Archive for the ‘creative industries’ Category

>Nondescript Animals: CoDE – The Cultures of the Digital Economy

January 5, 2010 Leave a comment


Digital culture is one of “nondescript animals”, or if one wants to be a bit less poetic, “nondescript objects.” Originally, “nondescripts” were such animals that fell outside the analytical labeling system in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. Later, as Michelle Henning points out in her Museums, Media and Cultural Theory, such anomalies were “apt rather to appeal to casual curiosity-seekers”.

As a category of anomality, such nondescripts are what puzzle and do not fit in. They are in tension between cognitive and affective categories, borrowing elements from what seems too many directions. They are not neat, nice and they do not make sense. We have headaches because of them, and I am not just talking about academics or businessmen trying to figure out best ways to extract value of such weird objects of for example p-2-p-culture.

This is why such objects of digital culture are often seen as “hybrids” or for example mixings of cultural and computational (Manovich). Nondescripts are more than just objects, as they are processual foldings of so many scales and layers that their ontological status remains puzzling. This applies to their status as objects as much as to the workflows and routines in settings where digital objects are created and passed on; design studios, game companies, service operators, etc.

The emergence of the new research institute CoDE – the Cultures of the Digital Economy is for me a vehicle to reach such nondescripts of which our contemporary culture is constituted. I was appointed as its Director starting January 1st, 2010, and in that role I see myself as a cartographer of nondescripts.

The nondescripts are everywhere. Value creation and business models are filled with such weird objects that copyright law and such are trying to pin down often with archaic models. Cultural interaction turns puzzling with communities, communication, and even modes of emotional engagement from friendship (think of Facebook) to sex being mediated through software platforms. Cultural memory does not escape nondescripts either, with materiality of the objects being embedded in new forms of social media, distributed archives and heterogeneous access methodologies. Its no wonder we see a continuous emergence of neologisms that try to grab the complexity of such trends; media ecologies, media archaeologies, and such, all trying to flag the multiplicity of ties both horizontally and temporally.

In terms of CoDE’s remit, there are various directions we could go. In addition to several essential ones, the institute is a good way to take into account:

– transdisciplinarity. To excavate such research themes but also knowledge transfer contacts that fall outside the disciplinary boundaries. Not just between disciplines, but in-between as a space of nondescripts. The UK has a great history of art and science collaboration (think of for example the Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition at the London ICA curated by Jasia Reichardt and in general the history of British cybernetics).

– Software objects and studies. As part of the possible future(s) of media studies, software studies is in a crucial relay position to tie together a variety of ways of tackling with the ontology of where we are now. Software, automated cultural processes, new ways of creation of visual and sonic content, programmability, articulation of politics in and through software embedded contexts, etc. is the stuff of “cultural” studies – or should we say “not-just-cultural-studies.” Just like good media theory is always “not-just-media-theory”, any engagement with contemporary culture realizes the extent to which it is articulated through software.

– Old/new/dead media. We should not let the newness of digital culture fool us. It is new as a temporal phenomena, whereas too often the newness of new media has been non-temporal, almost like a void. Old media is going nowhere, and new media is the one that takes care of that – paradoxically. The short term innovations are embedded in the longue durée of history of uses and ideas – what media archaeologists have referred to as the history of recurring topoi (Huhtamo) and deep time history (Zielinski.) This is where digital culture and economy are not only about the digital; but about media culture as a beehive of innovation of ways of seeing, hearing, feeling and where “old media” is a continuous archive for such ideas.

– Creative practice and theory intertwinings. CoDE needs to extend research from pure theory/written research into a variety of other modalities in terms of optical, sonic and other media modes of creation. Research-creation. Here again the reaching out to what the 1990s called “creative industries” and what is rebranded as part of “digital economy” (even if also the government seems to be really uncertain what this means) is an essential component of academic collaboration. The Cambridge area of technology and related industries that are strong e.g. in entertainment (thinking of games here) is still a buzzing arena for collaboration.

This is where I see “nondescripts” also as passages and vehicles that transport research outside the academia as well. They are transversal in the sense Félix Guattari talked about transversal relations that are able to cut across normalized hierarchical organizational relations. Institutions and institutes do not necessarily have to solidify, but can be based on principles of circulation, mobility and a sense of vitality that does not lack in criticality either.

To conclude, a short insert on the emerging research streams of CoDE:

The Cultures of Digital Economy (CoDE) Institute embeds research streams in artistic and cultural approaches to digital technologies. It emphasises cultures in the plural, and uses creative practice as the motor for value creation in digital environments. Its research projects, business and community engagement and learning collaborations emphasise this innovative, critical, and creative approach to the digital economy. The research is by nature transdisciplinary –between and across disciplinary boundaries – and probes new opportunities to cultivate innovative approaches to new information, media, and communication content, platforms, and networks.

