We are happy to host Shannon Mattern at the Winchester School of Art. She is giving a talk on Infrastructural Tourism on May 3rd, at 12 – details below! The talk is organised by our Centre for Global Futures and the emerging new research group AMT – Archaeologies of Media & Technology, about which more information later.
Here’s the information about the talk:
Abstract: Infrastructural Tourism
We seem to have come to a sudden recognition that the Internet is a place made of countless material things – cables and data centers and rare earth minerals. We’ve witnessed a dawning realization that our Amazonian consumptive appetites are dependent on similarly heavy logistical systems and exploitative labor practices. We’ve surrendered to the reality of the Anthropocene and its precarious infrastructural, environmental, political, and ethical futures. This emergent infrastructural intelligence has spawned an explosion of infrastructural “literacy” and engagement projects that seek to “make visible the invisible,” to call out the unrecognized, to bore into the “black-boxed.” Grand Tours of nuclear infrastructures and key sites in telecom history have inspired many a recent Bildungsroman, in myriad mediated forms. Apps and data visualizations, sound walks and speculative design workshops, DIY manuals and field guides, urban dashboards and participatory mappings, hackathons and infrastructural tourism – strategies employed by artists and activists and even some city governments and federal agencies – all seek to “raise awareness” among a broader public about infrastructure’s existence and its politics. They aim, further, to motivate non-specialist communities to contribute to infrastructure’s maintenance and improvement, to inspire citizen-consumers to advocate for more accessible and justly distributed resources, and perhaps even to “engineer” their own DIY networks. In this talk I’ll explore various pedagogical strategies, representational techniques, and modeling methods that have been employed to promote “infrastructural intelligence” — and consider what epistemologies, ontologies, ethics, affects, and politics are embedded in those approaches.
Shannon Mattern is an Associate Professor of Media Studies at The New School. Her writing and teaching focus on archives, libraries, and other media spaces; media infrastructures; spatial epistemologies; and mediated sensation and exhibition. She is author of _The New Downtown Library: Designing with Communities_ and _Deep Mapping the Media City_ (both published by University of Minnesota Press), and she writes a regular column about urban data and mediated infrastructures for _Places_, a journal focusing on architecture, urbanism, and landscape. She has also contributed to various public design and interactive projects and exhibitions. This spring she is a senior fellow at the Internationales Kolleg für Kulturtechnikforschung und Medienphilosophie at the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar. You can find her at wordsinspace.net.
I was briefly interviewed by Anne Zeuthen and Maja Bak Herrie about Rossella Biscotti‘s artistic work, and the themes that emerge as part of her practice. Below this short chat that was done in December 2015. (Note: the interview has not been copy edited for language). All the image below are from the from the exhibition 10×10 (at Wilfried Lenz, Rotterdam, 2014).
Q1: How do you define the materiality of the digital, and in what ways does
this emphasis of the material constitute a critical potential?
JP: To think of the materiality of the computation especially in the context of Rossella Biscotti’s practice leads us into a complex entanglement of patterns and data. I’ve been fascinated by the question that seems paradoxical in the context of the legacy of informational culture. Information was supposed to be something different from the thermodynamically entropic materiality of the world and to be the organizational glue for an alternative reality of bits; information was to function in different ways, and it became a whole self-justifying mantra for a new socio-economic phase since the 1990s at least. Bits not atoms. And yet, all of the digital and all of the informational is underpinned by a range of processes that are energetic and material. But computation cannot be reduced to the digital informatics. And the patterns of informational processes, the abstractions, are entangled with the materials, which are infrastructurally necessary for the illusion of immateriality to exist.
