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Earth/Sky exhibition opening talk

With Ryan Bishop we wrote the following short oral presentation as part of the opening panel of the Earth/Sky exhibition that is on at the Calit2 gallery at UC San Diego! Please visit the show if you are in the region and for those interested, below the short opening introduction.

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Ryan Bishop and Jussi Parikka

March 7, 2019, UC San Diego

Earth/Sky exhibition – introductory remarks

Where the vertical X line meets the horizontal Y line in the X/Y axis is called the origin. Although we are not going to pursue myths of origins in this panel, that intersection is certainly the origin of inspiration for our exhibition and the works that comprise it.

What is the relationship between the X/Y axis and the horizon? Where is the horizon in the X/Y axis and how is it constructed, reconstituted, erased, or negated by the visualizing technologies these artists deploy, explore, exploit and query? The question of the horizon in relation to technology emerged in its contemporary guise in the aftermath of WWII and remains with us, cast by Martin Heidegger as “the age of the world picture “. The telecommunications technologies developed to provide constant real-time surveillance of the earth necessary to conduct the Cold War and enforce the Truman Doctrine simultaneously converted the earth into a globe (a bounded sphere visible at all times) as well as into a flattened world without horizon (due to the use of “over the horizon” visualizing technologies and complete surveillance of the entire planet all at the same time).

It found visual form in two works produced about the same time as Heidegger was writing: Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Air-Ocean World Map, and Jasper Johns’ large-scale painting for the Montreal Expo ’67 inspired by Fuller’s map (and installed in Fuller’s massive geodesic dome erected there for the expo). The multi-pieced and multi-shaped canvas painting measures more than 30 feel long and over 15 feet high. As with Fuller’s cartographic vision, the icosahedron Dymaxion map created by Johns could be disassembled or assembled at will. Fuller’s map could be folded together to create a sphere or unfolded, origami-like, to be a flat two-dimensional object. Co-created with Shoji Sadao, Fuller’s map provided the model for the interactive, data-driven version used in his real-time teletechnological teaching tool called the World Game. Fuller and Sadao’s map moved easily, then, between 3-D and 2-D representations of the earth’s continents. These were represented in size based on population distribution and resource usage instead of the standard cartographic nod to physical coverage. While Fuller’s optimistic vision of the map’s pedagogical elements was at odds with Johns’ more pessimistic view of the geopolitical agonism that marked the moment, the map mimetically reproduces fully “the age of the world picture”. The globe as stage for Fuller-inflected neighbourliness also became a site of contiguous land masses locked in Johns-depicted animus: 3-D holistic vision coupled with 2-D Cold War strategically-generated economic inequities.

The cultural politics of Heidegger’s interpretation of modernity’s generated metaphysics can be charted in the capacity for representation to equate with both experience and the real, for the map to create the territory and the technological means for cartographic representation to become the tools for human crafting of the earth as globe, as flat observable plane or, as Fuller termed it, Spaceship. The visualizing teletechnologies on display in the Dymaxion Map, as well as the works in our exhibition here, are just such tools, for they chart a trajectory in which the world travelled from being construed as plane to orb to globe to flat, surveilled entity again. Our capacity to see and render the planet whole erased the horizon of the world and made it capable of being held in our collective teletechnological grasp. This is the “negative horizon” theorized by Paul Virilio: the conversion of the surface of the earth to pure surface, pure plane, to salt flat deserts and “mineral cemeteries” (141), a screen for projections and visions, a platform for unfettered terrestrial and aerial acceleration and optical realization. The age of the world picture is evoked in these maps made by Fuller and Johns, and it is so in the means by which we have enframed, delineated and curtailed potential futures, realized or not.

This leads us to our works on display in the exhibition (as well as the one screened as part of this opening panel, Susan Schuppli’s vertical cinema piece Atmospheric Feedback Loops). Schuppli’s audiovisual installation “Nature Represents Itself” presents the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in its legal and aesthetic form to propose the ecological site as a material witness capable of representing its own damaged condition. This auto representation of environmental disaster posits a new medium unique to the components of the disaster; in many ways, it is a visual analogue to Reza Negarestani’s philosophical fiction writing that fabulated the non-human revenging force of petroleum in Cyclonopedia. Furthermore, it taps into the multiple camera angles of the Anthropocene: the live feed of the underwater oil leak, the aerial view of the region as a massive size oil painting (as Ubermorgen, art group, coined it), the cultural politics of TV footage, the scientific imagining, and so forth.

