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An ecoaesthetic of vegetal surfaces

An ecoaesthetic of vegetal surfaces: on Seed, Image, Ground as soft montage” is the title of the new article we just published in the Journal of Visual Art Practice with Abelardo Gil-Fournier. It draws on the video essay published last year and engages especially with the practice-led methodology. The video was just recently installed in the Vibrating Clouds exhibition in Shenzen and will be part of at least two exhibitions in later 2021/2022 (in Europe). With Abelardo, we are currently writing a book on vegetal images and the question of multi-scalar planetary surfaces.

Below a short excerpt of the article’s Introduction section

This essay builds on our recent Seed, Image, Ground video project (2020) and how it entangles with our larger research project on surfaces. Both address the surface of plants, agriculture and the biosphere in relation to the surfaces of media, such as screens and images. The video essay was commissioned by the Fotomuseum Winterthur in 2020 and it is openly available at the institution’s YouTube channel. While the video is a central reference point for this visual essay, our aim is not so much to theorise our own moving images and their juxtapositions and rhythms. Instead, in this article, we present a series of surfaces and scales that appear in and through the images. Images build upon images and this constitutes the practice-led approach to the temporal unfolding in the video. The video works as a temporal articulation of image surfaces across and upon living surfaces. In other words, we articulate the moving images as practices of surfaces, plants, and images: hence the central motif of the video essay and this accompanying text is to ask ‘what do images of growth look like?’ How do such images operate in two channel video practice that builds on Harun Farocki’s work? Here, we do not refer only to operational images (Farocki 2004), but also to the idea of a ‘soft montage’ (Farocki 2009) which becomes a methodological reference point as one aspect of practice of images about and across images that can also be conceptualised as we do in this essay. The video and its relation to text are ecoaesthetic (Cubitt 2017) in the sense of dealing with the entanglement of media and environmental materials where the double articulation of images and green plant surfaces are the engine of our argument.

In this way, the video is a methodological exercise that helps to articulate a problem space (Lury 2021) – a space where problems, methods, and concepts are dynamically rearticulated, and where the space of their composition is not a stable container where a thing is addressed but part of their making: ‘a problem is not given but emerges with-in and out-with a myriad sequence of actions or methods that (trans)forms the problem space’ (Lury 2021, 6). This composition and this montage points to the ways methods are enacted only in the material practices that constitute the problem space as it unfolds as a living issue and tissue. Can this sequence Lury refers to be also a sequence of images? Could the actions be those of images? As the following visualisation of the evolution of the timeline of our video essay show, the video’s timeline as a problem space presents its fabrication as a surface. The cuts, the movements of the sequences, and other editing operations manifested in the figure, call for a dynamic understanding of surface as surfacing, built on multiple genealogies of instrumentation, technology, and cultivation.

Vibrating Clouds

Our Seed, Image, Ground video (2020, with Abelardo Gil-Fournier) is currently installed and on show in Shenzen at the Vibrating Clouds exhibition curated by Yixuan Cai and her team for the Design Society. The video was also part of the Reprogramming Earth exhibition curated by Daphne Dragona at NEME in Cyprus and it will feature in a couple of other exhibitions in the coming 12 months too.

For a short overview of the exhibition in Chinese, see here. Other artists and architects in the exhibition include Tomas Saraceno, Karolina Sobecka, Philippe Rahm architectes, Janine Randerson and others.

For Abelardo and me, it’s a special pleasure to know that it is finally installed in actual physical space alongside good audio that allows the sound design by María Andueza Olmedo to stand out.

Photography Off the Scale is out

January 31, 2021 1 comment

Our book Photography Off the Scale is out and available! Edited by myself and my FAMU colleague Tomáš Dvořák it offers an interdisciplinary perspective on the scale and quantity of images in contemporary visual culture. From the mass-image to post-photography, AI to online visual culture, planetary diagrams to LIDAR, the breadth of topics is wide. The book emerges from our Operational Images and Visual Culture project (FAMU, Prague – and funded by the Czech Science Foundation, 2019-2023).

