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Exhumation as Artistic Methodology

February 7, 2012 Leave a comment

This is the short intro/intervention, from my second Transmediale 2012-talk on the Search for a Method-panel, organized by Timothy Druckrey, involving in addition to me Inke Arns, Siegfried Zielinski and Wolfgang Ernst. The images are from the Crystal World workshop, also Transmediale 2012.

In order to kick off the panel and discussions, we were asked to pick examples of current media artistic practices, and proceed from there.

My thoughts were soon obviously on some themes and problems that I had been occupied with. More or less, such have included speculative materialities, work often dealing with the various spectra of hearing and seeing, of light and sound, of electromagnetism; works that map the non-solid based materialities that are increasingly important in order to understand how bodies react, and are governed, managed, experienced, in urban and technological settings.

Hence, I might have wanted to address Will Schrimshaw’s Atmospheric Research and Subliminal Frequencies. To me, the project is a mapping of the subconscious affective, embodied states where architectural arrangements are as important as the informational ecology; it maps the events that happen below the threshold of consciousness, for instance through ambient light as a regulator of “hormone secretion, body temperature, sleep and alertness”.  As such, it is a practice based excavation into the physiological and technological constitution of experience, but also the possibilities of producing and governing experience; something related to my earlier talk on the “media archaeology of cognitive capitalism”.

Or then, another possibility would be to have looked at the various projects and the work of Critical Engineer, as expressed by Julian Oliver, in the manifesto co-written with Gordan Savičić and Danja Vasiliev. The notion of the artist-engineer might not be new, having a longer history in terms of media arts, but at the same time the manifesto and works capture something crucial about the methodology of such a practitioner, through an expanded understanding of what the machine is (across devices, bodies, agents, forces and networks, as the Manifesto lists) and how that expanded notion of the machine lends itself to a work of exposing; imbalance and deception become driving forces in a mapping of such relations, often in work that engages with wireless network technologies, rethinking visual and urban media, and more. The various projects at Weise7/Labor8 exhibition downstairs, at Transmediale 2012, are good examples.

Without being just software studies, such Critical Engineering engages with code, but in the manner how it regulates, governs, manages and in the right hands, distorts, perverts, misguides, cheats. This list that sounds a whole lot like from Matthew Fuller’s and Andy Goffey’s evil media theory.

So far, the two themes that emerge show the need to 1) account for such materialities that are not directly, necessarily humanly perceptible but completely real; and 2), the need to account for practices of perversion. Altering and corrupting as more interesting technical methods than just the smooth operationality often mistaken as the essence of technological practices.

Instead, I want to briefly to mention the work of Microresearch Lab/Martin Howse, Jonathan Kemp and Ryan Jordan, and especially the Recrystallization and Decrystallization workshops that took place in London and Berlin last year, and now during Transmediale The Crystal World Open laboratory.

The workshops used various methods to crack open and chemically process information technology in order to expose and address such constitutive processes what referred to as crystallisation. The term was partly adopted from J.G.Ballard, continuing an even earlier style of artistic practice of the Microresearch Lab, where software and hardware practices find a resonance with fiction, paranoid, speculative narratives of writers such as Thomas Pynchon (always dear to anyone interested in the 20th century articulations of power, science and engineering). As for crystallisation, with a nod towards Ballard indeed, the notion of the crystal becomes a conceptual lead in terms of a speculative materialism, described in these words:

recrystallization was convened around the premise that while life itself starts from aperiodic crystals that encode infinite futures within a small number of atoms, the digital crystallization of the flesh by capital limits these futures to the point of exhaustion.

If computers and the minerals from which they are made are considered as equally crystalline, then their recrystallization is only possible through the introduction of vigorous and noisy positive feedback loops. “

In terms of media art histories, dead media and other theoretical and methodological approaches, the work of de- and recrystallization involved such techniques as “earth computing, mineral precipitation, high heat synthetic geology and inductive crystallography, DIY semi-conductor fabrication, water crystal cryptography, anthropocenic fossilizations, kirlian photography, hi-voltage fulgurite construction ”; Listing such, however, one however has to note quite soon that well, it is not exactly media archaeology as we used to think about it. Having said that, the notion of media archaeology in creative computing and related perspectives is taking us increasingly to such techniques as computer forensics, digital archaeology, and other modes of disgorging machines where art practices meet up with DIY and perhaps indeed critical engineering.

