Winchester School of Art are one of the partners of the transmediale-festival, which takes place again in January/February 2014 in Berlin. This short text below is a sort of a trailer to our bit for the event: the text is co-written by myself and Ryan Bishop and the the contribution to tm14 is likewise co-curated by us. The text gives an indication of some of the themes we will discuss during the festival and conference week, and it draws on some of our work on these topics: Ryan’s writing on the four elements and contemporary aesthetics, and my work-in-progress book project on “geology of media” and what I pitch as the anthropobscene – a new geological era catalysed by the corporate capitalist measures of depletion and exploitation.
Ryan Bishop and Jussi Parikka:
The Elemental Media Condition
Ever since such early geologists as James Hutton and Charles Lyell voiced a distance from biblical time, the Earth has had a proper history. The natural historical durations of the Earth have, despite academic disciplinary divisions, always intertwined with human history. In the current moment, the complex interactions of the two seem more prescient than ever. To follow in the footsteps of Dipash Chakrabarty, the horizon of the anthropocene forces historians to think of durations of nature as entangled with social history, and the historiographical functions of temporality need to be considered alongside such vectors that acknowledge the work of capitalism as a specific epoch. In this sense, we would like to refer not only to the anthropocene as the debated new geological era in scientific classification, but also what can be called the anthropobscene. This portmanteau word combines anthropocene with obscene, thus highlighting the vicious exploitative actions of corporations, governments and other agencies operating on different levels: from human individuals to multigovernmental organisations and transnational corporations. In much the same manner that Jean Baudrillard reconfigured the subject-object relationship placed within a scene as a network-screen relationship in the obscene, the anthropobscene reconstitutes the relationship between human scales of intervention into those of the geological. Thus, amongst other things, it refers to the obscenity of heavy pollution of the earth and the air, bringing back discussions of the four elements as found in the Pre-Socratic thinker Empedocles, whose writings strike both ancient and contemporary chords. Cultural theorists, such as Gary Genosko, have voiced an urgency for a renewed consideration of the elements.
For Empedocles, humans, nature and the universe contain the same elements. Flesh and blood are composed of approximately equal parts of earth, fire, water, and aether: the four elements that constitute the universe. The entire material world for Empedocles comes from the mixture and amounts of these four elements, the mixing of which he likens to paints on an artist’s palette with their different effects due to combinatory portions. This insight of multiple and diverse substances generated through combinations and proportionality becomes a cornerstone of modern science and chemistry. The harmony of Love and the discord of Strife result from the proportionality of the elements with each constantly changing and warring with the others. The Empedoclean elements of this cosmogony and in nature constitute both media and content. They make, transform and destroy at the same time.
Empedocles’ writings use physics to derive an understanding of ethico-political, even moral, laws. In the teaching of Empedocles the problem of substances as they present themselves to us takes a specific form: how do the Many come from One and One from Many? The primary and ultimately determinate forces behind the various manipulations, combinations and transformations of the elements in Empedocles are in the standard translations Love and Strife, which move in cycles of harmony and disharmony that reign over all of nature, including humans, fish, beasts and birds. But the elements are not simply passive recipients of the forces of Love and Strife. They can and do themselves act as causal agents, influencing the waxing or waning of Love or Strife.
Contemporary media culture can be opened up through such a consideration of elements. Indeed, as the philosopher Erich Hörl has argued, the technological is one crucial condition for the discourse – and practical existence – of this hypothetical anthroposcene – and anthropobscene, we might add. For artists such as Robert Smithson in truly Empedoclean fashion, the tectonic realms of the Earth and the mind are interconnected. Smithson’s account amounts to a critique of the McLuhan-focussed idea of technology as extensions of Man. Instead, for Smithson, writing in 1968 in Artforum, it is elemental. One is here tempted to think it is elemental in the sense of the Pre-Socratic four elements, as well as elemental in the sense that those elements are more crucial than ever for a consideration of the biopolitical condition. Such aspects range from the materiality of data mining to environmental exploitation.
Transmediale has released its theme for 2014: afterglow. It refers to the feeling of “after”, “post” the digital enthusiasm that branded the past decades, and now somebody needs to pick up the trash. The theme summons connotations of trash, waste and other aftereffects of the digital, both material and immaterial.
