Archive

Archive for the ‘global media’ Category

The Mediocene And the Lab Scene

The Mediocene conference takes place later this month in May in Weimar. Organized by the IKKM, the conference picks up on the Anthropocene from a specific media-focused vantage point. In the organizers words, “The concept of the Mediocene […] sees media and medial processes as epoch-making. As a determining force, they leave their permanent imprint on the world, affecting animate and inanimate nature alike — human existence, technology, society, and the arts as well as the shape, organization and history of the global habitat itself.”

My take draws on our current laboratory-project, and below is a short (draft!) text of the beginning of the talk still in the process of writing and without a full range of references. The idea of the talk is to set the laboratory as this particular term, an imaginary and a fever around which multiple scales of planetary media come to the fore. It will also discuss topics especially in the art and technology-nexus including briefly the emergence of art labs in the Cold War institutions of technical media (a topic that will be well covered by Ryan Bishop and John Beck in their new work), as well as experimental work in the arts about the lab, including Bureau D’Etudes on the Laboratory Planet as well as probably such work as Neal White’s on post-studio. Any further thoughts, tips and ideas are warmly appreciated.

The Lab is the Scene

One could be forgiven for thinking that the world’s nothing but a lab. From endorsing the centrality of the factory as a key site to understand modernity and as the site of production, material transformation, commodity culture, labour relations, pollution and what not, the laboratory seems to have in some accounts taken a similar role. It speaks to a range of topics of media and culture: historically, a central place of inventing and engineering technical media; thematically, one crucial vantage point for the multi-scalar operations that define the tie between the planetary (dis)order and its situated practices. It does however come with a legacy that is only partly about the science lab. Indeed, the other important lineage relates to the technology, engineering and design/art labs that throughout the 20th century started to offer a parallel narrative: experimentation, a demo or die-attitude (at the MIT Media Lab, see for example Halpern 2015), prototyping, and more. Hence this lab story of experimental culture is not restricted to the science lab as if a separate entity from the arts and humanities; and in any case, the science labs of many kinds have already had their fair share of attention from social scientists and humanities scholars, even post-studio artists up until the recent days with the continuing enthusiasm for CERN residencies.

The proliferation of laboratories outside the strict confines of the science lab seems to have taken place with the entry of a range labs of different kinds: design labs, maker labs, hack labs, media archaeology labs, studio-labs, digital humanities labs, humanities, critical humanities labs, media labs and critical media labs – and then, fashion labs, brew labs, coffee labs, gadget labs, creativity labs, the list goes on. The usual thought would be that this is part of the metaphoric inflation of the meaning, site, scientificity of the laboratory that brands a particular attitude to postmodern culture. Of course, as Henning Schmidgen echoing the likes of Peter Galison and others points out, “the laboratory is undergoing a process of dissolution and dispersal,” with the massive distributed networks that constitute the laboratory now (think of the Human Genome project, think of CERN) but this dissolution and dispersal happens on other levels too, as the examples pertaining to humanities and media labs demonstrate. There’s almost nothing that could not be a lab. But perhaps the lab is itself symptom more than the answer, and as such, a trigger to consider issues of the mediocene in art and technology; issues such as scales of data, infrastructure and different methodologies. It becomes itself a rather fluidly moving term not merely designating a particular specialist place but also a particular project about the lab imaginary. Here, the notion of the project is crucial due to its future-oriented sense.

A focus only on the most recent would miss the point how the laboratory was already early on a contested term – especially when going on in the pre-scientific laboratories and their heterogeneous sets of spaces and practices that avoid too easily to be pinned down only as steps towards the perfection of a form – but the problem about the term persisted also later, during the emergence of the science laboratory.

As historians of science have noted, the lab as elaboratory was one formative way of understanding what then went on in the early modern spaces preceding labs. Elaborating materials for medicine and chemistry, working with the variety of materials in ways that was not merely under human control: the) elaboratory was a place where to let things go their way, even if offering a stage by way of the thermomedia control (see Nicole Starosielski’s work on temperatures and media) that allowed the transformations to be accelerated from earth time to lab time. Interestingly enough, such a broader understanding of labs and elaboration in relation to natural formations persisted; Sir Humphry Davy’s voiced in 1815 that “the soil is the laboratory in which the food is prepared.” In 1860 in a very different scientific context regarding the Physical Geographies of the Sea, Louis Ferdinand Alfred Maury spoke of the sea as the “a laboratory in which wonders by processes the most exquisite are continually going on”, as a sort of an model for understanding atmospheric movements even.