Speculative (media) archaeologies work crudely – but crude only in the sense of hacking open, disgorging, salvaging, melting, chemically processing in order to extract the minerals and such that on a material level compose our information technology. With an increasing political economic interest in the long networks of media production and discarded media, we have a better spatial understanding of the grim labour, electronic waste and other neo-colonialist emphasis of digital economy. The workshops tapped into this field directly as well, using such practices that mimicked human labour in extraction of valuable components and material from abandoned technology. What I want to propose is that such projects are emblematic of speculative media archaeologies and such artistic practices that combine a poetic-technological take on deep times, but ones that are such in a material sense too – not just written histories, but archaeologies of soil and history of the earth. Such speculative crypto histories of the earth refer to the concrete sedimentations of minerals and rocks, that act as re-sources for further development.

The Crystal World mineral cabinet

Where such methods fit in terms of media art vocabularies might remain unclear, but it is certain that they extend the practices often discussed in media art (histories) into a resonance with speculative materialism, new materialism, media archaeology but executed in highly original ways. We can talk of crystal materialities; materialities of minerals, information technology, and materialities of dangerous inhuman labour.

Indeed, to briefly elaborate on “exhumation” as a parallel concept to that more often mentioned of autopsy (also voiced by Tim Druckrey in his opening words) I will make a detour through Reza Negarestani. Cyclonopedia – a work of theory-fiction – speculates about the petropolitical deep layer, the living soil of Middle east, and we can point towards the work of Microresearch lab and these workshops as chemical and material deep layers that go two ways: not just the route of media archaeology interested in obsolescence, abandoned tech, and things old; but the other sort of descent too, to adopt Michel Foucault’s idea, perhaps implicitly part of some methodologies of media art histories and media archaeology. I am referring to a descent inside the machine, into the technical infrastructures, layers, city-like scapes of circuits and components. This kind of technical exposes a material, abstract level of connections, affordances and capacities. In such a methodology, the topology extends across materialities –from the fictional narrativisation to the hardware materiality and the long duration of mineral elements that entangle with that of human energy exploited for the excavation.

As a topological figure, and interested in this poetic and speculative materialism, allow me to end through a longer reference to Negarestani. What if such speculative media archaeologies and artistic methodologies are something that share methods with archaeologists but also with “cultists, worms and crawling entities”; not just a sublimated view of technological progress, but an interested in scars and half-lifes, of multiplication of surfaces, and creation of vermiculation; a new hole into solid, contained bodies of consumer technology.

“If archeologists, cultists, worms and crawling entities almost always undertake an act of exhumation (surfaces, tombs, cosmic corners, dreams, etc.), it is because exhumation is equal to ungrounding, incapacitating surfaces ability to operate according to topologies of the whole, or on a mereotopological level. In exhumation, the distribution of surfaces is thoroughly undermined and the movements associated with them are derailed; the edge no longer belongs to the periphery, anterior surfaces come after all other surfaces, layers of strata are displaced and perforated, peripheries and the last protecting  surfaces become the very conductors of invasion. Exhumation is defined as a collapse and trauma introduced to the solid part by vermiculate activities; it is the body of solidity replaced by the full body of trauma. As in disinterment — scarring the hot and cold surfaces of a grave — exhumation proliferates surfaces through each other. Exhumation transmutes architectures into excessive scarring processes, fibroses of tissues, membranes and surfaces of the solid body.”

This transmutation, and distribution of new surfaces is where such familiar notions of art and culture theory vocabulary as trauma are transported into material methodologies in order to excavate the stratification of such as part of mixed materials. The “novel crystal earth geologies” extend the work of material recovery and reuse into “psychophysical distortions and contingencies” in a gesture which elaborates an enthusiasm for multiple ecologies. Media art practices that are not merely to be fitted into media art histories and genres, but themselves create new openings to times and spaces of media objects, components, times.