Concerns about the horizon are omnipresent in the name of the documented disaster: the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, with its connotations of X and Y in itself as well as the dimension of depth as the passage to the underwater realms that link from Jules Verne’s fictional Captain Nemo’s megalomanic world tour to the as megalomanically disastrous seascapes of drilling and deep sea mining. While the melting arctic ice that will flood vast coastal areas and towns presents its own new northern passages as well as oil and mineral opportunities, we are left with the archive of disasters that already took place across the petrocultural century. Deepwater is one where the various axes are again brought together both as its spatial coordinates and as part of visual culture of disasters.

The Gulf of Mexico was made an unintentional canvas of human intervention and failure, as seen in the many images of the disaster taken by NASA’s pertinently named Terra satellite. The visual register on screen in Schuppli’s work is that of the accident, which is a recurring feature of that axis where visual culture and technological infrastructure and political decision-making meet. As Paul Virilio reminded us, the invention of any technology is also the invention of its failure, of its accidents. The technology in its operation and its failure provide equally fodder for planning, speculation and aesthetic production. This also applies to the speculative side in more ways than one: not merely inventing technologies, but inventing their accidents around which technological systems can be laid out as large scale systems. Virilio in fact posited that the history of technology could better be queried and understood through a Museum of Disasters than our usual technolophillic celebratory institutions. If such a site were to be built, Schuppli’s work could take a proud place there as one example of the long term legacy of petroculture as itself an invention of an accident around which modern culture takes place, from transport to industry, from lifestyle to the variety of materials that sustain our sense of the everyday.

Another kind of an accident lurks in Herregraven’s “Sprawling Swamps,” a series of fictional infrastructures dispersed within the cracks of the contemporary financial geography that operate on a technological, legal and social level. Herregraven’s focus is on the littorals, the ambiguous shifting zones where sea and land interact, the port and the portal interface. These ambiguous and ambivalent spaces, gaps between economic and environmental certitudes, speak to Paul Gilroy’s arguments for a “critique at sea level”. Picking up from Gilroy, Francoise Verges asks: how do we develop cultural theory that starts from water, the sea, the oceans – from the middle passage, but then also the northern passages, the various forms of colonial and other kinds of disasters, including contemporary ones that take place across liquid and swampy landscapes? What is sea level in the current moment and in this moment of warming currents? Increasingly land can become water, arable land can become desert, etc. in the weird mixes of the classical four elements; as Gary Genosko puts it, these four elements are not however anymore the stable sort of earth-water-fire- air. A longer quote from Genosko (in the Posthuman Glossary) gives a clear picture of the new synthetics of elements:

The new fundamental elements… EARTH : dust; WATER : blood; AIR : lethal fogs; FIRE :flammables. Wrapped around these elements is the planetary phylum, a great tellurian cable bunch with its own products: EARTH : electronics; WATER : liquidities like water bottled in plastic, which throws forward diagrammatic intensities in the explosion of plastic debris; AIR : gases (green house); and FIRE : smouldering car tyres, slashed rainforests and seasonal wild fires in the great northern forests. However, as we have seen, the new elements combine both in existing directly – blood mixed with dust in the extraction of conflict minerals and oil fields, or methane, a flammable unnaturally mingled with the water supply, and which contributes to the green house gas effect – and by means of especially communicative matters, like microscopic fragments of plastics that perfuse the oceans and get into the food chain, and constitute fine dusts that affect respiration, settling among the fogs, gases and lethal clouds.

The Ovid-like metamorphoses of nature, of bodies changed, operates in pre-socratic thought in relation to the elements with the universe composed of these elements battling or playfully transforming into one another, as Empedocles theorized. But from Empedocles, we should move further to the chemical period of the past 200 years of chemistry and its multiple forms of interaction and escalation of planetary deposits. What we are witnessing now is a rapid reshaping of the elements of the planet, some by design but most not, some by human actors and some by technological systems working autonomously or in tandem with others in unintended ways. The dynamic nature of matter, and of nature, finds form in precarious legal, financial and governmental infrastructures poised along the liminal littorals. Nonetheless urban human forms as a guiding set of imaginaries are seemingly impervious to the vicissitudes of unstable ecologies, in spite of high winds, hurricanes, typhoons, floods and drought.

