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The Anthropocene to the Anthrobscene

October 31, 2014 4 comments

The Anthrobscene is now out and available as a short e-book in the new University of Minnesota Press series Forerunners. The short book (77 pp) extends on the notion of the deep time of the media (Zielinski) to talk of the geological and electronic waste layers that characterise media technological materiality. It consists of four short sections

1. And the Earth Screamed, Alive
2. An Ecology of Deep Time
3. A Media History of Matter: From Scrap Metal to Zombie Media
4. Conclusion: Cultural Techniques of Material Media

The sections outline  the idea of materialities of media in the context of the Anthropocene – the suggested and widely discussed term for the geological period where the human being has had such a significant effect on the planet to merit a new periodization. But the idea is to extend this to emphasise the obscenities of the environmental damage that works across natural, social and media ecology.

The Anthrobscene is a preview or if you prefer, a single, of the forthcoming longer book A Geology of Media (out next Spring).

anthrobscene cover
The book is one of three that kickstarts the new Forerunners series, “a thought-in-process series of breakthrough digital works written between fresh ideas and finished books” and characterized as “gray literature publishing: where intense thinking, change, and speculation happens in scholarship.” The series is edited at the University of Minnesota Press by Danielle Kasprzak.

The Anthrobscene is available for download directly on the UMP website as well as in your “local” Amazon (Kindle and the slightly more expensive print on demand paperback) and gradually in other e-book stores too, including now already on Barnes & Noble & Kobo. The Amazon-page has a preview of the content.

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Smog: Cloud and Molecular Aesthetics

June 4, 2014 4 comments

The text below an abstract, something I promised to present at the forthcoming Istanbul-conference on Cloud And Molecular Aesthetics. It riffs on my earlier post on smog as part of environmental art history, an ecological art history/aesthetic set of terms.

Media Moleculars of Smog Culture: An Alternative Aesthetic

Speaking of molecules, photochemical smog that covers so much of our surroundings especially in dense urban areas consists of Nitrogen Oxide (NO), Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), Ozone (O3) and Volatile organic compounds (RH). This is the elemental media condition across aesthetics of contemporary landscapes of industrial and post-industrial life. An urban screen, hovering above cinematic places of Los Angeles, etc. The sunlight reacts with the pollutants, resulting in a weird set of visual media: photochemical smog.

A matter of concern for inhabitants and of course biochemists, it however is also an issue we can address in our context of aesthetics, imaging and visual culture. This talk proposes to address smog – and more widely environmental issues from pollution to issues of geophysics – as relevant parts of our visual culture, proposing another sort of an angle to the “molecular”. Indeed, the constituent definition of molecular that one inherits from Deleuze and Guattari sits in relation to the ontology of perception. This molecular becomes more than a chemical description and a way to address the dynamic constitution of the (molar) individual. As Tom Conley explains, this is a sort of a “chemical animism” speaking of the elemental molecular conditions that constitute systems of “complex interactions”.

The molecular is an ontological angle that for Deleuze presents a world of “tiny perceptions” which are not only small in size but qualitatively present a different view to the whole. Hence emerges the whole agenda of micropolitics of perception and what could be called a chemistry of individuation. However, in the context of this talk, I won’t go into a detailed discussion focusing on Deleuze so much as hint towards speculative ideas of a media history of smog, environmental pollution and the technologies of tele-sensing /smog sensors as constituting a different sort of a visual culture of “new media” of mixed temporalities: the ancient rays of sun, the modern fumes of the city, and the emerging technologies of tele-sensing. I argue that such topics bring an additional angle to the already important extension of aesthetics in the realms of biotechnologies, the molecular vision, and the new diffentiating scales at which perception is constituted. Perhaps it’s the smog screens, reacting with sun light, that execute the truly ancient new media environment of post WWII culture as a sort of a non-human staging of the environmental catastrophy as well as an art historical period outside the usual categorisations.

The memoirs of an aspiring lichenologist

March 19, 2014 Leave a comment

Rebecca Birch’s voice draws the hand drawing the landscape. It tells stories of trips and meetings, people and things. The projection of her unfolding drawing/narrating tells the story of her artwork in (auto)ethnographic style, and becomes an art performance itself. Birch’s work was recognized in Art Review’s March issue as one of the Future Greats and the magazine organised a party  for her – addresses to a lichen covered stick.