CoDE has four key Research Streams:

1. Social media and Network Politics

The ubiquity of networking, social media and web 2.0 in everyday life means new positives and pitfalls in building social relationships, value creation, and knowledge production, and in highlighting politics and activism. CoDE is dedicated to analysing emerging forms of peer-to-peer activity, social collaboration, and remix culture through a combination of established and experimental research methods.

2. Digital Performance and Production

With the establishment of Anglia Ruskin’s Digital Performance Lab and a strong cluster of research productive staff, CoDE will develop and grow innovative research in music and embodied performance in digital environments. From creative practice research to the development of new interfaces and applications for music production this stream thrives on rapid changes to sonic economies and creative communities fostered by digital interfaces, immersive environments, and wearable technologies.

3. Digital Humanities – Archives, Interfaces, Tools

Rethinking humanities in the age of new media is a crucial and unavoidable challenge for academics worldwide. From new theoretical approaches to innovative modes of distribution, archiving, and accessing of material, CoDE research projects tackle complex questions posed by efforts to digitize forms of cultural heritage, intellectual archives, and humanities-based forms of critical and creative work.

4. Play and Serious Gaming

Digital culture is by its nature playful. Gaming does not only represent a mode of entertainment and a new form of interactivity that gives rise to new practical and theoretical tools, but also a way of rethinking learning and education. Including everything from visual effects to serious gaming, this research stream brings together SMEs, informal programming communities, interface developers and designers. It will create new opportunities for Cambridge’s existing and emerging strengths in the gaming industry to collaborate and will explore the future that these technologies hold.

Code is Directed by Dr Jussi Parikka, Reader in Media Theory & History at Anglia Ruskin,

Co-Director: Dr Samantha Rayner

Research Fellow: Dr Greg Elmer

CoDE has over 50 affiliated staff members from across a range of disciplines: from computing to media theory, creative music technologies to creative visual practices and much more.

Tetris: The Training Ground

June 2, 2009 4 comments

I am for sure not the only one wishing Tetris a happy 25 year old birthday, but still, the game has deserved it. Its addicting, fun, and indeed: with no purpose in itself. Sounds familiar? Almost like everyday life, except the fun bit.

It’s also a wonderful piece of living media archaeology, especially now in the midst of the boom concerning “casual games”. That’s of course what mobile entertainment was/is supposed to be, but also all those small, simple games that you can just pick up / log into, and end as casually as you started them. Like mobile games, they are meant to kill the couple of minutes between chores, the tube trip to work place, or back, or the time while waiting for your date who is late.
Casual. Does not demand much attention, but enough to keep the game going. Addictive, but to a degree that it can be indeed left alone for a while. Part of the fragmented everyday routine, so that it can add an extra scale of fragmentation and hence act as a “training ground” for the crucial skills of contemporary work sphere: flexibity, readyness for changes, quickly shifting temporalities, etc.
I would be actually tempted to exaggerate that Tetris was an early crucial phase of this training — not only the senso-motorial skills that it and a bunch of other early games imposed on the user; but also in terms of its place as part of the everyday media sphere. I think Friedrich Kittler referred somewhere to discos as the training ground for future wars (the ability to react to impulses, maneuver in spaces defined by quick paced sonic and visual rhythms, etc.), but perhaps Tetris and other early games were the crucial training for our computerized post-Fordist sphere.

That’s actually what I quite often find lacking in some of the even brilliant Italian and Italian inspired writers of post-Fordism: a meticulous and accurate analysis of the network and computer society that contributes and frames those themes that Virno, Lazzarato, Negri, Hardt, etc. are offering. I know Bifo gets closer to this topic, but I feel that on this front, there is a huge amount to be done.

As a bonus, click here for 5 classic Tetris adverts! Hilarious stuff.
See also the Guardian story on the topic.

>Cultures of Creativity With No Talent: Cola-Olli

>As usual, I missed something that most of the country is following, this time Britain’s Got Talent. I was not too bothered about who Susan Boyle is, or the various “talented” Brits featured on the show such as the Stavros Flatley, even if, only too late, I started thinking about this in the context of the banality of talent shows more generally. How do such talent shows relate to the hype on “creative cultures”?

The origin of my interest was through a Finnish “talent” or actually a world record attempt TV-show, a low-budget show with completely average Finns trying to break records that probably never even existed. In terms of Youtube-

