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Urban Technologies and Air Pollution

August 1, 2017 1 comment

I have a new article out in Fibreculture-journal’s new special issue Computing the City. My text “The Sensed Smog: Smart Ubiquitous Cities and the Sensorial Body” addresses questions of environmentality and media, and mediated environments through the perspective of smog and air pollution. Data about air pollution functions in various ways in the construction of the subject in infrastructures of the technological city, but the broader context of air and technology is approached also in  speculative ways. To quote a short passage:

“For a sketch of an alternative ecological art history (on art and the Anthropocene, see Davis and Turpin, 2015), one could claim that ozone depletion relates to radical molecular art since the 1970s. The 1970s mark a visual art historical period caused by photodissociation of key chemical agents such as CFCs, freons, halons as well as solvents, propellants, etc. It is a weird period when one starts to consider it from this perspective: problems of refrigeration and the invention of products such as freon have their residual aftereffects in the upper atmosphere which, as historian John McNeill notes, have not really until now featured as an important role in human history. Usually things that concern us have happened in the lower spheres of the planet (McNeill, 2000: 52). History has been atmospherically biased towards things much closer to human headspace. But the modern historical period rather concretely consists of carbon dioxide, ozone and sulphur dioxide (McNeill, 2000: 52), too, and this is not a feature restricted to that one particular narrative-atmospheric space. The massive increase in CFC (chlorofluorocarbon) amounts has resulted in what could be called the ‘ultraviolet century’ (McNeill, 2000: 114). The effect of the ozone depletion as we have grown to know it, is the increase in penetration of UV-light/radiation through the stratosphere, resulting in a different light balance from the 1970s to approximately to the year 2070 (as the restoration of the ozone protection layer is a slow process). This form of art historical period is registered on the skin and the organisms of humans as increased cancer rates; in animals such as whales as similar epidermal reactions (Thomas, 2010); in plants and crops, etc. Smog itself is also visible in the increase in cardiovascular diseases, asthma and lung inflammations, asthma for example.”

You can find the article and the whole issue here. Computing the City-special issue is edited by Armin Beverungen, Florian Sprenger and Susan Ballard.

Insect Media, the Polish Translation: Owady i media

With a beautiful yellow cover, Insect Media comes out as a Polish translation: Owady i media! The translation is published by the Krakow based press Księgarnia Akademicka and the “Interpretations” series focusing on cultural studies, performance studies and new historicism. The series has published books such as Hans-Thies Lehmann’s “Postdramatic Theatre”, Erika Fischer-Lichte’s “Transformative Power of Performance”, Judith Butler’s “Antigone’s Claim”, Thierry Bardini’s Junkware and Freddie Rokem’s “Performing History”. A massive thanks to the series editors and the translators professor Małgorzata Sugiera and Dr. Mateusz Borowski for their work on the translation!

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Insect Media: An Archaeology of Animals and Technology (2010, University of Minnesota Press) is part of the trio of books that came out in English between 2007 and 2015, including also Digital Contagions (2007, 2nd. new edition with a preface by Sean Cubitt in 2016, Peter Lang Publishing) and A Geology of Media (2015, University of Minnesota Press). Insect Media won the 2012 Anne Friedberg Award for Innovative Scholarship (Society for Cinema and Media Studies, SCMS). Eugene Thacker kindly wrote about the book: “With Insect Media, Jussi Parikka offers a theory of media that challenges our traditional views of the natural and the artificial. Parikka not only understands insects through the lens of media and mediation, he also unearths an insect logic at the heart of our contemporary fascination with networks, swarming, and intelligent agents. Such a project requires the ability to interweave cultural theory with a deep understanding of the sciences—something for which Parikka is well-suited. Most importantly, Insect Media reminds us of the non-human aspect of media, communication, intelligence. Insect Media is a book that is sure to create a buzz.”

Some earlier reviews of Insect Media:

Theory & Event
Mute Magazine
Rhizome
WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly [PDF]

 

 

 

Conversations in Time: A Dialogue with Haroon Mirza

I was asked to be in dialogue with the visual and sound artist Haroon Mirza for the just released series of conversations that forms part of the Aarhus 2017 Capital of Culture-year programme. They are launched online now and feature many interesting dialogues and recordings.

Conversations in Time is a series of new dialogues inspired by Suzi Gablik’s important book, Conversations Before the End of Time (1995).

Taking off from the prescient dialogues transcribed in Gablik’s book, contemporary artists, writers and cultural thinkers ruminate on the question:

What is the purpose or role of art in an age of accelerating social change and environmental uncertainty?

