No smoke without fire, although with the tear gassed Istanbul, Ankara and numerous other cities, one should say: no smoke without tears.
While things are unfolding on the streets of Turkey, the international audience of the events are trying to figure out: what is going on. Who are the demonstrators? Hence, kicks in the usual suspects of repertoire of explanations: is this like Occupy Wall St.? Is this the Turkish version of Arab Spring? Are the demonstrators a vocal minority, and we are just misperceiving lots of social media traffic as a major event?
Perhaps the question itself should be differently posed. There are lots of great commentaries floating around, longer texts with already now some excellent contexts of the events. Some of it suggests in a rather good way that we need alternatives than just choosing one existing model of explanation.
Perhaps what is unfolding in front of the international community is what Turkish people already knew: a corrupted and authoritarian culture of politics and business where having firm relations with the ruling party AKP is a benefit for a variety of jobs and economic success for private sector companies (see here for some context); lack of transparency in political decisions that however affect the majority of the people, such as the building of the third bridge or for instance in this Istanbul case, the demolition of Gezi park. The sentiment of dissatisfaction was there already in a way that was not just about secular vs. Islamists.
What is already being voiced is that “This is not about secularists versus Islamists, it’s about pluralism versus authoritarianism,” (quoted in The Economist).
Besides internally about Turkey, the events reveal a lot about the logic of capital: it benefits from authoritarian state measures and tight security controls. As for the case of Turkey, things are supposed to be fine on the economic front.
Interestingly, The Economist writes:
“Like most people, Turks tend to vote with their pockets. A decade of AK rule has brought unprecedented prosperity. Per-capita income has trebled, exports have increased nearly tenfold and Turkish banks are in good health”
But the problem is how much of this growth is exactly focused on the banks as main benefactors and how much of the consumption and investments is done only on credit money. If there is a major economic (read: construction business) bubble growing in Turkey and it bursts, things might very soon be very different – economically and politically. Even a lot of the middle class is actually still, despite university degrees and stable jobs, in a precarious situation.
In any case, the question ”Occupy or Tahrir” is actually: what is the specific case of Turkey? Besides revealing details of more global trends of how capitalism enjoys authoritarian regimes (see Zizek on this point) it demands the continuous question of what then is happening specifically in Turkey.
Discussing with my friends in Istanbul, one thing popped up when they narrate the events of the past days: even they, participating, just don’t know everything. They are not sure how things will develop, but they remain hopeful. There is a sense of momentum and an affect that binds across groups, but also the question “who are we”, referring to the protestors, is an open one. Perhaps it is open for a good reason, summarised in one of the placards from Istanbul.
It refers to the various attempts by the prime minister to publicly discredit the demonstrators. But it also gives an affective response, one example of the various texts and visuals that express a strong positive sentiment.
We are not sure who we are, but we will be the people.
A placard from Istanbul:
Day 1 we were the terrorists
Day 2 we were the provocateurs
Day 3 we were the protestors
Day 4 we became the people
Photograph by Baris Safran (via Jodi Dean).
“We have never been human: between animality and techne” is the new special issue of Angelaki. It is released just now and features a range of exciting articles – thanks to Ron Broglio for his work in getting this edited together.
More seriously, it is about visual and non-visual cultures of the eco crisis, and aesthetic epistemologies and ontologies of it all. It also elaborates on the term “medianatures” that I have been using recently. An abstract below.
This text focuses on how to think the visual culture of disappearance – more closely, disappearance of animals. It takes as its starting point the Ernst Jünger novel The Glass Bees from 1957 in order to start an excavation into obsolescence, animals and the ecological crisis. The aesthetic themes of visibility/invisibility are entangled with the ecological questions of disappearance and pollution. This sort of media ecological question is unravelled, furthermore, with examples concerning the mass extinction of bees, also discussed in Lenore Malen’s video installation The Animal That I Am (2009–10). In this way, it argues for a media theoretical understanding of the visual culture of ecocrisis as well as the complex question of epistemology of such a visibility/invisibility.
Huhtamo wrote a book on the moving panorama - Illusions in Motion – and here is an interview with him. So if media archaeology is what keeps you up all nights, dig in.