A Manifesto for Digital Spectrology

June 19, 2011 1 comment

Digital Spectrology is that dirty work of a cultural theorist who wants to understand how power works in the age of circuitry. Power circulates not only in human spaces of cities, organic bodies or just plain things and objects. Increasingly, our archaeologies of the contemporary need to turn inside the machine, in order to illuminate what is the condition of existence of how we think, see, hear, remember and hallucinate in the age of software. This includes things discarded, abandoned, obsolete as much as the obscure object of desire still worthy of daylight. As such, digital archaeology deals with spectres too; but these ghosts are not only

From the Microresearch Lab project pages "Detection workshop"

hallucinations of afterlife reached through the media of mediums, or telegraphics, signals from Mars, the screen as a window to the otherwordly; but in the electromagnetic sphere, dynamics of software, ubiquitous computing, clouds so transparent we are mistaken to think of them as soft. Media Archaeology shares a temporality of the dead and zombies with Hauntology. Dead media is never actually dead. So what is the method of a media archaeologist of technological ghosts? She opens up the hood, looks inside, figures out what are the processual technics of our politics and aesthetics: The Aesthetico-Technical.

– inspired by the work of MicroResearchlab – Berlin/London, the short text was written for Julian Konczak/Telenesia.

A requiem for the slaughtered words

I guess this is dead media (archaeology).

I am doing farewells, and ritual slaughters of pieces of text that I need to cut from my new Media Archaeology and Digital Culture-manuscript (book forthcoming 2012 from Polity Press). I ended up realizing I am 15,000 words over the word limit so I need to become ruthless. This means picking up the academic chainsaw, the butcher’s knife, the well-sharpened axe that I keep under my bed anyway, and putting on my best Jack Nicholson (in The Shining) impression before the slaughter begins. Some of the remains (consider them sliced out organs, even if minor ones, of the text) are buried at Cartographies of Media Archaeology as part of the “Kill the Darling”-series (and part 1 here).

Platform Politics-conference: Opening Words

May 15, 2011 2 comments

We organized a very successful Platform Politics-conference in Cambridge, May 11-13, where our speakers included such exciting scholars and writers as Michel Bauwens, Michael Goddard, Tiziana Terranova, Nick Couldry, Nick Dyer-Witheford, Felix Stalder, and Tim Jordan. And a lot more (check out the link for names and abstracts too).

These are my short opening words to the event:
Platform Politics takes place as part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council founded networking project on Network Politics. We pitched it to the AHRC with the suggestion that it takes one to know one: to understand emerging forms of social action and politics on networks and in network society, one has to develop networks, to crowdsource ideas from leading scholars, activists, artists; to map and to bring through various channels such partipants together in order to identity themes and directions which need more focus. Hence, we have arrived at the third and final event of the project – now on Platform Politics, following the first event in Cambridge on Methodologies of Network Politics research, and last year in Toronto at the Infoscape research lab with help from Greg Elmer, Ganaele Langlois and Alessandra Renzi we discussed object oriented  and affect approaches to network politics.

We wanted to keep the notion of platform quite broad in order to solicit a more open range of papers. Hence, from software platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to robotics, from theoretical insights that draw from post-Fordist theories of politics and labour to object oriented philosophy, and much more, we have a privileged position to think through the platform (often seen as technological, as in platform studies) as a platform for our investigations (hence, also as a conceptual affordance). This does not mean to say that platform studies as represented in the Bogost and Montfort led series is techno-determinist, and solely focuses on such – quite the contrary, it tries to find a specific relation between technology and aesthetics. Yet, it is good to emphasize the mobilization of the concept as part of various transitions, and translations: platforms in technological (and again there various levels from apps to clouds, online platforms to technological hardware structures), conceptual, economic and of course political sense (expect at least a couple of references to Lenin in this conference).