New conversations will be added throughout the duration of the Aarhus European Capital of Culture 2017 Public Programme.

You can listen to our dialogue with Haroon here. Besides an engaging conversation partner, I was reminded that he is also a Winchester School of Art graduate (BA in Fine Art)!

And we are in excellent company: the other dialogues feature people like Marina Warner, Adrian Searle, Lara Pawson and several other influential writers, scholars, artists, etc.

On Disobedient Electronics

Here’s a short manual to what design can – and perhaps often, should – be about: “how to punch Nazis in the face, minus the punching”.

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Garnet Hertz’ new critical design zine Disobedient Electronics is a quick and rough, inspiring and useful manual for the Trump, Brexit, post-truth era that needs to address forms of actually working resistance that don’t however merely function only in the realm of already designated possibilities. Hence, throw in a good chunk of speculative design imaginary.

The protest zine is a collection of feminist and other social justice driven projects that carry forward a particular legacy of speculative design that is, in Hertz’s words, slightly less RCA/Dunne & Raby-style than it is confrontational and imaginary in the manner of the Critical Art Ensemble and the Yes Men. The selected projects cut through issues that tell a particular story about North America but also other geographic regions and political realities: issues of gun control and campus carry, gender pay gap, street protest kits, right to abortion, digital privacy and encryption feature centrally. Many of the projects appropriate a seemingly militant form: the Transparency Grenade, the sound cannon in the Device for The Emancipation of the Landscape and the I.E.D. (Improvised Empathetic Device) carry references to forms of violence that are however overturned into devices of creating alternative worlds. Sometimes the devices cross borders such as the Abortion Drone (Women on Waves & Co.) as a particularly inspiring way of diving into the issues of women’s rights across what is far from a unified political space of Europe.

The style of design proposed through the zine and the projects leads the reader to think of Brian Massumi’s ontopower: “a power that makes things come to be: that moves a futurity felt in the present, into a presence in the future.” This sort of a stance to design is useful as well as speaks to the sort of experiments Disobedient Electronics employs. And the projects that are featured are in many cases experiments in their own right – not only in terms of a device that is pitched and presented but as experiments in collective forms, imaginaries and situations. In many ways, you can observe how this fits in with the wider context of Hertz’ own work and The Studio for Critical Making at Emily Carr University of Art and Design, which he describes as a lab of sorts that combines research, humanities and building in ways that results in “technology that is more culturally relevant, socially engaged, and personalized.” Disobedient Electronics is a good example of such work that the project supports both in the space of the studio and in the context of wider discussions about the role of speculative critical practice.

 

AMT: An Office Manual

June 5, 2017 1 comment

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Together with Ryan Bishop we wrote this short Office Manual as a short introduction to some of the work at AMT.

Ryan Bishop and Jussi Parikka:

AMT: An Office Manual

The abbreviation of Archaeologies of Media and Technology, our research group, is AMT. This is not accidental, but for those picking up the German connotations, it also becomes “office”: das Amt. But why an office? An office for media theory and speculative practice? What follows is a brief manual for the Office at Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton.

Alongside the factory and the laboratory, the office is a place of modern media par excellence. Information travels through the office. Addresses are managed. Memos are written, passed on, transmitted, received, acted upon, archived. Some of this information is produced in the office; some comes from outside of it. Data becomes information in the office. Technologies of writing form the office as a site of media: the typewriter among the most central ones, as an office technology that transforms the inscription of meaning across the 20th century. The typewriter goes “click”, as Vilém Flusser reminded us, articulating it as the sound of mechanical operations. The typewriter, and the world it represents, leads to the centrality of calculation: “We are therefore forced to calculate rather than to write, and if we insist on writing, we have to go ‘click’”.

Besides typewriters, it’s the dictaphones, calculating machines, adding machines, telegraphs, printers, computers, filing cabinets, faxes, teletypes, telephones, photocopiers and other technologies – some more grey than others – that are the backbone of the administrative infrastructure of modern culture. Hence instead of asking “why office?” it is more apt to ask if you did not receive the memo: technical media was always centrally about the office anyway. At the beginnings of the entry of modern technologies of calculation, transmission and control stood the office and the office clerk, something that great documenter of modern bureaucracy Franz Kafka knew all too well.

Offices occupy the university too. The centrality university spaces revolve around the office, the seminar room, the lecture hall, the studio, the library and a couple of other places but in the administrative organisation of what goes where, the office is central. As one of the three institutions in the West that have survived since the Middle Ages (in addition to the Church and the Military), the university generates offices that in turn generate the university. To speak of media technologies through the office rather than the usual media vocabularies of mass media reminds of us of this other, extended definition of media: techniques and technologies of inscription, transmission, analysis and backbones of various imaginaries that situate contemporary culture in a broader historical context. The office is out of joint. Give me an office and I will raise a world.