Winchester School of Art is happy again to be official partner of the transmediale-festival and participate in curation of some of the academic content. Below more info on transmediale-theme – and a link to the call for works.
The digital revolution is over again and this time “YOU” lost.
In the wastelands of its aftermath, what is still burning?
With the theme afterglow, transmediale 2014 suggests that in a world where resources (human, bodily, material, environmental, economic …) are more and more used up, the digital does not any longer stand up to its promise of antiseptic high-tech worlds and opportunities for all. On the contrary, digital culture is more and more becoming a post-apocalyptic wasteland ruled by a few powerful clan leaders. Still, digital culture is full of things that shine and glow, both promising and uncanny: from social media to big data. On the one hand, this afterglow can be seen as an extreme expression of the wasteful state of digital culture (excess, overload, endless repetition, pre-emption of meaning, exploitation), but on the other hand, as “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”, this afterglow is also providing the transition to new forms of being. If we are living in a post-digital culture, then afterglow is what characterises its aesthetics and politics during the transition to new cultural forms that are still unknown to us.
In the 2014 edition of the transmediale festival, the idea of an afterglow of digital culture is taken as an opportunity to speculate on positions that lead beyond the digital: not beyond the digital in a literal sense as in doing away with digital technology, but beyond the digital as a metaphysical character that overcodes all forms of existence. Even a supposedly critical term like “post-digital” is in this sense only promoting an idea of the contemporary and of the future as predetermined by the digital. Instead of revelling in the hypes of the post-digital, we invite the contributors of transmediale 2014 to reflect on this afterglow: to exploit our nostalgia for the pre-digital through the use of trashed technologies, ideas and narratives and/or to imagine new modes of existence and new modalities of critical intervention, by junking the afterglow of digital culture.
Transmediale starts today with its puzzling, great theme Back When Pluto Was a Planet (BWPWAP). Except conceptual, temporal and spatial shifts and displacings of various sorts. This is the first year our Winchester School of Art also is collaborating with transmediale, and as part of that we are hosting a panel on military technologies, space and Cold War.
In addition, I am sharing a book launch with Wolfgang Ernst: It is the book I edited of his writings alongside my own What is Media Archaeology? Join us for that on Friday, 1st of February.
And as a Kittlerian cherry on top, on Saturday evening I am participating in the performance Sources, Synths, Circuits that focuses on the reconstruction of the late Prof Kittler’s synthetizer. We discuss that from the perspective of not only Kittler, music, technology but also archives.
Winchester School of Art, and our research centre in Global Futures is happy to announce a new partnership with the transmediale-organisation and festival in Berlin! This coming year’s theme is Back When Pluto Was a Planet (BWPWAP) and we are besides participating with a panel and a range of other talks also already thinking ahead to the future years with the great folks of tm. They have a great track record of working with universities, including Aarhus and now Leuphana. I could not be more excited about this link to Berlin – tm has been one of those festivals/conferences that get my mind actually working. And it’s socially such a good spot to catch up with lots of people. One of the most exciting things happening in our field of critical arts/media/practice/theory at the moment. And Berlin is great.
Below the more official press release.
WSA to collaborate with a leading European festival for art and digital culture
The Winchester School of Art (WSA) has formed a new partnership with the organisers of one of Europe’s most significant festivals for art and digital culture.
The WSA, part of the University of Southampton, will engage academics and students in a wide range of activities with transmediale, the world-renowned festival and year-round project based in Berlin.
From Winchester, the key activities will be co-ordinated through the WSA’s Centre for Global Futures in Art Design & Media which shares a number of areas of mutual interest with transmediale across the fields of media arts, cultural theory and politics, aesthetics and digital culture.
Future activities linking the WSA and transmediale related to these shared interests shared research projects, joint workshops, curatorial developments related to transmediale and its all-year platform “reSource transmedial culture,” various educational platforms and events, and WSA’s participation in the planning activities and events leading towards transmediale festivals and the reSource activities.
Academics and students are already making plans to participate in transmediale from February 2013. WSA and transmediale are also keen to involve students as an active part of the partnership and establish a long-term link that represents the Winchester scholars’ interest in digital culture, media and critical contemporary arts. It also consolidates important high-level links the School has with Europe.
