After just finishing reading the final proofs for A Geology of Media, I wanted to post the cover design online. The image motif is from the Crystal World project by Kemp, Jordan, and Howse; such an inspiring project that features especially in the book’s chapter III on Psychogeophysics.
A Geology of Media is out in April 2015 – meanwhile, you might be interested in reading the short “single release”, The Anthrobscene (ebook)!
The science-fiction film Interstellar, dir. Christopher Nolan, presents a near-future situation where the human kind seems to be presented with the no-alternative choice of attempting to leave the planet because of the climate change disaster. In George Monbiot’s critical reading, the film presents a political defeatism that boils down to the choice of voting with your feet – with the help of escape velocity. “Technological optimism and political defeatism: this is a formula for the deferment of hard choices to an ever receding netherland of life after planetary death.”
But the trick of the film is rather different. On the one hand, even the idea of leaving is problematised with the (admittably rather odd) relativity theory sort of a twist where the time-axis is bent in ways that actually disturb causality of leaving/returning. On a more social level, the film is more of a Spielbergian tale of the crumbling down of the nuclear family system. But then in terms of biopolitics, one is reminded that perhaps the leaving itself is not that radical departure anyway. It’s already in Michel Serres’ observation, in Natural Contract (1990/1995), that one finds the necessary situation to understand although without a helmet on, we are anyway living as astronauts, governed in relation to atmospheres and biospheres and other ecological conditions of life.
“All humanity is flying like spacewalking astronauts: outside their capsule, but tethered to it by every available network, by the sum of our know-how and of everyone’s money, work, and capacities, so that these astronauts represent the current highly developed human condition.” (120)
Of course, we need to acknowledge that such conditions of living, breathing and other networks are rather differentially distributed on the planet, which returns to us to the more pressing question relating to the political economy of the interstellar imaginary of governance – political but also in the techno-scientific sense cybernetic (with its long term relations to κυβερνώ (kyvernó̱).
The Anthrobscene is now out and available as a short e-book in the new University of Minnesota Press series Forerunners. The short book (77 pp) extends on the notion of the deep time of the media (Zielinski) to talk of the geological and electronic waste layers that characterise media technological materiality. It consists of four short sections
1. And the Earth Screamed, Alive
2. An Ecology of Deep Time
3. A Media History of Matter: From Scrap Metal to Zombie Media
4. Conclusion: Cultural Techniques of Material Media
The sections outline the idea of materialities of media in the context of the Anthropocene – the suggested and widely discussed term for the geological period where the human being has had such a significant effect on the planet to merit a new periodization. But the idea is to extend this to emphasise the obscenities of the environmental damage that works across natural, social and media ecology.
The Anthrobscene is a preview or if you prefer, a single, of the forthcoming longer book A Geology of Media (out next Spring).
The book is one of three that kickstarts the new Forerunners series, “a thought-in-process series of breakthrough digital works written between fresh ideas and finished books” and characterized as “gray literature publishing: where intense thinking, change, and speculation happens in scholarship.” The series is edited at the University of Minnesota Press by Danielle Kasprzak.
The Anthrobscene is available for download directly on the UMP website as well as in your “local” Amazon (Kindle and the slightly more expensive print on demand paperback) and gradually in other e-book stores too, including now already on Barnes & Noble & Kobo. The Amazon-page has a preview of the content.
The text below an abstract, something I promised to present at the forthcoming Istanbul-conference on Cloud And Molecular Aesthetics. It riffs on my earlier post on smog as part of environmental art history, an ecological art history/aesthetic set of terms.
Media Moleculars of Smog Culture: An Alternative Aesthetic
Speaking of molecules, photochemical smog that covers so much of our surroundings especially in dense urban areas consists of Nitrogen Oxide (NO), Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), Ozone (O3) and Volatile organic compounds (RH). This is the elemental media condition across aesthetics of contemporary landscapes of industrial and post-industrial life. An urban screen, hovering above cinematic places of Los Angeles, etc. The sunlight reacts with the pollutants, resulting in a weird set of visual media: photochemical smog.
A matter of concern for inhabitants and of course biochemists, it however is also an issue we can address in our context of aesthetics, imaging and visual culture. This talk proposes to address smog – and more widely environmental issues from pollution to issues of geophysics – as relevant parts of our visual culture, proposing another sort of an angle to the “molecular”. Indeed, the constituent definition of molecular that one inherits from Deleuze and Guattari sits in relation to the ontology of perception. This molecular becomes more than a chemical description and a way to address the dynamic constitution of the (molar) individual. As Tom Conley explains, this is a sort of a “chemical animism” speaking of the elemental molecular conditions that constitute systems of “complex interactions”.
