions is the material toxicity of
our electronic media. Media kills nature as they remain as living deads.
Hence, we believe that media archaeology – the media theoretical stance interested
in forgotten paths and quirky ideas of past media cultures – needs to become more
political, and articulate its relation to design practices more clearly. We are not the only
ones that have made that call recently – for instance Timothy Druckrey writes:
“The mere rediscovery of the forgotten, the establishment of oddball paleontologies, of
idiosyncratic genealogies, uncertain lineages, the excavation of antique technologies or
images, the account of erratic technical developments, are, in themselves, insufficient to
the building of a coherent discursive methodology.” 
We would want to add that in addition to developing discursive methodologies, we
need to develop methodologies that are theoretically rich as well as practice-oriented –
where ontologies of technical media meet up with innovative ideas concerning design
in an ecological context.
As such, the other part of the zombie media call is the work of reappropriation
through circuit bending and hardware hacking methodologies – to extend the media
archaeological as well as ecosophic interest into design issues. By actively repurposing
things considered dead – things you find from your attic, the second hand market, or
amongst waste – the zombiefication of media is to address the planned obsolescence of
media technologies which is part of their material nature. In reference to contemporary
consumer products, planned obsolescence takes many forms. It is not only an ideology,
or a discourse, but more accurately takes place on a micropolitical level of design:
difficult to replace batteries in personal MP3 audio players, proprietary cables and
chargers that are only manufactured for a short period of time, discontinued customer
support, or plastic enclosures impossible to open without breaking them. Whether you
can open up things – the famous black boxes of media culture characterized by iPhones
and iPads – is one of the biggest political and ecological questions facing our media
theory and practices too.
As a manifesto, five points of zombie media stand out:
1/ We oppose the idea of dead media. Although death of media may be useful as a tactic to
oppose dialog that only focuses on the newness of media, we believe that 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,
2/ We oppose planned obsolescence. As one corner stone in the mental ecology of
circulation of desires, planned obsolescence maintains ecologically unsupportable
death drive that is destroying our milieus of living.
3/ We propose a depunctualization of media and the opening, understanding and hacking
of concealed or blackboxed systems: whether as consumer products or historical
4/ We propose media archaeology as an artistic methodology that follows in the traditions
of appropriation, collage and remixing of materials and archives. Media archaeology
has been successful in excavating histories of dead media, forgotten ideas, sidekicks and
minor narratives, but now its time to develop it from a textual method into a material
methodology that takes into account the political economy of contemporary media
5/ We propose that reuse is an important dynamic of contemporary culture, especially
within the context of electronic waste. “If it snaps shut, it shall snap open.” We agree in
that open and remix culture should be extended to physical artifacts.
After the humans had left, what stayed were the ruins of buildings. Time had passed for the place to reach this silence; the graffiti filled walls, beer cans, glass from broken bottles stayed after as such monuments. There was something else too, in the air. A radio signal lost, a ghost signal. It is completely silent for human ears. Only the buildings echo, concrete walls.
The listening post, a Cold War relic. It had that Soviet science fiction quality about it, even if it exactly tried to listen to signals of communist origin. The ferris wheel in nearby Zehlendorf acted as an amplifier of its signals.
If Cold War started in Potsdam, then it primarily took place in non-places — like on this hill. Itself a monument, built from the rubble from the bombings during the 1940s War. And yet, non-place is hardly the term when you look at the concrete and now weirdly past-utopian looking listening domes. They stand out. You can imagine this as a setting for a Thomas Pynchon novel.
But it is a non-place because probably nothing much happened. Signal traffic, capture, listening. Procedures of monitoring, reporting, and then it starts again. Signals don’t occupy a place anyway, just a time and a pattern of regularity. And yet this place is one of those iconic, media theoretically significant places: Bletchley Park, Peenemünde, etc.
