The Istanbul Design Biennial launches this week and we are glad to announce to be one of the invited participants. Our project with Ayhan Ayteş on the Middle-East legacy of technology and design is exhibited in the Studio X space. Besides featuring objects from this particular historical period of approximately 800-1200, the idea is to make this heritage enter into a conversation with speculative design, an alternative geopolitics of technology and imaginaries of design and media. This is executed in the form of seminar with Laura Marks and Azadeh Emadi (19th of November) and a workshop (November 20) on the design fictions and media archaeological imaginations of past futures, and imaginary realities of Middle East and technology. A lot of our thinking behind this programme has been influenced by the Variantology-project (Siegfried Zielinski et al).
Below is the short text we wrote for the catalogue of the Istanbul Design Biennial.
Jussi Parikka and Ayhan Aytes
A Media Archaeology of Ingenious Designs
Modern European culture has positioned early mechanical clockworks as key contraptions and symbols of the machine age of industrialism, later computer culture, and of the old new media of visual technologies (microscopes, telescopes and more). European humanism prescribed a mastery over technological culture while building automata as luxury machines intended to amuse and awe. This technological culture also resulted in questions about what the human is. But answering the question are we human? necessitates the further questions of when are we human, and where are we human?
When instead then? What if you start this story in an alternative fashion, in a different time and at a different place? What if you start with a speculative mind-set relating to existing but often forgotten histories of the design of the human and its doubles: technologies of automata and of the measurement of the world, alternative cosmologies in which advanced media machines are born as part of Muslim culture?
An alternative modernity: Baghdad since the ninth century and the Bayt-al-Hikma (House of Wisdom) supported by caliphs and their viziers as a special place of scientific knowledge. Nowadays we would call this an interdisciplinary laboratory for science, design and technology. Translations of texts and an enthusiastic interest in mathematics, logic, medicine and other sciences mix with innovations in design. A world of musical automata that work instead of humans; design prototypes for various machines that reach a sort of apex in Al-Jazari’s celebrated Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices (1206), which functions not only as a historical source on this rich culture of invention but also as a speculative design manual for an alternative technological culture.
In The Difference Engine, their 1990 science fiction novel, Bruce Sterling and William Gibson pitched a similar sort of idea relating to 19th century Victorian culture as part of a steampunk imaginary: what if the modern age of computation had already started then, a hundred years earlier than thought? Rewind further back in time: What if the age of programmable machines and advanced technologies could be said to have started in the “Arab-Islamic Renaissance” of 800-1200? We could then look at early devices like astrolabes as instruments of planetary design that mediate an understanding of the positions of the sun and the stars in relation to human practices such as prayer times. Besides technologies of time and location needed for the structure of everyday religion, programmable machines functioned as prototypes for computing by way not only of Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī’s “algorithm” but also the The Banū Mūsā brothers’ programmable musical machine.
Such examples beg us to alter our historical focus to a different age and a different region. Automata mirror and deflect, distort and circulate as machines of imaginary and real extensions of the supposedly human. They also question how human practices can be automated in the uncanny lives of technological artefacts. Automata are machines that situate questions of the human and its others as part of a deep-time media archaeology of robots and automata, and alternative geographies of design culture. Ask what the human is, and you also implicitly ask: what is not human, what is just about human, and what is barely human.
Marks, Laura, Enfoldment and Infinity. An Islamic Genealogy of New Media Art (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2010).
Nadarajan, Gunalan “Islamic Automation: A Reading of Al-Jazari’s The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices (1206) “ in MediaArtHistories, ed. Oliver Grau (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2007), 163–78.
Zielinski, Siegfried and Peter Weibel (eds.), Allah’s Automata. Artifacts of the Arab-Islamic Renaissance (800-1200). (Berlin: Hatje Cantz, 2015).
Water Serving Automaton,The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Devices (1206) (Topkapi Sarayi Libray, Ahmet III, Ms. 3472).
