Archive

Archive for the ‘Geology (of Media)’ Category

Geologie médií

March 22, 2020 Leave a comment

The Czech translation of A Geology of Media is now out and available with Karolinum publishing house (Prague) as Geologie médiíAlso the Czech translation of What is Media Archaeology? is forthcoming (probably 2021) as well as a book focusing on my work (planned to be out in 2021).

Screenshot 2020-03-22 at 14.12.44

 

How to practice variantology of media?

December 17, 2019 Leave a comment

I was commissioned to write a short popular audience piece on Siegfried Zielinski for the Korean article series “The Front Lines of the 21st Century Humanities and Social Sciences”. The series has featured many theorists from Kittler to Haraway, Barad to Latour, as well as one article on my work. The text on Zielinski is now published and I wanted to post the original English text (not copy-edited, apologies for awkward language hiccups) here. Please find it below. The short text was also written to note the just published volume of Zielinski texts, Variations on Media Thinking (University of Minnesota Press, 2019.)

Siegfried Zielinski: How to practice variantology of media?

One way to understand a theorist’s work is to look at how she or he is being talked about. What do your friends or enemies say? What are the concepts, ideas, or generic style of a theorist that catch wind and which ones are left to the side? While Siegfried Zielinski has become known for his significant work as one of the early theorists of media archaeology and as a poetic palaeontologist of deep times of art and science, it is curious to have a peek at the little book Objects of Knowledge – a Small Technical Encyclopedia that functioned as a Festschrift, a celebration of Zielinski’s 60th birthday, written by his colleagues and peers. In the eyes of his friends, Zielinski’s work extends to a whole glossary of odd objects, things, and speculations that reveals the influence he has had in extending the discussion of media to clearly things not usually considered media. A wild list of “media” objects constitutes the book’s entries: basket, bathtub, book destruction machine; Dried Food, Filmoscope, Fountain Pen, and Geiger Counter; Hand, Line, Phenakistoscope; Sardine Can, Side Scan Sonar, Slide Rule, Typewriter, and Wall Socket are some of the examples of where we end up when riding with Zielinski’s mind set.  While Zielinski himself has recognized that perhaps media, as a term, has become superfluous, this also was one form of a liberating feeling: finally we are not stuck with only mainstream set of a focus on media as entertainment, media as pleasing viewers and customers.

In this manner, one would do justice to the broad career of the German media theorist and professor Zielinski by calling him a variantologist of media. True, he has mobilized a range of terms that speak about deep times and palentology of media, suggesting that our usual historical timeframe is not sufficient to understand the longer histories of art and science collaborations. And true, he has engaged in the alternative histories of media – something that ties him into the field of media archaeology interested in these unknowns or forgotten paths of past media practice– when discussing the hegemonic histories of television and cinema perhaps only as entr’actes in the wider cultural history of audiovisions. This is the exciting bit for anyone bored of the usual media studies discussions of only television, film, internet, computers – indeed, the “audiovisual overlaps with other specialist discourses and partial praxes of society, such as architecture, transport, science and technology, organisation of work and time, traditional plebeian and bourgeois culture, or the avant-garde.” That, already, then tells us one firm thing: media studies is truly cultural studies is truly interdisciplinary studies. Variantology is then one name for this drive to look beyond disciplinary conventions and boundaries, and look at the most mundane with new eyes: the usual household item of the video-recorder becomes in Zielinski’s writing a time machine in the fundamental sense, a suburbian living room equivalent of time/space manipulation.

On can say that Zielinski’s constantly overarching approach has been to look at the variations – the non-normative, the alternative, the minor, and the differing practices that define technological arts and mediations of seeing and hearing. This idea is also present in the name of the most recent English translation of his works: Variations on Media Thinking. Of course, his earlier book Deep Time of the Media stands out as almost programmatic declaration. The book moves from Antique Greece philosophy of perception (Empedocles) to the Jesuit priest Athanius Kircher’s explorations of “light and shadow” in the 17th century. Early versions of all sorts of audiovisual but also cryptographic, hence algorithmic, techniques of media emerge from that story, argues Zielinski with a poetic touch. It illustrates a different understanding of technology than the current market and economy oriented focus on Silicon Valley and consumer gadgets. For our current media culture so determined to believe in the all-saving grace of new technologies as the solutionist  credo this twists things around somewhat ingeniously: to look for the old in the new, and the new in the old, to use Zielinski’s own phrasing.

Besides Zielinski’s objects of knowledge and wonders that Deep time of The Media book and others chronicle – Kircher’s arca steganographica (a machine for encrypting and decrypting letters), Martin van Marum’s 1785 “electrification machine”, or the “Self-writing wonder machine” by E. Knauss’s automata from 1764 – one can find an interesting program for variantology as an approach. In other words, this is not merely a collection of interesting discoveries in an alternative archive of art, science and media, but an inquiry into an-archaeologies.