Indeed, reverse from our current laboratory fever some 100 years and a bit more, and shift the focus to Bangor in Wales where Sir William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin of, indeed, the kelvin fame of temperature measurement but also having worked with maritime compasses among any other things crucial for planetary media. Thomson opening the new spaces of physics and Chemistry labs in 1885 at University of Bangor seemed to be offering a rather extended way of understanding the topic. Let’s quote him:

“The laboratory of a scientific man is his place of work. The laboratory of the geologist and naturalist is the face of this beautiful world. The geologist’s laboratory is the mountain, the ravine, and the seashore. The naturalist and the botanist go to foreign lands, to study the wonders of nature, and describe and classify the results of their observations.”

Thomson was no mere romantic fool of course, but a man of modern science. He was not haunted by a romantic longing to a past of gentleman travels across the planet observing this beauty of nature but more of a pragmatist. Also the field research must be tightly linked to the possibilities of the lab, its equipment and its techniques, so as to ensure there is a tight connection between the insides and the outsides (Gooday 790). A properly equipped lab is what ensures that the field itself becomes an extended part of the technical apparatus, a laboratory that spans across the territories of the planet. A lab is where scales meet, to remind of the ways in which Bruno Latour spoke of Louis Pasteur for example.

For a longer period medicine, chemistry and metallurgy, and then of course physics remained the central disciplines of the laboratory (see Gooday, Schmidgen 2011). 20th century brought technological laboratories into the scene: engineering and material labs, electronics labs to the varieties of other forms of centralised facilities that systematised the production of engineered culture. Much before there were things called media labs, labs were essential to media to become what they became in relation to the actual apparatuses as well as their impact on the thresholds of perception. Labs were one sorts of conditions for much of that work that came to be called media. Many of the labs in engineering were the institutions central to the backbone of various national and international infrastructures such as the Bell Labs, the centrality of “innovation labs” from Menlo Park to many others, and of course, the centrality of the art and technology labs of the Cold War that themselves were the grounding of so much of what we call now “media arts” and where the particular techniques of speculative, experimental use meet up with the other sort of speculative that is attached to forms of value creation.

The lab as place, invention and extension of “media” is part of the continuum of the technological work in labs and the artistic practices as one background to the notion of experimentation. The media and arts approaches produce a particular discourse, a particular stance on the experiment, but also in some cases a corporate take on a speculative mapping of scales that reach out spatially to planetary infrastructures as much as local scales as well as to the future-oriented dimension. Here, I believe there’s a way in which it resonates with the question of the Anthropocene as one of scales that map out the lab as something of an epistemological and medial arrangement that spans further than its space. This happens both discursively and in terms of its objects of knowledge: emerging from the Cold War period art-technology labs, or the studio-lab, it also becomes a scene where the continuum between technological culture and its creative practices are put into a conversation, creating the particular scene and the fantasy of visionary future-oriented experimental work inventing the media worlds to come. The Mediocene is this particular aesthetic-technological framing of scales (temporal, spatial, potential, not-yet actualised, speculative) and quite often, also in this arts-technology nexus it does happen through the hinge of the lab. Now, using the term, as is clear from already now, I am forced to ignore many current examples that also use the term in other ways that I will narrate in this talk. The term has multiple uses and as such, my version does not do justice to the full plethora of labs of critical, experimental practice as much as it connects the term to a particular different sort of a genealogy. Hence, bear with me, as I sketch some ideas.

Screen Shot 2017-05-14 at 17.24.11

Park Life: Occupy Istanbul?

May 31, 2013 1 comment

It was summed up in a tweet: this could be the Turkish Spring. The person was referring to a CNNturk broadcast, which finally had picked up the story of the past days of occupation of the Gezi park in Istanbul and the following police violence. A peaceful protest turned into widely circulating images of tear gas, facial injuries, and a range of police measures that anyone seeing the pictures could not see as proportionate, despite some government officials trying to dismiss the events. Some tweeters escorted their images of tear gas filled Taksim with a reminder: “this is not Middle East, this is Istanbul”.