Visualizations of the XY axis rarely show the air or the sky. The seeming transparency of atmospheres is however a source for another sort of “light media” and “sky media” that is often crystallised in technological figures such as drones or satellite infrastructures or then in the toxic legacies such as smog. It also includes the longer legacy of the aerial perspective – sightlines lifted from the ground.

We most often see the earth as surface (with the X line being the literal line of sight). The horizon is usually implied, what we know lies beyond the frame. Heba Amin’s lyrical and witty projection piece, “As Birds Flying,” allows views of the sky, the earth, the horizon, savannahs and wetlands, settlements and aviary migrations, which in turn allude to human migrations on the rise throughout the world. Her use of found footage and non-human surveillance techniques, in this case mistakenly believed to be strapped to a migrating stork, reveals horizons of visualization, tracking and the continual geopolitical struggle for contested terrain. This view is not stable but one in movement; a survey of landscapes and velocity, of movement and tracking, of cinematic visions projected onto daily existence.

It is worth noting in closing that the aerial views on view in the show now are visible by humans but the majority of the images of the earth’s surface being produced today are by machines for machines: they are not representational but informational and automated; this is what Harun Farocki coined as the world of operational, or operative, images, which also includes an increasing amount of environmental imaging. These are also a dominant strand of the Earth/Sky and X/Y axis visualizations of the present that expands from aerial views to soil analysis, and to interplanetary visual cultures as with the recent Mars Rover images too. These images as measurements are used for their data despite the at times glamorous views we get a glimpse of. That which isn’t visible can be translated into data visualizations that help feed a vast machine of charting, control and most importantly prediction.

In so doing the X-Y axis extends to include the Z axis, and enters into predictive temporalities: planning, investment, policing, and so forth. The role of AI techniques of prediction in the futures markets results in manipulation and prediction that links governmental sovereignty to data visualization technologies and their capacity to shape and generate financial systems and markets. The particular surfaces that are catered as massive datasets are the past archive for the hypothetical future-nows that open up a new horizon. Questions surrounding the large-scale production of premediated near-future predictive strategies linking geomedia to algotrading speeds up the earth as the manipulation of its materials for control and gain set the data-gathering agenda in spite of the many admirable and altruistic projects that may complement it. In this way, the images and the predictive data scraped from them replicates bureaucratic tools of domination past. Sean Cubitt writes: “That trinity of fundamentally bureaucratic media—databases (filing cabinets), spreadsheets (ledgers) and GIS (maps)—still operates, not least at the level of companies and institutions, where it continues to provide the backbone of a residual early-modern biopolitics.” These instances of administration , Cubitt continues, “were the dominant media of the early 21st century, because they were the media of domination.” The techniques and technologies have changed but the larger cultural technics and their ontological rationale have not.

The origin of the X/Y axis remains literally and figuratively in place, if not accelerated and exacerbated by our visualizing technologies.

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Earth/Sky exhibition in San Diego

February 4, 2019 1 comment

I am happy to announce that our exhibition Earth/Sky opens in San Diego, at Calit2 gallery in March! Curated by me and Ryan Bishop, the exhibition features works by Heba Y. Amin, Femke Herregraven and Susan Schuppli. Please find below a longer curatorial note and a schedule of the opening seminar we are organising in conjunction of the launch party (March 7th).

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EARTH/SKY is an exhibition of environmentally-informed artistic engagements with the intersection of vertical and horizontal planes. The art works explore the myriad ways in which the juxtaposition of earth and sky metonymically evokes a range of X/Y axes that allows for material and immaterial interactions between horizontal and vertical planes. The ground of the earth is also the ground that delineates when air becomes sky. The cinematic image and the calculated image are a further part of defining how the vertical and horizontal, the earth and the sky link up as realities that can be measured. The images that are presented in these works are also in such a way technical forms of measurement – from climate science to the political control of territories. From climate change to contemporary finance and migration, the pieces set environmental questions and environmental perspectives into a dialogue with contemporary global politics that always, however, is situated across particular regions and sites: from aerial views of oil slick simulations to bird flock and drones in desert landscapes of Egypt and on the fictional landscapes of swamps and shorelines, images conjure territories and territories are conjured up landscapes on the X/Y axis.

