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After Arikan: Data Asymmetry

December 20, 2016 Leave a comment

After our succesful exhibition of Burak Arikan’s work, Data Asymmetry, I am posting some of the interviews and material that came out of the exhibition.

Here’s a video interview we did with Arikan setting up the exhibition in the Winchester gallery in November 2016:


And then there’s the interview(s) in Furtherfield: Carleigh Morgan interviewed Burak in the part 1 of the interview about Data Asymmetry and myself in part 2 of the interview. The interview(s) address mapping as a collective experiment,  networks as events, (art) methodologies of working with data and a lot of other topics related to internet culture.

 

 

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A Mini-Interview: Mercedes Bunz explains meson press

July 11, 2014 5 comments

meson press first book, Rethinking Gamification (PDF), was just released in Lüneburg. Part of the Hybrid Publishing Lab at the Leuphana University, the press focuses on digital culture and network media with the aim to “challenge contemporary theories and advance key debates in the humanities today.” I was interested in inviting one of the representatives of the press, Mercedes Bunz, to share in the style of some earlier mini-interviews I have conducted what she sees as the stakes in coming up with a multiple-format publishing house that focuses on theory.

Most of scholars are increasingly frustrated with the dinosauric habits of big academic publishers, but how to establish alternatives in the academic world that is challenged both by the necessity of new formats and by the only slowly changing recognition systems of the academic world?

The burning questions in publishing seem to be about the changing media ecology of academia of which publishing is one part – and inherently connected to institutional settings and subject-positions.

In other words, the question posed to Bunz: mesonpress_gamification

“What and why is meson press as a theory publishing project and does it connect with the wider question of the “post-digital scholar?”

Mercedes Bunz: “You are right: publishing itself gets profoundly questioned by digital media, it isn’t just that digital media is an exciting field for theory because it never stands still.

The interesting thing: while we all know that within publishing there is “disruption”, oddly enough this doesn’t necessarily mean that there will be change. It might be true that technology offers alternative ways of publishing. However, reputation management and academic recognition systems stand in the way and ensure that nothing changes. Thus, the situation we find ourselves in is slightly mad: technically there are many ways to publish and share intelligent thoughts by now. However, young academics can’t use those alternatives because then their book a) can’t find its way into academic libraries which means b) they don’t get cited, or c) the book isn’t recognized for their CV. For all of that it still needs an approved publisher. Our technical super-connected, post-digital world is left helpless.

Of course, one can’t accept this.

meson press works its way through this situation. Naturally as academics who are also media scholars, we are quite interested in exploring the question: What chances are there in digital book production for theory debates? Our answer so far is the following: We publish open access, and this makes books easily findable and pushes citation. Also we foster the findability of our books regarding search engines and catalogues, and take marketing quite serious. However, the most important difference in my opinion is the conceptual understanding of what this is: a book.

Similar to Mattering Press, or Christopher Kelty’s scholarly magazine Limn http://limn.it/ our publishing project is an academic cooperative: from academics for academics. This means in our view, a book becomes a place to meet and debate, similar to a lecture, a workshop, or a seminar. Editing a book was always a starting point for a discussion, copy-editing was always a way to connect or disagree. It is this tendency which now needs to be further amplified. In other words, we take quality assessment very serious and try to turn it into a concept: A book isn’t just a product that starts a dialogue between author and reader. It is accompanied by lots of other academic conversations – peer review, co-authors, copy editors – and these conversations deserve to be taken more serious. In a post-digital world one needs to understand that a book is a process that gives good reason to meet in person. Formats like book sprints have lead the way. Wendy Chun has also inspired us to create a writing group in which we constructively discuss a non-completed essay or chapter.

So I suppose this is how meson press connects to our situation as post-digital scholars. As a publishing house which is also a publishing project, we focus on the book as a form of communication, and this communication is an important part of its production. This is a way to optimize its task: to intervene, and challenge (which is not an easy task in our neoliberal societies). But we like the humanities, and we like them alive and kicking.

If I may give you a little overview of our upcoming publishing projects: After”Rethinking Gamification” we will publish two forgotten classics: The first will be by the Greek-French philosopher Kostas Axelos “On Marx and Heidegger”, which is edited with great care and expertise by Stuart Elden. We are very interested in Axelos’ take on technology and alienation. The second will be by Antonia Caronia “The Cyborg”.