A lichen covered stick was part of a particular roadtrip-performance-screening -project of Birch’s, and became the theme of the evening too. I was invited to be one of the speakers – addressing this assemblage and offering variations on the theme and Birch’s art. Below a short text based on my talk, one of several talks/performances alongside  Francesco PedraglioErica ScourtiKaren Di Franco and a playlist provided by Bram Thomas Arnold.

Imagine this talk voiced by an alter ego — a part real, part imagined Finnish lichenologist from the late 19th century, in his hallucinations of a future ecocatastrophy, and past earth times since the carboniferous era.

The memoirs of an aspiring lichenologist: media & ecology

In his  short text about Rebecca Birch, Oliver Basciano gives us an image of her art works and refers to the capture of light as much as shadow through the role of the camera itself comparable to that stick covered in lichen.

“[the stick] acts as a sort of MacGuffin around which collaboration and conversation circle within the hermetic confines of a car. With this, one can perhaps understand the videocamera as taking a similar role – giving Birch the opportunity to embed herself in a community or situation that would remain closed otherwise”

Indeed, the stick persists as a thematic motif; it resides there as a silent interlocutor. The closed technological environment of the car hosts both human chatter as well as this stick of nature smuggled as part of the roadtrip.

Screen shot 2014-03-19 at 21.17.32

The camera, the visual registers and works with light as well as lack of it – the shadow, darkness. In the context of lichen, consider another perspective too. Focus on the lichen as the first element that registers light, sound, movement, chemistry around it. It participates in Birch’s work  so that it’s not only the camera, which registers the sounds and visions, but the lichen, a symbiotic organism itself. This refers to the scientific context of lichens as bioindicators – they register the changing chemical balance of the world. In short, lichen is a medium – a medium of storage, an inscription surface that slowly but meticulously and with the patience of non-human thing pays attention to the growth in air pollution. It’s symbiotic status is symbiotic in more than the biological way: it is involved in the material-aesthetic unfolding of ecologies social and nature.

It was a Finn, Wilhelm Nylander, who discovered in the 1880s details about the possibilities of using lichen as biodetectors; through experiments exposing lichen to chemical elements such as iodine and hypochlorite Nylander found out that one can “read” nature through this natural element. It meant a discovery of an important feature that tells a different story; it is less a narrative than a sensory registering of the environmental change that technological culture brought about gradually since the 19th century: atmospheric pollution, leaving its silent mark.

Lichen has over the years and years observed to be full of life and circuited as part of different ecologies. They have been not just objects of our attention, addressed by narratives and images but became part of the modern cycle of industrialised life. They silently observe our chatter, listen in, as well as through their earless senses know what we are doing to our surroundings. They provide housing for spiders and insects, but also some of lichens are (re)sourced as part of the high-tech industries for pharmaceuticals (antiobiotics) and cosmetics (sunscreen).

This participation in multiple ecologies, a cycle of different duration is a fascinating topic considering both our theme today as well as the broader discussions of past years concerning the anthropocene. In short, it is the discussion that started in contexts of geology and environmental debate about categorising our epoch as the Anthropocene – a geological period following the Holocene and branded by the massive impact humans, agriculture, geoengineering, and in general the scientific-technological culture has had on the planet. And now, it has gathered the wider scientific and arts/humanities community as part of the discussions that reflect a different , growing perspective to the environmental.

The anthropocene -and the obsceneties accelerating it as the anthrobscene – can be unfolded through lichen. In a rather important move, such Macguffins tell a hidden story of change. The technological culture in which nature becomes entangled with the human induced scientific changes. Visual, oral narratives give an image of this change. We tell stories of our nature, our interactions in ecology, in the environment with media which stores the remains of the planet as part of our human narratives- roadtrips, conversations, social events, accidental meetings, small details, landscapes – drawn by Birch in her performance that remediates the earlier.

In other words, lichen is besides a conversation piece also a medium. It saves this story through its biological means as storage that in our hands becomes memory – the scientific-aesthetic context of memory read through lichen. Even pollution becomes a sort of a mediated environment, like with photochemical smog. The lichenologist Nylander was on to something, more than observations about lichen. A lichenologist plays homage to the conversations lichen shares as it tells the story of a slow change since the coal pollution (sulphur dioxide) of England since the 18th and 19th century to the contemporary air of nitrogen compounds. So besides the conversation going on in Rebecca Birch’s car, there is this silent partner always present, as it has been for a longer while, and now also articulated in the visual arts/ecology-mix of an evening – Addressing the stick, but also: the lichen as the address which receives transmissions of industrial modern culture.