The weaved pattern is famously a leading thread (indeed) in Sadie Plant’s fabulously poetic take on digital culture. To quote her: “Just as individuated texts have become filaments of infinitely tangled webs, so the digital machines of the late twentieth century weave new networks from what were once isolated words, numbers, music, shapes, smells, tactile textures, architectures, and countless channels as yet unnamed.” She continues about the yarn as “neither metaphorical nor literal, but quite simply material” suggesting that materiality is of a different order than what we have been accustomed to. I feel drawn to speak of materiality, instead of the “real” which still seems to hint of too much of epistemological evaluation between real and unreal. Instead, the notions of materiality that Plant and a lot of feminist materialism of past decades has inaugurated is something that speaks to this subtle sense of matter in movement, a dynamic matter that matters. This is a sort of a understanding of materiality that is at the same time sensitive to the patterns, the material threads they are made of as a tactile reality that escorts multiple meanings and yet also escapes into alternative sorts of sensorial experiences than merely just what meets the eye.
Think of it in terms of pattern, data, that is tactile; the sort of structurations Biscotti is after are data that is touchable and yet much of its layers of information escape touch too. It is not that you can reduce the work to the touch, and yet it is there. It has those multiple layers. I think Biscotti’s work is a great way of approaching materiality that always comes in multiple layers, dimensions; the organization and the materiality are entangled, weaved together. It speaks of data materiality as one of abstractions that are useful and necessary part of how information functions – abstractions are an effective way of managing information infrastructures, as Jean-François Blanchette, but there is in addition this sort of touchable materiality that comes out uniquely in Biscotti’s installations.
Q2: Previously you have identified your approach as ‘non-McLuhan’ since it
refrains from perceiving media as an expansion of the human body. Instead
you emphasise how media emerge from raw materials such as optical fibres
or copper. What status does that inscribe to the agency of media?
The legacy of Ada Lovelace, weaving and what Biscotti summons is rich in implications. One might easily object; what’s non-human about this? And yet, one can see how this sort of an understanding of the agential realism (Barad’s term) of the weaved pattern suggests a rich understanding of more than what emanates from the human body. As Barad suggests with her term, this sort of agency is not merely about the thing or a person that might have agency but the unfolding event of doing, in-action, that makes it into an agential form of becoming that weaves into its unfolding various sorts of humans and non-humans.
Instead of objects and subjects, we start to speak of entanglements. It becomes like a guiding line for a lot of material analysis and aesthetics. Recently, it featured as part of for example Patricia Pisters’ film theoretical development in an article of her’s; from interaction to the intraction of embodied brains with screen culture. Where human bodies end and start becomes a question of the wider assemblages in which multiple heterogeneous parts form the agential event. Pisters’ essay is part of a new really inspiring special issue of Cultural Studies Review on New Materialism, edited by Ilona Hongisto, Kaisa Kontturi and Milla Tiainen. It’s the whole body of new materialist thought that becomes here an exciting driving force for new ontological and aesthetic practices.
So for me, especially my work Insect Media was a sort of a non-McLuhan way of understanding media history. I meant it as a playful provocation, not a dismissal of McLuhan’s work at all. Instead of the Mcluhan mantra that media are extensions of man, one is tempted to ask the question: how about animals, and women? Sadie Plant’s feminist history of media and computing was a step in way of a new vocabulary of media and I wanted to complement some of the work in Insect Media by way of an alternative cultural history, or media archaeology, of media as extensions of the animal. I wanted to look at how insects and other forms of non-human animals were talked about but also taken as models, or even parts of the media assemblage in scientific and technological developments over the 20th century. This ranged from some artistic ideas in Surrealism; design thinking with animals in architecture; software swarms thought of in terms of natural formations; a whole plethora of distributed, alternative and sometimes multilegged, eyed agencies that are irreducible to the human. Insects feature in history of philosophy – from Heidegger’s notes to the famous tick of Deleuze and Guattari – and in addition, there is a media and technological side to such genealogies as well. More recently, I become interested in other sorts of threads: copper, fibre (optics) and other infrastructural dimensions of media culture. This extends again the idea of media as extensions of much more than just the man/human, and as part of even environmental questions: electronic waste for example.
Q3: Presuming that mediality of art cannot be thought independently of the
materiality in which it takes place, which roles do technologies play in your
conceptualisation of art and its creation of meaning?
