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The Elastic System launches online

September 10, 2018 Leave a comment

Richard Wright’s art project the Elastic System has launched now online too. Originally commissioned as part of our AHRC funded project Internet of Cultural Things, the piece was first a temporary installation at the British Library (and subsequently touring to Hartley Library, University of Southampton where it was presented with support from Dr Jane Birkin and AMT).  Please find below the Press Release for the online launch. I myself am currently writing a text on art practices, library infrastructures and contemporary cultures of data in cultural institutions.

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Press Release

www.elasticSystem.net

Follow: https://twitter.com/ElasticSystem

You are invited to visit the new high resolution version of the ELASTIC SYSTEM, an artwork by Richard Wright in collaboration with the British Library.

The ELASTIC SYSTEM was produced during a year-long artist-in-residency at the British Library and is the first artwork to be given access to their core electronic networks and databases.

The work takes the form of an interactive portrait of the C19th librarian Thomas Watts, an obscure but important figure in the early history of information technology. In 1840 Thomas Watts invented his “elastic system” of storage for the British Library to cope with the enormous growth in their collections that was threatening to overwhelm them. This photomosaic has been generated from 4,300 books as they are currently stored in the Library basements at St Pancras, an area not normally accessible to the public. The “Elastic System” functions like a catalogue, allowing people to visually browse part of the British Library’s collections, something which has not been possible since Watts’ time. Furthermore, each book is connected live to the Library’s electronic requesting system. By clicking on a book you can find out more about the item and how to request it from the Library. If you do request a book, it is removed from the mosaic to reveal a second image underneath. This image is a portrait of the staff who work in the underground storage basements, the hidden part of the Library’s modern requesting system.

In order to create the second image, the artist spent two days working with the basement staff at the St. Pancras site, taking hundreds of photographs. With a collection as large and as diverse as the British Library’s, its successful functioning depends on a well tuned human element, which although it is as essential as the electronic networks, is less visible and less appreciated.

After being exhibited as an installation at the British Library, the Hartley Library and the Digital Catapult centre, the “Elastic System” has now been optimised and rebuilt at double the resolution. It is being released as a public web site on September 9th to mark the anniversary of the death of Thomas Watts in 1869.

This work is part of an AHRC funded research project called “The Internet of Cultural Things”, a partnership between the artist Richard Wright, Dr Mark Cote (KCL) and Professor Jussi Parikka (Winchester School of Art) with wide representation from the British Library including Jamie Andrews, Head of Culture and Learning, Dr Aquiles Alencar Brayner and Dr David Waldock. The aim is to use digital data and the creative arts to transform the way people and public institutions interact. The “Elastic System” uses Watts early C19th insights into database access to create a new catalogue out of visual metadata (digital photographs), making it a portrait that is also an extension of his work.

Richard Wright is an artist working in animation, moving image and interactive media. An archive of his work can be found here: www.futurenatural.net

Email: contact@elasticsystem.net

The artist has written three blog posts about their research behind this project:

https://internetofculturalthings.com/2016/06/08/where-is-the-library/

https://internetofculturalthings.com/2016/06/18/what-can-you-do-with-a-library/

https://internetofculturalthings.com/2016/09/01/elastic-system-how-to-judge-a-book-by-its-cover/

Google Photos: https://tinyurl.com/ElasticSystem-images

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Machine Learned Futures

September 6, 2018 3 comments

We are with Abelardo Gil-Fournier writing a text or two on questions of temporality in contemporary visual culture. Our specific angle is on (visual) forms of prediction and forecasting as they emerge in machine learning: planetary surface changes, traffic and autonomous cars, etc. Here’s the first bit of an article on the topic (forthcoming later we hope, both in German and English).

“’Visual hallucination of probable events’, or, on environments of images and machine learning”

I Introduction

Contemporary images come in many forms but also, importantly, in many times. Screens, interfaces, monitors, sensors and many other devices that are part of the infrastructure of knowledge build up many forms of data visualisation in so-called real-time. While data visualisation might not be that new of a technical form of organisation of information as images, it takes a particularly intensive temporal turn with networked data that has been discussed for example in contexts of financial speculation.[1] At the same time, these imaging devices are part of an infrastructure that does not merely observe the microtemporal moment of the “real”, but unfolds in the now-moment. In terms of geographical, geological and broadly speaking environmental monitoring, the now moment expands in to near-future scenarios in where other aspects, including imaginary are at play. Imaging becomes a form of nowcasting, exposing the importance of understanding change changing.

Here one thinks of Paul Virilio and how “environment control” functions through the photographic technical image. In Virilio’s narrative the connection of light (exposure), time and space are bundled up as part of the general argument about the disappearance of the spatio-temporal coordinates of the external world. From the real-space we move to the ‘real-time’ interface[2] and to analysis of how visual management detaches from the light of the sun, the time of the seasons, the longue duree of the planetary qualitative time to the internal mechanisms of calculation that pertain to electric and electronic light. Hence, the photographic image that is captured prescribes for Virilio the exposure of the world: it is an intake of time, and, an intake of light. Operating on the world as active optics, these intakes then become the defining temporal frame for how environments are framed and managed through operational images, to use Harun Farocki’s term, and which then operationalize how we see geographic spaces too. The time of photographic development (Niepce), or “cinematographic resolution of movement” (Lumière), or for that matter the “videographic high definition of a ‘real-time’ representation of appearances”[3] are part of Virilio’s broad chronology of time in technical media culture.

But what is at best implied in this cartography of active optics is the attention to mobilization of time as predictions and forecasts. For operations of time and production of times move from meteorological forecasting to computer models, and from computer models to a plethora of machine learning techniques that have become another site of transformation of what we used to call photography. Joanna Zylinska names this generative life of photography as its nonhuman realm of operations that rearranges the image further from any historical legacy of anthropocentrism to include a variety of other forms of action, representation and temporality.[4] The techniques of time and images push further what counts as operatively real, and what forms of technically induced hallucination – or, in short, in the context of this paper, machine learning – are part of current forms of production of information.

Also in information society, digital culture, images persist. They persist as markers of time in several senses that refer not only to what the image records – the photographic indexicality of a time passed nor the documentary status of images as used in various administrative and other contexts – but also what it predicts. Techniques of machine learning are one central aspect of the reformulation of images and their uses in contemporary culture: from video prediction of the complexity of multiple moving objects we call traffic (cars, pedestrians, etc.) to satellite imagery monitoring agricultural crop development and forest change. Such techniques have become one central example of where earth’s geological and geographical changes become understood through algorithmic time, and also where for instance the very rapidly changing vehicle traffic is treated alike as the much slower earth surface durations of crops. In all cases, a key aspect is the ability to perceive potential futures and fold them into the real-time decision-making mechanisms.

The computational microtemporality takes a futuristic turn; algorithmic processes of mobilizing datasets in machine learning become activated in different institutional context as scenarios, predictions and projections. Images run ahead of their own time as future-producing techniques.

Our article is interested in a distinct technique of imaging that speaks to the technical forms of time-critical images: Next Frame Prediction and the forms of predictive imagining employed in contemporary environmental images (such as agriculture and climate research). While questions about the “geopolitics of planetary modification”[5] have become a central aspect of how we think of the ontologies of materiality and the Earth as Kathryn Yusoff has demonstrated, we are interested in how these materialities are also produced on the level of images.

Real time data processing of the Earth not as a single view entity, but an intensively mapped set of relations that unfold in real time data visualisations becomes a central way of continuing the earlier more symbolic forms of imagery such as the Blue Marble.[6] Perhaps not deep time in the strictest geological terms, agricultural and other related environmental and geographical imaging are however one central way of understanding the visual culture of computational images that do not only record and represent, but predict and project as their modus operandi.

This text will focus on this temporality of the image that is part of these techniques from the microtemporal operation of Next Frame Prediction to how it resonates with contemporary space imaging practices. While the article is itself part of a larger project where we elaborate with theoretical humanities and artistic research methods the visual culture of environmental imaging, we are unable in this restricted space to engage with the multiple contexts of this aspect of visual culture. Hence we will focus on the question of computational microtime, the visualized and predicted Earth times, and the hinge at the centre of this: the predicted time that comes out as an image. The various chrono-techniques[7] that have entered the vocabulary of media studies are particularly apt in offering a cartography of what analytical procedures are at the back of producing time. Hence the issue is not only about what temporal processes are embedded in media technological operations, but what sounds like merely a tautological statement: what times are responsible for a production of time. What times of calculation produce imagined futures, statistically viable cases, predicted worlds? In other words, what microtemporal times are in our case at the back of a sense of a futurity that is conditioned in calculational, software based and dataset determined system?

[1] Sean Cubitt, Three Geomedia, in: Ctrl-Z 7, 2017.
[2] Paul Virilio, Polar Inertia, London-Thousand Oaks-New Delhi, 2000, S. 55.
[3] Ebenda, S.61
[4] See Joanna Zylinska, Nonhuman Photography, Cambridge (MA) 2017.
[5] Kathryn Yusoff, The Geoengine: geoengineering and the geopolitics of planetary modification, in: Environment and Planning a 45, 2013, S. 2799-2808.
[6] See also Benjamin Bratton, What We Do Is Secrete: On Virilio, Planetarity and Data Visualisation, in: John Armitage/Ryan Bishop (Hg.), Virilio and Visual Culture, Edinburgh 2013, S. 180–206, hier S. 200-203.
[7] Wolfgang Ernst, Chronopoetics. The Temporal Being and Operativity of Technological Media, London-New York 2016.

Slow Violence – No Man’s Land

My short essay-booklet A Slow Contemporary Violence came out in 2016 in the Sternberg Press series The Contemporary Condition that is continuing in full swing. Below is a short excerpt from my contribution to the series. The excerpt is the passage on Güven İncirlioğlu’s photograph installation touching on the 100th anniversary of WWI. One can consider it still as rather apt timing, including how it speaks about the war that never ended and in its own way, continuing themes that relate to Rob Nixon’s thesis about slow violence which is also one of the reference points for my whole essay.

Screen Shot 2018-07-29 at 13.25.25

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I want to address the idea of temporal conglomerations and deep times of contemporary geopolitics as slowness or long term durations that unfold as not immediate for the human perception. I want to start by way of photographic art.

Parikka contemporary figure 1.jpg

Fig. 1: A close up of “Her Taraf – No Man’s Land” by Güven İncirlioğlu. Used with permission.

As part of a selection of works from the 3rd and 4th Çanakkale Biennial in Turkey,Güven İncirlioğlu’s installation piece “Her Taraf – No Man’s Land” from 2014 is one of the many art and culture commentaries about the Gallipoli campaign, also known as Dardanelles Campaign, that took place on Turkish soil during the First World War. The events have been commemorated over the past times on many occasions and by many institutions from official governments to universities to cultural institutions. The war and its relation to modern Europe and global geopolitics has multiple narratives, and for historians of media and technology, it has been marked as a turning point of the twentieth century. The war was also a mobilization of new technologies including the wristwatch and different solutions for wireless communication on the front line; the media connections were important in military operations, but they also started to enter the private sphere of the domestic life. In addition, the chemical technologies presented a more efficient way of destruction from the air both as planes and as chemical warfare, which was employed on the European front effectively; such also formed the backbone of the pesticide-enhanced agriculture of the twentieth and twenty-first century.

Many of the military operations and events took place on the outskirts of our current version of Europe, including Turkey and the Ottoman Empire. A hundred years after the war, and a hundred years after the start of the naval assault by Britain and France, on 25 April 1915, the digital photographs in the installation tell a partial historical story about what remains after the war and its devastation. The images do not, however, feature the usual iconography of human memory: of old photographs juxtaposed with other objects of memories; of faces as souvenirs of the old grainy image era transported in photography. It is a story not so much of faces but of landscapes of war and technology, of chemistry and destruction.

The photographic installation is a mini-landscape that occupies one wall. The images commemorate the First World War as an event of technological warfare of massive ecological scales. But it also becomes clear that the commemoration works in alternative ways; it is less as a celebration of the Ottoman victory than a subtle sort of a monument that entangles social history and natural history, and acts as a conglomeration of different temporal regimes. Even this distancing from the nationalist narrative is worthwhile noticing in the midst of the years of strong religiously tuned nationalist rhetoric and policy measures of current day Turkey. But the temporal politics of the images works differently. Enhanced by the atmosphere of silence surrounding the digital images placed on the walls of the Depo-gallery, İncirlioğlu’s piece is described as a commentary on the two times of “human life and the time of nature,” as the accompanying text on the wall informs. A usual historical narrative builds the memory around the 100 year milestone from the events, but the piece reminds of the multiple ways of narrating and recording time — not a passing of time, but a slow chemical sedimentation of time; it reminds how time is not merely a passing of events, but a milieu of multiple ways of accounting for it in the midst of human and non-human agents. It expresses a landscape of time, but not a landscape of the usual mastery through which we have been accustomed to think of nature in art history. It is a landscape, which we are still involved in.

Parikka contemporary figure 2.jpg

Fig. 2: Installation view at Depo Gallery of “Her Taraf – No Man’s Land”. Used with permission.

The title “No Man’s Land” refers to the contested zone between the trenches that during the long months until January 1916 changed occupation many times. It brings to mind the various historical narratives of human misery that the existential non-space of the trench meant — both in terms of anxiety of waiting, the deadly warfare and also the stink of diseased bodies.

For material stories of the war, writers have addressed “bunker archaeology”5 as the architectural legacy of war that transforms into the concrete aesthetics of the Cold War that still lingers on in port and other towns bombed down during the latter of the two world wars, and replaced by Brutalist building blocks in many of their central quarters. But İncirlioğlu extends from the social and human history of ruins to what lies beneath the architectural as its ground, the soil and the seabed. His photographic installation talks of the invisible chemical traces of dead bodies, body parts, barbed wired, gun shells, mines, dead trees, and flora — a natural history of the intensity of the war localized back then in Çanakkale but one that seems in its own way planetary. The geopolitical aim of landing through Çanakkale to reach Istanbul never succeeded according to the plans, but the geophysical legacy of such warfare in the age of advanced machinery left its concrete trace in the soil. İncirlioğlu’s meditation is not, however, only about that particular piece of land, the landing site and its territories formed of trenches, blue waters giving way to the war ships that connected to the supply routes, distant ports in England and other places, and many other operations; it also includes a global perspective.

He continues by way of a short biospheric meditation of technical war: “Today, it is possible to say that the global state of war that also encompasses the biosphere has been going on for a century.”6 İncirlioğlu continues referring to the annihilation of masses in the Middle East, Africa, Asia — an extension of the continued war; on the other, the “total destruction of human habitats, rivers, forests and the biological-mineral world is being processed on by the neo-liberal policies worldwide. In this context, today’s Istanbul’s northern forests, quarries, African gold mines, vast territories of fracking in Canada and all other sites of destruction […] resemble the scene of a ‘no man’s land’.”7

The story told was not after all a commemoration of a war that ended but the war that never ended ; the war that facilitated an entry of new sorts of technical forms of control,  regulation, production of chemicals and more — an apt theme considering we are living in a sort of a continuous Cold War8 defined by territorial claims, energy wars, realpolitik of terrorism entangled with geopolitics, movements of biomass that expresses itself as the human suffering of forced refugee movements. Beginnings and endings become only temporary markers for narratives that are insufficient for the complexity of this time. The sort of a war we are addressing does not lend itself to easy stories of ideological oppositions but to complex networks, which entangle strategies and tactics with environmental realities and the finitude of the world of energy and materials. These sorts of wars are geopolitical in the fundamental sense, and do not involve just the two sides of troops in trenches. Indeed, it moves the focus from the human actors, soldiers, tragedies of personal, family and other scales to those of soil, the ground, the air — an elemental tragedy that is the backdrop in which a drama of the Anthropocene might unfold. It is also a tragedy that comes out clearest in its slowness.

Antropobsceno

The Anthrobscene, the short booklet originally published by University of Minnesota Press, is now available in Spanish. Published by the Centro de Cultura Digital (in Mexico City) as Antropobsceno it is also now available as free e-pub download. The booklet was published in Portuguese in Brazil earlier this year.

Here’s Nora Khan’s earlier review essay about the Anthrobscene.

 

Thousands of Tiny Futures

July 5, 2018 1 comment

Below is a text I was commissioned to write for the Seoul Museum of Art(SeMA)’s exhibition “Digital Promenade: 22nd Century Flâneur” for the 30th Anniversary of SeMA. The text will be out soon in their catalogue but here is already the (not copyedited) version online for those interested.

Thousands of Tiny Futures

0 Ruinscape

To state the obvious: the interesting thing about future or futurisms is not really about the future but the operative sense of this temporal tense. The now and here of the work of futurisms is inscribed in words, images and sounds; it is painted as landscapes and visible in such traces that constantly expand the particular living and breathing space of the present. Future is involved in forming what the now is, and even more so, what times are our contemporaries.

Times are entangled and switch places; markers of fossilised pasts appear as imagined indexes of futures too. Future fossils – a topic that ranges from the 19th century geologists and popular culture to contemporary imaginaries of a projected sense of now – comes out in other ways than merely ruins of contemporary landscapes of consumerism. Why are so many artistic and popular culture examples of future landscapes of fossils an imaginary of a future that repeats the trope of its own invention – that is, the modernity of technological objects that defined its start are also the defining features of its seeming end? As such, it is a recursive imaginary that merely tells what we knew already since Walter Benjamin (1999, 540) at least:

“As rocks of the Miocene or Eocene in places bear the imprint of monstrous creatures from those ages, so today arcades dot the metropolitan landscape like caves containing the fossil remains of a vanished monster: the consumer of the pre-imperial era of capitalism, the last dinosaur of Europe.”

Instead of the cyber cool aesthetics of future fossils of technology that merely returns to the consuming human subject of digital gadgets, consider what times are we living in now: times of toxic ecologies in which the future tense takes different forms for different forms of life (cf. Tsing et al 2017). Consider futurisms and the temporal imaginaries not purely as the solitary “when” but as the contemporary question of where and to whom? What sites are identified as part of this futuristic pull, where are futures placed, how are they inscribed in contemporary cityscapes and landscapes as if signs of things to come? What else besides the Blade Runner styled Asian cities are indexical of what counts as future (Zhang 2017) – and what else than remnants of the visible markers of technological now of gadgets is significant in terms of this out of place of a future present?

Hence, a shift in focus: away from a fetishisation of future that inspires the Anthropocene-led aesthetics of future ruinscapes [Note: a point also raised in Joanna Zylinska’s Nonhuman Photography book] towards an analysis and art of contemporary signs and images. These ruinscapes involve imagining what time is this place in and where it lies and is it seen from. A good example would be Point Nemo, a region in the South Pacific pretty much more imagined to most than actually visited by almost anyone. And yet, it is perhaps one of the most apt sites to consider as a fossil site: it is where the international space agencies are dumping much of their retired space technologies, in no man’s waters, also coined “the least biologically active region of the world ocean” (in the words of oceanographer Steven D’Hondt ) because of its remote location and particular rotating current. With its lifeless bottom of an ocean, with dumped technologies from Cold War to the current day practices, it seems a likely site for a future fossil ruinscape very much existent now – as undramatically invisible as the disappearing ice that defines the transformation of much of planet’s expected future.

No mountain of garbage for art photography and the white cube, no site of exquisite trash and remnants of most familiar everyday things, but just the disappearance on the seabed, and the disappearance of ice – the future arrives as a temperature shift.

This short text engages in this topic through figures or fields of time that are also visible in contemporary media theory and art practice: archaeologies, futurisms and futurities. All of the briefly discussed themes relate to different ways of engaging with time and futurity, with fossils and fossil fuels, including the ones that are predicted as part of constant financial speculation on the energy market. The past was already a fossil that determined the mess we are in.

I Archaeologies

At first thought, it is somewhat odd to assume that archaeology – or media archaeology – would have anything to say about futures and futurities, only about the past. The way in which archaeology has for a long time referred to much more than just the specific discipline is here however the significant cue: archaeology has infiltrated philosophy and the humanities from Immanuel Kant to Sigmund Freud to Walter Benjamin to Friedrich Kittler and contemporary media archaeologies and presents itself as more than a specialised discipline. As Knut Ebeling (2016, 8) argues, these various philosophical and artistic wild archaeologies present not merely an image of layered pasts but they become sites of practices of experimentation with “a material reflection of temporality that began in the 18th century and reached a definite climax in the 20th century.”

The epistemological figure and field of archaeology becomes then less a complementary sidetrack to the work of history than its alternative: instead of narrating, it counts, instead of text, it applies to the other sort of modalities of materiality as sound, image, number, which is also why it has become the preferred term for so many media theorists. Furthermore, as Ebeling continues referring to Giorgio Agamben, the archaeologist maps what is originating, what is emerging and what is productive of new temporalities. It becomes a map of times of different sort, which often are recognize as stretched between the layers of the past and their effect on the present, but what we could also develop into the recognition how they issue different potentials of futures.

Archaeologies are also maps of futures – or more likely, they complexify the linear temporal coordinates as past, present and future. Media archaeologies work with a different set of physics than any assumed simple causality (cf. Elsaesser 2016), which is likely one of the explanations why it has become such an interesting field of resources for artistic work too. Not just the materials of the the quirky retropasts, but the subtle definitions and search for other times in which media from cinema to AI is also part of production of that time.

In this context the media archaeological perspective to fossils would not be merely about searching for an image of a future fossil, but to understand how the image itself is premised on the existence of fossil fuel. While the technical image from the photograph to the cinematic is according to Nadia Bozak (2011, 29) the perfect crystallisation of how we, in her words, capture, refine and exploit the sun, it is also the sun energy in fossil fuels such as oil that mobilizes the industrial culture of which technical media is one part. Bozak refers to the wording by Alfred Crosby that oil is the “fossilized sunshine”. This wording is an apt start to establishing the link between energy and the particular different sort of mobilization of light and sun that we can speak of as practices of visual culture (cf. Cubitt 2014). The first fossils are, then, the images and the fossils are also imprints. There is a surprisingly tight link between the history of technical images and the history of mobilization of fossil fuels, which also Bozak (2011, 34) observes:

“The relationship between sun and cinema, light and the film environment, is especially apparent when cinema is juxtaposed against current environmental rhetoric, which ultimately fuses the fossil fuel with the fossil image, both manifestations, mummifications, of captured light.”

The forms of energy and their forms of capture as technical media present a new time – both in the sense of technical media time, and in the sense that pertains to the massive changes in environmental conditions of living in contexts of the capitalocene.

II Futurisms

If future fossils were already embedded in the history of fossils as fuel, what becomes of our task to map the different technological futures? Futurisms in 20th century art have a particular relation to technology. The Italian futurists are located at a very particular phase of European history and a very particular machine aesthetics that offered a one temporal sense of progression by way of technological progress. This aesthetic became one recurring reference point to how futures are visualised, sonified and written as poetry in the age of mass-scale industrial systems including electricity and electric light. Energy is not merely represented but imagined as the motor of the aesthetic expression – it becomes its motor of imaginaries (cf. Bozak 2011, 38). It is the city, the urban sphere that was for the contemporary Benjamin also the start of the ruinscape, again later ruined in the bombed down European cities, a form of technical change and planning replicated in many other forms across the planet since the “Great Acceleration” of the Anthropocene post-1950s.

Of course, the later (art) futurisms take a different tone that is less the masculine, celebratory stance of a future that should arrive as progress, but a writing of a future that was never allowed or the future that was imposed. It is in such political archaeologies that Afrofuturism and many later ethnofuturisms (as they are sometimes coined) emerge. Whatever the collective term might be, Afrofuturism, Sinofuturism, Gulf Futurism, Black Quantum Futurism and other current versions speak of the multiplication of futures in contemporary art and visual culture (Parikka 2018). Some of it feels like future overturned. For Gulf Futurism, and in works by artists such as Sophia Al Maria, the placement of a future that already arrived is read against the backdrop of the architectural built environments in the Arabian Gulf states. The artificial environments that work both horizontally and vertically as significant elements coined also as Dubai Speed (Bromber et al. 2016: 1) speak of one particular version of capitalist futures. Built from oil and fossil pasts, such cities and environments necessitate imaginaries of the future: how are architectures, building materials and infrastructures primed at the back of fossil fuels for a post-fossil life? While a key archaeological question for Walter Benjamin was how to read the city through its fragments as a slow emergence of capitalist consumer culture, the current version in such situations is how the city is imagined towards a future while trying to deal with that industrial legacy and its toxic environments.

Gulf Futurism and other artistic futurisms are, in many ways, artistic discourses in this context of toxic environments. Toxicity of course comes in many forms, where chemical toxicity and political pollution go hand in hand. (Guattari 2000). But how does one then imagine in visual arts and in visual forms the style of pollution that is subtler than mere piles of rubbish? The cultural techniques of environmental monitoring are already rather an important form of visual arts in how they make invisible traces perspective and part of matters of concern (Latour 2008). Hence the sort of contemporary arts about air pollution and chemical waste, about radio activity and the loss of biodiversity speak of modalities and scales that otherwise would not be included in registers of futurisms now. Any adequate futurisms need then to be able to deal with the invisibilities that are the ontologically urgent side of what counts as slow violence (Nixon 2013). Hence the future tense in the aesthetic and artistic sense needs to be capable of rather radical detachment from the usual dreamy anthropocentric narratives of worlds without humans, and to engage with contemporary cultural processes that already are without humans. What’s more, the forms of futurisms all speak to the mentioned meaning of archaeology for Agamben: production of new times.

III Futurity

Lawrence Lek’s recent work on Sinofuturism and Geomancer picks up on the futurist trope but places it in different geographical regions and with a different centre of subjectivity. Furthermore, Geomancer’s CGI film protagonist is an AI instead of the usual human narrator. The AI dreams speak of different worlds and of different modalities of art than ones with a voice or hands could have. The calculational dreams of an AI system are viewed as part of a total memory and calculation system that itself is not only an imaginary of a future but one that prescribes a way to think futurities as a contemporary cultural technique. These are futures that are constantly counted into existence than merely narrated into imaginaries.

The mobilization of AI systems in multiple areas of industry and culture is emblematic of what future now means as calculation. Consider then the future image as one that is future in the most limited sense and yet effective in the most widespread sense: the mobilization of various datasets from satellites to ground remote sensing, from media platforms to urban smart infrastructures as part of the training of AI algorithms and predictive measures. For example satellite data on ground level changes – infrastructures, buildings, urban growth, agriculture and crop yields – can be fed into machine learning systems with the aim of predictive data that can feed into for example financial predictions. The temporality of data is here key to understanding the little futures that are constantly created in machine learning and in financial contexts, and with most effective turbulence in terms of the futures market (see Cooper 2010). The machine learning of prediction of surface changes on global datasets or the prediction of real time changes in video feeds such as in experiments with neural nets like Prednet are good examples of the very local techniques useful for an image of a future one step ahead. Recently Abelardo Gil-Fournier has engaged with these machine learning platforms, farms and techniques as part of his investigation about the operative image in relation to earlier forms of operative light, as in industrial agriculture. Furthermore, this resonates well with the wider picture painted by Mark Fisher and Kodwo Eshun (2003: 290) writing on SF (science fiction) capital based on the various forms of futurism:

“[it] exists in mathematical formalizations such as computer simulations, economic projections, weather reports, futures trading, think-tank reports, consultancy papers—and through informal descriptions such as sciencefiction cinema, science-fiction novels, sonic fictions, religious prophecy, and venture capital. Bridging the two are formal-informal hybrids, such as the global scenarios of the professional market futurist.”

Futures exist as constant reference points for models, and unpredictable patterns or events are attempted to be constantly “factored into the calculations of world economic futures” (Cooper 2010, 167). Hence, also the unruly non-linear dynamics of any natural system are in this sense not anomalous but merely turbulent and as such material for the various ways different futures can be created, including accounting for the environmental crisis as one part of the work of management (Cooper 2010).

From future fossils and apocalyptic far or near futures scenarios as imaginaries we shift to the technological counted futures that are the standard operating procedure of financial markets. It is in this sense that the work of futurisms and creating new temporalities are somewhat paralleled by these tiny futures that are the constant business of the market. This proves the point that imaginaries of futures are not inherently or necessarily anything progressive in the sense of addressing planetary scale justice, but need to be complemented with the analytics, aesthetics as well as imaginaries of counter-futurisms (cf. Parikka 2018) – the work of not merely dreaming but creating infrastructures that imagine and count for our benefit.

References

Benjamin, Walter 1999. The Arcades Project. Trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Bozak, Nadia 2011. The Cinematic Footprint. Lights, Camera, Natural Resources. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Bromber, Katrin, Birgit Krawietz, Christian Steiner, and Steffen Wippel. 2016. ‘The Arab(ian) Gulf:

Urban Development in the Making’. In Steffen Wippel, Katrin Bromber, Birgit Krawietz and Christian Steiner (eds), Under Construction: Logics of Urbanism in the Gulf Region. London and New York: Routledge, 1–14.

Cooper, Melinda 2010. “Turbulent Worlds. Financial Markets and Environmental Crisis”. Theory, Culture & Society vol. 27 (2-3), 167-190.

Cubitt, Sean 2014. The Practice of Light. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Ebeling, Knut 2016. “Art of Searching: On ‘Wild Archaeologies’ from Kant to Kittler. The Nordic Journal of Aesthetics No. 51 (2016), pp. 7–18

Eshun, Kodwo 2003. “Further Considerations of Afrofuturism”. CR: The New Centennial Review 3:2, Summer 2003, 287–302.

Latour, Bruno 2008. What is the style of matters of concern? Amsterdam: van Gorcum.

Nixon, Rob 2013. Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Parikka, Jussi 2018. “Middle East and Other Futurisms: imaginary temporalities contemporary art and visual culture.” Culture, Theory and Critique, 59:1, 40-58,

Tsing, Anna; Swanson, Heather; Gan, Elaine and Bubandt, Nils, eds. 2017. Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.

Zhang, Gary Zhexi 2017. “Where Next?” Frieze, April 22, 2017, https://frieze.com/article/where-next.

 

Categories: Uncategorized

Oodi Art Project: AI and Other Intelligences

As part of our curatorial project on Library’s Other Intelligences we received an exclusive sneak preview of the new Helsinki Central Library, Oodi. With Shannon Mattern, Ilari Laamanen (Finnish Cultural Institute New York) and our artists we were able to see how the insides are shaping up. The aesthetically and architecturally stunning building is also such an interesting cluster of spaces that one could write about them much more extensively than just a this short posting. That longer piece might follow later, but already now I personally was struck how they deal with media in its multiple forms from analog to digital, from projection to making. From a cinema theatre equipped with also 35 and 70 mm projecting opportunities to a bespoke space for an analog synthesiser, the library offers an amazing platform for a public engagement with media which also includes recording studio space and a maker space – and yes, even a kitchen. The library is catered as a space of media transformations. At the moment the building exposed its multiple wires, cables, ducts and work – the labour of construction as well as cleaning that is already going on for the launch in December.DSC_1800.JPG

 

The top floor is reserved for what one would imagine as the “traditional” library, a space for books and reading, which also opens up to a terrace overlooking the Finnish parliament building. The roof wave is pretty stunning.

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I wanted to include some of the visual impressions from the space that shows its infrastructure being built up,  a theme that is present in some of the works from the artists Samir Bhowmik, Jenna Sutela and Tuomas A. Laitinen. In general, a key theme of our project concerns architectures and infrastructures of intelligence – both engaging with AI but as an expanded set of intelligences from architectural intelligence to ambient intelligence, from acoustics to amoebas and others layers of an ecology of a library that is a life support system – biologically, intellectually and culturally. It’s these multiple AIs that define the generative forms of languages, materials, and new publics that are present in how we want the space to be perceived. The exhibition opens in January 2019. Updates on social media will use the hashtag #OodiIntel.

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MUU/Other

May 28, 2018 2 comments

I am very excited to announce that I have been awarded Honorary membership of the MUU media artists’ association (Finland). Celebrating its 30th anniversary, MUU (Finnish for “other”) has become renowned for its pioneering work in supporting media and experimental arts in Finland. Needless to say, it is a big honour for me to be included in their roster of honorary members. Here’s the picture of my head receiving the award today.

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Categories: Finland, Helsinki, media art