Three artists included in the exhibition are Susan Schuppli (London, UK), Femke Herregraven, an artist based in the Netherlands, and Heba Y. Amin, a Berlin-based Egyptian artist. Schuppli’s installation “Nature Represents Itself” is an oil film simulation and hydrocarbon composition that documents both the initial surface slick as well as subsurface plumes resulting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Produced in 2018, this simulation is exhibited in conjunction with audio detailing the lawsuit ­led on behalf of the rights of nature against BP. While satellite transmissions, the underwater video feed, and even Public Lab’s activist mapping project all combined to document the aftermath of the disaster, the slick was already operationalizing an independent mode of media itself. Oil spills are literally slick images that find their cinematic origins in petroleum production. Schuppli presents the oil spill in its legal and aesthetic form to propose the ecological site as a material witness fully capable of representing its own damaged condition.

Herregraven’s “Sprawling Swamps,” was shown at transmediale 2018. An ongoing multimedia project begun in 2016, “Sprawling Swamps” is a series of fictional infrastructures dispersed within the cracks of the contemporary financial geography that operate on a technological, legal and social level. The infrastructures are located in specific locations from swamps to shorelines but also engage with the immaterial economies of value. The piece attempts to engage with infrastructure as it relates to the turbulent dynamics of nature – itself a crucial part of the current discussions about landscape that is determined across technological and ecological questions.

The third piece in the show, Amin’s “As Birds Flying”, provides a view of the sky in flight and as flight, but in so doing comments on politics, surveillance, paranoia and environmental manipulation. A self-conscious mediation on the aerial view and its erasure of the geometry of perspective inherited from the Renaissance, Amin’s work explore the political absurdity generated by an obsession with the televisual mastery of the air and ground. Taking an incident from 2013, in which a stork fitted with an electronic device for migratory research was mistaken for a non-human source of surveillance and thus taken into custody by Egyptian officials, Amin’s cinematic response then becomes a meditation on migration of birds in parallel to human migration and the control of also rural territories. “The short, allegorical film is constructed out of found drone footage of aerial views of savannas and wetlands, including settlements in Galilea – sweeping views that seem to be taken by the ‘spy’ stork in the above story. ‘Seeing the country from the top is better than seeing it from below’, the soundtrack says, with footage of a bird soaring in the air. Funny, absurd and disconcerting, the video’s suspenseful cinematic soundtrack contains the reconstructed audio sequences of dialogue from Adel Imam’s ­lm Birds of Darkness.”

Each of these three works explore how the intersection of earth and sky is imagined, realized, subverted, represented and manufactured within complex ecologies of time, finance, science, technology, aesthetics and power. The ineluctably inextricable dimensions of ecological and environmental influence of sky on earth and earth on sky become the foundations for aesthetic, scientifi­c, technological and political examination provided by these three artworks.

The exhibition is accompanied by an artistic-academic panel that addresses the topic of earth and sky as examined by considerations of the earth’s surface and its vertical, media technological determinations.

We are also screening Susan Schuppli’s vertical cinema piece Atmospheric Feedback Loops as part of the opening event.

Earth/Sky
Thursday, March 7, 2019
Time: 5:00pm-7:30pm

5:00 Calit2 Auditorium; Atmospheric Feedback Loops Screening
5:30 Panel Discussion with Ryan Bishop, Jussi Parikka, Susan Schuppli, and Femke Herregraven, Moderated by Jordan Crandall
6:30 Reception and gallery open

The show will run March 7-June 7, 2019, with gallery hours 12pm-5pm Monday-Friday.