This is indeed my approach; art is always modulation of perception, and this modulation is material in that way described above (through Barad, Pisters, and new materialism) briefly; art entangles with our bodies and brains, the percepts and affects tie us into these art works. This sort of agency is not restricted to an object or a thing but becomes the materiality of the relation, a sort of a fabric in motion.
And the entanglement goes deeper; what are the material conditions of art works and processes? These can be investigated by way of their media technological conditions and also infrastructural conditions. Some of recent art has actually turned to investigate their own conditions of existence, or let’s say, the infrastructural again. For example Jamie Allen has been rather inspiring for my work, similarly as the artist duo Cohen van Balen as well as Liam Young and Kate Davies’ design-oriented speculation but of course many many others too.
The name of my chair at Winchester School of Art is “Professor in Technological Culture & Aesthetics” and I like to think of it exactly in this extended way; not only about theories of art and beauty in the classical sense always, but the ways in which technologies are artistic already; ways of modulating senses, perceptions, relations. Art and technology go hand in hand. Questions of engineering become themselves turned into art methods, like the Critical Engineer-group suggested. We start to look at art in technological terms too, as Friedrich Kittler in his own way inspired. We are soon starting a new research group called AMT (Archaeologies of Media and Technology) at the WSA, and this sort of a cross-breeding of experimental practice and media theory is one of our core focuses.
Perhaps the connection between art and technology does also suggest new aesthetic vocabularies. I am thinking the way in which Matthew Fuller, in the book on Software Studies, suggests to think of the art of elegance in programming culture. Based on Donald Knuth’s Literate Programming, Fuller elaborates on elegance as a way to reach out from usual considerations; as a trajectory to new fields also even outsider software. One could say this implies an ecological realization underpinning elegance and software. In Fuller’s words: “A fine example of such elegance would be achieved if a way was found to conjoin the criteria of elegance in programming with constraints on hardware design consonant with ecological principles of nonpollution, minimal energy usage, recyclability or reusability, and the health requirements of hardware fabrication and disposal workers. Good design increasingly demands that elegance follows or at least makes itself open to such a trajectory. The criteria of minimal use of processor cycles already has ecological implications”.
It’s this reaching out, a trajectory of new connections as part of urgent social and political questions that makes any question of materiality of art and technology meaningful; both as bodies of theory and as artistic work.
Barad, Karen (2007) Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham: Duke University Press.
Blanchette, Jean-François (2011) “A Material History of Bits” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 62(6), pp.1042–1057,
Fuller, Matthew (2010) “Elegance” in Software Studies. A Lexicon, ed. Matthew Fuller. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, pp.87-92
Parikka, Jussi (2010) Insect Media: An Archaeology of Animals and Technology. Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press.
Pisters, Patricia (2015) “Temporal Explorations in Cosmic Consciousness: Intra-Agential Entanglements and the Neuro-Image” Cultural Studies Review Vol 21, No 2 (2015), special issue on New Materialisms, edited by Ilona Hongisto, Kaisa Kontturi and Milla Tiainen, online at http://epress.lib.uts.edu.au/journals/index.php/csrj/issue/view/334, pp.120-144.
Plant, Sadie (1997) Zeroes + Ones : Digital Women and the New Technoculture. London: Fourth Estate.
I am very glad to announce that Writing and Unwriting (Media) Art History: Erkki Kurenniemi in 2048 is out from the printers, hot off the (MIT) Press! Edited with curator, writer Joasia Krysa, the book focuses on the Finnish media art pioneer Kurenniemi, and is the key international collection on the curious thinker, sound and media artist-tinkerer, who became known for his remarkable synthetizers and archival futurism. Kurenniemi has gathered attention in the electronic music circles for a longer period of time, and with Documenta 13 he become known in the international art world too. His thoughts and work resonate with the work of other early pioneers; Simon Reynolds once called him a mix of Karlheinz Stockhausen, Buckminster Fuller, and Steve Jobs. In 2002, Mika Taanila directed the film The Future is Not What It Used to Be about Kurenniemi.