***

Nb. The party was sponsored by Absolut Vodka, with signature drinks:

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Photochemical Smog as New Media

February 24, 2014 7 comments

Perhaps photochemical smog is the only true new visual media of post World War II technological culture. It represents the high achievements in science and technology, combined with (synthetic) chemistry and sunlight. It modulates the light like advanced visual media should and embeds us in its augmented reality as we suck it into our lungs.

smog460x276It encapsulates the mediatic cities of Los Angeles and Beijing, as encompassing surely as Hollywood’s machinery. Just like the material basis of technical media of more conventional kind – such as photography and film – it is chemical based. It is media the same as any photochemical process is about how light gets absorbed on our planet’s atoms and molecules.

But it’s new media, particular to the modern industrial age and the chemical reactions of more recent history. It feeds of industrial pollution and modern transport. It is about the screen as well – how the sunlight is offered this massive living chemical molecular screen on which to project its energetic images. A molecular aesthetics of an ecology of a dying planet.

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A Geology of Media

January 17, 2014 6 comments

I am pleased to announce that I have signed a contract with University of Minnesota Press for a new book tentatively called A Geology of Media.

Planned for 2015, A Geology of Media forms the third, final part of the media ecology-trilogy. It started with Digital Contagions: A Media Archaeology of Computer Viruses (2007) and continued with Insect Media (2010). This book on the geophysics and the non-organic ground of media complements the earlier takes by offering a media materialism from the point of view of geological resources, electronic waste and media arts. Through engaging with several contemporary art and technology projects it provides a media theoretical argument: to think of materiality of media beyond the focus on machines and technologies by focusing on what they consist of: the chemistry and geological materials of media, from metals to dust.

In short, I am interested to see if what pejoratively sometimes is called “hardware fetishism” is not hard enough, and even media and cultural theorists need to focus on the rocks and crust that make technical media possible. Earth history of deep times mixes with media history, which becomes a matter of not only thousands, but millions of years of non-linear history (to modify Manuel Delanda’s original idea). This way media materialism becomes a way to entangle media technologies, environmental issues and themes of global labour. Perhaps instead of the Anthropocene, we should just refer to the Anthropobscene.

I’ve been in recent talks and short posts been addressing the geological in media, and my piece in The Atlantic offered a short preview of what’s to come. In addition, below a very tentative table of contents.   This project (and the Erkki Kurenniemi book I am working on with Joasia Krysa) will keep me busy for a while.

A Geology of Media

Preface

1) Introduction: Grounds of Media/Culture

2) An Alternative Deep Time of the Media

3) Psychogeophysics of Technology

4) Dust and the Exhausted Planet

5) Media Fossils

Afterwords: Half-Life

Appendix:

“Zombie Media”, by Garnet Hertz and Jussi Parikka

From the Crystal World-project (Howse, Jordan, Kemp)

From the Crystal World-project (Howse, Jordan, Kemp)

The Anthropobscene: The Elemental Media Condition

December 5, 2013 2 comments

Winchester School of Art are one of the partners of the transmediale-festival, which takes place again in January/February 2014 in Berlin. This short text below is a sort of a trailer to our bit for the event: the text is co-written by myself and Ryan Bishop and the  the contribution to tm14 is likewise co-curated by us. The text gives an indication of some of the themes we will discuss during the festival and conference week, and it draws on some of our work on these topics: Ryan’s writing on the four elements and contemporary aesthetics, and my work-in-progress book project on “geology of media” and what I pitch as the anthropobscene – a new geological era catalysed by the corporate capitalist measures of depletion and exploitation.

Ryan Bishop and Jussi Parikka:
The Elemental Media Condition

Ever since such early geologists as James Hutton and Charles Lyell voiced a distance from biblical time, the Earth has had a proper history. The natural historical durations of the Earth have, despite academic disciplinary divisions, always intertwined with human history. In the current moment, the complex interactions of the two seem more prescient than ever. To follow in the footsteps of Dipash Chakrabarty, the horizon of the anthropocene forces historians to think of durations of nature as entangled with social history, and the historiographical functions of temporality need to be considered alongside such vectors that acknowledge the work of capitalism as a specific epoch. In this sense, we would like to refer not only to the anthropocene as the debated new geological era in scientific classification, but also what can be called the anthropobscene. This portmanteau word combines anthropocene with obscene, thus highlighting the vicious exploitative actions of corporations, governments and other agencies operating on different levels: from human individuals to multigovernmental organisations and transnational corporations. In much the same manner that Jean Baudrillard reconfigured the subject-object relationship placed within a scene as a network-screen relationship in the obscene, the anthropobscene reconstitutes the relationship between human scales of intervention into those of the geological. Thus, amongst other things, it refers to the obscenity of heavy pollution of the earth and the air, bringing back discussions of the four elements as found in the Pre-Socratic thinker Empedocles, whose writings strike both ancient and contemporary chords. Cultural theorists, such as Gary Genosko, have voiced an urgency for a renewed consideration of the elements.

