Weather Engines in April

March 13, 2022 Leave a comment

We are happy to announce the list of artists for our Weather Engines exhibition, curated by Daphne Dragona and myself, which opens in April in Athens at Onassis Stegi. You can find more information about the exhibition as well as the opening program online and below you can find our curatorial text. Also the book Words of Weather, a glossary for terms for weather, will be out by end of March. More on that in a separate blog post.


Weather Engines artists list

Kat Austen, Anca Benera & Arnold Estefan, Felipe Castelblanco, Kent Chan, Coti K., Denise Ferreira da Silva & Arjuna Neuman, DESIGN EARTH, Matthias Fritsch, Geocinema, Abelardo Gil-Fournier & Jussi Parikka, Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, Hypercomf, Lito Kattou, Zisis Kotionis, Manifest Data Lab, Barbara Marcel, Matterlurgy, Petros Moris, Sybille Neumeyer, Afroditi Psarra & Audrey Briot, Susan Schuppli, Rachel Shearer & Cathy Livermore, Stefania Strouza, Superflux, Paky Vlassopoulou, Thomas Wrede

Weather Engines curatorial text

“Weather Engines” explores the poetics, politics, and technologies of the environment from the ground to the sky, and from soil to atmosphere.

Weather can be described as a dynamical system of wind, pressure, temperature, and humidity, which affects both human and nonhuman worlds. It changes from moment to moment and differs from place to place, while being forecasted in the attempt to control its effects. Weather observation has turned out to be part of the attempts to modify weather from experimental military projects to technological responses to mitigate climate change. The weather, though, is more than any physical fact in meteorological knowledge. It can also refer to different atmospheres which can be metaphorical or political and related to breathing and living.

The “Weather Engines” exhibition features artistic works that ask questions of weather, the environment, and technological culture. The installations, images, as well as video, sound, and sculptural works take the climate crisis as a starting point, investigating the elements that engineer our lives. Heat and cold, wind and rain are discussed in relation to different geographical and political contexts from past to present and speculative futures. Oceans, clouds, and forests are acknowledged as life-sustaining engines creating the atmosphere that we are inhabiting but also affecting. Meteorological instruments as well as natural bioindicators are the focal point of works that explore how weather phenomena are captured and studied. Other projects examine and expose the exploitation and weaponization of bad or extreme weather.

The artworks outline an environmental aesthetics that also addresses climate justice. The exhibition brings to view the conflicts in describing, experiencing, and resisting colonial weather and atmospheres. In the age of anthropogenic climate, all weather is artificial. If all weather is made, then this also means that there is still the potential to struggle for the weathers and climates we would rather want to live in.

Operational Images – Preface in the forthcoming book

February 16, 2022 2 comments

I submitted the manuscript for the book Operational Images (part of our project Operational Images and Visual Culture) to the publisher, University of Minnesota Press. The book is forthcoming in 2023, but for those of you interested in a sneak preview, please find below the Table of Contents and the Preface (without the endnote references though) that starts the book.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Between Light and Data

Preface: Operational Images, All the Way Down

Chapter 1: Operations of Operations

Chapter 2: What is Not an Image? On AI, Data, and Invisuality

Chapter 3: The Measurement-Image: From Photogrammetry to Planetary Surface

Chapter 4: Operational Aesthetic: Cinema for Territorial Management

Chapter 5: The Post-Lenticular City: Light into Data

Chapter 6: A Soft Montage of Operations

Preface: Operational Images All the Way Down

This book focuses on operational images, a concept that first emerged in Harun Farocki’s audiovisual work (films and video installations) and writings. The often-voiced but almost as often insufficiently developed definition is simple, and it is already somewhat evident in the term itself: there are some images that primarily operate; they are not necessarily representational or pictorial. Operational images trouble what an image is, as far as it shifts from representational to non-representational, from the primacy of human perception of bodies, movement, and things to measurement, pattern, analysis, navigation, and more. They change the scales and terms of reference. Such images have an epistemic force, while they also are involved in an intervention in the world, whether directly or indirectly. These sorts of images fix epistemic details, but while they hold them in place, they also are mobile in ways that become an essential part of their institutional activity. These points are explored in the pages that follow.