And if you are a lucky one, and in Paris, here is something connected. Below a press release of an exhibition endorsed by Huhtamo. The text below is from his keyboard.
Where Curiosity Cabinets, Dioramas, and Augmented Realities Meet (Erkki Huhtamo)
If you happen to be in Paris between now and the end of June, make sure not to miss the exhibition Virtualia: Fééries Numeriques, an unusual event featuring works by Jean-Paul Favand, collector, artist, “natural magician,” and the founder of the Musée des Arts Forains (Museum of Fairground Arts, Paris – Bercy). For years, Favand has been designing extraordinary exhibits for his huge museum. Using original objects from his collection as backdrops and projection surfaces, he has been turning then into magnificent animated spectacles by means of digital projections, or “video mapping.”
With his team of technical experts, Favand has created an outstanding mastery in this emerging field. However, there has been a problem: Musée des Art Forains is a private museum. Although it is open for banquets and organized events all year around, the general public is only able to visit it a few times a year on special occasions. It is therefore not so easy to experience its sumptuous displays that combine traditional fairgrounds and digital magic in the spirit of the Cabinets Fantastiques of the past.
For the first time, Favand has brought his imagination out of the museum, displaying his creations at the Centre des arts d’Enghien-les-Bains near Paris (a 15-minute train ride from Gare du Nord). What one experiences at Enghien-les-Bains, an idyllic lakeside resort town that seems very far from the French capital, is a series of curious and inspiring works one is tempted to call media archaeological. Although they use ideas of Favand’s museum displays and exhibits, that are also entirely new.
At first look the exhibition seems eclectic, but one soon discovers the common spirit behind everything. There are found objects like a Japanese doll, unusual pieces of wood, and a Chinese stone slab inserted in a wooden frame, all animated by projections. There are also two unique diorama canvases from Favand’s collection. They were originally displayed by a nineteenth-century touring show named Théatre Mécanique Morieux de Paris. Its remains were discovered some years ago and bought by Favand. A once so popular but lost medium re-emerges at Enghien-les-Bains, restored by Favand’s team of experts. Already experiencing the dioramas and their effects is worth the visit.
But there is more: the exhibition also includes a mechanical spectacle named La Fete du Soleil (the Festival of the Sun), also from the repertory of the Théatre Morieux. Ingenious mechanical marionettes traverse the scene, brought to life by digital projections. It is not possible to discuss all the exhibits here, but I would like finish be mentioning a favorite of mine, an interactive display that allows the visitor to manipulate a digital 3D simulation of a seemingly ordinary stone, much like the stones that form the pavements of Village de Bercy, a popular destination in the heart of Paris. No-one seems to pay any attention to them, except Favand.
This exhibit takes us to the heart of Favand’s art: whether it uses antique objects, found pieces of naturalia, or digital and interactive displays, it constitutes an extended act of looking. Favand persuades the spectator to stop and wonder. He seems to say: there is nothing prosaic or boring; everything is saturated with meanings and experiences; the task is to stop, pay attention, and wonder. Virtualia does exactly that. Its exhibits are not as spectacular as the ones at his museum (the exhibition hall at Enghien-les-Bains is rather limited), but the spirit animating them is the same. Go and see yourself!
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.
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)
Opening on the 30th of August, 5 pm, at the Winchester School of Art campus!
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 wrote this short catalogue text for Lenore Malen’s I am the Animal — also included stills (courtesy of and permission from Lenore Malen) from the exhibition:
The Media That Therefore We Are
It’s a matter of scales. If you are far enough away, and your perspective is mediated by a layer of concepts, abstractions, and an organizational eye, you might indeed see them as models of ideal society. It’s all order. Everyone does what they are supposed to. There is one Queen. No wonder the protofascist Maya the Bee was an ideal cartoon character for 1930s national-socialist Germany. One is tempted to see the idea of a strong leadership to which everyone submits as an example of sovereign power per se, even if, to be honest, the Queen does not choose to execute power — it happens much more intuitively, almost in a subconscious way. Of course, when it comes to bees, there is no such talk of subconscious; instinct used to be the word in the 19th century for this near mystical mode of organization. This is evident in, for instance, Maurice Maeterlinck’s The Life of the Bee (1901), which refers to “the spirit of the hive.”