So if Bogost and Montfort make sense of platform studies through this kind of layering:

Bogost and Montfort: Platform Studies

I would add that the notion of platform politics is able to articulate various levels together, and bring smoothness and movement to the interaction of the layers. In other words, in addition to the specific level of “platforms” we can think of the platform itself as distributed on a variety of layers as assemblages (in the manner Manuel Delanda uses the term?). A good example of this – something we were unable to pursue because of the problem of finding the slot for it! – was the idea of organizing a circuit bending/hardware hacking workshop (with Seb Franklin). The idea was to follow Garnet Hertz’s lead, and the way he has organized such workshops both to kids as well as to media theorists — and to use hands-on tinkering, opening up technology such as battery-operated toys, as a way to think through hardware platforms, how design solutions incorporate politics, how they afford conceptual approaches, and act as one node across a variety of other platforms. (An example of such is articulated in the forthcoming “Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method”-text, by myself and Hertz, in Leonardo-journal where we tie the question of such design politics of hardware to media archaeology, art methods and the political economy of network culture).

Platforms reveal to be ontogenetic – i.e. creative forms of interaction, not just stable backgrounds for a continuation of the social. They organize social action in a double bind where social action organizes them. Platforms rearticulate the social. For instance software platforms constitute a catalyzer for specific social forms, and as such incorporate in themselves a multitude of social, political, economic forces. It is a question of production – and of what kinds of social relations are being produced, a good example being the Telecommunist project and the Thimbl open source distributed microblogging service that incorporates a different sociability than proprietorial web 2.0 business and software models. And yet, this sociability is grounded on the level of the potentials of networks, the P2P instead of Web 2.0, distributed instead of the centralized client-server-model.

At the beginning of the project, we started with the question of “”what is network politics?“” and requested initial position papers from some key writers in the field – today of those we have Tiziana Terranova and Greg Elmer attending. Other theorists included Alex Galloway, Eugene Thacker, Katrien Jacobs and Geert Lovink.

The idea was to organize this as a form of request for comments – the RFC format, familiar from internet design culture, of questioning, lining up comments and positions, which however did not pan out as extensively as we wanted (this has to do with other organizationally interesting themes concerning spam management in participatory platforms, and so forth). However, what we got from the position papers were some initial leads. Furthermore,  we started with some assumptions where to start tracking network politics:

–       politics of new network clusters, services, platforms – Twitter, Facebook, as well as mapping alternative forms of  software-based ways of organizing traditional political parties as well as new formations, NGOs, and temporally very different groupings/phenomena – whether the suddenly emerging and as suddenly disappearing “like” protests for instance on Facebook, or the more long-term effects of Wikileaks– leak not only in the meaning of leaking secret information, but leaking across media platforms, and reaching a long term sustainability through “old” media trying to come grips with such online activities.

–       biopolitics of network culture, or in other words, the various practices which form internet cultures – hence a step outside of the technological focus, to look at what practices define network politics, and as such the links between work and free time, of play and labour, the circulation of affects, sociability, and so forth. Cognitive capitalism but as much affective capitalism. Yesterday (referring to the pre-conference event with Michel Bauwens and Michael Goddard) we got a bit into talking about investments of affect, desire and such topics.

–       we were interested too in the metaquestion: what form would investigating network politics have to take? Outside the normal practice of humanities, writing and meeting up in conferences, what are the specific pedagogic and research tools/platforms that are actively changing the politics of education and research inside/outside academia. What are the research/creation platforms that are able to articulate this, so that we are not only stuck with “master’s tools”?

–       And in a way, as a more unspecified but as important was the question of politics of the imperceptible: what kinds of forms of politics there are out there that are not even recognized as politics? From artistic practices to the grey work of engineers, new arenas of expertise, skill and again, social action contribute to the way in which politics is fleeing from traditional institutions.

The project has been able to map various positions to such questions, and raise new ones – which has been the purpose of this all: to produce more leads for further work. The same thing applies to this conference, and we are hoping to come out with excellent contributions, that do not fall within such original ideas.  During the project’s unfolding, “network politics” became a wider popular media phenomenon too, where old media started to focus on what is was able to brand as “twitter-revolutions, or facebook-revolutions” – and yet this only emphasized the need to complexify the notions, and the histories of such events and platforms, as has been done on various email lists, and various other debate forums already. I am sure we can continue on that, and produce some really exciting discussions – and as always in our events, we really hope that a lot of the emphasis is on discussions in the sessions, as well as outside them.

