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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.

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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

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.

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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