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Emoticon, 1881

March 14, 2013 8 comments

This article on Rhizome inspired me to post this picture relating to a sort of a media archaeology of emoticons — before the digital, before mass communication over networks, and demonstrated as a form of  “typographical art”.  This one is from the Puck magazine, 1881.

Emoticon 1881

For a more in-depth excavation of emoticons, we should look at the various work on categorisation of emotions across humans and animals that was a key topic of research also in the 19th century. It relates to the importance of the face before the facebook.

How about the face, expression and emotion more generally? For instance Charles Darwin  was interested in the evolutionary aspects of faces and expressions, and at the centre of much interest lies a curious book by the neurologist Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne de Boulogne: The Mechanism of Human Facial Expression, or an Electro-physiological Analysis of the Expression of the Passions Applicable to the Practice of the Fine Arts (1862)

Duchenne worked at the Salpêtrière hospital which later became known for its hysteric (female) patients, and the variety of new media based experiments and empirical methods by Charcot.  In Duchenne’s work, the face, the expression was something that was the shared ground between humans and animals in these experiments.

Duchenne was  in the 1860s  using photography as a method to tap into the animal forces of the face. Photography offered him a way to capture the formal features of expressions. The patients were the models. Yet, two different time scales clashed. Photographic processes demanded a lot of time and holding the face still was difficult –Duchenne was using as his models mentally and physically ill patients. Instead of making photographic process quicker, he slowed down the body. By applying electrodes in right places of the face, the subject froze and kept the expression long enough – faces neurologyit became more than a fleeting expression, and an index for scientific purposes (indeed, Darwin was using these photographs, see Phillip Prodger’s Darwin’s Camera, Oxford University Press, 2009, 81-83).

For his own research and visualisation purposes, Darwin  used  engravings made from the photographs, where the electrodes were removed. This made the expressive faces slightly more natural, of course. An enforced typology of the face and emotion.

A Media Archaeological Office

March 7, 2013 1 comment

Not every professor has an office like this. Peep into Erkki Huhtamo’s (UCLA) media archaeological office through this video, and get a taster of his enthusiasm as a collector: zoetropes, mutoscopes, kinetoscope. It demonstrates the curiosity cabinets of media history but also the need to train specialists who are able to maintain these instruments as part of the living heritage of media cultures outside the mainstream. The devices prompt us to ask questions concerning difference: how different media culture could be, and has been.

The video  is a good insight to the just released Huhtamo book on the moving panorama: Illusions in Motion, just out from MIT Press.

The neonatal intensive care unit of tech

February 18, 2013 Leave a comment

Don’t get me wrong despite my seemingly negative tone that is about to follow — this Wired-article about “tech’s premature births” is actually rather useful: it pitches the idea that media inventions and products have their own “time”. Some enter the stage too early,  and of course, some too late. The story collects  “stories of technologies, services, products, people and ideas that arrived too early — they either failed as a business for simply being ahead of their time, changed an industry for the worse because of the period of their birth, or simply suffered under hands too eager to ship a product.”

It even sounds a bit in-tune with a media archaeological interest in the “losers” of media history, which perhaps paved the way for something more succesful that followed later. However, what bugs me ever so slightly is the way in which this sort of discourse easily assumes that there is the right time — and pitches that as the norm. This is pretty much the time of commercial success, which naturalises the place of media technologies as part of the digital economy/creative industries product-way of thinking. Media are the stuff of business pages. Instead, the weirdness, inventions or political stakes of media devices remain sidelined. “Psychopathia medialis” was the term Siegfried Zielinski coined for the linearised media histories our capitalist culture loves. We are easily assuming that success comes through the evaluation and support of venture capitalists. Indeed, if we focus on the idea that there is a right time for these devices to make their mark, we should also ask what kinds of economic and political mechanisms are needed to support this. There is no general “cultural atmosphere” in which a media innovation just is succesful. Indeed, as Dmitry Kleiner and the Telekommunists keep on reminding us, perhaps we need a bit more of venture communism to provide those alternative life support mechanisms for innovations that are out of a different time than the ones supported by capitalist investment logic. Different kinds of devices and platforms might then survive through the neonatal intensive care unit of tech.