For Empedocles, humans, nature and the universe contain the same elements. Flesh and blood are composed of approximately equal parts of earth, fire, water, and aether: the four elements that constitute the universe. The entire material world for Empedocles comes from the mixture and amounts of these four elements, the mixing of which he likens to paints on an artist’s palette with their different effects due to combinatory portions. This insight of multiple and diverse substances generated through combinations and proportionality becomes a cornerstone of modern science and chemistry. The harmony of Love and the discord of Strife result from the proportionality of the elements with each constantly changing and warring with the others. The Empedoclean elements of this cosmogony and in nature constitute both media and content. They make, transform and destroy at the same time.

Empedocles’ writings use physics to derive an understanding of ethico-political, even moral, laws. In the teaching of Empedocles the problem of substances as they present themselves to us takes a specific form: how do the Many come from One and One from Many?  The primary and ultimately determinate forces behind the various manipulations, combinations and transformations of the elements in Empedocles are in the standard translations Love and Strife, which move in cycles of harmony and disharmony that reign over all of nature, including humans, fish, beasts and birds. But the elements are not simply passive recipients of the forces of Love and Strife.  They can and do themselves act as causal agents, influencing the waxing or waning of Love or Strife.

Contemporary media culture can be opened up through such a consideration of elements. Indeed, as the philosopher Erich Hörl has argued, the technological is one crucial condition for the discourse – and practical existence – of this hypothetical anthroposcene – and anthropobscene, we might add. For artists such as Robert Smithson in truly Empedoclean fashion, the tectonic realms of the Earth and the mind are interconnected. Smithson’s account amounts to a critique of the McLuhan-focussed idea of technology as extensions of Man. Instead, for Smithson, writing in 1968 in Artforum, it is elemental. One is here tempted to think it is elemental in the sense of the Pre-Socratic four elements, as well as elemental in the sense that those elements are more crucial than ever for a consideration of the biopolitical condition. Such aspects range from the materiality of data mining to environmental exploitation.

tm14 Afterglow: trash and to trash

Transmediale has released its theme for 2014: afterglow. It refers to the feeling of “after”, “post” the digital enthusiasm that branded the past decades, and now somebody needs to pick up the trash. The theme summons connotations of trash, waste and other aftereffects of the digital, both material and immaterial.

Winchester School of Art is happy again to be official partner of the transmediale-festival and participate in curation of some of the academic content. Below more info on transmediale-theme – and a link to the call for works.

 

 

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The digital revolution is over again and this time “YOU” lost.

In the wastelands of its aftermath, what is still burning?

 

With the theme afterglow, transmediale 2014 suggests that in a world where resources (human, bodily, material, environmental, economic …) are more and more used up, the digital does not any longer stand up to its promise of antiseptic high-tech worlds and opportunities for all. On the contrary, digital culture is more and more becoming a post-apocalyptic wasteland ruled by a few powerful clan leaders. Still, digital culture is full of things that shine and glow, both promising and uncanny: from social media to big data. On the one hand, this afterglow can be seen as an extreme expression of the wasteful state of digital culture (excess, overload, endless repetition, pre-emption of meaning, exploitation), but on the other hand, as “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”, this afterglow is also providing the transition to new forms of being. If we are living in a post-digital culture, then afterglow is what characterises its aesthetics and politics during the transition to new cultural forms that are still unknown to us.

 

In the 2014 edition of the transmediale festival, the idea of an afterglow of digital culture is taken as an opportunity to speculate on positions that lead beyond the digital: not beyond the digital in a literal sense as in doing away with digital technology, but beyond the digital as a metaphysical character that overcodes all forms of existence. Even a supposedly critical term like “post-digital” is in this sense only promoting an idea of the contemporary and of the future as predetermined by the digital. Instead of revelling in the hypes of the post-digital, we invite the contributors of transmediale 2014 to reflect on this afterglow: to exploit our nostalgia for the pre-digital through the use of trashed technologies, ideas and narratives and/or to imagine new modes of existence and new modalities of critical intervention, by junking the afterglow of digital culture.