The book includes foreword by the eminent media archaeologist Erkki Huhtamo and a range of critical essays on digital culture, archival mania and media arts. Key academic and art writers address Kurenniemi’s work but also more: the condition of the archive and sound arts, sonic fiction and speculative futures of singularity are some of the key themes that run through the book with contributions by many established names in media studies, art and sound technologies. In addition, we included many of Kurenniemi’ own writings over the decades, including some interviews that elaborate his wider computational views of the world, including his thought: by 2040s, the human brain can be completely simulated. His archive plays a key role, like an actor in itself: the archive also featured as a key “object” as part of the earlier Kiasma exhibition and we included some snippets, as well as an extensive visual section.
Writing and Unwriting (Media) Art History sits as part of the Leonardo-book series, edited by Sean Cubitt. The book was started by Krysa through her curatorial work at the 2012 Documenta 13 exhibition. It is thanks to Joasia that I am part of the project and she deserves major praise for her amazing eye for detail, enthusiasm and energy in driving this project, from a major exhibition to a book, and more.
Here’s a preview of the book’s table of contents and Huhtamo’s Foreword.
For review copy requests, or other questions, inquiries about the book, please get in touch! We are hosting some book events in Montreal, Helsinki, Berlin and London over the coming months but more info on those separately.
Writing and Unwriting (Media) Art History: Erkki Kurenniemi in 2048, eds Krysa and Parikka
Over the past forty years, Finnish artist and technology pioneer Erkki Kurenniemi (b. 1941) has been a composer of electronic music, experimental filmmaker, computer animator, roboticist, inventor, and futurologist. Kurenniemi is a hybrid—a scientist-humanist-artist. Relatively unknown outside Nordic countries until his 2012 Documenta 13 exhibition, ”In 2048,” Kurenniemi may at last be achieving international recognition. This book offers an excavation, a critical mapping, and an elaboration of Kurenniemi’s multiplicities.
The contributors describe Kurenniemi’s enthusiastic, and rather obsessive, recording of everyday life and how this archiving was part of his process; his exploratory artistic practice, with productive failure an inherent part of his method; his relationship to scientific and technological developments in media culture; and his work in electronic and digital music, including his development of automated composition systems and his “video-organ,” DIMI-O. A “Visual Archive,” a section of interviews with the artist, and a selection of his original writings (translated and published for the first time) further document Kurenniemi’s achievements. But the book is not just about one artist in his time; it is about emerging media arts, interfaces, and archival fever in creative practices, read through the lens of Kurenniemi.
“Sex, annotation, and verité totale: Kurenniemi is a missing mixing desk between so many interesting aspects of late-twentieth-century culture. No wonder he ends up offering us a new archival futurism!”
—Matthew Fuller, Professor, Director of the Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths, University of London
“Providing a long-overdue critical and historical introduction to the amazingly multifaceted work of media pioneer, visionary thinker, and self-archivist Erkki Kurenniemi, this book becomes both a media-archaeological excavation and engaging reflection on the challenges of writing media art history. The range of Kurenniemi’s fascinating practice—including electronic music composition, experimental filmmaking, robotics, and curation—defies traditional classifications, and calls for new historical narratives of media art. Started as a compilation of the long-term research that went into the exhibition of Kurenniemi’s work at Documenta 13 in Kassel, Germany, the volume combines highlights of his own writings and interviews with excellent contributions by scholars, contextualizing his archives, art, music, and vision.”
—Christiane Paul, Associate Professor, School of Media Studies, The New School; Adjunct Curator of New Media Arts, Whitney Museum
“This book is a major contribution not only to the unprecedented scientific and artistic imagination of Erkki Kurenniemi, but also to the whole research on media and ‘real time.’ The text unveils and critically presents the reader with a series of complex technological and artistic systems exploring the man-machine relationship under the assumption both do have consciousness. Kurenniemi’s work provides us with one of the most solid grounds to examine perception, the brain, the will to speculate and travel back and forth between several realms of knowledge. Kurenniemi is bold; this text is bold and a great contribution to new forms of studying risk taking in art and science.”