Digital Culture: Anomalies, Archaeology and Contagion-event (London)

February 13, 2013 1 comment

books-pattern-copyDigital Culture: Anomalies, Archaeology and Contagion
- a seminar and a book launch at Kings College, London, with Jussi Parikka and Tony D. Sampson

March 20, 2013 – Wednesday at King’s College, London, Strand Campus.
4.30-7.00
Seminar 4.30-5.30 in room K.311 and the book launch  5.30-7.00 in the the Small Somerset Room.

In 2009 Parikka and Sampson coedited The Spam Book, a collection of articles intended to probe the “dark side” of digital culture. The Spam Book addressed a shift from a digital culture very much defined in terms of the economic potential of digital objects and tools toward a discourse describing a space seemingly contaminated by digital waste products, dirt, unwanted, and illicit objects.

In this seminar and the following book launch, Parikka and Sampson discuss emerging ideas and theoretical approaches to digital culture. Parikka’s media archaeological approach and Sampson’s research on virality provide insights into worlds of affect, anomaly and the alternative genealogy from which our network culture emerges. Parikka’s recent book What is Media Archaeology? pitches media archaeology as a multidisciplinary 21st century humanities field that resonates with a range of recent scholarly debates from digital humanities to software studies and digital forensics. Media archaeological excavations and discussions on such theorists as Friedrich Kittler offer an alternative insight to the current digital culture/economy debates in the UK.

Sampson’s approach to digital culture brings together a Deleuzian ontological worldview with the sociology of Gabriel Tarde. His subsequent theory of network contagion does not, as such, restrict itself to memes and microbial contagions derived from biological analogies or medical metaphors. It instead points toward a theory of assemblages of imitation, viral events, and affective contagions. For Sampson, contagion is not necessarily a positive or negative force of encounter; it is how society comes together and relates. Sampson provides an assemblage theory of digital culture concerned with relationality and encounter, helping us to understand digital contagion as a positively sociological event, building from the molecular outward, long before it becomes biological.

Parikka’s media archaeology and Sampson’s contagion theory both figure the importance of a materialist approach to the imaginary and the nonconscious as central to an understanding of digital culture. Hence, the seminar asks the question: what is the nonconscious of digital culture?

The seminar is followed up by a book launch of Parikka’s What is Media Archaeology and Sampson’s Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks.

Both books are available at the event along with wine.
The event page on Facebook.

Jussi Parikka: What is Media Archaeology? Polity Press: Cambridge, 2012.
Tony D. Sampson: Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks. University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, 2012.

Jussi Parikka is Reader in Media & Design at Winchester School of Art, and author of Digital Contagions (2007) and Insect Media (2010) as well as (co-) editor several edited collections, including The Spam Book (2009), Media Archaeology (2011) and Medianatures (2011). He blogs at htt://jussiparikka.net.

Tony D. Sampson is a London-based academic and writer currently lecturing at the University of East London. A former musician, he studied computer technology and cultural theory before receiving a PhD in sociology from the University of Essex. His research blog is at http://viralcontagion.wordpress.com/

To find the venue:
London, King’s College, Strand Campus.
Directions.

4.30-5.30 in K3.11 on the Strand Campus of KCL.

K3.11 (King’s Building, Third Floor, Room 11)

To find K3.11 you take stairs up from the Second Floor King’s Building at the Strand end of King’s Building. You can ask for directions at the Strand Reception.