Via Reuters

The occupations had to do with a tactical colonialisation of both hashtag space and real lived urban space. The fit to purpose and inevitable hashtags had already paved the way on Twitter: #Occupygezi and #Occupytaksim signalled the connection to the widely known occupation of the Zuccotti Park in New York that spread as model for global reappropriations: occupation of public streets as a form of reclaiming the commons. Such occupations were never really only about that particular space, but also more abstract but as real features: protests against the logic of financial capitalism and their relation to the securitization of public space.

The events at the Gezi Park might have started with protection of trees planned to be bulldozed to make space for yet another city mall, but they revealed much about the recent urban planning of Istanbul as well as global capitalism.

Istanbul had seen rather worrying street action the past months already: For instance the movement against the demolishing of the historical Emek film theatre was met by water cannons and tear gas.  In less violent news, which however have to do with public space as well, the new legislation restricts retail sales of alcohol during the night and bans selling of alcohol near mosques.

Besides urban space, natural space has been another target. The plan to build a third bridge over Bosphorus has been fiercely criticized by a range of environmental and other groups for its clear madness: in addition to the massive cutting down of trees, such building projects including the new airport set to open in 2018 are a threat to the water resources of the area.

gezi 2 via twitter

Of course slogans and hashtags matter in how they condense and collect a range of different images, narratives, participant accounts and political sentiments.  Social media acted as a way to quick and dirty collating of material, not least images like on the tumblr site: ‪http://occupygezipics.tumblr.com/ . Hence the reference to “Arab Spring” was something of a rather successful slogan. After all, Turkey was supposed to be the democratic moderate Muslim country acting as a role for the uprising Arab countries.

However, the past years have seen more of international attention to the range of human rights violations against journalists and activists. The events at Gezi Park are in this sense a rather logical continuation of control of public space that in Istanbul is paradoxically mixed with a political ignorance of specialist urban planners voicing their concerns. On the one hand, lots of the massive sizes building projects are short-sighted in terms of their implications for the environment and the long term future of the city. This includes lack of planning for instance for public transport, which in a city completely congested by millions of cars is not a minor feature. On the other hand, the police measures that restrict the public space and political protest are showing how the major financial investments and projects are tightly linked with authoritarian security.

Indeed, besides being able to tap into the past years of legacy of Occupy-movements as well as Arab Spring, the case for OccupyIstanbul is emblematic of bigger contexts. Like seemingly every contemporary struggle, the urban battle of Gezi park and the real-world struggle with capitalist development and authoritarian policing exists at in real spaces and commons and in digital hashtag spaces with established news agencies covering the former by following the latter.

But it also should be read again as part of a longer development: the exploitation of ecological resources and the public urban commons, and the connection between short-sighted economically driven planning with totalitarian security is something we should understand is not restricted to Istanbul.

People might be now wondering how can a city that is applying for the Olympics 2020 demonstrate such reckless behaviour. Unfortunately, this is actually not that contradictory. It also shows the capacity to control the public space, protect the commercial environments and brands and take necessary measures in construction projects to pave the way for global cultural events. In London, the Olympic year of 2012 London was also the year of Occupy movement camping front of St. Paul’s Cathedral. London 2012 might not have been a violent affair but it demonstrated a link between police-governed high tech security and global brands.

gezi 3 via twitter

(images from Reuters and via Twitter. Thanks for feedback to Paul Caplan and for the constant stream of information to Emre Kizilkaya and dozens of others via Twitter…)

Jobs, we need jobs

October 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Just a sober reminder of some of the work that enabled Jobs to be the (media) star he was. This via Facebook.

Towards Winchester

May 29, 2011 1 comment

June 1st, I am starting a new job at Winchester School of Art (University of Southampton) as Reader in Media & Design. I am excited to be joining such a vibrant community of lecturers, researchers and ambitious plans for the future. I am part of an initiative to build an extensive research concentration on Global Media and Art – where the interchanges between art, technology and science are a key part of the agenda. It was not easy to leave behind Anglia Ruskin, ECFM, ArcDigital and CoDE – but they will continue to prosper with the help of their body of wonderful researchers!