But on another scale, it looks very different. Look closely enough and they become the aliens they are: their weird compound eyes composed of thousands of lenses, their six legs, non-human movement, jerky, non-mammal insides folded out. This has been the other story since the 19th century and the birth of modern entomology: insects as aliens, otherworldly non-humans, often seem almost to possess technology in their capacities to see, sense, and move differently. The insects are the Anti-McLuhan; technics does not start with the human but with the animal, the insect, and their superior powers of being-in the- world (the allusion to Heidegger is intentional).
Lenore Malen’s I Am The Animal intertwines the various histories, aesthetics, and idealizations of the bee community as well as the bee’s relations withbeekeepers. It’s all about relations, and establishing relations with our constitutive environments — including bees. Donna Haraway talks about companion species (specifically dogs, but other animals too) as formative of our being in the world; she discusses the ways in which those relations are formative of our becomings.
Our relation to insects is reflected in much more than the narrative aspect of Malen’s work. The immersive environment of the installation envelops the spectator in a milieu of becoming. The clips Malen uses are mini-thoughts, mini-brains, which are brought together with her digital software tools; the clips are memes that Malen excavates from online archives and audiovisual repositories, and composes into a three-channel envelope.
I Am The Animal poses the question: Can insects be our companion species? This is paradoxical in light of Derrida’s The Animal That Therefore I Am, to which Malen’s title refers. Derrida starts with the gaze of the animal — his cat, to be exact, lazily gazing at Derrida’s naked body. But catching the insect’s compound eyes is more difficult, if not impossible. For Malen, Derrida’s essay functions as a critique of subjectivity. Derrida continues to analyze how the cat does not feel its own nakedness, has no need of clothes, whereas we — as technical beings — surround our bodies, envelop ourselves in extensions, such as clothes. We are not only enveloped in cinema, media, and technology but in fundamental forms of shelter.
So do animals have technology? They might not plan buildings and produce external tools, but an alternative lineage claims that animals, insects and such, are completely technical. Henri Bergson was of such an opinion: even if humans are intelligent in the sense of being able to abstract, plan, and externalize their thoughts into tools, insects occupy technics in their bodies and embody intertwining with the world. The body itself is already technical. One could think of examples of insect architecture, of various stratagems of the body for defense or attack, of modes of movement, and of perception as media. If the body is media — as Ernst Kapp suggested in the 19th century and McLuhan later — then what kind of media does the insect suggest?
The three screens of I Am The Animal are rhythmic elements that deterritorialize our vision. A slowly progressing multiplication of viewpoints is the becoming-animal of perception that the installation delivers. The immersive space is also one of measured fragmentation into the compound vision of insects. Slow disorientation is one tactic of this mode of becoming; it points both to the world of insects and to the media in which we are immersed. The early avant-garde connection between the technical vision machine and the insect compound machine — in the words of Jean Epstein, “the thousand-faceted eyes of the insects” — creates a sense of space as split; perspective is multiplied into a variation. Malen’s I Am The Animal is about such forms of multiplicity.
The animal is incorporated into the machinated cultural assemblages of modernity; the disappearance of animals from urban cultures during the past couple hundred years is paralleled by the appearance of animals in various modern discourses from media to theory. We talk, see, incorporate animal energies. Akira Mizuta Lippit in Electric Animal (2000) writes how “the idioms and histories of numerous technological innovations from the steam engine to quantum mechanics bear the traces of an incorporated animality. James Watt and later Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Walt Disney, and Erwin Schrödinger, among other key figures in the industrial and aesthetic shifts of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, found uses for animal spirits in developing their respective machines, creating in the process fantastic hybrids.”
Animals as well as media are elements with which we become. Matthew Fuller in his essay “Art for Animals” (2008) identifies a two-fold danger in relation to art with/about nature: that we succumb to a social constructionism or that we embrace biological positivism. And yet, we need to be able to carve out the art/aesthetic in and through nature and animals in ways that involve the double movement back and forth between animality and humanity. Art for animals is one way, to quote Fuller: “Art for animals intends to address the ecology of capacities for perceptions, sensation, thought and reflexivity of animals.” What kind of perceptions and sensations are afforded us by media/ nature? And conversely, what worlds do we create in which animals and nature perceive, live, and think?