Also we are very proud that Yuk Hui and Erich Hörl have started editing the series “After Simondon” with us, and we are preparing two edited collections “Diffracting Kittler: German Media Theory and Beyond” and “Critical Keywords for the Digital Humanities”.

Sorry, but may I end this little interview with an appeal? If anyone has an idea for a thrilling book proposal in the context of digital culture and media studies, please send us a short trenchant abstract and chapter overview to: mesonpress@hybridpublishing.org.”

Saved As: Today’s Media, Tomorrow’s Archive

Our co-organised event at SALT Galata in Istanbul gathered quite a good crowd of people interested in politics and software practices of archives. Together with Burak Arikan, and support from SALT and Winchester School of Art, we were able to get together great insights from academic, curatorial, and software art practice angles on how to think about cultural memory in the technological age. Our initial plan was to focus more on software art and archival question but in the light of past month or so, we wanted to make sure some sort of a connection to Gezi park, Istanbul and Turkey becomes visible. The talks are being uploaded online as video – below mine for those interested. It focused on questions of circulation, media practices, memory and archives in the techno-political context and asked the question of why might a future archivist suddenly find not only cute cat pictures circulating in the internet spaces of June 2013, but also so many penguins. I wanted to reflect on questions of memory and media practices through various examples of the creative visual culture surrounding the past events in Istanbul and Turkey.


We also gathered some follow-up interest. For instance the Today’s Zaman-newspaper interviewed me about the event: “is today’s media tomorrow’s archive?

Here is Ebru Yetiskin’s article after the event: “Farklı Kaydet: Yeni Medya, Toplumsal Bellekler ve Başka Gelecekler” (in Turkish).

Archival Infusions. An Interview with Robin Boast

October 23, 2012 2 comments

Here another earlier recorded interview I did, this time with Dr Robin Boast. Our chat was inspiring for me, as usual; we talked archives, metadata, cultural heritage institutions and digital culture, and I always find Boast’s insights so provocative, so fresh. Boast is really someone who can talk of archival fevers and the history of the discipline; archive as a profession and an institution. He offers wonderful archival, museum science and anthropological insights, infusions, into digital culture.

You can find the interview Mp3 here. The timing of re-uploading of the interview, from January 2011, is good; Boast has just been appointed Professor of Cultural Information Sciences at the University of Amsterdam in Netherlands, leaving behind UK and Cambridge. Great catch for Amsterdam!

Just to remind: all of these interviews I have been posting were made originally in the context of the Creative Technology Review podcasts, that I did with Julio D’Escrivan.

Critique With a Cause – on Lovink’s new book

June 5, 2012 3 comments

Geert Lovink can be provocative – very provocative. This is one of the pleasures of diving into his writings and books, just like with Networks Without a Cause, the most recent one published by Polity.

Lovink is a good “network barometer”, a measuring device in his own right, who captures significant themes being debated, even if not always within academia. And I say that as a good thing.

Lovink’s style of defending the work of concepts and theory but steering clear of stuffy academic language and managerial games, of investigating global trajectories without buying into neoliberal globalization speak, and investing so much into perspectives that stay close to code and technology without reducing his work into techy-geekyness is always a good combo.

Networks Without a Cause works it’s way through the current crisis of social media and the  public sector, including universities, and provides insights into the managerial cultures that combines both. Of course, these are two different kinds of crisis; Social Media companies are perhaps not in the financial crisis as the public sector, but in a state where their stance towards security, surveillance and privacy is being increasingly questions; and well, public sector both being pressed by the cuts and austerity programs as well as the managerial attitude creeping into a range of institutions. Hailing the liberatory effects of Social Media is just, well, naïve in the age when no user is probably unaware of the surveillance and business logics of such proprietary platforms. Similarly, Lovink picks up on the crisis of theory in universities, or more specifically a take on media studies’ role in current educational landscape.