Media studies – studies of relations, ecology, waste

March 11, 2011 Leave a comment

The best way for media studies to really make sense is to think outside media – of where it expands, takes us, if we persistently follow its lead. So far, for a long time, it took us to think about humans, human relations, intentions, unconscious desires, economics as much as politics as power. Such paths need to take us to the other direction too; to things less intentional, but as important; to nature, bacteria, chemicals, forms of life outside our headspace but inside our gut; to milieus of living in which our conscious agency is only a minor part of what matters. To such time scales which take into account uses and practices, but as part of larger concert where some things last thousands, millions, billions of years.

Just like humanities more widely, media studies needs to be transversal – perhaps a concept we can tightly link to “transdisciplinary” as well.

To quote Félix Guattari:

“Now more than ever, nature cannot be separated from culture; in order to comprehend the interactions between ecosystems, the mechanosphere and the social and individual Universes of reference, we must learn to think ‘transversally.’” (Three Ecologies, 2000:43).

The biggest reason why we should be worried about death and finitude is less in the existential manner, or even what makes our Dasein authentic, but in the way that milieus of life are dying. This relates to fears about “the sixth mass extension” of species, this time caused by humans. The only death we need is that of the subjectivity that cements the economic, political and aesthetic practices that kill nature. This is as much a question for the sciences and engineering, as it is for media theory, arts and humanities.

As Guattari argues, talking about ecosophy, we need to reinvent a multitude of relations where economic struggles, political struggles and struggles of representation, as well as aesthetics, are those that expand the horizon to nature. Hence, media – both in terms of the technologies that return to nature as heavy metals and toxins and as mediators of the mental ecologies in which our destructive tendencies are sustained – is surprisingly close to this problem too.

The affective regimes of media are affective in terms of the relations they sustain – relations between humans, but also to ecosystems, mechanospheres and more. Media studies is thus in a good position to really develop itself into a study of relations, of mediations in that much wider sense.

Transmediale 2011 theory award nomination for Zombie Media

October 8, 2010 3 comments

Slightly perhaps shadowed by the Nobel prize announcements, the nominees for the Transmediale 2011 theory award – the Vilem Flusser award – were revealed this week.

I happy and excited being one of them, for the piece we wrote together with Garnet Hertz: “Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method”. The text is a theoretical excavation into thinking such art methods as circuit bending as media archaeological, and hence, expanding the notion of media archaeology from a textual method into something more strongly connected to the political economy of clipped shut information technology and material digital culture art practices: tinkering with technology that is not meant to be opened, changed, modified. Hence we mobilize such key themes as “black boxes” which have of course been well thematized in Science and Technology Studies (STS), but now in a media archaeological and hacktivist setting. Hence, the name zombie media: not dead media, even if old, passed away even; we write in the conclusions: “media never dies. Media may disappear in a popular sense, but it never dies: it decays, rots, reforms, remixes, and gets historicized, reinterpreted and collected. It either stays as a residue in the soil and in the air as concrete dead media, or is reappropriated through artistic, tinkering methodologies.”

Here the info from the Transmediale 2011-website:

Vilém Flusser Theory Award
Congratulations to the following four nominees of Vilém Flusser Theory Award 2011!
The Vilém Flusser Theory Award (VFTA) promotes innovative media theory and practice-oriented research exploring current and pending positions in digital art, media culture and networked society. The call was open to publications, positions, and projects from a broad range of theoretical, artistic, critical or design-based research that seeks to establish and define new forms of exchange, vocabularies and cultural dialogue.

Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method
Garnet Hertz & Jussi Parikka

GATHERINGS 1: EVENT, AGENCY, AND PROGRAM
Jordan Crandall

_Social Tesseracting_: Parts 1 – 3
Mez Breeze

Digital Anthropophagy and the Anthropophagic Re-Manifesto for the Digital Age
Vanessa Ramos-Velasquez