Here are the really nice blurbs from Lev Manovich, Lisa Parks, and Peter Szendy:

“Among the many fundamental changes taking place in contemporary photography and media culture, probably the most important are changes in scale. The new magnitude of image production, the instant global dissemination of billions of new images, and the adoption of AI that turns these images into big data are only some examples of how the visual has been “scaled up” in the 21st century. Now we finally have a first book that rethinks the history and theory of photography through the lens of scale – and connects this concept to a range of others including measure, politics, gender, subjectivity, and aesthetics.”
– Lev Manovich, Presidential Professor, The Graduate Center, City University of New York

“Someone takes a picture somewhere in the world. Such a trivial action is multiplied by a trillion. Or much more, since the majority of pictures today are produced by machines for machines. This collection of essays brilliantly explores the unheard-of effects of scale on the ontology of photography and it touches upon the sublime of the infinity of digital images.”
– Peter Szendy, Brown University

“This book’s refreshing and much needed take on photography cuts through the infoglut and explores the apparatus, infrastructure, and operations of contemporary pictures. Addressing everything from snapshots to machine vision, Photography Off the Scale unfurls a vital field of technology, politics and aesthetics reshaping the world.”
– Lisa Parks, Distinguished Professor of Film & Media Studies, University of California-Santa Barbara

With Tomáš, we wrote a substantial introduction outlining the stakes of the approach – how it relates to scholarship in photography and links it to key questions of digital culture – and we are really pleased with the whole lineup of the book:

Introduction: On the Scale, Quantity and Measure of Images
Jussi Parikka & Tomáš Dvořák

Part I: Scale, Measure, Experience

1. The Mass Image, the Anthropocene Image, the Image Commons
Sean Cubitt
2. Beyond Human Measure: Eccentric Metrics in Visual Culture
Tomáš Dvořák
3. Living with the Excessive Scale of Contemporary Photography
Andrew Fisher
4. Feeling Photos: Photography, Picture Language and Mood Capture
Michelle Henning
5. Online Weak and Poor Images: On Contemporary Feminist Visual Politics
Tereza Stejskalová

Part II: Metapictures and Remediations

6. Photography’s Mise en Abyme: Metapictures of Scale in Repurposed Slide Libraries
Annebella Pollen
7. The Failed Photographs of Photography: On the Analogue and Slow Photography Movement
Michal Šimůnek
8. Strangely Unique: Pictorial Aesthetics in the Age of Image Abundance
Josef Ledvina

Part III: Models, Scans and AI

9. On Seeing Where There’s Nothing to See: Practices of Light Beyond Photography
Jussi Parikka
10. Planetary Diagrams: Towards an Autographic Theory of Climate Emergency
Lukáš Likavčan & Paul Heinicker
11. Undigital Photography: Image-Making Beyond Computation and AI
Joanna Zylinska
12. Coda: Photography in the Age of Massification
Joan Fontcuberta & Geoffrey Batchen

The book is published by Edinburgh University Press and is part of their Technicities book series. A special thanks to Elise Hunchuck for her outstanding expertise in helping us to fine-tune the writing and to Abelardo Gil-Fournier for the cover image that comes from his project Bildung.

For any inquiries about the book, review copy requests, etc, please contact me or Tomáš.

Queuing

January 14, 2021 Leave a comment

This is a chapter from a couple of years back but reading something today on queuing (as ordering, waiting, allocating, as Celia Lury puts it in her wonderful new book Problem Spaces) made me return to it and also post here. The chapter on “Underpinning Time” focuses on questions of microtemporality that creates publics or collectives as being modulated through cultural techniques of of temporality in networks. While the chapter is far from a full-fledged take on queuing, of standing in line and waiting for ones turn, it starts with the core scene that defines also a certain moment of network time/allocation of packets in traffic.

