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Oberhausen interview

Here’s a new video interview, done for the Oberhausen film festival. Click below the image to get to the video  where we discuss viruses, digital culture, masks, and more. The book Digital Contagions is one starting point but we end up in many other areas too.

Screenshot 2020-05-24 at 22.34.51

 

Masks

We wrote with Yiğit Soncul a text on facial masks and masking. While masks are especially now such a hot topic, Yiğit’s PhD research on visual politics of masks from 2019 has become even more timely. Funnily enough, only recently, in mid March, Conversation publication platform responded to us that they found the topic of cultural politics of masks “a little bit niche for the broad general audience.”

You can find our text on Paletten art magazine’s site.

Virality and Digital Contagions

April 13, 2020 2 comments

The publisher of my book Digital Contagions: A Media Archaeology of Computer Viruses (2nd updated edition, 2016) has given free access to the preface by Sean Cubitt and my Introduction to the book.  The download can be accessed on the publisher’s website.

From Sean Cubitt’s opening words:

“There is a disturbing etymological puzzle underlying the title. “Contagion” appears to be a late fourteenth-century coinage, appearing in the wake of the Black Death in mediaeval French and Middle English, from the Latin roots “con,” meaning “with,” and “tangere,” the active verb “to touch.” The puzzle comes from another word we associate at least equally closely with electronic media, “contact.” Here the root words are the same, with the only exception that “contact” comes from the passive form “tactum,” “to be touched.” Oddly, most people probably feel positive connotations about “contact,” but negative connotations from “contagion.” We have had six hundred years to develop these connotations, and yet there remains a nub of their origins: the contagious principle of something coming to touch us or to touch us together is more subjective than the principle of contact, where any two things could be brought together. The usefulness of the electrical contact as a major metaphor, dating back through early electrical experiments and familiar from the literature of the pioneering days of motoring and aviation, gives it both a certain objectivity and a sense of familiarity that we bring into the realm of communicative contact. Not so contagion, even though it is very close, at least etymologically.”

In this context, it might be also relevant to mention the piece the French publication AOC commissioned us with Tony Sampson to write on different models of virality and media.

Here’s the link to the French version.

And Boundary 2 Online published the English version: The New Logics of Viral Media.

Malware as Operational Art

August 12, 2019 Leave a comment

I returned to some themes of Digital Contagions, on computer viruses and malware, in this short text commissioned for the Malware exhibition on at Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam.

Malware as Operational Art: On the If/Then of Geopolitics and Tricksters

The history of malware is the history of inventing multiple forms of attack and defence, of borders and breaches, of evolutionary programmes, artificial life and system crashes (Parikka 2016). It is also an invention of different forms of artificiality that vary in scale from individual computers to entire infrastructures, with much in between. Malware such as computer viruses and worms are forms of speculative computing that have a long lineage of ideas about networking, connection, security and contagion. They are speculative software in the manner that Matthew Fuller defined as investigating the possibilities of programming – “Software as science fiction, as mutant epistemology.” (Fuller 2003, 30). As an art of the artificial, computer viruses have been likened to artificial life, but this artificiality also includes a parallel trajectory. Malware is about trickery in the same fundamental sense in which Vilem Flusser described art and design, suggesting that the word ‘artifice’ can trace its origins to the definition ‘trickster’ (Flusser: 1999, 18. See also Singleton 2015)

Malware is a bag of tricks for the designer – after infection things don’t look the same, scales are distorted, interfaces are taken over, maps are redrawn, routes are rerouted, connections are slowed down to a snail’s pace, much is stolen, and things are twisted to the perpetrator’s advantage. Of course, much of this could be said to pertain to any operation of power.

Perhaps, in short, malware is the truth about software.

…read the rest of the essay here.

Tap My Head, Mike My Brain: Experiencing Digital Culture

February 27, 2017 1 comment

March 7th, Tuesday, we will be launching our new books with Tony Sampson in London. Tony’s wonderful study The Assemblage Brain and my Digital Contagions (2nd, revised edition with a new preface by Sean Cubitt that can also be read for free online) will form the context for our short talks under the broad rubric of “experiencing digital culture”.

A short description below and to book tickets (free) see Eventbrite. Kings College London and their Arts & Humanities Research Institute are hosting the event.

We’ve worked with Tony since our joint edited book The Spam Book: On Viruses, Porn and Other Anomalies from the Dark Side of Digital Culture, which I still feel is a timely book with a pretty impressive cadre of writers such as Matthew Fuller and Andrew Goffey (on evil media!), Steve Goodman, Luciana Parisi, Susanna Paasonen, Greg Elmer, Alex Galloway, Eugene Thacker and many others. Ever since, I’ve always gotten a lot out from following Tony’s work, and same applies to his new book.

I also wrote the blurb for The Assemblage Brain and can warmly recommend it:

‘Tap my head and mike my brain’; Tony Sampson’s new book might silently echo Pynchon’s famous lines, but this is also an original, inspiring, and theoretically savvy take on the culture of the affective brain, from sciences to business, cybernetics to political power. Warmly recommended.

Description

Experiencing Digital Culture

Jussi Parikka and Tony D. Sampson’s work has threaded its way through the digital cultures field by means of a series of radical interventions, drawing on such concepts as anomalies, accidents, assemblages, contagions, events, nonrepresentation, affect and neuroculture, in order to critically rethink how the power of the digital age is experienced and embodied.

In this discussion the two theorists follow some of these fibrous conceptual strands as they intersect and overlap with each other in two recent publications: the new revised edition of Parikka’s landmark Digital Contagions: A Media Archaeology of Computer Viruses (Peter Lang, 2016) and Sampson’s new book, The Assemblage Brain: Sense Making in Neuroculture (University of Minnesota Press, 2016).

The discussion will be followed by a joint book launch and drinks, which will be generously provided by University of Minnesota Press in the Somerset Café.

Peter Lang have kindly offered a 30 % discount flyer for the event for those interested in ordering Digital Contagions.

 

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

Insects and Media (a short interview)

January 11, 2017 Leave a comment

During an earlier transmediale I was interviewed by Daniel Fetzner in Berlin. This short interview is now downloadable here as a PDF [insects-and-media-interview] and briefly discusses Insect Media with also a nod to Digital Contagions and “viral capitalism”.

Reference to the interview:

Fetzner, D./Dornberg. M. (2015) BUZZ – Parasitäre Ökologien. Freiburg