It starts to make sense when you think of it as a network of such posts. ECHELON – characterised by a European Parliament report much later:”If U.K.U.S.A states operate listening stations in the relevant regions of the earth, in principle they can intercept all telephone, fax and data traffic transmitted via such satellites.” There are no borders to national security.
It feels natural to imagine this place without any humans, just like mathematical communication theory works best without them. Only the ghostly shouts and echoes that ensue. Ping, echo request.
Much waited for… and soon out, Erkki Huhtamo’s massive study on the moving panorama: Illusions in Motion. Media Archaeology of the Moving Panorama and Related Spectacles.
Forthcoming from MIT Press, watch out for this book by the leading media archaeologist. It really is such a meticulous study and massive source base through which he investigates one possible way to understand visual media culture. Oh and it’s a beautiful book, filled with images, nicely composed as part of the text.
“Pioneer of the media archaeological methodology, Huhtamo reveals in this book his roots as a cultural historian. Illusions in Motion is painstakingly well researched and meticulously composed. Besides excavating the histories of this neglected medium, the moving panorama, it offers an empirically grounded example of how to research media cultures. Huhtamo shows us what fantastic results patient research can achieve.”
I recently gave a talk about Torsten Lauschmann’s art. This took place in Southampton, at the Hansard gallery with my great colleague prof. Ryan Bishop. In my quite informal presentation, I picked up on points such as… (excerpts to follow):
What several of Lauschmann’s pieces conjure is a different way of seeing media than just as communication. Media is trickery, a way of modifying realities, and has been for a long time; deceptions of the senses, of virtual realities and false impressions – this is the work of media, which brings it closer to the military psy-ops, and a history of hallucinations, other realities and indeed – magic. In other words, forget the idealistic notions of media as communication between people to exchange messages – instead, entertainment worlds are even down to their physiological effects about tricking the eye, the ear and the mind in ways that attract and affect the spectator. Media is sometimes closer to sorcery, It can conjure and produce realities in very effective ways – think of the long lineage from indeed magic and sorcery to current PR culture… (Fuller and Goffey, Evil Media).
What is significant is perhaps exactly this imagining a parallel world of media that borrows from past. But what is borrowed are perhaps not always very suitable ideas. Yet such can be employed as tools of investigation, critical ways to see our current media culture. It can also be about picking up individual motifs, minor details or ideas, and working them into the art piece, like Lauschmann seems often to do. More generally, in differing ways such works mix the way in which we understand media time – it is not only a progression from the old to the new, but how ideas got discovered and rediscovered, recycled, like concretely in some recycling based DIY art; or in the midst of our reborn enthusiasm for 8-bit pixelated aesthetics, vinyl music listening, of retrogames you remember from 1980s, also old technology presents itself as an alternative way of understanding the new: to take an old piece of technology, visual or audio, and try to think how it enables a different way of understanding media aesthetics.
Defective ideas and forms become standardized as our ways to think of time and media.
“We make our journeys out there in the low light of the future, and return to the bourgeois day and its mass delusion of safety, to report on what we’ve seen. What are any of these ‘utopian dreams’ of ours but defective forms of time-travel?” ( Pynchon, Against the Day, 2006)
Couldn’t we say the same thing about the past: journeys to the past that are like defective forms of time-travel? To past times when old technologies were once new too, and puzzled and awed, with their low lighting, crackling, noise, and pixelated style? The obsolescent entertainment device, the pianola, melancholicly playing its tune in the middle of the room reminds of such time-travels from which Lauschmann poached ideas and devices that trigger much more than nostalgia.
In his part of this double act, Bishop talked about Lauschmann in relation to histories of automation, labour and for instance mechnical music, including the player piano.
Media archaeology takes place outside archives too; if for instance for theorists such as Wolfgang Ernst, part of his work is in conjunction with the Media Archaeological Fundus (Berlin) as a place of pedagogical dimensions for the operational media archaeological approach, then for Huhtamo, media archaeology can be performed too. Not in labs, but on stage:
In true Victorian traveling showman style, Huhtamo will perform in Los Angeles in early August!