Operational images appear most often in discussions of machine vision and automation of perception, where images are part of a broader system of analysis, identification, tracking, and destruction. The term operational image seemed to speak directly to the period from, roughly, the first Gulf War in 1990 to the current phase of military and security management of territories with drones as part of an ecology of observation, analysis, and surveillance. Even a brief survey of Farocki’s films and existing literature reveals these thirty years of militarized airspace and technological systems that incorporated much of the already existing logic of targeting would be a straightforward implication of the term. However, this is not to say that this book is primarily about war or airspace, or surveillance or drones–even if such are central parts of the theme that admittedly ranges much further in the past than just the context of smart weapons and machine-readability of landscapes, territories, and objects (including people). It was also not the sole interest in Farocki’s work, especially if we consider how, for him, operational images emerged in architectural modeling, traffic control systems, construction of affective environments such as malls, and other examples that have also paved the way toward current topics of AI culture. Furthermore, this book is also not merely about a particular class of images that emerge in high-tech contexts, even if, again admittedly, it is about visual culture and its transformation into invisual data culture. We are not seeking an aesthetics or politics of digital images. There are plenty of books on these topics already, and many of them are consulted and discussed in this one, too. Thus, there is no need to write yet another take on digital visuality or digital images, or perhaps even about visual culture.

This book is about a needed shift in emphasis to the operational image. From a discussion of the image, its particular formats, and even its functions, we move to a different, albeit closely related question that concerns operations, a key term that ties to infrastructures, logistics, and all manner of actions that function to sustain, mobilize, analyze, and synthesize the thing we have grown to call “images”. I am after the coupling of perception and action, of images that control, regulate, and amplify how bodies operate.[1]

Both perception and action are terms defined in the course of this book: perception is not tied to any natural experience, optical capacity, or even a technique, and the action in question is not necessarily only the here and now of a human body but defined by more tricky causalities–including a relation to the temporality of futures, future-pasts, recursions, and more. In other words, operations do not act only on the present but across a broader timescale, including a temporalization of space (e.g., in forecasting systems).

Allow me to offer a guiding rhetorical figure that should be considered throughout this book as part of its conceptual scaffolding.[2] Operationalism is already an established term in scientific methodological literature[3], but also consider the rather famous and often overused parable of the turtle at the base of the universe. The narrative comes and goes in different forms, this one written down in Carl Sagan’s Broca’s Brain:

“Some ancient Asian cosmological views are close to the idea of an infinite regression of causes, as exemplified in the following apocryphal story: A Western traveler encountering an Oriental philosopher asks him to describe the nature of the world: “It is a great ball resting on the flat back of the world turtle.” “Ah yes, but what does the world turtle stand on?” “On the back of a still larger turtle.” “Yes, but what does he stand on?” “A very perceptive question. But it’s no use, mister; it’s turtles all the way down.”[4]

Instead of turtles, the history of photography, technical images, and visual media could be told in the same key: instruments built upon instruments, upon infrastructures, upon practices, upon techniques, upon further instruments and infrastructures, and so on. Operations built on operations that include elements that are material and semiotic, forms of knowing, and forms of mattering. As Geoffrey Winthrop-Young points out, such turtled ontology is also shared by the cultural techniques approach in media theory, concerned with “operational sequences involving actors, things and practices that, coming together, give rise to established cultural practices.”[5] Could the same then be said about the operational sequences involving images? That there is a fundamental relational ontology at play, one that could be described by way of scaffolding operations? At the very least, we can confidently concur with Michelle Henning when she writes that “[t]he Victorian idea of the photograph as an image that makes itself no longer holds sway.”[6] This applies to the specific fantasy of unmediated images drawn by sunlight and practices of sensing and registering signals as images and diagrams.

Joseph von Fraunhofer’s 1810s invention of the spectrometer–a later backbone of remote sensing and the analysis of materials through their spectral fingerprint–represents but one case from the alternative history of visual technologies. To verify and measure the dark lines existing in the solar spectrum–later named Fraunhofer lines–the spectrometer apparatus was an assemblage of multiple elements, camera-like technologies (six lamps and a shutter), a prism, and a modified theodolite: “an ordnance surveying instrument originally designed to measure angles for the production of maps.”[7] As Susan Schuppli writes: “His work would eventually come to be used by scientists to determine the chemical composition of a remote object–our sun, some 149.6 million kilometers away–not through direct testing but by treating it as an image, one whose chromatic variance could be translated into the complex language of chemistry.”[8] Treating the world as an image beyond its pictorial qualities is one key site where operations of epistemic value take place–but there are multiple operations already in place that produce such images. Fraunhofer’s laboratory set-up can be described as an essential part of the history of science of discovery of the qualities of the solar spectrum, but as an artificial set-up of said spectrum, it is also a microcosmos of light–even of interplanetary light. It is a simulation of the behavior of solar light, too, which then introduces the possibility of using this standardized view of the dark lines on the continuity of the spectrum to scale up and down across light and materials. All sorts of material instruments and scalar operations are piled upon each other, explicated and implied.