“The Underpinning Time” came out in the collection Digital Memory Studies edited by Andrew Hoskins.

Eight Fragments on Eight Stones – CORES

September 27, 2020 Leave a comment

Rick Silva and Nicolas Sassoon’s new art project CORES is launched online. With Elise Hunchuck, we had the pleasure of writing the text, “Eight Fragments on Eight Stones”, to accompany the digital animations based on rock scans. See below an excerpt and check out the whole piece online!

“Here, on the lithosphere, where the earth meets the sky, there exists a long history of how rocks and stones can be seen as images and can be read as texts. A multitude of worlds has been interpreted through surfaces of stones as they depict worlds. Imaginary or not, they reflect historical events — a vertiginous array of scales, landscapes, and — sometimes — ruined cities. But they also include abstract forms and lines that offer geological points of origin for questions, including those of art and aesthetics. From the poetics of stones to the geological, we are nowadays more likely to count, classify, and catalogue than romanticise: geological surfaces and stratifications are measured and mapped such as in the cartographic codes for lithographic patterns. From sandy and silty dolomite to sandstone and shale, quartzite and granite to igneous rock the surface and subsurface are a slowly-unfolding inscription of different minerals.”

Read and see the rest on CORES website.

Seed, Image, Ground

August 25, 2020 Leave a comment

The new video essay Seed, Image, Ground is the most recent example of our collaborative work with Abelardo Gil-Fournier emerging from our project on vegetal surfaces and media aesthetics. Launched today, the video was commissioned by Fotomuseum Winterthur as part of their cluster Situations/Strike. Below the introduction text and the video! Please contact me or Abelardo for any queries related to possible video installation versions of the piece.

***

Seed, Image, Ground (2020)

Seed bombing is a technique used in forestry, agriculture, and environmental restoration where biodegradable containers filled with seeds and soil nutrients are dropped from flying aircrafts to the ground. Conceived after WW2 by an RAF pilot, its use has been fostered during the last decade, linked to the increased deployment of robotic aerial vehicles in environmental monitoring.

Seed, Image, Ground works with selected promotional images and videos related to seed bombing. It combines them with footage showing the movements of seeds and leaves, and the growth of plants. The video essay concerns the link between images, seeds, aerial operations, and transformation of earth surfaces into data. It acknowledges how the history of botanic knowledge and visual surveys of green surfaces is a history of images, and how the latter is also a history of circulation, speed, and motorised aircraft. Such images operate much beyond visuality.

Seed, Image, Ground offers an alternative way of understanding “the strike.” From metaphors of war to guerrilla farming, from agricultural techniques and reforesting to the automation of airspace and environmental management, the observation of growth of vegetal surfaces unveils connections to parallel histories of the logistics of military perception.

Sound design by María Andueza Olmedo. Research for the video essay was supported by the project Operational Images and Visual Culture, situated at the department of Photography at the Academy of Performing Arts, Prague. The project is funded by Czech Science Foundation project 19-26865X.

 

A Recursive Web of Models: Studio Tomás Saraceno’s Working Objects

My article on Studio Tomás Saraceno’s work is now out in the Configurations journal.

Screenshot 2020-07-23 at 14.39.37

The text follows up from the Palais de Tokyo show On Air (curated by Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel) and I’ve tried to articulate these points in the article in a couple of different contexts. While there is clearly lots (more) to be said about questions of artistic practices with animals (including multispecies ethnography), and what that implies for the field of environmental humanities, I am here a tad more focused on the question of the image, the model, and the exchange between art and science. Admittedly, “art and science” is a rather low res description of many of the actual workings of what happens in such practices, which is also why I have mobilised the term working objects (hat tip to Daston and Galison) in this context (while I acknowledge that so much more could be said). And keep your eyes open for Sasha Engelmann’s work on Studio Saraceno’s work btw.