—Chus Martínez, Head of the Institute of Art, FHNW Academy of Art and Design
Part two of the Leuphana University and Brown University collaboration “Terms of Media” is taking place in October in Providence, US. I am extremely glad to be part of it, talking in the section “Remain”. If all goes as planned, the talk will move from the “remains” or “remainder” in the sense of the archival and the epistemological to emphasize issues of remains of media technologies in actioned situations. Remains are not merely of the archival, but part of a design brief with a hands-on relation to epistemology; labs, studios that address the remain as in the context of media archaeology but also design, sometimes implicitly, sometimes explicitly. The remainder becomes further detached from a nostalgic object to an issue that relates to contemporary ecologies of architecture, extended urbanism, supply chains and the “alternative worlds, alien landscapes, industrial ecologies and precarious wilderness” (Unknown Fields). I also will try to conclude with a mention of the methodological and thematic dilemma of infrastructural remains with a hat tips to Shannon Mattern and Unknown Fields (Liam Young & Kate Davies).
Below more info about the conference!
TERMS OF MEDIA 2: Actions
October 8-10, 2015
with Marcell Mars, Rick Prelinger, Lisa Parks, Claus Pias, Timon Beyes, Reinhold Martin, Jussi Parikka, Rebecca Schneider, Goetz Bachmann, Lisa Nakamura, Gertrud Koch, Bernard Stiegler, Finn Brunton, Mercedes Bunz, Wolfgang Hagen, Eyal Weizman, Kara Keeling, Luciana Parisi
Please forward any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
RSVP HERE: https://goo.gl/csrNhR
An international conference to analyze and reshape the terms—limits, conditions, periods, relations, phrases—of media.
“Media determine our situation,” Friedrich Kittler infamously wrote in his introduction to Gramophone, Film, Typewriter. Although this dictum is certainly extreme – and media archaeology has been critiqued for being overly dramatic and focused on technological developments – it propels us to keep thinking about media as setting the terms for which we live, socialize, communicate, organize, do scholarship etc. After all, as Kittler continued in his opening statement almost 30 years ago, our situation, “in spite or because” of media, “deserves a description.” What, then, are the terms of media? And, what is the relationship between these terms and determination?
This conference will serve as the concluding half of a two-part project, following an earlier conference at Leuphana University in Lüneburg, Germany, and will be followed by a series of publications based on each which will seek to repose and update these fundamental questions of media theory: Does our situation indicate a new term, understood as temporal shifts of mediatic conditioning, which deserves a re-description? How and on what terms are media changing, reflecting changes in media itself? What are the terms of conditions that we negotiate as subjects of media? How do the terms of media theory relate to such conditions? What are the terms of conditions of media theory itself?
Thursday Keynotes to be held in the Martinos Auditorium, Granoff Center:
154 Angell Street
Providence, Rhode Island 02906 USA
Remaining talks to be held at Pembroke Hall:
172 Meeting Street
Providence, Rhode Island 02906 USA
Schedule is as follows:
Thursday, October 8, 2015
Conference Introduction, 7 p.m.
• Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Professor and Chair, Department of Modern Culture and Media, Brown University
Keynote Address, 7:15 p.m.
• Marcell Mars, Public Library Project
• Rick Prelinger, Professor of Film and Digital Media and Board Member of the Internet Archive, University of California, Santa Cruz
Opening Reception, 9 p.m.
Friday, October 9, 2015
Session 1: Structure, 10 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
• Lisa Parks, Professor of Film and Media, University of California, Santa Barbara
• Claus Pias, Professor for Media Theory and Media History, Institute of Culture and
Aesthetics of Digital Media, Leuphana
Session 2: Organize, 11:45 a.m. -1:15 p.m.
• Timon Beyes, Professor of Design, Innovation and Aesthetics, Copenhagen Business
• Reinhold Martin, Professor of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Columbia
University in the City of New York
Lunch, 1:15 p.m. -2:30 p.m.
• Presenters and invited guests
Session 3: Remain, 2:30 p.m.-4:00 p.m.