From 5.30-7.00 the Small Somerset Room

A Fundus for Media Theory

February 9, 2013 1 comment

Lori Emerson has interviewed Wolfgang Ernst for the Library of Congress blog. It is a great conversation that also addresses  the differences between digital preservation and Ernst’s Media Archaeological approach. The latter is, as mentioned on this blog as well, placed and spatialised in the Media Archaeological Fundus (Fundus= bottom, ground), part of his Media Studies Institute. (This idea worked even better at the original Sophienstrasse 22 address of the Institute, because it was located deep in the concrete bunker type basement).

From the Signallabor, Institute of Media Studies Berlin

Ernst emphasises the connection between teaching media theory and practicing material “hermeneutics”: to have access to technological devices, opening them up, reverse engineering. Operationality is at the centre of this view concerning media studies. A dysfunctional television is just a design object: media starts when it can operate signals. Ernst’s approach draws from a Heideggerian pun (of sorts) of the objects of the Fundus as Epistemological Spielzeug (ref. to Heidegger’s Zeug), “epistemological toys” for pedagogical purposes.

Ernst responds to one of Lori Emerson’s questions:

“The bias of MAF based teaching is to train students to resist the nostalgic or even melancholic impulse which is normally associated with so-called “dead media”, and to discover the retro-futuristic element instead. The electric telegraph, e. g., operates with discrete signal transmission: a code which after an age of AM media (such as radio) returned in unexpected ways. Whereas digital data transmission is much too fast to be perceivable directly to human senses, the classic telegraph “dots and dashes,” when connected to an acoustic mechanism, may serve as a way of slowing down and sonifying the nature of coded signal transmission.”

Such a focus on spatialities of media studies emphasises more points concerning the current interest in thinking about “theory as practice”: the various techniques, institutions and spatialities in which cultural/media theory takes place. For instance the Fundus is a sort of a ground(ing) as well as underbelly of media theory, in how the technical and tactile engagment with technologies enables a connection to text and theory. Ernst is very reluctant to call this “Digital Humanities”: it’s media studies!

Read the full interview here.
image: Juan Quinones / transmediale,
We had in Berlin just last week our joint book launch with Ernst: his Digital Memory and the Archive alongside my What is Media Archaeology? It was great to be launching the theory books in the midst of yet another great bunch of transmediale exhibitions of media archaeological resonance: the Octo Pneumatic Media System (a Rohrpost in action), the Evil Media Distribution Centre, Refunct Media vol. 5, and more.

Digital Memory and the Archive is out!

January 4, 2013 5 comments

ernst cover imageGood news for the start of 2013: the volume of Wolfgang Ernst writings Digital Memory and the Archive is out! The book is soon available in bookstores. The collection that I edited is the first to introduce this very important German media theorist whose style of media archaeology is highly exciting and provocative. Ernst is one of the significant names in the German media studies landscape, and represents one of the directions where theory is going in the post-Friedrich Kittler world.

Ernst’s interest in media archaeology is very material, and insists on the agency of the machine. His theories are interested in material epistemologies and the operationality of old media devices. Media devices govern our ways of seeing and hearing, but also our modes of knowledge. Hence, Ernst’s media theory is a way to understand the change in our archival logic in software culture. But it’s not only about the digital and not only about archives. Indeed, his writings on the sonic and in general media arts are important insights into a meticulous material media theory that represents a unique way to understand the persistence of history and time. Ernst writes his theory through mediatic paths: from television to internet cultures, media arts to archival institutions, Hertzian discoveries to sound.

The collection has a longer introduction by me, as well as the section introductions that I wrote. Ernst was kind enough to write his own preface to this English edition of his writings where he pitches the idea of cross-Atlantic influences and meditation on what is happening in media studies at the moment. An inspiring read.  Or in Wendy Chun’s words, quoting her endorsement:

Digital Memory and the Archive offers the most compelling and insightful account published to date of how and why objects matter. Moving beyond textual analysis, its careful, theoretically rigorous engagement with the relic—the physicality of the archive—promises to change the direction of the digital humanities. Thanks to this book, we will all now be addressing the microtemporality of archives and the mechanics of remaining. Finally, a definitive collection in English of one of the most brilliant and influential media archaeologists.”