popularity, one of them broke the record all right: the so-called “Cola-Olli.” For the first time, he was featured in the programme in November 2006 when he tried to drink 1,5 litres of Coca Cola in approx. 45 seconds. Well, most of Finland knows by now that the guy never made it, and he had to interrupt the “test” after some two glasses with the almost by now legendary words: “ei pysty, liian hapokasta” — “can’t do this, too acid.” Cola-Olli became an instant ridiculed hit on Youtube (poor guy), which did not stop him from becoming a celebrity. Apparently, he was asked to perform on festivals and reappeared in the same TV-show later on only to lose a Cola-drinking duel with another talented young man.
In any case, we ended up talking with my friend Pasi Väliaho about Cola-Olli as an indexical character of the post-Fordist culture of “creativity.” The quotation marks around the word creativity are much needed. What such events of TV-shows are incidental of, is a culture of paradoxical loops of failure and insignificance, and we never reached a conclusion whether Cola-Olli was to be remembered for his complete failure or because that his attempt had no significance anyway. (Of course, as Milla reminded me, one of the contexts for Cola-Olli are the various eating competitions etc. especially in the US, that work as a certain kind of a potlach-culture, or turning the act of consumption into a celebrated talent when you stuff your mouth with a ridiculous amount of eggs, butter and whatever food-like substance!).
As a mock up of any celebration of cultures of creativity, or creative industries, or in a tongue in cheek fashion of Paolo Virno’s idea of the generic capacities of the human being (such as communication, language, creativity etc.) as the defining biopolitical engine for current culture, Cola-Olli was phenomenal. How about such TV-shows and acts that carry no kind of talent — more of an incapacity for anything, an acclaimed talent for something that is in any way easily negligible. Why should we care if someone can drink 1,5 litres of coke in 45 seconds, or if someone has a good attempt of being a good unicycling act (Britain’s Got Talent) or if someone thinks they can dance like Michael Jackson (BGT again) is worthwhile paying attention to. With such examples, and the whole concept, it becomes much more interesting to start thinking about the framing modes of attention, the attention economy, of such acts, than any potential skill, lack of skill, or interest in peculiar talents. If Musil wrote about the The Man Without Qualities as an emblematic figure of modernity, surely The Man Without Talent in this supposed culture of creativity is an updated version of the central character which is the engine for the discourse of “everyday talent.” I am not in any way agreeing with the silly elitism of people such as Andrew Keen (“The Cult of the Amateur”), but just proposing how such examples are voicing another kind of a viewpoint to the creative industries.
Quite often we find the reference to the logic of publicity and visibility as the defining force behind such programmes – the Warholian idea of every person having his or her 5 minutes of fame. However, perhaps it has to do as much with a rethinking of the whole notion of creativity and actually revealing something about the post-avantgarde sphere of Creative Cultures that we are dealing with. I am here reminded of Maurizio Lazzarato’s talk at Art and Immaterial Labour Symposium in London, January 2008. To really briefly summarize, Lazzarato pointed towards the key paradigmatic “values” of modernity: freedom, heterogeneity, difference and deviance, all capacities or “talent” of the artist. However, to put it shortly, such skills or values are not restricted to the artist anymore but are distributed across the whole of the social body which in Lazzarato’s discourse can be connected to societies of security (in the manner suggested by Foucault). Anyhow, Lazzarato tracks the genealogy of this idea through Duchamp and Kafka. For example Duchamp’s readymade is emblematic of concerns that could be relevant for all the “talent shows” of people with little traditional talent in the manner of how already “the readymade does not involve any virtuosity, technique or particular know-how, so it ‘desacralizes’ and deprofessionalizes the artist’s function…”. (Lazzarato, in Radical Philosophy 149, p. 27). Instead of the idea of the active, creative genius, we have the act of doing pretty much nothing; “Acting at the minimum”, as Lazzarato calls it; “doing nothing”, he writes, as the “refusal to accomplish what is asked of you, whether it be the passivity of the worker or the activity of the artist…”.
Lazzarato’s larger point relates to demonstrating how the act of the artist is not anymore set against work. The wider field of work and creativity have been renegotiated in a new regime of proximity. Indeed, such aesthetic practices and discourses should be also seen as productions of subjectivity, which is the generalization of some of the banality in avant-garde techniques to the general culture of creativity. (As a footnote: in his recent book Le gouvernement des inégalites Lazzarato talks about the regime of neoliberalism acting through the wider field of the social; intervening through a promotion of creativity and multiplicity in order to create the aspiration for entrepreneurship, the personalized “human capital” of each and every one’s powers of differentiation.)
The truth about Creative Industries is the grey banality of the everyday life at an ad-agency, or a games house where an increasing amount of the jobs has to do with administration and for example answering maintenance calls. (In some games houses apparently the figure is something like 25 % of people hired for creative design, 75 % for admin such as support lines.) Naturally this applies to universities as well, where the amount of admin is increasing in terms of personnel but also in terms of duties of the supposedly creative classes such as lecturers and researchers.
In this context, Cola-Olli is not so much a loser than only an emblematic figure of the middle-classes trying to find that last spark of uniqueness within admin cultures of creativity. Beyond talent, performing the banality of the everyday life in creative industries. He is the “readymade” performer of current culture obsessed with finding talent in every corner of life. And to be fair, if pressed with the question of what would be my creative talent, I would remain speechless. I could not perform any better than Cola-Olli in drinking Coke, or the Stavros Flatley family doing their mock Greek/Irish step dancing, nor could I sing. To put it in lyrics by Morrissey and the Smiths: ” She said: I know you and you cannot sing / I said: that’s nothing, you should hear me play the piano.” Hence, I have to remain academic swamped with loads of admin on my desk.