“We’re very excited by the prospects and benefits that working with transmediale will bring to the Winchester School of Art,” said Professor Ryan Bishop, Co-Director of the Winchester Centre for Global Futures in Art Design & Media. “The activities supported by transmediale offer an important interface between academic research, the arts and the general public which creates a perfect fit with the ethos and activities of our own Centre. In return, the WSA is perfectly positioned to facilitate additional collaborative links across partner institutions, providing a dynamic network of researchers working on related and complementary concerns which we believe will benefit everyone involved in organising and participating in transmediale each year.”
The artistic director of transmediale, Kristoffer Gansing reinforced this perspective by saying that “For transmediale, the collaboration with WSA and the Centre for Global Futures represents a great opportunity to develop new activities within a burgeoning international research setting. “ Stressing the transdisciplinary nature of the festival, “the combination of art and research is central to our critical approach to media art and digital culture” Gansing continued, adding that he is “hoping for new creative approaches to joint presentations of artistic and academic research between the two institutions.”
Each year, transmediale presents new positions in the fields of art, culture and technology to an audience of more than 20,000 visitors who experience an extensive range of exhibitions, conferences, screenings, performances and publications. transmediale’s broad cultural appeal and high artistic quality is recognised by the German federal government which supports the festival through its programme for beacons of contemporary culture.
Critically concerned with art and design practices of making, thinking and representation, the WSA engages in education and enterprise, exploring the contribution of media, materials and technologies to the improvement of human societies globally. In addition to producing world class research and engaging in educational possibilities, the WSA’s Centre for Global Futures hosts a wide array of issue-based activities that centre around globally relevant topics such as the environment, society, politics, art and demographics. By involving high profile academics, artists, curators and filmmakers, the Centre is creating a platform for the local and regional communities to engage in these areas.
This is the short intro/intervention, from my second Transmediale 2012-talk on the Search for a Method-panel, organized by Timothy Druckrey, involving in addition to me Inke Arns, Siegfried Zielinski and Wolfgang Ernst. The images are from the Crystal World workshop, also Transmediale 2012.
In order to kick off the panel and discussions, we were asked to pick examples of current media artistic practices, and proceed from there.
My thoughts were soon obviously on some themes and problems that I had been occupied with. More or less, such have included speculative materialities, work often dealing with the various spectra of hearing and seeing, of light and sound, of electromagnetism; works that map the non-solid based materialities that are increasingly important in order to understand how bodies react, and are governed, managed, experienced, in urban and technological settings.
Hence, I might have wanted to address Will Schrimshaw’s Atmospheric Research and Subliminal Frequencies. To me, the project is a mapping of the subconscious affective, embodied states where architectural arrangements are as important as the informational ecology; it maps the events that happen below the threshold of consciousness, for instance through ambient light as a regulator of “hormone secretion, body temperature, sleep and alertness”. As such, it is a practice based excavation into the physiological and technological constitution of experience, but also the possibilities of producing and governing experience; something related to my earlier talk on the “media archaeology of cognitive capitalism”.
Or then, another possibility would be to have looked at the various projects and the work of Critical Engineer, as expressed by Julian Oliver, in the manifesto co-written with Gordan Savičić and Danja Vasiliev. The notion of the artist-engineer might not be new, having a longer history in terms of media arts, but at the same time the manifesto and works capture something crucial about the methodology of such a practitioner, through an expanded understanding of what the machine is (across devices, bodies, agents, forces and networks, as the Manifesto lists) and how that expanded notion of the machine lends itself to a work of exposing; imbalance and deception become driving forces in a mapping of such relations, often in work that engages with wireless network technologies, rethinking visual and urban media, and more. The various projects at Weise7/Labor8 exhibition downstairs, at Transmediale 2012, are good examples.
Without being just software studies, such Critical Engineering engages with code, but in the manner how it regulates, governs, manages and in the right hands, distorts, perverts, misguides, cheats. This list that sounds a whole lot like from Matthew Fuller’s and Andy Goffey’s evil media theory.