• Jussi Parikka, Professor in Media & Design, University of Southampton
• Rebecca Schneider, Professor, Theatre Arts and Performance Studies, Brown University
Session 4: Work, 4:15 p.m.-5:45 p.m.
• Goetz Bachmann, Professor for Digital Cultures, Institute of Culture and Aesthetics of
Digital Media, Leuphana
• Lisa Nakamura, Professor, Departments of American Cultures and Screen Arts and
Cultures, University of Michigan
Conference Dinner, 7 p.m.
• Presenters and invited guests
Saturday, October 10, 2015
Session 1: Animate, 10 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
• Gertrud Koch, Visiting Professor, Department of Modern Culture and Media, Brown University
• Bernard Stiegler, Head, Institut de recherche et d’innovation, Centre Georges Pompidou
Session 2: Communicate, 11:45 a.m. -1:15 p.m.
• Finn Brunton, Assistant Professor, Department of Media, Culture and Communication,
New York University
• Mercedes Bunz, Senior Lecturer, Communication and Media Research
Institute, University of Westminster
Lunch, 1:15 p.m. -2:30 p.m.
• Presenters and invited guests
Session 3: Forecast, 2:30 p.m.-4:00 p.m.
• Wolfgang Hagen, Professor, Institute of the Culture and Aesthetics of Digital Media,
• Eyal Weizman, Professor of Spatial & Visual Cultures, Goldsmiths, University London
Session 4: Mediate, 4:15 p.m.-5:45 p.m.
• Kara Keeling, Associate Professor of Critical Studies and American Studies and Ethnicity, University of Southern California
• Luciana Parisi, Reader, Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths, University of London
On Thursday, I am one of the participants in a symposium on labs in the humanities and media archaeology. In Linköping (Sweden), the event organised by Jesper Olsson addresses the question of institutional forms of media and humanities work.
It is an exciting event for many reasons, andit is a good platform for some of the ideas me and Lori Emerson together with Darren Wershler have been thinking about relating to the genealogies and current institutional forms of the lab in digital humanities but also in those practices (such as Media Archaeology) that border digital humanities and might help to extend its reach to address the material cultural reality.
Indeed, in a recent interview I conducted with Wolfgang Ernst, he underlined that we also need to address the “humanities of the digital” that could then offer also a longer historical trajectory to the question of technology in humanities theory and pedagogy. This would also include a reflection on the specific institutional sites for such scholarly activity. It also continues my interest in “techniques and practices of theory”.
A follow-up to the Linköping discussions is organised as part of the Media Art Histories 2015 event in Montreal in November where we have a panel on this topic of labs across digital humanities, media archaeology and more.
Theory, Culture & Society asked me and Paul Feigelfeld to edit an e-special issue on the work of the German media theorist Friedrich Kittler. We are happy to announce that the issue has now been published and it is the first in a series of e-specials the journal is commissioning. Our issue includes a selection of Kittler’s own articles and texts by other scholars about his work. The articles are open access for a selected period. The issue includes also a new Kittler-translation “Authorship and Love” which is introduced by professor Geoffrey Winthrop-Young.
We also wrote the introduction to the issue: Kittler’s Media Exorcism (PDF).
Recently also this book Media After Kittler got published, and there is a French translation of Kittler’s software writings forthcoming later this year.
France has not really been known for any particular warm academic embrace of media studies despite the otherwise interesting legacies of theories of technology. However, Sorbonne at Paris 3 is running now a seminar on media archaeology, more specifically called “Archéologie des médias et histoire de l’art” convened by Larisa Dryansky together with Antonio Somaini and Riccardo Venturi.
Their list of speakers is very exciting and for its own part demonstrates that there is a body of really interesting work on new technologies and media archaeology in France. A lot of scholars all around the country are working actively on philosophical and historical themes that pertain to media histories and contemporary culture. The Sorbonne series is part of the National Institute of Art History (INHA) and you can download the full programme (as PDF) here.
Besides individual researchers’ work and the recent MCD special issue, also future translations of work such as Friedrich Kittler’s is bound to have an impact on the conversations happening in French. Two Kittler translations are expected to come out in 2015.