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AMT: An Office Manual

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Together with Ryan Bishop we wrote this short Office Manual as a short introduction to some of the work at AMT.

Ryan Bishop and Jussi Parikka:

AMT: An Office Manual

The abbreviation of Archaeologies of Media and Technology, our research group, is AMT. This is not accidental, but for those picking up the German connotations, it also becomes “office”: das Amt. But why an office? An office for media theory and speculative practice? What follows is a brief manual for the Office at Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton.

Alongside the factory and the laboratory, the office is a place of modern media par excellence. Information travels through the office. Addresses are managed. Memos are written, passed on, transmitted, received, acted upon, archived. Some of this information is produced in the office; some comes from outside of it. Data becomes information in the office. Technologies of writing form the office as a site of media: the typewriter among the most central ones, as an office technology that transforms the inscription of meaning across the 20th century. The typewriter goes “click”, as Vilém Flusser reminded us, articulating it as the sound of mechanical operations. The typewriter, and the world it represents, leads to the centrality of calculation: “We are therefore forced to calculate rather than to write, and if we insist on writing, we have to go ‘click’”.

Besides typewriters, it’s the dictaphones, calculating machines, adding machines, telegraphs, printers, computers, filing cabinets, faxes, teletypes, telephones, photocopiers and other technologies – some more grey than others – that are the backbone of the administrative infrastructure of modern culture. Hence instead of asking “why office?” it is more apt to ask if you did not receive the memo: technical media was always centrally about the office anyway. At the beginnings of the entry of modern technologies of calculation, transmission and control stood the office and the office clerk, something that great documenter of modern bureaucracy Franz Kafka knew all too well.

Offices occupy the university too. The centrality university spaces revolve around the office, the seminar room, the lecture hall, the studio, the library and a couple of other places but in the administrative organisation of what goes where, the office is central. As one of the three institutions in the West that have survived since the Middle Ages (in addition to the Church and the Military), the university generates offices that in turn generate the university. To speak of media technologies through the office rather than the usual media vocabularies of mass media reminds of us of this other, extended definition of media: techniques and technologies of inscription, transmission, analysis and backbones of various imaginaries that situate contemporary culture in a broader historical context. The office is out of joint. Give me an office and I will raise a world.

Our Office, AMT, is a place of connections. It is a platform for that space where the studio meets the library, the archive meets the lab; these disciplinary spaces are in conversation in ways that underscore the ineluctable continuum of theory and practice. Our Office is interested in the practices of theory in technological culture as much as it is working through projects that are practice-led and feed conceptual work too. We are always interested in the inseparable relations between the material and the immaterial, the synchronic and the diachronic. Our Office is large. It contains multitudes.

The Office also operates as a speculative platform. The media-supported backbone of culture is also one of imaginaries and speculative practices that often look like an avant-garde arts version of a writing machine. Office projects engage with technologies of inscription but not merely traditional writing. The work of image sensors, for example, often operates as an important but less investigated element in digital visual culture. Similarly visual planetary remote sensing as an extension of non-human locations of seeing, processing and transmitting images outside the human operator or analyst is an exceptionally powerful, ubiquitous and complex set of technologies of inscription. Besides visual forms of knowledge in technological culture, we have examined what digital data does to cultural institutions; how infrastructures reinscribe forms of public and private; how the internet of things prescribes also the internet of cultural things. In other projects the archival image is investigated through art practices, forms of description that also expand to Situations of Writing, a project led by our colleagues in the Critical Practices group.

It’s all part of post-digital culture – a topic of investigation as well as a reality in which the Office is situated. Our Office also works with other institutions, such as our partner transmediale.

The Office, of course, does practice media archaeology: investigations into the historical conditions of existing technologies and their practices, uses, misuses, abuses, missed opportunities and potential speculation about art, science, technology, hyphenated together. The Office Manual consists of techniques of tactical misunderstanding and misuse, of wrong paths that produce much more interesting meeting agendas than the assumed routes. The linear narratives of many technological emergences, just as those for scientific discovery, often discount the accidents, blocked pathways and fortuitous combinations that often result in teleological triumphalism. The Office urges those complications to the heroic narrative to be accounted for and considered. Because, as we have to acknowledge, only what can be typed, tabulated and filed exists: before any narrative, there is a technology and a clerk performing the work of inscription.

AMT Logo // thank you to Dr Jane Birkin

The Residual Media Depot summer school

I had the pleasure of being one of the participants in the Media Archaeology summer school in Montreal at the Residual Media Depot (Concordia). Invited by Darren Wershler, and teaching alongside also Lori Emerson, we had a wonderful group of participants from Canada, Finland, USA, UK and Spain whose own projects and their work at the Depot during the week demonstrated a fantastically broad spectrum of what media archaeology can perform.

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I could not emphasise the word perform enough: while we engaged with the theoretical limits and limitations of theoretical work in and around media archaeology, including how it interfaces with for example infrastructure studies, the various probes the students presented and the hands-on work in the Depot investigated the idea of collections as part of the methodology. The performative aspect of media archaeology – and theory broadly speaking – allows to both see it as a situated practice that benefits from its access to institutions and collections as well as creates the space for such to exist: to imagine a media archaeology lab or a collection becomes also a projective way of engaging with the current themes of reshifting humanities infrastructure and institutional changes. As Wershler and Lori Emerson, the director of the Media Archaeology Lab at Boulder, Colorado, also underlined, it is through the particular materiality and access to collections that one can think differently in relation to what are often deemed objects of (media) cultural heritage.

