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A Performance of Exchanges

December 18, 2019 1 comment

A review by Debra Levine of our book Remain (Ioana Jucan, Rebecca Schneider, and myself) has just been published in the Dance Research journal.

Quoting here the nice ending by Levine that notes especially the exchange between performance studies and media archaeology and ecology:

“This excellent volume offers methodologies in performance studies and media archeology to work with remains and relics as speculative objects and vestigial technologies. The text convincingly argues that their ongoing presence is not merely indexical to a foreclosed moment in the past, but instead, as Schneider writes, “a decay that just won’t quit” (73, quoted from Schneider 2012, 159). Their stubborn presence— the fact that remains are “scriptive things” (a term coined by Robin Bernstein to indicate their passage to and from biobodies; Berbstein 69), as well as interfaces—allows performance studies to play with media archeology and ecology as a performance of exchanges which revise the temporality and the materiality of the remain, and as Parikka notes, can be afforded a “liveliness of multiple afterlives” (43).”

The book is available from University of Minnesota Press as paperback and from Meson Press as Open Access download.

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.

Italian translation: Archeologia dei media

October 24, 2019 Leave a comment

The Italian translation of my What is Media Archaeology? is out next week. Published by Carocci, the lovely edition was made possible thanks to the labouring by the translator Enrico Campo, with help from Simone Dotto, and with the inclusion of additional texts (preface and postface) by Ruggero Eugeni and Simone Venturini. The Preface by Eugeni is titled “Media lontani, sempre presenti”, the postface by Venturini is titled ” L’archeologia dei media come “angolo cieco” delle scienze umane”, discussing media archaeology in the context of the humanities.

The translation follows the earlier ones in Turkish and French. It also nicely coincides with my Visiting Professorship in Udine!

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Archeologia dei media
Nuove prospettive per la storia e la teoria della comunicazione publisher’s webpage

Categories: Italy, media archaeology

The Italian Job: Visiting Chair of Media Archaeology

September 20, 2019 1 comment

I am happy to announce that I will be holding the visiting Chair in Media Archaeology at University of Udine in Italy for the academic year 2019-2020. The lovely people of Udine are also the ones organising the renowned Gorizia Film Forum and the Spring school in film and media with topics that often touch on media theory and technical media culture too.

At Udine, I will be teaching media archaeology for the International Master in Audiovisual and Cinema Studies (IMACS) cohort. I am excited about planning the syllabus that besides readings from Siegfried Zielinski to Giuliana Bruno, Wanda Strauven to Erkki Huhtamo, Thomas Elsaesser to Shannon Mattern and many others will also engage with the work by artists such as Aura Satz, Kelly Egan, Bill Morrison, Ebru Kurbak, Harun Farocki, and others. In this context, I am interested in asking what is media archaeology in the context of practices (art and labs, for example) and what is media archaeology in the context of current ecological and environmental issues – a good example would be a discussion of archives and cultural memory through energy infrastructures like Samir Bhowmik has done in his recent work echoing Nicole Starosielski’s opening on thermocultures of media.

We also plan further research collaborations including on the topic of Operational Images, which is the project I am involved in at FAMU in Prague.

The timing for the Italian visit is perfect as the translation of my What is Media Archaeology? is coming out with Carocci publisher as Archeologia dei media. As soon as the book is out, we will be planning some book launch talks in Italy.

Some of the local work also connects to our Lab Book project that we are currently writing up with Lori Emerson and Darren Wershler: the Gorizia film lab is part of the university setup. 

In Search of Media: Remain

April 26, 2019 Leave a comment

I am excited to announce that our co-authored booklet Remain is now out and available via University of Minnesota Press and Meson Press (Open Access PDF). Together with Rebecca Schneider, and Ioana Jucan who wrote the introduction, we were offered the term “remain” to respond to as part of the series of investigations as to “terms of media” in contemporary context. From the book’s description and with two blurbs from Joanna Zylinska and Steven Shaviro:

In a world undergoing constant media-driven change, the infrastructures, materialities, and temporalities of remains have become urgent. This book engages with the remains and remainders of media cultures through the lens both of theater and performance studies and of media archaeology. By taking “remain” as a verb, noun, state, and process of becoming, the authors explore the epistemological, social, and political implications.

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“What emerges in this short book is a theory of media as that which remains. Mediating deep time with temporarily fossilized moments in our cultural history, the book’s multivoice narrative raises important questions about human responsibility for matter and other matters.”

— Joanna Zylinska, Goldsmiths, University of London

“This book spells out the ways in which past media and past practices continue to haunt and inflect our present social and technical arrangements.”

— Steven Shaviro, Wayne State University

 

For paperback, see University of Minnesota Press page.

For Open Access, see Meson Press page.

Media Archaeology in Chinese

April 10, 2019 Leave a comment

Our co-edited volume, Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications, and Implications has been translated into Chinese. The translation (媒介考古学:方法、路径与意涵 ) is published by Fudan University Press (earlier translations by the press has included e.g. Friedrich Kittler’s Gramophone, Film, Typewriter). Furthermore, the book will be launched in late April with a seminar on “Chinese communication research from the perspective of media archaeology” in Wuhan.