The events are free and open to the public

http://gallery.calit2.net
http://qi.ucsd.edu/events/event.php?id=2974 

For the opening, RSVP requested to galleryinfo@calit2.net

On Air, Inhale

December 17, 2018 Leave a comment

I had the pleasure of contributing to Tomas Saraceno’s new show On Air at Palais de Tokyo with a short text for the publication as well as with a talk as part of the seminar on December 14th, which was organized by Filipa Ramos. The show itself moves from spiders and webs to air and balloons, from entanglements of the Anthropocene to the light materials of the Aerocene combining speculative design, investigation of materials and beautiful installation structures.

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My short text for the catalogue was titled “Inhale”:

Inhale and you engage with history, not metaphorically, nor poetically but literally. Inhale the air of a city and you inhale its industrial legacy, its current transport system, its chemistry built at the back of technological progress. There’s more in the air and the sky than meets the eye. On the level of eyes, nostrils and skin, the city and its surroundings, it becomes  a touch. It is inhaled, enters the body as haptic environment. It is the haptic environment in which one sees and encounters the surroundings as a large scale Air-Conditioning Show. It is history carried forward as chemistry. It is technology breathed in as minuscule particles. The air is the environment we have to somehow learn to address as one way to invent a breathable future.

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Surface Prediction

April 14, 2018 1 comment

I am giving a talk in Paris at the École Normale Supérieure and using it as an opportunity to present some new work. This writing stems from some collaborative work with artist Abelardo Gil-Fournier with whom we ran a collective workshop at transmediale on Surface Value . The practice-led workshop was set in the context of our larger discussion on surfaces, media and forms of valuation that pertain both to military and civilian spheres of images (such as aerial imaging) and continuing it in relation to contemporary forms of machine learning and neural networks that take their data from geographical datasets. Hence we are working on this question of prediction as it pertains to geographical and geological surfaces and how these forms of images (from time-lapse to prediction) present a special case for both financial uses of such predictive services and also their experimental angle as forms of moving image – experimental “video” art on a large scale.

Here’s a further excerpt from the talk that also draws on work by Giuliana Bruno, Lisa Parks, Caren Kaplan, Ryan Bishop and many others:

What I want to extract from this research platform that Gil-Fournier’s work offers are some speculative thoughts. At the basis of this is the idea that we can experiment with the correlation of an “imaged” past (the satellite time-lapses) with a machine generated “imaged” future and to test how futures work; how do predicted images compare against the historical datasets and time-lapses and present their own sort of a video of temporal landscapes meant to run just a bit ahead of its time. Naturally would easily risk naturalising things that are radically contingent: mining operations, capital investments, urban growth and financial valuations, geopolitical events, and such. But instead of proposing this as naturalisation, it works to expose some of the techniques through which landscapes are flattened into such a surface of not only inscription of data, but also images in movement. Here,  the speculative is not some sort of a radically distinguished practice that stands out as unique aberration but increasingly the modus operandi and the new normal of things  (Bratton 2016, 2017). What’s interesting is that it spreads out to a variety of fields: the image becomes a speculative one, with interesting implications how we start to think of video; it is also a financial one, as such data-feed mechanisms are also part of what Cubitt describes as one of the forms of geomedia; and it is about landscapes, as they are part of the longer lineage of how we read them as informational signs.

It’s here that the expanded image of a landscape is also embedded in a machine learning environment which also feed as part of financial environments. There are multiple ways how the ecology of images in machine learning works with time – the form of moving image that is the timelapse is also faced with the temporal image of predictions. The technical basis of digital video becomes one reference point for where to start unfolding the other sides of AI as machine learning: this is post-digital culture also in this sense, where not only images of earth surfaces change in view of the data analytics, but the aesthetic contexts of analysis – namely, moving image and video that feed forward (cf. Hansen).

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[Image from Abelardo Gil-Fournier’s workshop materials].

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November 11, 2017 Leave a comment

Visual culture nowadays.

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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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Underground the White Mountain

October 30, 2016 Leave a comment

I was invited to talk at the Serpentine Gallery’s Miracle Marathon this year. My take on the theme was to talk of the underground and the occult worlds of the long legacy of the Cold War. I performed with Emma Charles’ film White Mountain. Here’s the video of the talk.

 

More about Charles’ film in a short story in the new magazine issue of Postmatter.
The same magazine issue includes a new interview with me: Fossils of the Future.