Media Theory in Transit: A one-day symposium at the Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton,
November 24, 2015.
organised by Jussi Parikka and Yigit Soncul
Media theory is in transit: the concepts travel across space and time, claiming new meanings for new uses along the way. We are not dealing with a static body of knowledge, but a dynamic, situated process of articulating knowledge and perceiving reality. Media theory crosses both geographical and disciplinary boundaries. It trespasses the border between Humanities and Sciences, and is able to carve out new sites of knowledge. It moves across conceptual lineages from human to non-human, and supposedly distinct senses such as sight, hearing and smell. Media theory is not merely a reflection on the world but an active involvement that participates in creating the objects of interest.
This event investigates such conceptual, geographical and sensorial passages of media theory. The talks address contemporary media theory and issues that are now identified as urgent for academic and artistic practices. The speakers represent different fields of arts and humanities as well as media theory, and engage with the question: how does theory move, and itself occupy new areas of interest, across academic fields and across geographies, in which theory itself is set to be in movement.
The event is supported by the Santander-fund, via University of Southampton and the Faculty Postgraduate Research Funds.
Media Theory in Transit is open and free to attend but please register via Eventbrite!
The PhD Study Room (East Building)
10.30 Introduction by Yigit Soncul and Jussi Parikka
10.40 Erick Felinto (State University of Rio de Janeiro, UERJ): “Vilém Flusser’s ‘Philosophical Fiction’: Science, Creativity and the Encounter with Radical Otherness”
11.30 Joanna Zylinska (Goldsmiths, London): “The liberation of the I/eye: nonhuman vision”
12.20 lunch break
14.00 Shintaro Miyazaki: (Critical Media Lab, Basel): “Models As Agents – Designing Epistemic Diffraction By Spinning-Off Media Theory”
14.50 Seth Giddings (WSA): “Distributed imagination: small steps to an ethology of mind and media”
15.20 Jussi Parikka (WSA): “Labs as Sites of Theory/Practice”
15.50 short summary discussion
16.10-16.30 Jane Birkin (WSA) “The Viewing of Las Meninas” (performance)
I will be in Bristol on October 1st to talk about Geology of Media. The presentation part of a very nice looking talk series organised by colleagues at UWE, “The Anthropocene: Looking for the Emergency Exit“. I am also pleased that the talk is chaired by Michelle Henning!
On a related note, on the fantasy of planetary exists, Benedict Singleton’s “Maximum Jailbreak” is a good read!
Part two of the Leuphana University and Brown University collaboration “Terms of Media” is taking place in October in Providence, US. I am extremely glad to be part of it, talking in the section “Remain”. If all goes as planned, the talk will move from the “remains” or “remainder” in the sense of the archival and the epistemological to emphasize issues of remains of media technologies in actioned situations. Remains are not merely of the archival, but part of a design brief with a hands-on relation to epistemology; labs, studios that address the remain as in the context of media archaeology but also design, sometimes implicitly, sometimes explicitly. The remainder becomes further detached from a nostalgic object to an issue that relates to contemporary ecologies of architecture, extended urbanism, supply chains and the “alternative worlds, alien landscapes, industrial ecologies and precarious wilderness” (Unknown Fields). I also will try to conclude with a mention of the methodological and thematic dilemma of infrastructural remains with a hat tips to Shannon Mattern and Unknown Fields (Liam Young & Kate Davies).
Below more info about the conference!
TERMS OF MEDIA 2: Actions
October 8-10, 2015
with Marcell Mars, Rick Prelinger, Lisa Parks, Claus Pias, Timon Beyes, Reinhold Martin, Jussi Parikka, Rebecca Schneider, Goetz Bachmann, Lisa Nakamura, Gertrud Koch, Bernard Stiegler, Finn Brunton, Mercedes Bunz, Wolfgang Hagen, Eyal Weizman, Kara Keeling, Luciana Parisi
Please forward any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
RSVP HERE: https://goo.gl/csrNhR
An international conference to analyze and reshape the terms—limits, conditions, periods, relations, phrases—of media.
“Media determine our situation,” Friedrich Kittler infamously wrote in his introduction to Gramophone, Film, Typewriter. Although this dictum is certainly extreme – and media archaeology has been critiqued for being overly dramatic and focused on technological developments – it propels us to keep thinking about media as setting the terms for which we live, socialize, communicate, organize, do scholarship etc. After all, as Kittler continued in his opening statement almost 30 years ago, our situation, “in spite or because” of media, “deserves a description.” What, then, are the terms of media? And, what is the relationship between these terms and determination?