So far, the two themes that emerge show the need to 1) account for such materialities that are not directly, necessarily humanly perceptible but completely real; and 2), the need to account for practices of perversion. Altering and corrupting as more interesting technical methods than just the smooth operationality often mistaken as the essence of technological practices.
Instead, I want to briefly to mention the work of Microresearch Lab/Martin Howse, Jonathan Kemp and Ryan Jordan, and especially the Recrystallization and Decrystallization workshops that took place in London and Berlin last year, and now during Transmediale The Crystal World Open laboratory.
The workshops used various methods to crack open and chemically process information technology in order to expose and address such constitutive processes what referred to as crystallisation. The term was partly adopted from J.G.Ballard, continuing an even earlier style of artistic practice of the Microresearch Lab, where software and hardware practices find a resonance with fiction, paranoid, speculative narratives of writers such as Thomas Pynchon (always dear to anyone interested in the 20th century articulations of power, science and engineering). As for crystallisation, with a nod towards Ballard indeed, the notion of the crystal becomes a conceptual lead in terms of a speculative materialism, described in these words:
“recrystallization was convened around the premise that while life itself starts from aperiodic crystals that encode infinite futures within a small number of atoms, the digital crystallization of the flesh by capital limits these futures to the point of exhaustion.
If computers and the minerals from which they are made are considered as equally crystalline, then their recrystallization is only possible through the introduction of vigorous and noisy positive feedback loops. “
In terms of media art histories, dead media and other theoretical and methodological approaches, the work of de- and recrystallization involved such techniques as “earth computing, mineral precipitation, high heat synthetic geology and inductive crystallography, DIY semi-conductor fabrication, water crystal cryptography, anthropocenic fossilizations, kirlian photography, hi-voltage fulgurite construction ”; Listing such, however, one however has to note quite soon that well, it is not exactly media archaeology as we used to think about it. Having said that, the notion of media archaeology in creative computing and related perspectives is taking us increasingly to such techniques as computer forensics, digital archaeology, and other modes of disgorging machines where art practices meet up with DIY and perhaps indeed critical engineering.
Speculative (media) archaeologies work crudely – but crude only in the sense of hacking open, disgorging, salvaging, melting, chemically processing in order to extract the minerals and such that on a material level compose our information technology. With an increasing political economic interest in the long networks of media production and discarded media, we have a better spatial understanding of the grim labour, electronic waste and other neo-colonialist emphasis of digital economy. The workshops tapped into this field directly as well, using such practices that mimicked human labour in extraction of valuable components and material from abandoned technology. What I want to propose is that such projects are emblematic of speculative media archaeologies and such artistic practices that combine a poetic-technological take on deep times, but ones that are such in a material sense too – not just written histories, but archaeologies of soil and history of the earth. Such speculative crypto histories of the earth refer to the concrete sedimentations of minerals and rocks, that act as re-sources for further development.
Where such methods fit in terms of media art vocabularies might remain unclear, but it is certain that they extend the practices often discussed in media art (histories) into a resonance with speculative materialism, new materialism, media archaeology but executed in highly original ways. We can talk of crystal materialities; materialities of minerals, information technology, and materialities of dangerous inhuman labour.
Indeed, to briefly elaborate on “exhumation” as a parallel concept to that more often mentioned of autopsy (also voiced by Tim Druckrey in his opening words) I will make a detour through Reza Negarestani. Cyclonopedia – a work of theory-fiction – speculates about the petropolitical deep layer, the living soil of Middle east, and we can point towards the work of Microresearch lab and these workshops as chemical and material deep layers that go two ways: not just the route of media archaeology interested in obsolescence, abandoned tech, and things old; but the other sort of descent too, to adopt Michel Foucault’s idea, perhaps implicitly part of some methodologies of media art histories and media archaeology. I am referring to a descent inside the machine, into the technical infrastructures, layers, city-like scapes of circuits and components. This kind of technical exposes a material, abstract level of connections, affordances and capacities. In such a methodology, the topology extends across materialities –from the fictional narrativisation to the hardware materiality and the long duration of mineral elements that entangle with that of human energy exploited for the excavation.