The molecular is an ontological angle that for Deleuze presents a world of “tiny perceptions” which are not only small in size but qualitatively present a different view to the whole. Hence emerges the whole agenda of micropolitics of perception and what could be called a chemistry of individuation. However, in the context of this talk, I won’t go into a detailed discussion focusing on Deleuze so much as hint towards speculative ideas of a media history of smog, environmental pollution and the technologies of tele-sensing /smog sensors as constituting a different sort of a visual culture of “new media” of mixed temporalities: the ancient rays of sun, the modern fumes of the city, and the emerging technologies of tele-sensing. I argue that such topics bring an additional angle to the already important extension of aesthetics in the realms of biotechnologies, the molecular vision, and the new diffentiating scales at which perception is constituted. Perhaps it’s the smog screens, reacting with sun light, that execute the truly ancient new media environment of post WWII culture as a sort of a non-human staging of the environmental catastrophy as well as an art historical period outside the usual categorisations.
We at the Winchester School of Art (#WSA) are hosting this lovely little event – with quite the trio: Benjamin Bratton, Jordan Crandall and Ed Keller are coming to Winchester for meetings and agreed to give a joint panel on Design, Biopolitics and Contemporary Technological Realities – and imaginaries we might want to add.
More info here, and below their titles for the short interventions in the panel:
Benjamin H. Bratton: “On Platform-Based on Robotics”
Jordan Crandall: “The Materiality of Drones”
Ed Keller: “Shadow Ecologies, An Alternate Biopolitical History”
We are proud to announce the launch of a new book series titled Recursions: Theories of Media, Materiality and Cultural Techniques. Placed with Amsterdam University Press, a publisher known for its strong track-record in film and media studies, the series will publish fresh, exciting and important books in media theory. This includes both translations and other volumes that address the core themes outlined below. I am very excited about this project and working with my co-editors Anna Tuschling and Geoffrey Winthrop-Young. We have already some significant projects lined up for 2015 and more forthcoming that we will announce in the coming weeks and months. We are supported by a very strong international advisory board. Get in touch if you want to learn more but first read below for more information!
New Series Announcement
The new book series Recursions: Theories of Media, Materiality, and Cultural Techniques provides a platform for cutting- edge research in the field of media culture studies with a particular focus on the cultural impact of media technology and the materialities of communication. The series aims to be an internationally significant and exciting opening into emerging ideas in media theory ranging from media materialism and hardware-oriented studies to ecology, the post-human, the study of cultural techniques, and recent contributions to media archaeology.
The series revolves around key themes:
- The material underpinning of media theory
- New advances in media archaeology and media philosophy
- Studies in cultural techniques
These themes resonate with some of the most interesting debates in international media studies, where non-representational thought, the technicity of knowledge formations and new materialities expressed through biological and technological developments are changing the vocabularies of cultural theory. The series is also interested in the mediatic conditions of such theoretical ideas and developing them as media theory.
- Sybille Krämer – Medium, Messenger, Transmission: An Approach to Media Philosophy.
- Claus Pias – Computer Game Worlds.
- Jussi Parikka (University of Southampton)
- Anna Tuschling (Ruhr-Universität Bochum)
- Geoffrey Winthrop-Young (University of British Columbia)
- Wendy Hui Kyong Chun (Brown University, US)
- Geert Lovink (Hogeschool van Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
- John Durham Peters (University of Iowa, US)
- Thomas Y. Levin (Princeton University, US)
- Marie-Luise Angerer (University of Arts Cologne, Germany)
- Eva Horn (University of Vienna, Austria)
- Markus Krajewski (University of Basel, Switzerland)
- Erick Felinto (State University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
- Adalberto Müller (Federal University of Niterói, UFF, Rio de Janeiro)
- Eivind Røssaak (National Library of Norway)
- Steven Connor (Cambridge University, UK)
- Peter Krapp (UC Irvine, US)
- Antje Pfannkuchen (Dickinson College, PA, US)
- John Armitage (Winchester School of Art, UK)
- Till Heilmann (University of Siegen, Germany)
- Isabell Otto (University of Konstanz, Germany)
- Astrid Deuber-Mankowsky (University of Bochum, Germany)
- Sean Cubitt (Goldsmiths College, London, UK)
- Claus Pias (Leuphana University, Germany)
- Stefan Rieger (University of Bochum, Germany)
- Andrew Murphie (University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia)
- Axel Fliethmann (Monash University, Melbourne, Australia)
- Yuji Nawata (Chuo University, Tokyo, Japan)
Proposals for monographs or edited volumes should kindly follow the standard AUP Proposal Form (http://en.aup.nl/en/service/authors) and should also include the envisaged table of contents, an overview of the volume and abstracts of the proposed chapters or articles.
If you are interested in publishing a book with us please contact Jeroen Sondervan, Senior Commissioning Editor for Film & Media Studies at email@example.com or one of the series editors.
More information about Amsterdam University Press.