This conference will serve as the concluding half of a two-part project, following an earlier conference at Leuphana University in Lüneburg, Germany, and will be followed by a series of publications based on each which will seek to repose and update these fundamental questions of media theory: Does our situation indicate a new term, understood as temporal shifts of mediatic conditioning, which deserves a re-description? How and on what terms are media changing, reflecting changes in media itself? What are the terms of conditions that we negotiate as subjects of media? How do the terms of media theory relate to such conditions? What are the terms of conditions of media theory itself?
Thursday Keynotes to be held in the Martinos Auditorium, Granoff Center:
154 Angell Street
Providence, Rhode Island 02906 USA
Remaining talks to be held at Pembroke Hall:
172 Meeting Street
Providence, Rhode Island 02906 USA
Schedule is as follows:
Thursday, October 8, 2015
Conference Introduction, 7 p.m.
• Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Professor and Chair, Department of Modern Culture and Media, Brown University
Keynote Address, 7:15 p.m.
• Marcell Mars, Public Library Project
• Rick Prelinger, Professor of Film and Digital Media and Board Member of the Internet Archive, University of California, Santa Cruz
Opening Reception, 9 p.m.
Friday, October 9, 2015
Session 1: Structure, 10 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
• Lisa Parks, Professor of Film and Media, University of California, Santa Barbara
• Claus Pias, Professor for Media Theory and Media History, Institute of Culture and
Aesthetics of Digital Media, Leuphana
Session 2: Organize, 11:45 a.m. -1:15 p.m.
• Timon Beyes, Professor of Design, Innovation and Aesthetics, Copenhagen Business
• Reinhold Martin, Professor of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Columbia
University in the City of New York
Lunch, 1:15 p.m. -2:30 p.m.
• Presenters and invited guests
Session 3: Remain, 2:30 p.m.-4:00 p.m.
• Jussi Parikka, Professor in Media & Design, University of Southampton
• Rebecca Schneider, Professor, Theatre Arts and Performance Studies, Brown University
Session 4: Work, 4:15 p.m.-5:45 p.m.
• Goetz Bachmann, Professor for Digital Cultures, Institute of Culture and Aesthetics of
Digital Media, Leuphana
• Lisa Nakamura, Professor, Departments of American Cultures and Screen Arts and
Cultures, University of Michigan
Conference Dinner, 7 p.m.
• Presenters and invited guests
Saturday, October 10, 2015
Session 1: Animate, 10 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
• Gertrud Koch, Visiting Professor, Department of Modern Culture and Media, Brown University
• Bernard Stiegler, Head, Institut de recherche et d’innovation, Centre Georges Pompidou
Session 2: Communicate, 11:45 a.m. -1:15 p.m.
• Finn Brunton, Assistant Professor, Department of Media, Culture and Communication,
New York University
• Mercedes Bunz, Senior Lecturer, Communication and Media Research
Institute, University of Westminster
Lunch, 1:15 p.m. -2:30 p.m.
• Presenters and invited guests
Session 3: Forecast, 2:30 p.m.-4:00 p.m.
• Wolfgang Hagen, Professor, Institute of the Culture and Aesthetics of Digital Media,
• Eyal Weizman, Professor of Spatial & Visual Cultures, Goldsmiths, University London
Session 4: Mediate, 4:15 p.m.-5:45 p.m.
• Kara Keeling, Associate Professor of Critical Studies and American Studies and Ethnicity, University of Southern California
• Luciana Parisi, Reader, Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths, University of London
Here’s a nice video of ScanLab-group with Benjamin Bratton and Jordan Crandall (UCSD) talking about design, sensors and sensing. In the discussion, the issues of design are connected to the wider theme of the mechanical image and how visual culture is changing in the age of new visual techniques, such as (3D) scanning. The panel is part of an exhibition also we at WSA collaborated in curating, on Autonomous Sensing!
After just finishing reading the final proofs for A Geology of Media, I wanted to post the cover design online. The image motif is from the Crystal World project by Kemp, Jordan, and Howse; such an inspiring project that features especially in the book’s chapter III on Psychogeophysics.
A Geology of Media is out in April 2015 – meanwhile, you might be interested in reading the short “single release”, The Anthrobscene (ebook)!