In the meantime, see also the video “Studio Visit with Tomás Saraceno“.

A Natural History of Logistics

Here’s the video of my Strelka / #TheTerraforming keynote, “A Natural History of Logistics”. Thanks to Benjamin Bratton for the introduction to the talk (and the invitation to be part of The Terraforming Faculty). The talk stems from the seminar and the studio brief we did with the group in February in Moscow. While I outline some theoretical ideas for this synthetic (fake!) discipline, the researchers’ responses in February through mini-projects presented astonishingly good ways how the idea was taken forward: some historically grounded, some speculative, some somewhere in between, takes on soil, seabed mining, geomagnetism, tidal cycles, weeds, and more. Also thanks to Abelardo Gil-Fournier for his lecture and other work for the seminar.

And watch here the projects from the first day:

and the 2nd day in full:

Expert-Readable Images

November 8, 2019 Leave a comment

Welcome to our Operational Images project event on Expert-Readable Images at the end of November in Prague at FAMU part of the Academy for Performing Arts. Please find below a short description of the event and list of invited speakers. The event is organised by Dr Tomáš Dvořák (FAMU) and myself together with the project team.

expert-readable-conference-card-2

Expert-Readable Images
November 29, 2019 – FAMU in Prague

While machine-readable images have become a constant reference point for photographic theory and contemporary visual media studies, our event turns to the question: what are the specialised expert-readable image practices that cater to the technical specifics, institutional demands, and particular knowledge-roles of visual culture?

Recent discussions of operational images as well as technical media and visual cultures often invoke the distinction between human and machine vision. Automated visual systems are claimed to produce images by and for machines, pictures that are unreadable or even invisible to human eyes. Our conference seeks to complicate this dichotomy by addressing the field of professional perceptual skills, trained judgment, and expert practices of observation and instruction. Should we consider specific thought styles (to borrow a term from Ludwik Fleck)  and thought collectives that develop simultaneously with the technologies of instrumental imaging and visualizing? What does a doctor see in a CT scan? What does a drone operator see on a monitor? What does a statistician see in a graph? What does a forensic analyst see in a digital model? What does a content moderator see in our holiday memories? What are the particular cultural techniques of practice, of training, and operation that govern these relations to images?

The one day day conference gathers specialists from fields of media, visual culture, photography and science and technology studies (STS) to engage with the world of specialised technical images. We shift the focus from machines to the training and governance of humans who deal with those images.

For any queries, please get in touch via email at jussi.parikka@famu.cz.

Poster design: Abelardo Gil-Fournier.

In Conversation with Geocinema

The Digital Earth fellowship program enabled me to work with Solveig Suess and Asia Bazdyrieva from Geocinema over a half a year period, and here’s a podcast conversation we recorded (with a big hat tip to Jessika Khazrik) recently. We discuss Geocinema project and their work in China relating to the Digital Belt and Road, and their methodologies of (feminist) filmmaking, audiovisual aesthetics of infrastructure, geopolitics and more. Their work resonates strongly with what is the core of the Digital Earth program’s theme:

“Digital Earth’ refers to the materiality and immateriality of the digital reality we live in – from data centers to software interfaces, and rare minerals to financial derivatives. Earth is dug, excavated, and ripped apart to extract the fundamental materials that keep the computational machine running – oil, coltan, sand, rubber, lithium form the material basis on which digital reality is built. At the same time, digital technologies enable new modes of circulation and extraction, of information and data.”

For me, the fellowship scheme linked also nicely to the Operational Images project that has recently started. I also recently discussed their work in relation to questions of Farocki’s operational images/Sekula’s instrumental images, and what sort of resonances and dissonances there exists in these conceptualisations and methods of moving and still images that concern automation, remote sensing, infrastructure, and large-scale systems. My next plan is to write some of these thoughts up into an article.

Have a listen and share with others who might be interested!

Link to the podcast.

View at Medium.com