For a media studies scholar, the chapter (see also a piece co-written with Ned Rossiter) is a tough read – but thoroughly enjoyable! I found a weird sense of satisfaction reading it, despite disagreeing on points; something about the provocation was to me spot on, in terms of placing media studies as part of the managerial drive in current universities – and UK is an especially apt case. While noting the running down of Arts and Humanities worldwide, Lovink picks up on media studies as “an academic genre [that] sprang out of the heads of education consultants and bureaucrats and blended into unrelated departments and intellectual cultures, in order to scale-up output.” (83) In other words, while registering the birth of media studies as a jumbled together mixed bag of variety of disciplines from film to theatre, cultural studies to new media studies, Lovink continues the argument as one related to theory. On the one hand, a “neutering” of innovative theory that has become a mechanical mode of application (“watching Heroes with Zizek in our favorite interpassive mode, flowing through the national libraries with Castells, understanding Google a la Deleuze, or interpreting Twitter via Butler?”); on the other hand, academic theory becoming only a means towards the end of managerially controlled research output exercises.

Yet, one could object – and should. As Michael Goddard noted on Facebook, where does this place then such fields as Media Ecology (after Matt Fuller) or Media Archaeology, which I also would claim is not only a look backwards to the old media studies groundings in television, radio or visual culture? Furthermore, whereas institutional settings in our discplines such as media are becoming threatened by admin culture, media studies scholars are happy to carry the legacy foward and come up with extra-institutional and other innovative settings for theory work and critique — read for instance Mirko Tobias Schäfer’s recent thoughts on tactics of going rogue. Another objection might be raised when Lovink quotes Lev Manovich, and Manovich’s critique of 1960s-1980s theory that has lost its relevance “because commercial culture and computers today run on many principles of this theory – from irony and the self-referentiality of advertising to ‘rhizomatic’ networks. So to use many of these theoretical concepts is to state the obvious.”

Manovich has a nice point here of the recursive nature with which earlier critical theory has turned part of the advertising folks toolkit. To a large extent, that can be seen true, but also we need to be aware that a very uninspiring and loose use of for instance notions like “rhizome” in 1990s cyberculture studies does not equate into it being completely part and parcel with the network condition. That a lot of Anglo-American adaptation of French philosophy for instance produced a range of misreadings and reliance in such notions of distributed nature, rhizomes, irony etc. is not exactly the same as assuming that a misplaced metaphor suddenly determined the state of new media. Such a stance would just validate bad theory. We need to be able to really read theory – and understand where theory turns rotten, uninspiring, and badly applied; not just dismiss it altogether that easily and uncritically.

However, Lovink picks up on exciting ways to develop theory. It is not about being dismissive, but clearly wanting to see something new to happen. Although I would claim that a lot of this is happening – however, not much supported in the creative industries/digital economy academic culture of for instance Britain – and gradually carving out more visibility. I agree with Lovink that such openings as Fuller & Goffey’s Evil media is among them, similarly as McKenzie Wark’s notes that are as needed. Even Manovich’s quantitative cultural analytics can be seen as an interesting move away from a traditional hermeneutics approach, developing media specific methodologies.

Indeed, media studies – like pretty much all arts and humanities disciplines – is in a difficult spot in relation to funding cuts, decrease in public support (well, in the UK media studies has historically been in a bad spot as the blamed mickey mouse-field, hated by the Tories and media), increasing managerial culture surrounding research (REF) and teaching (counterintuitive QAA), as well as the temporal issues. As Lovink notes, in an increasingly quickly changing media cultures, the cycles of academic studies are just too slow to be up to date, and often their destiny is to focus on historical phenomena.  Whereas some approaches, such as media archaeology, might be able to turn that to their advantage, that does not hide the problem entirely. More radical structural changes are needed in publishing and recognition systems. This means for instance on such levels as REF a sustained commitment to supporting open access journals and experimental formats of publishing academic research.

Lovink writes about writing (net criticism genre), radio, blogging, google, wikileaks and more – pretty much a range of the most debated events and platforms of past years. And still his book feels something that you actually enjoy reading. This might sound like a casual and banal observation, but I mean it in the sense of actually expecting to reach the end of the page, just to turn to next page. Lovink observes, inscribes and reports – but with a twist that makes his style so recognizable. His provocative style is attractive, and whether you agree or not on the points, well, he is making a point.