As a topological figure, and interested in this poetic and speculative materialism, allow me to end through a longer reference to Negarestani. What if such speculative media archaeologies and artistic methodologies are something that share methods with archaeologists but also with “cultists, worms and crawling entities”; not just a sublimated view of technological progress, but an interested in scars and half-lifes, of multiplication of surfaces, and creation of vermiculation; a new hole into solid, contained bodies of consumer technology.
“If archeologists, cultists, worms and crawling entities almost always undertake an act of exhumation (surfaces, tombs, cosmic corners, dreams, etc.), it is because exhumation is equal to ungrounding, incapacitating surfaces ability to operate according to topologies of the whole, or on a mereotopological level. In exhumation, the distribution of surfaces is thoroughly undermined and the movements associated with them are derailed; the edge no longer belongs to the periphery, anterior surfaces come after all other surfaces, layers of strata are displaced and perforated, peripheries and the last protecting surfaces become the very conductors of invasion. Exhumation is defined as a collapse and trauma introduced to the solid part by vermiculate activities; it is the body of solidity replaced by the full body of trauma. As in disinterment — scarring the hot and cold surfaces of a grave — exhumation proliferates surfaces through each other. Exhumation transmutes architectures into excessive scarring processes, fibroses of tissues, membranes and surfaces of the solid body.”
This transmutation, and distribution of new surfaces is where such familiar notions of art and culture theory vocabulary as trauma are transported into material methodologies in order to excavate the stratification of such as part of mixed materials. The “novel crystal earth geologies” extend the work of material recovery and reuse into “psychophysical distortions and contingencies” in a gesture which elaborates an enthusiasm for multiple ecologies. Media art practices that are not merely to be fitted into media art histories and genres, but themselves create new openings to times and spaces of media objects, components, times.
I am off to Berlin Transmediale 2012-festival soon — excited as always. Giving there two talks; the latter one on Sunday on a panel organized by Tim Druckrey on methods for media art histories — I guess an unofficial media archaeology panel with Siegfried Zielinski, Wolfgang Ernst and Inke Arns!
And something different already on Friday; a performance with Julio D’Escrivan, mixing media theory and live coding… part of the Uncorporated Subversion-panel! Here is a short summary, but for the whole effect…be there on Friday. Should be worth the while, I promise…even though, in terms of the theme of “cognitive capitalism” that the paper touches a bit; I am not at all uncritical towards it, and agree it misses several key points. However, the notion is good, I would say, as a way to continue such investigations as Jonathan Crary has started into the ways in which cognition in a very wide sense, embrasing embodied, affective being, perception, sensation, is constantly articulated “out of our heads” (Alva Noë) — but in our media; a media ecology of production of perceptive, thinking, remembering subject. The collaborative form between me and D’Escrivan has itself been again a great way to work together. Last year we tried out similar things with Garnet Hertz (also with our Transmediale theory prize nominated paper on Zombie Media), and now through the performance.
This presentation can be best approached as an experiment in theory-code-collaboration, through live coding (D’Escrivan) and some speculative media theory (Parikka) concerning techniques of the cognitive. With some minor notes that reflect live coding as a practice, the focus is more or less on the notion of cognitive capitalism. What the talk/performance presents are some tentative steps towards a media archaeology of cognitive capitalism. In other words, what are the supportive, sustaining and conditioning techniques that contribute to the cerebral? In this context, we propose to step away from a cognitive as understood as immaterial or as inner life, and towards a cognitive that is distributed, supported, relayed and modulated continuously in a complex information ecology. We are interested in investigating forms of collaboration between code and sonic arts, and media theory, and investigate collaboration as a form of (extra-)institutional practice in contemporary arts and education field.
Complementing the biomedia-theme of the conference (Response:ability) of this year, the final panel of Transmediale 2011 featured two important writers in media theory and arts: Marie-Luise Angerer and Mark B.N. Hansen. Angerer was very interesting in her presentation that focused on the notion of affect, talking about Massumi, the disappearing half a second in registration of sensations, and dance, but I want to mention here especially Hansen (partly because of the selfish reason of having been recently occupied with the idea of time-critical media, and microtemporality).