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De insectos, máquinas y posverdades

December 1, 2018 Leave a comment

The new issue of the Luthor journal (published by colleagues in Argentine) is out and with a focus on media archaeology. The issue also includes an interview with me (“De insectos, máquinas y posverdades“) for those interested. We discuss media archaeology and transdisciplinarity, materiality, questions of geography as well as some brief points about literature in relation to the field. I also mention some current and emerging projects, from fashion film to operational images.

Edit: now the original English version of the interview (not copyedited) is also available (PDF): download here.

A Lab of Labs

October 28, 2018 Leave a comment

AMT was again part of the Istanbul Design Biennial, this time together with Bilkent University (Ankara) hosting a workshop and a panel. We responded to the main theme of School of Schools with our own emphasis: a lab of labs. In other words, working with the Bilkent Media Archaeology Lab (led by Andreas Treske) we organised a two day event that performed a lab in as a method to investigate it as a assemblage of methods, techniques, affordances of the lab in an urban environment and in the context of Istanbul, a city with a long heritage of crafts, workshops, and design irreducible to a sanitized design thinking discourse.

Benefiting from the experience of Ege Berensel and Başak Altın we engaged in workshopping that included 8 mm found footage (home films) and motherboards (as a source of circuit bending and tinkering). While Ebruk Kurbak joined us to talk about her work in textiles, computing and material methodologies in speculative design, and Tuğçe Karatas shared her views as an independent curator, our special surprise guest was the local TV repair shop expert who gave us a two hour crash course into his work and electronics! The lab includes many kinds of expertise.

The workshop was also part of the research for #TheLabBook – online at What is a Media Lab?.

DSC_2338.JPGAndreas Treske’s opening words, together with Björk’s poetic exploration of the television.

DSC_2340.JPGBaşak Altın and Ege Berensel, artists from Ankara, were part of the work. Here Basak narrating a short visual history of motherboards.

DSC_2351 (1).JPGAn unpicking of a video projector into its material-epistemic components, measurable as objects of interest, unfolding multiple levels of media archaeology. #OfficeTruisms

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Labs as hands-on practice.

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A short introduction to electronics – from the perspective of repairing televisions and other appliances.

French Interview: “Écrire autrement l’histoire des médias “

April 21, 2018 Leave a comment

A new interview with me in French is out now in the (exciting) online magazine AOC. With the writer, journalist Sylvain Bourmeau we had a pleasant conversation about media archaeology, contemporary culture and theory, my earlier books and the new French translation of What is Media Archaeology – Qu’est-ce que l’archéologie des médias?

Encore mystérieux pour beaucoup, l’archéologie des médias s’avère un nouveau champ de recherche passionnant, au croisement de nombreuses disciplines et méthodes, qui vise à écrire une histoire alternative des medias au sens le plus large du terme. Alors qu’il est enfin traduit en français, Jussi Parikka, l’un de ses représentants les plus éminents, a accordé un entretien à AOC.
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Né et formé d’abord en Finlande, professeur de culture technologique et d’esthétique à la Winchester School of Art de l’Université de Southampton, Jussi Parikka est l’un des principaux chercheurs d’un courant transdisciplinaire relativement récent des sciences humaines et sociales : l’archéologie des médias. Parmi son œuvre, riche de plusieurs livres marquants, Qu’est-ce que l’archéologie des médias ? qui vient de paraître en français, nous offre l’occasion d’un entretien.

Read the full interview hereAOC is free but requires to create an account (which is easy).

Reframing Media: Objects, Sites, Histories in Prague

We are doing this symposium in Prague just before the ICA takes place there the same week. I am in town as a visiting fellow at FAMU for some collaborative work with Tomas Dvorak and others during this visit and some forthcoming ones.

The event is organised in collaboration with the Communication +1 journal.

Reframing Media: Objects, Sites, Histories
May 21, 2018 2PM-530PM
FAMU in Prague
Media studies has opened up new avenues of research across fields, helping to reframe the objects, sites, and histories of scholarly inquiry, providing a way to challenge accepted historical layers of social and technical arrangements. This symposium draws together critical intersections with media, applying postcolonial and feminist theories to contextualize and frame the mediated landscape, both past and present. Drawing from a variety of entangled theories and methodologies, authors engage with a variety of approaches, providing new insights for scholars from an array of backgrounds. This symposium also engages media itself through a media archaeological approach, reframing and interrogating our media so as to shed new understanding to our hyper-mediated world.

Please join us for an engaging symposium.

Reframing Media and Communication
Zachary McDowell, University of Illinois at Chicago

Media Archaeology from Labs to Landscapes
Jussi Parikka, University of Southampton, Winchester School of Art

Hello Machine – Hello Human
Rachel Hanlon, Deakin University, Australia

The Best Sleep of My Life
Laura Forlano, Illinois Institute of Technology

Filmmakers of the World, Unite! Forgotten Internationalism, Czechoslovak Film and the Third World
Tereza Stejskalová, Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague

Schedule

13:30 Arrive
14:00 Zachary McDowell, Introduction – Reframing Media
14:20 Jussi Parikka, Media Archaeology from Labs to Landscapes
15:00 Short Break
15:15 Rachel Hanlon, Hello Machine – Hello Human
15:40 Laura Forlano, The Best Sleep of My Life
16:05 Tereza Stejskalová, Filmmakers of the World, Unite! Forgotten Internationalism, Czechoslovak Film and the Third World
16:30 Discussion
17:30 Adjourn