Our Office, AMT, is a place of connections. It is a platform for that space where the studio meets the library, the archive meets the lab; these disciplinary spaces are in conversation in ways that underscore the ineluctable continuum of theory and practice. Our Office is interested in the practices of theory in technological culture as much as it is working through projects that are practice-led and feed conceptual work too. We are always interested in the inseparable relations between the material and the immaterial, the synchronic and the diachronic. Our Office is large. It contains multitudes.

The Office also operates as a speculative platform. The media-supported backbone of culture is also one of imaginaries and speculative practices that often look like an avant-garde arts version of a writing machine. Office projects engage with technologies of inscription but not merely traditional writing. The work of image sensors, for example, often operates as an important but less investigated element in digital visual culture. Similarly visual planetary remote sensing as an extension of non-human locations of seeing, processing and transmitting images outside the human operator or analyst is an exceptionally powerful, ubiquitous and complex set of technologies of inscription. Besides visual forms of knowledge in technological culture, we have examined what digital data does to cultural institutions; how infrastructures reinscribe forms of public and private; how the internet of things prescribes also the internet of cultural things. In other projects the archival image is investigated through art practices, forms of description that also expand to Situations of Writing, a project led by our colleagues in the Critical Practices group.

It’s all part of post-digital culture – a topic of investigation as well as a reality in which the Office is situated. Our Office also works with other institutions, such as our partner transmediale.

The Office, of course, does practice media archaeology: investigations into the historical conditions of existing technologies and their practices, uses, misuses, abuses, missed opportunities and potential speculation about art, science, technology, hyphenated together. The Office Manual consists of techniques of tactical misunderstanding and misuse, of wrong paths that produce much more interesting meeting agendas than the assumed routes. The linear narratives of many technological emergences, just as those for scientific discovery, often discount the accidents, blocked pathways and fortuitous combinations that often result in teleological triumphalism. The Office urges those complications to the heroic narrative to be accounted for and considered. Because, as we have to acknowledge, only what can be typed, tabulated and filed exists: before any narrative, there is a technology and a clerk performing the work of inscription.

AMT Logo // thank you to Dr Jane Birkin

On Media Meteorology

I wrote a short text for J.R. Carpenter’s just recently published book The Gathering Cloud (Uniformbooks), a book of which engages with the history of meteorology and various archival material about the weather and clouds in hendecasyllabic verse. The Gathering Cloud came out also as web-based work that you can find here but I warmly recommend the book itself too. Do also get in touch if you are interested in reviewing her book.

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Below my short introductory-kind of a text, published with permission by the press.

On Media Meteorology

Every time it rains, media history soaks into our skin. Clouds and their seemingly light ephemeral nature are full of the chemical remnants of the on-going industrial age, what some call the Anthropocene . Human science and technology have penetrated the hard geological substrates of our culture and made the air part of our chemical cultural history. Many prefer too think of the current informational culture as one of light, marked by the weightlessness of fibre optics and the speed of digital transactions, and yet it is also one of weight – of minerals, metals, energy consumption, and entropy.

The weather comes and goes but our enthusiasm for it persists. To speak of weather is to articulate a continuum between humans and their environment. It’s what’s high above our heads and what sustains life beneath our feet that should concern us most. A breath of air. We inhale the weather. We exhale it. We measure it, we paint it, we verbalize it, we speak and write poetry about it.

J.R. Carpenter’s The Gathering Cloud is both a condensation of media history and a comment on the current environmental weight of clouds. This book reminds us that cloud computing is one of the backbones of contemporary culture. The particularly interesting thing about cloud computing is that it is so heavily about climate control: server farms are carefully managed environments that cater to the well-being of the machines that ignorantly and yet with high-speed accuracy convey the things we talk about online, from #lolcats to emails, from memes to alternative facts. Of course, clouds were technological long before cloud computing. As Carpenter writes, J.M.W. Turner’s painting “Rain, Steam and Speed” (1844) is about the meeting of a new technological world with the air of the planet: the exhaust of steam trains and of the massive factories that define the particular clouds of our climate change era mix with air to create vast fields of waste, both visible and invisible.

