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The Steganographic Image

February 15, 2017 Leave a comment

It’s the Conspiracy week at the Photographers’ Gallery in London and I was asked to write a short text on what lies inside the image (code). In other words, I wrote a short text on the Steganographic Image, and hiding messages in plain sight, although in this case, encoded “inside” a digital image. The image that tricks, the image that operates behind your back, or more likely, triggers processes front of your eyes, in plain sight, invisible. As I was reminded, this is also an idea that Akira Lippit has in a different context developed through Derrida. To quote Lippit (quoting at first Derrida): ‘”Visibility,” he says “is not visible.” Invisibility is folded into the condition of visibility from the beginning. There is no visibility that is not also invisible, no visibility that is not in some way always spectral.’One would be tempted to argue that this is where this consideration of the visual meets up with the history of cryptography, or ciphering and deciphering. Or as Francis Bacon put it in 1605 in ways part of the longer media archaeology of the steganographic image too: “The virtues of ciphers are three: that they be not laborious to write and read; that they be impossible to decipher; and, in some cases, that they be without suspicion.” It is especially this third virtue that remains of interest when looking at images without such suspicion: the most banal, tedius of pictures; a spectrality that conjurs up hidden passages, triggers and operations.

My short text can be found here online. It’s only scratching the steganographic surface.

A short preview of the text.

Hidden in Plain Sight: The Steganographic Image

Who knows what went into an image, what it includes and what it hides? This is not merely a question of the fine art historical importance of materials, nor even a media historical intrigue of chemistry, but one of steganography – hiding another meaningful pattern, perhaps a message, in data; inside text or an image. This image that is always more than. More than what? Isn’t it obvious from the amount of work gone into art-theoretical considerations of the inexhaustible meanings of the photographic image that it has always been a multiplicity: contexts, fluctuating meanings, readings and the insatiable desire to look at things in order to discover its depths.

As such, a steganographic inscription is neither a depth nor the plain surface but somewhere in between. In contemporary images made of data it refers to how the image can be coded as more than is seen, but also more than the image should do. The steganographic digital image can be executed; it includes instructions for the computer to perform. Photographs as part of a longer history of communication media are one particular way of saying more than meets the eye, but this image also connects to histories of secret communication from the early modern period, to more recent discussions in security culture, as well as fiction such as William Gibson’s novel Pattern Recognition (2003). Were J.G. Ballard’s 1950s billboard mysteries one sort of cryptographic puzzle that hid a message in plain visual sight?

Continue reading – link to full text

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Digital Contagions,v.2

October 7, 2016 Leave a comment

Last year I was contacted by the publisher of Digital Contagions, which was my first book in English: the commissioning editor proposed to edit a new, upgraded version of the book. Yesterday, the final product arrived and I am happy to tell that with a new cover, with some new text and in general edited, pruned and much more smoothly flowing, it is out – again! And I very excited that it has Sean Cubitt’s new preface too.

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The new cover is from Eva and Franco Mattes’ installation Perpetual Self Dis/Infecting Machine (2001-04): a Custom made computer infected with the virus Biennale.py.

Here’s the back cover with a summary and some nice endorsements from Tiziana Terranova, Charlie Gere, Alex Galloway and Sean Cubitt!

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You can find the book on Peter Lang website and on Amazon and hopefully other online bookshops. Please contact me if you require a review copy.

And as a blast from the past, here’s an interview Matthew Fuller did with me around the publication of the first edition.

Plant on Tulipmania

March 24, 2014 Leave a comment

Sadie Plant is such an iconic figure in the study of digital culture and media theory. Here’s her short text on tulips, viruses, spam and modern economy. She wrote this as the Foreword to our Spam Book and here you can access it as a teaser-trailer to the book itself! It speaks of digital anomalies but through the colourful words of tulips and the tulipmania:

“Tulipmania was certainly a great irregularity, a malfunctioning of seventeenth century financial markets causing the first such large-scale economic crash.  It was a kind of fever: the craze was as infectious as the virus itself, a runaway sequence of events triggered by the smallest of anomalies – which was, as it happens, effectively repressed as soon as its nature was known: once it was discovered, after nearly three centuries, that a disease was the agent of tulip variegation, the virus was eliminated by the tulip industry. Modern striped, multicoloured, and frilled tulips are the flowers of healthy bulbs, bred to emulate those of their virally infected predecessors: the effects remain, but the virus has gone. Order has been restored. ”