Rebecca Birch’s voice draws the hand drawing the landscape. It tells stories of trips and meetings, people and things. The projection of her unfolding drawing/narrating tells the story of her artwork in (auto)ethnographic style, and becomes an art performance itself. Birch’s work was recognized in Art Review’s March issue as one of the Future Greats and the magazine organised a party for her – addresses to a lichen covered stick.
A lichen covered stick was part of a particular roadtrip-performance-screening -project of Birch’s, and became the theme of the evening too. I was invited to be one of the speakers – addressing this assemblage and offering variations on the theme and Birch’s art. Below a short text based on my talk, one of several talks/performances alongside Francesco Pedraglio, Erica Scourti, Karen Di Franco and a playlist provided by Bram Thomas Arnold.
Imagine this talk voiced by an alter ego — a part real, part imagined Finnish lichenologist from the late 19th century, in his hallucinations of a future ecocatastrophy, and past earth times since the carboniferous era.
The memoirs of an aspiring lichenologist: media & ecology
In his short text about Rebecca Birch, Oliver Basciano gives us an image of her art works and refers to the capture of light as much as shadow through the role of the camera itself comparable to that stick covered in lichen.
“[the stick] acts as a sort of MacGuffin around which collaboration and conversation circle within the hermetic confines of a car. With this, one can perhaps understand the videocamera as taking a similar role – giving Birch the opportunity to embed herself in a community or situation that would remain closed otherwise”
Indeed, the stick persists as a thematic motif; it resides there as a silent interlocutor. The closed technological environment of the car hosts both human chatter as well as this stick of nature smuggled as part of the roadtrip.
The camera, the visual registers and works with light as well as lack of it – the shadow, darkness. In the context of lichen, consider another perspective too. Focus on the lichen as the first element that registers light, sound, movement, chemistry around it. It participates in Birch’s work so that it’s not only the camera, which registers the sounds and visions, but the lichen, a symbiotic organism itself. This refers to the scientific context of lichens as bioindicators – they register the changing chemical balance of the world. In short, lichen is a medium – a medium of storage, an inscription surface that slowly but meticulously and with the patience of non-human thing pays attention to the growth in air pollution. It’s symbiotic status is symbiotic in more than the biological way: it is involved in the material-aesthetic unfolding of ecologies social and nature.
It was a Finn, Wilhelm Nylander, who discovered in the 1880s details about the possibilities of using lichen as biodetectors; through experiments exposing lichen to chemical elements such as iodine and hypochlorite Nylander found out that one can “read” nature through this natural element. It meant a discovery of an important feature that tells a different story; it is less a narrative than a sensory registering of the environmental change that technological culture brought about gradually since the 19th century: atmospheric pollution, leaving its silent mark.
Lichen has over the years and years observed to be full of life and circuited as part of different ecologies. They have been not just objects of our attention, addressed by narratives and images but became part of the modern cycle of industrialised life. They silently observe our chatter, listen in, as well as through their earless senses know what we are doing to our surroundings. They provide housing for spiders and insects, but also some of lichens are (re)sourced as part of the high-tech industries for pharmaceuticals (antiobiotics) and cosmetics (sunscreen).
This participation in multiple ecologies, a cycle of different duration is a fascinating topic considering both our theme today as well as the broader discussions of past years concerning the anthropocene. In short, it is the discussion that started in contexts of geology and environmental debate about categorising our epoch as the Anthropocene – a geological period following the Holocene and branded by the massive impact humans, agriculture, geoengineering, and in general the scientific-technological culture has had on the planet. And now, it has gathered the wider scientific and arts/humanities community as part of the discussions that reflect a different , growing perspective to the environmental.
The anthropocene -and the obsceneties accelerating it as the anthrobscene – can be unfolded through lichen. In a rather important move, such Macguffins tell a hidden story of change. The technological culture in which nature becomes entangled with the human induced scientific changes. Visual, oral narratives give an image of this change. We tell stories of our nature, our interactions in ecology, in the environment with media which stores the remains of the planet as part of our human narratives- roadtrips, conversations, social events, accidental meetings, small details, landscapes – drawn by Birch in her performance that remediates the earlier.
In other words, lichen is besides a conversation piece also a medium. It saves this story through its biological means as storage that in our hands becomes memory – the scientific-aesthetic context of memory read through lichen. Even pollution becomes a sort of a mediated environment, like with photochemical smog. The lichenologist Nylander was on to something, more than observations about lichen. A lichenologist plays homage to the conversations lichen shares as it tells the story of a slow change since the coal pollution (sulphur dioxide) of England since the 18th and 19th century to the contemporary air of nitrogen compounds. So besides the conversation going on in Rebecca Birch’s car, there is this silent partner always present, as it has been for a longer while, and now also articulated in the visual arts/ecology-mix of an evening – Addressing the stick, but also: the lichen as the address which receives transmissions of industrial modern culture.
Nb. The party was sponsored by Absolut Vodka, with signature drinks: