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The Office Manual is out

September 19, 2017 Leave a comment

Our summer project, the AMT Office Manual is out. Consisting of short texts and practice-based expositions, the contributors consist of colleagues in Fine Art, Design, Media and Visual Culture as well as some of AMT research group‘s affiliated scholars such as Shannon Mattern and Darren Wershler. The manual opens up with our short intro: “The Office Manual.”

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Designed by Dr. Jane Birkin, the publication is a mix between a zine and a manual, but with a media archaeological, practice-based and indeed, grey bent.

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The texts address the imaginaries, technologies, techniques, pencils and furniture of the office – the key site of technological work and art.

Indeed, only what can be typed, tabulated, filed and stamped exists: before any narrative, there is a technology and a clerk performing the work of inscription.

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The Manual cannot be purchased and is available only through AMT field officers.

 

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AMT: An Office Manual

June 5, 2017 2 comments

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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

The Mediocene And the Lab Scene

May 14, 2017 1 comment

The Mediocene conference takes place later this month in May in Weimar. Organized by the IKKM, the conference picks up on the Anthropocene from a specific media-focused vantage point. In the organizers words, “The concept of the Mediocene […] sees media and medial processes as epoch-making. As a determining force, they leave their permanent imprint on the world, affecting animate and inanimate nature alike — human existence, technology, society, and the arts as well as the shape, organization and history of the global habitat itself.”

My take draws on our current laboratory-project, and below is a short (draft!) text of the beginning of the talk still in the process of writing and without a full range of references. The idea of the talk is to set the laboratory as this particular term, an imaginary and a fever around which multiple scales of planetary media come to the fore. It will also discuss topics especially in the art and technology-nexus including briefly the emergence of art labs in the Cold War institutions of technical media (a topic that will be well covered by Ryan Bishop and John Beck in their new work), as well as experimental work in the arts about the lab, including Bureau D’Etudes on the Laboratory Planet as well as probably such work as Neal White’s on post-studio. Any further thoughts, tips and ideas are warmly appreciated.

The Lab is the Scene

One could be forgiven for thinking that the world’s nothing but a lab. From endorsing the centrality of the factory as a key site to understand modernity and as the site of production, material transformation, commodity culture, labour relations, pollution and what not, the laboratory seems to have in some accounts taken a similar role. It speaks to a range of topics of media and culture: historically, a central place of inventing and engineering technical media; thematically, one crucial vantage point for the multi-scalar operations that define the tie between the planetary (dis)order and its situated practices. It does however come with a legacy that is only partly about the science lab. Indeed, the other important lineage relates to the technology, engineering and design/art labs that throughout the 20th century started to offer a parallel narrative: experimentation, a demo or die-attitude (at the MIT Media Lab, see for example Halpern 2015), prototyping, and more. Hence this lab story of experimental culture is not restricted to the science lab as if a separate entity from the arts and humanities; and in any case, the science labs of many kinds have already had their fair share of attention from social scientists and humanities scholars, even post-studio artists up until the recent days with the continuing enthusiasm for CERN residencies.

The proliferation of laboratories outside the strict confines of the science lab seems to have taken place with the entry of a range labs of different kinds: design labs, maker labs, hack labs, media archaeology labs, studio-labs, digital humanities labs, humanities, critical humanities labs, media labs and critical media labs – and then, fashion labs, brew labs, coffee labs, gadget labs, creativity labs, the list goes on. The usual thought would be that this is part of the metaphoric inflation of the meaning, site, scientificity of the laboratory that brands a particular attitude to postmodern culture. Of course, as Henning Schmidgen echoing the likes of Peter Galison and others points out, “the laboratory is undergoing a process of dissolution and dispersal,” with the massive distributed networks that constitute the laboratory now (think of the Human Genome project, think of CERN) but this dissolution and dispersal happens on other levels too, as the examples pertaining to humanities and media labs demonstrate. There’s almost nothing that could not be a lab. But perhaps the lab is itself symptom more than the answer, and as such, a trigger to consider issues of the mediocene in art and technology; issues such as scales of data, infrastructure and different methodologies. It becomes itself a rather fluidly moving term not merely designating a particular specialist place but also a particular project about the lab imaginary. Here, the notion of the project is crucial due to its future-oriented sense.

A focus only on the most recent would miss the point how the laboratory was already early on a contested term – especially when going on in the pre-scientific laboratories and their heterogeneous sets of spaces and practices that avoid too easily to be pinned down only as steps towards the perfection of a form – but the problem about the term persisted also later, during the emergence of the science laboratory.

As historians of science have noted, the lab as elaboratory was one formative way of understanding what then went on in the early modern spaces preceding labs. Elaborating materials for medicine and chemistry, working with the variety of materials in ways that was not merely under human control: the) elaboratory was a place where to let things go their way, even if offering a stage by way of the thermomedia control (see Nicole Starosielski’s work on temperatures and media) that allowed the transformations to be accelerated from earth time to lab time. Interestingly enough, such a broader understanding of labs and elaboration in relation to natural formations persisted; Sir Humphry Davy’s voiced in 1815 that “the soil is the laboratory in which the food is prepared.” In 1860 in a very different scientific context regarding the Physical Geographies of the Sea, Louis Ferdinand Alfred Maury spoke of the sea as the “a laboratory in which wonders by processes the most exquisite are continually going on”, as a sort of an model for understanding atmospheric movements even.

Indeed, reverse from our current laboratory fever some 100 years and a bit more, and shift the focus to Bangor in Wales where Sir William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin of, indeed, the kelvin fame of temperature measurement but also having worked with maritime compasses among any other things crucial for planetary media. Thomson opening the new spaces of physics and Chemistry labs in 1885 at University of Bangor seemed to be offering a rather extended way of understanding the topic. Let’s quote him:

“The laboratory of a scientific man is his place of work. The laboratory of the geologist and naturalist is the face of this beautiful world. The geologist’s laboratory is the mountain, the ravine, and the seashore. The naturalist and the botanist go to foreign lands, to study the wonders of nature, and describe and classify the results of their observations.”

Thomson was no mere romantic fool of course, but a man of modern science. He was not haunted by a romantic longing to a past of gentleman travels across the planet observing this beauty of nature but more of a pragmatist. Also the field research must be tightly linked to the possibilities of the lab, its equipment and its techniques, so as to ensure there is a tight connection between the insides and the outsides (Gooday 790). A properly equipped lab is what ensures that the field itself becomes an extended part of the technical apparatus, a laboratory that spans across the territories of the planet. A lab is where scales meet, to remind of the ways in which Bruno Latour spoke of Louis Pasteur for example.

For a longer period medicine, chemistry and metallurgy, and then of course physics remained the central disciplines of the laboratory (see Gooday, Schmidgen 2011). 20th century brought technological laboratories into the scene: engineering and material labs, electronics labs to the varieties of other forms of centralised facilities that systematised the production of engineered culture. Much before there were things called media labs, labs were essential to media to become what they became in relation to the actual apparatuses as well as their impact on the thresholds of perception. Labs were one sorts of conditions for much of that work that came to be called media. Many of the labs in engineering were the institutions central to the backbone of various national and international infrastructures such as the Bell Labs, the centrality of “innovation labs” from Menlo Park to many others, and of course, the centrality of the art and technology labs of the Cold War that themselves were the grounding of so much of what we call now “media arts” and where the particular techniques of speculative, experimental use meet up with the other sort of speculative that is attached to forms of value creation.

The lab as place, invention and extension of “media” is part of the continuum of the technological work in labs and the artistic practices as one background to the notion of experimentation. The media and arts approaches produce a particular discourse, a particular stance on the experiment, but also in some cases a corporate take on a speculative mapping of scales that reach out spatially to planetary infrastructures as much as local scales as well as to the future-oriented dimension. Here, I believe there’s a way in which it resonates with the question of the Anthropocene as one of scales that map out the lab as something of an epistemological and medial arrangement that spans further than its space. This happens both discursively and in terms of its objects of knowledge: emerging from the Cold War period art-technology labs, or the studio-lab, it also becomes a scene where the continuum between technological culture and its creative practices are put into a conversation, creating the particular scene and the fantasy of visionary future-oriented experimental work inventing the media worlds to come. The Mediocene is this particular aesthetic-technological framing of scales (temporal, spatial, potential, not-yet actualised, speculative) and quite often, also in this arts-technology nexus it does happen through the hinge of the lab. Now, using the term, as is clear from already now, I am forced to ignore many current examples that also use the term in other ways that I will narrate in this talk. The term has multiple uses and as such, my version does not do justice to the full plethora of labs of critical, experimental practice as much as it connects the term to a particular different sort of a genealogy. Hence, bear with me, as I sketch some ideas.

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What is AMT? A video and an interview

December 10, 2016 Leave a comment

In this video, myself and Ryan Bishop talk a bit more about what the new research group (or office) Archaeologies of Media and Technology does and how it sits as part of the research and practice at Winchester School of Art.


In addition, a new interview with me (conducted by Thais Aragão) is now online and available in English and in Portuguese. The interview is focused on AMT as a platform for practice and theory and how it connects to themes in media archaeology and digital culture research.

You can find AMT online at: http://www.southampton.ac.uk/amt/

and on Twitter at @amt_office

AMT – Archaeologies of Media and Technology

June 13, 2016 1 comment

AMT3.jpg_SIA_JPG_fit_to_width_INLINEThe site for our new research group, AMT (Archaeologies of Media and Technology) is now live: http://www.southampton.ac.uk/amt/.

Directed by myself and Ryan Bishop, AMT is located at the Winchester School of Art and is an “office for media theory and speculative practice in art & design”.

We are on Twitter as @amt_office and here’s the short description of what AMT stands for:

Amt – (German) an administrative unit, office
Also: Airy Mean Time, a time standard used for timekeeping on Mars

Archaeologies of Media and Technology (AMT) is a research group that approaches technology and media writ large through their links to science, art, visual culture and critical theory with a strong emphasis on artistic practices. We investigate the conditions of existence of contemporary media technologies through design and art, in relation to both contemporary culture and cultural heritage with an eye toward the future.

The group will kick off with a range of activities after the summer including a small launch event planned tentatively for October even if we are already now involved in many things happening. The group builds on earlier work we have done with the transmediale-festival as well as many other links both in the School, in the UK and internationally. We have hosted various talks in these fields in the past years, including by Shannon Mattern, Alex Galloway, Lawrence Grossberg, Laurence Rickels, Olga Goriunova, Tony Sampson, Joanna Zylinska, Shintaro Miyazaki, Victor Burgin, Esther Milne, Pasi Valiaho and many others. We have hosted events such as Media Theory in Transit and The Image of the Network.

This week Linda Hilfling is giving an artist talk “Adding to the Paradox.”

We will post more info during and after summer with events at WSA and through projects with our international friends and partners!

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Corporate University Life UK

August 26, 2013 1 comment

Times Higher Education has published a very good piece on the corporate university, UK. This does not refer to any particular university (despite this being a personal narrative of one person, opting to quit because “universities are killing off integrity, honesty and mutual support”) but the corporatization of the UK system.

What the piece does so well is showing the transversal links between macroeconomic policies and the microsociological everyday life at universities. The economic free market principles (which actually are not just about free markets, but to me about more meticulous wealth accumulation and political credit accumulation) are also felt in the various affective responses and moods that characterise university life.

Corporate capitalism works through a modulation of affects, and it does not feel particularly good. Read the piece to get one excellent insight to UK academia.

The Elegance of Bureaucracy

August 17, 2013 Leave a comment

I am reading a lovely book which in proper summer reading style is not directly linked to anything I am working on at the moment. It is more about the luxury of reading something interesting.

Jonathan Bloom’s Paper Before Print (ironically “out of print”) focuses on paper especially in the early Islamic world, and hence besides expanding the narratives of writing, textuality and mediality outside the usual story of the West, it also goes deeper into questions of materiality.

For us, the question of matter of media is one of chemicals and scientific processes. This also includes the story of paper, whcih besides the platform of modern bureaucracy is also one of environmental pollution and waste.

Bloom’s book is a great read and reminds of something rather pertinent, considering the book in relation to materiality of the medium of writing but also to the question of bureaucracy. Indeed, it was in the context of bureaucratic necessity that the Muslim world turned to paper – the increasing need to write things down. As such it relates to a longer history of cultural techniques of notating systems where the symbolic act of writing expands to the wider milieu in which writing can become possible – but it also expands to the cultural techniques of administration and bureaucracy.

So unlike our modern sphere of admin, Bloom reminds on one important thing. For instance in the growing bureaucratic mechanism of the Abbasid Empire since the ninth century, with its centre in Baghdad, administration was a style. It had to have style. In Bloom’s words, reminding of what we have lost in our repetitious, grey, in a different way standardised world of everyday writing: “In this bureaucratic world, official documents were increasingly judged not only by their contents but also by the elegance of the wording and the cleverness of hidden allusions in the text.” (106)

Imagine an admin email from the Faculty Human Resources written in astonishing beauty, and with that witty little allusion between the lines; imagine if there would be rhetorical style and the thrill of reading while indulging in Module Report Forms; what if your manager would next time surprise with such cunning puns that you could not but eagerly wait for the next top-down announcement?

Oh corporate bureaucracy. You are so horrible but why are you also dull and uninspiring?