Winchester School of Art PhD students have a lovely exhibition up at Hartley library in Southampton. Image-Text-Object: Practices of Research features the range of practice-based research we engage in at the School but also underlines more broadly connections of theory and practice. Curated by Jane Birkin, the pieces illuminate through various different materials the critical audiovisual, installation and time-based mobilize as insights to cultural reality. From archives to gender culture, to non-Western perspectives, contexts of religon and culture and in general, image-text relationships, the pieces are themselves ways in which to unfold the methodologies of practice at a research-led art school (WSA is part of the Russell Group University of Southampton).
“Notes on Practice” the first pages of the short catalogue leaflet promises. “To text experimentally, to put to test; n. the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method, as opposed to theories relating to it; v. to perform an activity or exercise a skill repeatedly or regularly in order to acquire, improve or maintain proficiency.” The dictionary definition resonates with the manner of doing things as research. But the exhibition also reminds that theory itself is a practice that unfolds through its engagements – the necessity to stay open to the encounter of – the world in its audiovisual, affective materiality.
Art schools occupy an interesting role in post World War II Britain, addressed also in John Beck and Matthew Cornford’s Journal of Visual Culture-text “The Art School in Ruins“. Indeed, it’s an important realization that with the increase in generalised discourse about “creativity” which penetrates the social and economic fabric – including business-talk – the waning of art schools has been ensured by lack of public funding. It is telling of a current odd ideological production of reality of creative culture. In current contexts of importance of art and design, it is encouraging to see how notions of art practice emerging in a university context too can inform the wider set of academic and critical questions in visual culture and design; textile and fashion; as well as gender and political reality (of for instance post-Communist era as in one of the pieces).
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.
Technicities is a new book series, edited at the Winchester School of Art by my wonderful colleagues John Armitage, Ryan Bishop and Joanne Phillips. The series is published by Edinburgh University Press, and is promising to “publish the latest philosophical thinking about our increasingly immaterial technocultural conditions, with a unique focus on the context of art, design and media.” Armitage and Bishop are two of the co-editors of Cultural Politics-journal, which should give some idea what sort of books they are looking for.
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.
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!
I recently gave a talk about Torsten Lauschmann’s art. This took place in Southampton, at the Hansard gallery with my great colleague prof. Ryan Bishop. In my quite informal presentation, I picked up on points such as… (excerpts to follow):
What several of Lauschmann’s pieces conjure is a different way of seeing media than just as communication. Media is trickery, a way of modifying realities, and has been for a long time; deceptions of the senses, of virtual realities and false impressions – this is the work of media, which brings it closer to the military psy-ops, and a history of hallucinations, other realities and indeed – magic. In other words, forget the idealistic notions of media as communication between people to exchange messages – instead, entertainment worlds are even down to their physiological effects about tricking the eye, the ear and the mind in ways that attract and affect the spectator. Media is sometimes closer to sorcery, It can conjure and produce realities in very effective ways – think of the long lineage from indeed magic and sorcery to current PR culture… (Fuller and Goffey, Evil Media).
What is significant is perhaps exactly this imagining a parallel world of media that borrows from past. But what is borrowed are perhaps not always very suitable ideas. Yet such can be employed as tools of investigation, critical ways to see our current media culture. It can also be about picking up individual motifs, minor details or ideas, and working them into the art piece, like Lauschmann seems often to do. More generally, in differing ways such works mix the way in which we understand media time – it is not only a progression from the old to the new, but how ideas got discovered and rediscovered, recycled, like concretely in some recycling based DIY art; or in the midst of our reborn enthusiasm for 8-bit pixelated aesthetics, vinyl music listening, of retrogames you remember from 1980s, also old technology presents itself as an alternative way of understanding the new: to take an old piece of technology, visual or audio, and try to think how it enables a different way of understanding media aesthetics.
Defective ideas and forms become standardized as our ways to think of time and media.
“We make our journeys out there in the low light of the future, and return to the bourgeois day and its mass delusion of safety, to report on what we’ve seen. What are any of these ‘utopian dreams’ of ours but defective forms of time-travel?” ( Pynchon, Against the Day, 2006)
Couldn’t we say the same thing about the past: journeys to the past that are like defective forms of time-travel? To past times when old technologies were once new too, and puzzled and awed, with their low lighting, crackling, noise, and pixelated style? The obsolescent entertainment device, the pianola, melancholicly playing its tune in the middle of the room reminds of such time-travels from which Lauschmann poached ideas and devices that trigger much more than nostalgia.
In his part of this double act, Bishop talked about Lauschmann in relation to histories of automation, labour and for instance mechnical music, including the player piano.