Variantology is thus slightly anarchic in its pursuit of discourses and practices of magic, science, technics and media in history. It defies the hegemonic forces of what Zielinski coins the psychopathia medialis: the drive towards homogenising uniformity in media practices and discourses that characterises the capitalist culture of media understood as entertainment. Instead, the task of the variantologist is to dig out moments of difference, resistance, and experimentation that help us to imagine things differently.

Furthermore, there is an important methodological cue when Zielinski notes that we also need to shift the focus of our interest. Instead of the usual Western stories and capital cities of media production, we need to look South and East: Zielinski wants thus “to advocate a two-fold shift of geographic attention: from the North to the South and from the West to the East” which leads into a program of excavating histories of art, science, and media, stories and practice of alternative techniques from Far East, Mediterranian, Asia Minor, Greece, Middle-East, and South America.

This programmatic call was partly realised then in the Variantology-book series he set into motion with other editors, leading into volumes that offered case studies of such alternative stories. So while Zielinski’s own work and theoretisation emerged from 20th century core set of experimental practices and histories – from Godard to Virilio, Bauhaus to Lynn Hershman Leeson, from theorists of 1968 to the media theoretical boom in Germany since the 1980s – he also was able to shift the focus to collaborations with a much wider geographical and intellectual reach. Even if Zielinski’s 2011 book After the Media takes account of contemporary forms of media thinking from a self-declared Berlin perspective, he is still adamant the this is only one situated perspective as part of a wider cartography of media: “comparable thematic genealogies need to be written by authors who bring in their own cultural and intellectual experiences and areas of competence, before we can bring them together at scales of greater dimensions and can explore and try out their compatibility in the long term.” Also theoretical work has its own geography, and theoretical work has its own deep time.

Is this excavation in some sense also political? Can one say that this is a more activist way of doing media archaeology? While his compatriot Friedrich Kittler became famous for his insistent way of changing humanities agenda through technological knowledge, Zielinski’s work emerges with an emphasis on the artistic, which is reflected in his own personal history as part of some key art institutions of Germany, including in Berlin, Cologne, and Karlsruhe. For Zielinski, then, the question is not only about technology – even if he never dismisses knowing about technologies and engineers – but about potentials of experimentation and change: “to create a better world than the one that exists”, as he writes. Indeed, this is what connects to his pursuit of imaginaries of media, which itself is not merely personal fabulation but a systematic strand in history of thought.  In a pithy fashion, Zielinski states: “Imagination and mathematics have never been irreconcilable opposites and will not be so in the future.” Deep times also link to alternative futures, against psychopathia medialis.

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

Aesthetics/Politics/Technology – A Czech Interview

This video interview made with a Czech platform is now online and available. Recorded during Spring 2019, it was done also in the context of my FAMU visiting scholarship in Prague and discusses questions of aesthetics, politics, technology, deep times, anthrobscene, materiality and more.

Screen Shot 2019-06-26 at 16.31.27

Click here for the full video interview.

My work with FAMU continues in the context of the Operational Images project until end of 2023.

Slow Violence – No Man’s Land

My short essay-booklet A Slow Contemporary Violence came out in 2016 in the Sternberg Press series The Contemporary Condition that is continuing in full swing. Below is a short excerpt from my contribution to the series. The excerpt is the passage on Güven İncirlioğlu’s photograph installation touching on the 100th anniversary of WWI. One can consider it still as rather apt timing, including how it speaks about the war that never ended and in its own way, continuing themes that relate to Rob Nixon’s thesis about slow violence which is also one of the reference points for my whole essay.

Screen Shot 2018-07-29 at 13.25.25

***

I want to address the idea of temporal conglomerations and deep times of contemporary geopolitics as slowness or long term durations that unfold as not immediate for the human perception. I want to start by way of photographic art.

Parikka contemporary figure 1.jpg

Fig. 1: A close up of “Her Taraf – No Man’s Land” by Güven İncirlioğlu. Used with permission.

As part of a selection of works from the 3rd and 4th Çanakkale Biennial in Turkey,Güven İncirlioğlu’s installation piece “Her Taraf – No Man’s Land” from 2014 is one of the many art and culture commentaries about the Gallipoli campaign, also known as Dardanelles Campaign, that took place on Turkish soil during the First World War. The events have been commemorated over the past times on many occasions and by many institutions from official governments to universities to cultural institutions. The war and its relation to modern Europe and global geopolitics has multiple narratives, and for historians of media and technology, it has been marked as a turning point of the twentieth century. The war was also a mobilization of new technologies including the wristwatch and different solutions for wireless communication on the front line; the media connections were important in military operations, but they also started to enter the private sphere of the domestic life. In addition, the chemical technologies presented a more efficient way of destruction from the air both as planes and as chemical warfare, which was employed on the European front effectively; such also formed the backbone of the pesticide-enhanced agriculture of the twentieth and twenty-first century.