Clouds are painted, engraved, and increasingly now also computed in weather simulations and forecast models that both the holiday goers and the military are constantly keenly following. Clouds and the weather have been continuously remediated through a history of visual technologies and strategies of representation, and still, as Carpenter points out, they resist a stable ontology. They resist a lot of things: they are made of constant perturbations, micro-movements, dynamic turbulence. This struggle with representation is not just about showing what’s up there but also bringing it back down here as material for analysis: nowadays, clouds are simulated and again, and so return to digital cloud (computing) platforms.

Carpenter evokes the Greek history of the four elements (earth, air, fire and water) as part of media and visual history. As such, her project relates to recent work in both contemporary technological art and cultural theory interested in the environment. She draws upon John Durham Peters’ The Marvellous Clouds that starts investigations of media from their elemental existence as nature. As Peters argues, the sky has been for a long period considered as a place of media. Read as signs by Ancient Babylonians, as exhalations by Ancient Greek Philosophers, only in our age of technical media has the sky become the object of another sort of analysis. The sky is where visual media starts, as light filtered through the atmospheric levels. But light is not the only element of interest. The other chemical realities of clouds must also be included in this story.

The Gathering Cloud presents a series of material transformations that are made visible through a media history executed as digital collage and print publication, hendecasyllabic verse and critical essay. Carpenter’s methodology as a writer is closely linked to the field of media archaeology (a field interested in artistic, surprising, experimental, and sometimes imaginary ways of understanding contemporary media culture though the past). But it would be as fair to call her work a poetic media meteorology: it shows passionate ways of writing the sky, the digital cloud, and the climate changes that we live in, revealing gaps between our concepts and realities of the environment. And don’t be mistaken by airy the connotations of the word – the cloud is already well deep in our lungs as well as our minds.

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A still from J. R. Carpenter’s The Gathering Cloud http://luckysoap.com/thegatheringcloud

The Residual Media Depot summer school

I had the pleasure of being one of the participants in the Media Archaeology summer school in Montreal at the Residual Media Depot (Concordia). Invited by Darren Wershler, and teaching alongside also Lori Emerson, we had a wonderful group of participants from Canada, Finland, USA, UK and Spain whose own projects and their work at the Depot during the week demonstrated a fantastically broad spectrum of what media archaeology can perform.

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I could not emphasise the word perform enough: while we engaged with the theoretical limits and limitations of theoretical work in and around media archaeology, including how it interfaces with for example infrastructure studies, the various probes the students presented and the hands-on work in the Depot investigated the idea of collections as part of the methodology. The performative aspect of media archaeology – and theory broadly speaking – allows to both see it as a situated practice that benefits from its access to institutions and collections as well as creates the space for such to exist: to imagine a media archaeology lab or a collection becomes also a projective way of engaging with the current themes of reshifting humanities infrastructure and institutional changes. As Wershler and Lori Emerson, the director of the Media Archaeology Lab at Boulder, Colorado, also underlined, it is through the particular materiality and access to collections that one can think differently in relation to what are often deemed objects of (media) cultural heritage.

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Relating the course’s themes to also his own research, Wershler explained how his interest in the cultural life of signals builds on work in the Depot too. To engage in the work of assembly through old but still functioning systems one is led to understand the various ways the life of signals is constantly constructed and re-constructed across multiple fields of agency from hobbyists to the mini-industry building the various technological tools for an afterlife of for example consoles.

Media archaeology embodies multiple temporalities. The different theoretical frameworks from Erkki Huhtamo to Siegfried Zielinski to Wolfgang Ernst are different solutions to the problem of time – how to approach time differently in methodological ways and in ways that understand technical temporality. For example, Ernst’s ways of approaching time criticality and temporal operationality are something that both offer a different ontological take on technology and also can act as interesting guides in how we work with collections such as the Depot.

In my view, the Residual Media Depot was a perfect platform for the workshop. Wershler had designed the week as a mix of theoretical investigations, student probes and practice-based work that functioned somewhere between maker methodologies, art practices and an archival interest in collections that are important for media theory too. The collection is focused on cultures and technologies of gaming with a special focus on consoles, but as Wershler emphasises, it is not a game archaeology depot. The consoles and the material around them is an entry point to media history and signal culture.

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In several ways, the Depot’s work aligns nicely with the Media Archaeology Lab but also with our AMT group: to establish a framework and an enabling situation for a research-teaching continuum that is interested as much in practice-based work as it is in explicating what practices of theory are. All of this feeds also as part of the Lab Book we are writing together.

You can find more information about the Depot on their website and on the same site you can find all the student probes from our week of Media Archaeology.

The Residual Media Depot (RMD) is a project of the Media History Research Centre in the Milieux Institute at Concordia University.

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