Below you will find the short blurb from the publisher University of Minnesota Press website as well as the table of contents.

In the popular imagination, archives are remote, largely obsolete institutions: either antiquated, inevitably dusty libraries or sinister repositories of personal secrets maintained by police states. Yet the archive is now a ubiquitous feature of digital life. Rather than being deleted, e-mails and other computer files are archived. Media software and cloud storage allow for the instantaneous cataloging and preservation of data, from music, photographs, and videos to personal information gathered by social media sites.

In this digital landscape, the archival-oriented media theories of Wolfgang Ernst are particularly relevant. Digital Memory and the Archive, the first English-language collection of the German media theorist’s work, brings together essays that present Ernst’s controversial materialist approach to media theory and history. His insights are central to the emerging field of media archaeology, which uncovers the role of specific technologies and mechanisms, rather than content, in shaping contemporary culture and society.

Ernst’s interrelated ideas on the archive, machine time and microtemporality, and the new regimes of memory offer a new perspective on both current digital culture and the infrastructure of media historical knowledge. For Ernst, different forms of media systems—from library catalogs to sound recordings—have influenced the content and understanding of the archive and other institutions of memory. At the same time, digital archiving has become a contested site that is highly resistant to curation, thus complicating the creation and preservation of cultural memory and history.

Contents of Wolfgang Ernst, Digital Memory and the Archive

Archival Media Theory: An Introduction to Wolfgang Ernst’s Media Archaeology , by Jussi Parikka
Media Archaeology as a Trans-Atlantic Bridge, Wolfgang Ernst

Part I. The Media Archaeological Method
1. Let There Be Irony: Cultural History and Media Archaeology in Parallel Lines
2. Media Archaeography: Method and Machine versus History and Narrative of Media

Part II. From Temporality to the Multimedial Archive
3. Underway to the Dual System: Classical Archives and Digital Memory
4. Archives in Transition: Dynamic Media Memories
5. Between Real Time and Memory on Demand: Reflections on Television
6. Discontinuities: Does the Archive Become Metaphorical in Multi-Media Space?

Part III. Microtemporal Media
7. Telling versus Counting: A Media-Archaeological Point of View
8. Distory: 100 Years of Electron Tubes, Media-Archaeologically Interpreted vis-à-vis 100 Years of Radio
9. Towards a Media Archaeology of Sonic Articulations
10. Experimenting Media‐Temporality: Pythagoras, Hertz, Turing

Appendix. Archive Rumblings: An Interview with Wolfgang Ernst , by Geert Lovink

What is Media Archaeology, beta definition ver. 0.9

December 16, 2012 2 comments

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 definition type 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  tries to find an alternative route to dismantle the fallacy of linear development.

Furthermore, I see media archaeology as a history-theory enterprise in which temporal excavation of media functions as a theoretical force as well; 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.

The Photosculptural Hypothesis

December 13, 2012 Leave a comment

psculpture WSA3-2-1- A whistle blows and 24 shutters go “click”. Again, with a different model, head help up straight and still by a support.

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.

A camera view

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.

Ian Dawson and Louisa Minkin

(For further reference, a film from 1939 from the Pathe archives,  with Marcus Adams in his studio demonstrating the photosculpture)

Renew — a CFP: Media Art Histories 2013

November 12, 2012 Leave a comment

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.

Proposed topics:

* 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

MAH Conference Series Board:  Erkki HUHTAMO, Tim LENOIR, Machiko KUSAHARA, Gunalan NADARAJAN, Oliver GRAU, Douglas KAHN, Linda HENDERSON, Sean CUBITT, Martin KEMP and Paul THOMAS

An Interview with Paul DeMarinis

October 13, 2012 2 comments

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.

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