Many of the military operations and events took place on the outskirts of our current version of Europe, including Turkey and the Ottoman Empire. A hundred years after the war, and a hundred years after the start of the naval assault by Britain and France, on 25 April 1915, the digital photographs in the installation tell a partial historical story about what remains after the war and its devastation. The images do not, however, feature the usual iconography of human memory: of old photographs juxtaposed with other objects of memories; of faces as souvenirs of the old grainy image era transported in photography. It is a story not so much of faces but of landscapes of war and technology, of chemistry and destruction.

The photographic installation is a mini-landscape that occupies one wall. The images commemorate the First World War as an event of technological warfare of massive ecological scales. But it also becomes clear that the commemoration works in alternative ways; it is less as a celebration of the Ottoman victory than a subtle sort of a monument that entangles social history and natural history, and acts as a conglomeration of different temporal regimes. Even this distancing from the nationalist narrative is worthwhile noticing in the midst of the years of strong religiously tuned nationalist rhetoric and policy measures of current day Turkey. But the temporal politics of the images works differently. Enhanced by the atmosphere of silence surrounding the digital images placed on the walls of the Depo-gallery, İncirlioğlu’s piece is described as a commentary on the two times of “human life and the time of nature,” as the accompanying text on the wall informs. A usual historical narrative builds the memory around the 100 year milestone from the events, but the piece reminds of the multiple ways of narrating and recording time — not a passing of time, but a slow chemical sedimentation of time; it reminds how time is not merely a passing of events, but a milieu of multiple ways of accounting for it in the midst of human and non-human agents. It expresses a landscape of time, but not a landscape of the usual mastery through which we have been accustomed to think of nature in art history. It is a landscape, which we are still involved in.

Parikka contemporary figure 2.jpg

Fig. 2: Installation view at Depo Gallery of “Her Taraf – No Man’s Land”. Used with permission.

The title “No Man’s Land” refers to the contested zone between the trenches that during the long months until January 1916 changed occupation many times. It brings to mind the various historical narratives of human misery that the existential non-space of the trench meant — both in terms of anxiety of waiting, the deadly warfare and also the stink of diseased bodies.

For material stories of the war, writers have addressed “bunker archaeology”5 as the architectural legacy of war that transforms into the concrete aesthetics of the Cold War that still lingers on in port and other towns bombed down during the latter of the two world wars, and replaced by Brutalist building blocks in many of their central quarters. But İncirlioğlu extends from the social and human history of ruins to what lies beneath the architectural as its ground, the soil and the seabed. His photographic installation talks of the invisible chemical traces of dead bodies, body parts, barbed wired, gun shells, mines, dead trees, and flora — a natural history of the intensity of the war localized back then in Çanakkale but one that seems in its own way planetary. The geopolitical aim of landing through Çanakkale to reach Istanbul never succeeded according to the plans, but the geophysical legacy of such warfare in the age of advanced machinery left its concrete trace in the soil. İncirlioğlu’s meditation is not, however, only about that particular piece of land, the landing site and its territories formed of trenches, blue waters giving way to the war ships that connected to the supply routes, distant ports in England and other places, and many other operations; it also includes a global perspective.

He continues by way of a short biospheric meditation of technical war: “Today, it is possible to say that the global state of war that also encompasses the biosphere has been going on for a century.”6 İncirlioğlu continues referring to the annihilation of masses in the Middle East, Africa, Asia — an extension of the continued war; on the other, the “total destruction of human habitats, rivers, forests and the biological-mineral world is being processed on by the neo-liberal policies worldwide. In this context, today’s Istanbul’s northern forests, quarries, African gold mines, vast territories of fracking in Canada and all other sites of destruction […] resemble the scene of a ‘no man’s land’.”7

The story told was not after all a commemoration of a war that ended but the war that never ended ; the war that facilitated an entry of new sorts of technical forms of control,  regulation, production of chemicals and more — an apt theme considering we are living in a sort of a continuous Cold War8 defined by territorial claims, energy wars, realpolitik of terrorism entangled with geopolitics, movements of biomass that expresses itself as the human suffering of forced refugee movements. Beginnings and endings become only temporary markers for narratives that are insufficient for the complexity of this time. The sort of a war we are addressing does not lend itself to easy stories of ideological oppositions but to complex networks, which entangle strategies and tactics with environmental realities and the finitude of the world of energy and materials. These sorts of wars are geopolitical in the fundamental sense, and do not involve just the two sides of troops in trenches. Indeed, it moves the focus from the human actors, soldiers, tragedies of personal, family and other scales to those of soil, the ground, the air — an elemental tragedy that is the backdrop in which a drama of the Anthropocene might unfold. It is also a tragedy that comes out clearest in its slowness.

Antropobsceno

The Anthrobscene, the short booklet originally published by University of Minnesota Press, is now available in Spanish. Published by the Centro de Cultura Digital (in Mexico City) as Antropobsceno it is also now available as free e-pub download. The booklet was published in Portuguese in Brazil earlier this year.

Here’s Nora Khan’s earlier review essay about the Anthrobscene.

 

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).

cn-orig-pred

[Image from Abelardo Gil-Fournier’s workshop materials].