Amusingly introduced in the programme as the other Mark Hansen – who teaches statistics at UCLA – this Mark Hansen at Transmediale is of course the author of New Philosophy for New Media and Bodies in Code; both important, interesting books in embodiment and the media artistic cultures of perception. As was pointed out during the session, partly by Hansen himself, his theoretical trajectory has moved in new directions during these years: from a very strong phenomenological focus influenced by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, to a much more Gilbert Simondon influenced Bodies in Code, and now he is framing his project through A.N.Whitehead. This is interesting, as it shows yet another contemporary cultural and media theorist moving in that direction. Well known are the Whitehead writings of Massumi and Manning in Montreal, and of course the recent Whitehead writings of Steven Shaviro, the debates around object oriented philosophy that take a lot aboard from Whitehead, and naturally the ideas of such pioneers as Isabelle Stengers and Bruno Latour. So Hansen as well has joined this crew enthusiastic about the superject instead of subject, and the distributed field of prehensions instead of the primacy of the human body and sensory system as the focal point in aesthetics.
Hansen’s current project is more generally framed as a move from objects to processes. Hansen argues that so much of media theory (including his own work) has been focusing on objects as the primary, uhm, object of media theory. Instead, contemporary culture of distributed ubiquitous media environments demands something else. The presentation itself was packed full of theoretical arguments that are hard to unpack in a good brief way, but I just want to point towards some key concepts.
Hansen argues that this new media culture demands new concepts – a new culture of media processes has to be complemented by a specificity paying attention to how it happens on such levels that are not always directly registered on the human sensorium. Interestingly, he pointed towards Guattari as well, even if not so strongly as talking about Whitehead. In short, the indebtedness to Guattari could be summarized through the idea that machines talk to machines before talking to us. Hansen takes this concretely, in a similar manner to Wendy Chun, and pays attention to how much happens in our media machines (take smart phones that all the time are connected due to the GPS system etc) before we actively use them. The sensibilities inherent in such regimes of software cultures are indeed beyond the normal accounted for 5 senses that media theory has traditionally recognized. And here kicks in Whitehead.
Instead of the body focus of previous (new) media theory, Whitehead offers ways to rethink embodiment. The body is in such a theoretical frame “a vast set, a society of sensibilities.” Similarly Whitehead complicates the notion of perception by two important specifications: perception as presentational immediacy, as it has been understood in so much of history of philosophy and perception as causal efficacy. Without me being able to go into enough detail here, causal efficacy points towards the way Whitehead wants to take into account the way actual entities in the world are created through their relations to other entities, preceding them, and in midst of which entities are determined. It points towards the processual nature of perception being born – not the end result, but the “sensory processes leading up to and informing perception.”
When Shaviro asked the question of how would contemporary cultural theory look like if we had focused more on Whitehead, instead of Heidegger as the 20th century philosopher, Hansen seems to ask: how could we bend Whitehead into a media theorist? Whitehead hardly wrote anything related to media or technology per se (even if writing lots on science which we can argue of course being of huge importance to any understanding of media culture). For Hansen, the key point is how Whitehead’s perspective affords us to think about nonperceptual sensation. It gives agency to the environment instead of the focal subject effected and affected by that environment, and offers the perspective of the superject for media theory: how the individual is the end result of the environmental datum prehended by this focal point.
This in a way pairs up with the nature of the processual environments – that when we need to talk about processes as the central “object” of media studies, we need to see this both in the sense how e.g. Whitehead can offer such theoretical perspectives (causal efficacy) as well as how the distributed, ubiquoitous software environments are processes, unfolding in their nature. This is where Hansen’s perspective ties together with the recent debates concerning time-critical perspectives that especially the Berlin Humboldt media theorists have promoted (again, see Axel Volmar’s Zeitkritische Medien, 2009, as well as Wolfgang Ernst’s writings). Yet, there is an important difference as Hansen seems to argue that it’s only the recent new media has made the processual approaches crucial. But is this not already the case for such earlier media as wireless, cinema even, and for example television? Hansen does not fully address why the earlier media of signal processing of various forms does not qualify for the microtemporal ideas he is arguing for, where the circulating nature of the electric, electromagnetic, and then electronic signal is processual. I would argue that here some media archaeology should step in and offer a broader perspective concerning technical media and time, affect of technological relations, and process.