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Relating the course’s themes to also his own research, Wershler explained how his interest in the cultural life of signals builds on work in the Depot too. To engage in the work of assembly through old but still functioning systems one is led to understand the various ways the life of signals is constantly constructed and re-constructed across multiple fields of agency from hobbyists to the mini-industry building the various technological tools for an afterlife of for example consoles.

Media archaeology embodies multiple temporalities. The different theoretical frameworks from Erkki Huhtamo to Siegfried Zielinski to Wolfgang Ernst are different solutions to the problem of time – how to approach time differently in methodological ways and in ways that understand technical temporality. For example, Ernst’s ways of approaching time criticality and temporal operationality are something that both offer a different ontological take on technology and also can act as interesting guides in how we work with collections such as the Depot.

In my view, the Residual Media Depot was a perfect platform for the workshop. Wershler had designed the week as a mix of theoretical investigations, student probes and practice-based work that functioned somewhere between maker methodologies, art practices and an archival interest in collections that are important for media theory too. The collection is focused on cultures and technologies of gaming with a special focus on consoles, but as Wershler emphasises, it is not a game archaeology depot. The consoles and the material around them is an entry point to media history and signal culture.

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In several ways, the Depot’s work aligns nicely with the Media Archaeology Lab but also with our AMT group: to establish a framework and an enabling situation for a research-teaching continuum that is interested as much in practice-based work as it is in explicating what practices of theory are. All of this feeds also as part of the Lab Book we are writing together.

You can find more information about the Depot on their website and on the same site you can find all the student probes from our week of Media Archaeology.

The Residual Media Depot (RMD) is a project of the Media History Research Centre in the Milieux Institute at Concordia University.

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What is AMT? A video and an interview

December 10, 2016 Leave a comment

In this video, myself and Ryan Bishop talk a bit more about what the new research group (or office) Archaeologies of Media and Technology does and how it sits as part of the research and practice at Winchester School of Art.


In addition, a new interview with me (conducted by Thais Aragão) is now online and available in English and in Portuguese. The interview is focused on AMT as a platform for practice and theory and how it connects to themes in media archaeology and digital culture research.

You can find AMT online at: http://www.southampton.ac.uk/amt/

and on Twitter at @amt_office

J.R. Carpenter’s The Gathering Cloud

November 12, 2016 Leave a comment

J.R.Carpenter’s new hybrid print and web-based work The Gathering Cloud unfolds as fittingly dreamy, beautiful piece with hypertextual hendecasyllabic verses that attach solidly to the undergrounds of contemporary data clouds.

Like her earlier work, it engages in a contemporary that is entangled between the past and the now. The topic of the cloud becomes the vehicle that drives the work, from Luke Howard’s “Essay on the Modifications of Clouds” (1803) to querying the environmental significance of any word, any seemingly fleeting moment captured as image, uploaded, and stored on the cloud as part of the transactions of data that are the humming backbone of our digital poetics.

A Media Archaeology of Ingenious Designs

October 19, 2016 Leave a comment

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).

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The Elephant Clock, from The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Devices (1206), (Topkapi Sarayi Library, Ahmet III, Ms. 3472)

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.

Sources:
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).

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Water Serving Automaton,The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Devices (1206) (Topkapi Sarayi Libray, Ahmet III, Ms. 3472).

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Faxbook

July 24, 2016 1 comment

Here’s Faxbook, a media archaeologically pertinent alternative to Facebook brought to you by Garnet Hertz and The Studio for Critical Making! The “social” and its  current techniques like “sharing” was not invented only by the latecomer digital social media platforms and through the design intervention that Faxbook rescales the techniques to a different media technological system.

Quoting Hertz below:

“Faxbook is now live, with the first transmissions sent out this afternoon. I’m limiting the system (a bit like Brucker-Cohen‘s Bumplist) to only 16 users, and there are a couple of spots left – if you want to join, send a fax that includes your fax number (with country code) to +1-604-630-7427. The algorithm will do the rest.

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AMT – Archaeologies of Media and Technology

June 13, 2016 1 comment

AMT3.jpg_SIA_JPG_fit_to_width_INLINEThe site for our new research group, AMT (Archaeologies of Media and Technology) is now live: http://www.southampton.ac.uk/amt/.

Directed by myself and Ryan Bishop, AMT is located at the Winchester School of Art and is an “office for media theory and speculative practice in art & design”.

We are on Twitter as @amt_office and here’s the short description of what AMT stands for:

Amt – (German) an administrative unit, office
Also: Airy Mean Time, a time standard used for timekeeping on Mars

Archaeologies of Media and Technology (AMT) is a research group that approaches technology and media writ large through their links to science, art, visual culture and critical theory with a strong emphasis on artistic practices. We investigate the conditions of existence of contemporary media technologies through design and art, in relation to both contemporary culture and cultural heritage with an eye toward the future.

The group will kick off with a range of activities after the summer including a small launch event planned tentatively for October even if we are already now involved in many things happening. The group builds on earlier work we have done with the transmediale-festival as well as many other links both in the School, in the UK and internationally. We have hosted various talks in these fields in the past years, including by Shannon Mattern, Alex Galloway, Lawrence Grossberg, Laurence Rickels, Olga Goriunova, Tony Sampson, Joanna Zylinska, Shintaro Miyazaki, Victor Burgin, Esther Milne, Pasi Valiaho and many others. We have hosted events such as Media Theory in Transit and The Image of the Network.

This week Linda Hilfling is giving an artist talk “Adding to the Paradox.”

We will post more info during and after summer with events at WSA and through projects with our international friends and partners!

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