(As an addition, here’s our Introduction to the same volume, written together with Tony D. Sampson: “On Anomalous Objects of Digital Culture“).

spam book cover

A Hefty Companion

March 17, 2013 1 comment

1444332244A Companion to New Media Dynamics is out now. And admittedly, it is quite expensive. But try to get your library to order a copy, as it does contain some really handy chapters on media culture, networks, politics of platforms, mobility, and more! I just finished reading a nice Sean Cubitt-piece (on media studies and new media studies), and will continue with some of the other great looking texts.

I co-wrote with Tony Sampson a piece on spam, network virality and contemporary capitalism and marketing: “Learning from Network Dysfunctionality: Accidents, Enterprise and Small Worlds of Infection”. It continues our joint interests into networks as well as viral capitalism, but with a specific Tardean twist.

The Dark Side

December 12, 2012 3 comments

Another (what I am sure is going to be a) great event organized by the Center for 21st Century Studies at University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee: The Dark Side of the Digital.

Think of it less as the Dark Side à la Star Wars, but instead rephrase Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, the very last words of the album, after the final pulsations.. “There is no dark side really. Matter of fact, it’s all dark.”

 

New virals

More viral analysis is out: a special issue of WSQ just came out, a special issue on Viral – edited by Patricia Clough & Jasbir Puar. It is an extensive one, so do try to grab a copy somewhere. It also includes a review of Insect Media. The book is reviewed alongside Jodi Dean’s Blog theory and Steven Shaviro’s Cinematic Affect. Great to be featured alongside such writers.

Besides that special issue, another one to keep your eyes open for: Tony Sampson’s monograph Virality is now out! An excellent analysis which indeed “resuscitates Tarde” and analyses cultures of virality from memes to terror and love. I also really enjoy the manner in which Sampson employs notions of hypnosis into an analysis of network culture. it reminds of the idea of “evil media” that Fuller and Goffey have the past years developed (check out The Spam Book for a short intro to what Evil Media Studies is.)

Categories: Jodi Dean, Shaviro, Spam, viruses

Do Some Evil

June 14, 2011 2 comments

It’s the opposite to “do no evil”, a call to think through the dirty materiality of media. Trick, deceive, bypass, exploit, short-circuit, and stay inattentive.

Hence, it is not only about “evil objects” as I perhaps myself have focused on (in Digital Contagions, and in other places), even if such objects can be vectors for and emblematic of stratagems of evil media. Evil media studies focuses on strategies that are mobilized as practices of theories. These strategies reach across institutions, and hence it is no wonder that Geert Lovink recently flags this as one approach through which to energize media studies.

Or more formally – Evil Media Studies “is a manner of working with a set of informal practices and bodies of knowledge, characterized as stratagems, which pervade contemporary networked media and which straddle the distinction between the work of theory and of practice”, write Andrew Goffey and Matthew Fuller in the chapter by the same name in The Spam Book.

For me, the attraction in Goffey and Fuller’s call is that it is material – material that is dynamic, non-representational, machinating and filled with energies that flow across software, social and aesthetic.

  1. Bypass Representation
  2. Exploit Anachronisms
  3. Stimulate Malignancy
  4. Machine the Commonplace
  5. Make the Accidental the Essential
  6. Recurse Stratagems
  7. The Rapture of Capture
  8. Sophisticating Machinery
  9. What is Good for Natural Language is Good for Formal Language
  10. Know your Data
  11. Liberate Determinism
  12. Inattention Economy
  13. Brains Beyond Language
  14. Keep Your Stratagem Secret As Long as Possible
  15. Take Care of the Symbols, The Sense Will Follow
  16. The Creativity of Matter

(the list from “Evil Media Studies” by Goffey and Fuller, in The Spam Book: On Porn, Viruses and Other Anomalous Objects From the Dark Side of Digital Culture, eds. Parikka & Sampson, Hampton Press 2009).