As photography (and yet not entirely just photography), Fraunhofer’s apparatus was a camera of sorts–one built like turtles on top of each other. I would go so far as to say that Fraunhofer’s apparatus represents one central instance of the history of operational imaging vis a vis remote sensing[9] and that what was captured was not a picture in the traditional sense but a microcosmos (or a condensation of its visual characteristics) through a detailed concrete arrangement that facilitated this diagram of the abstraction to emerge, and it demanded a precise need for accuracy in the placement of angles and distances, a measurement-operation in its own right.[10]

The recursive world of turtles and their relations–or camera-like instruments in laboratories and solar light–is a helpful figure of thought. At the same time, a more conceptual reference point for such operative chains of support is likely to be found in the  theoretical work of cultural techniques and operative ontologies. But more on that later.

To answer the question that likely has emerged, what is this book about? It is not about turtles, but operations all the way down: images that exist only because of other operations–and the operations that help us to understand the transformation of images from visual to data. One could justifiably argue this point about cinema already, as Thomas Elsaesser speculates about Farocki’s interest in simulations as not a replacement of reality but a chain of synthesis–“the downward spiral of simulation of a simulation of a simulation”[11]–that pertains to cinema and post-cinema. In our case, we instead place emphasis on the operational transformation of the link between visuality, photography, spectral analysis, and data–a transformation that did not happen with digital culture, but circa 1900, as the story that follows will show you.

Trois essais sur l’écologie des media – translations in French and Spanish

December 21, 2021 Leave a comment

Two new translations of my work came out from the printers just before the winter holidays. Two collections consisting of three essays of mine are published in French (T&P Publishing, Paris) and Spanish (Mimesis, Chile) with both of the editions complemented by a new preface by Peter Szendy. A brief quote from Szendy’s wonderful text (in the French edition):

Les miettes, les rognures, les déjections qui restent et que ces trois textes cherchent à penser ne sont pas à strictement parler les résidus d’un repas, c’est-à-dire d’une ingestion et d’une digestion organique. Les commensaux qui, dans ces pages, consomment et jettent ou rejettent ne sont pas des vivants humains ou animaux : ni mammifères, oiseaux ou insectes, ni même bactéries ou virus (quoique le virus et l’insecte soient ailleurs l’objet des réflexions de Jussi Parikka, par exemple quand il s’intéresse à la généalogie du modèle de l’essaim en informatique ou à l’idée selon laquelle les contagions virales qui se répandent dans le monde numérique relèveraient d’un métabolisme ). Ici, les commensaux du grand festin dont L’Anthrobscène ramasse et analyse les restes, ce sont les médias eux-mêmes.”

More information on both of the new editions:

Antropobsceno y otros ensayos: Medios, materialidad y ecología (Translators: Ximena Atristain, Julián Etienne, raúl rodríguez freire and Rodrigo Zamorano).

L’anthrobscène et autres violences – translated by Agnès Villette).

Weather Engines interview on Resonance FM

November 23, 2021 Leave a comment

Here’s a recent radio interview recording about the Weather Engines project (2021/2022) funded by the Onassis Stegi (Athens). It also includes a discussion of the new film piece by Matterlurgy called “Hydromancy”, on at the Hansard Gallery in Southampton (do visit) as well as online. The work emerges from a residency at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, a co-commission by the John Hansard Gallery and Onassis Stegi.

A thank you to Jude Montagu for this chat.

Hydromancy by Matterlurgy

November 6, 2021 Leave a comment

Hydromancy by Matterlurgy is a new film and installation on at the John Hansard Gallery (JHG). It is a commission by the JHG and Onassis Stegi (Athens) as part of our on-going Weather Engines project that I am curating with Daphne Dragona.

You can see it on the large digital screens at the Hansard in Southampton (and next year installed in Athens) but also online:

https://jhg.art/video/matterlurgy-hydromancy/

Hydromancy is “filmed on location at the University of Southampton’s National Oceanography Centre, a globally renowned centre for developing technologies that investigate the world’s oceans, earth systems and biosphere, Hydromancy blends documentary with artistic intervention, considering the ocean as both a sensory environment and scientific object. As viewers, we visit a coral lab bathed in blue light, an engineering workshop, and enter a room bubbling with algae and phytoplankton.”

O que é a arqueologia das mídias?

October 17, 2021 Leave a comment

The Portuguese (Brazilian) edition of What is Media Archaeology? came out as a translation published by Eduerj (Rio de Janeiro). O que é a arqueologia das mídias? includes both the translation (thanks to coordinator Maria Alice G. Antunes) and two new texts accompanying the original; one by Erick Felinto, another by Adriana Amaral. A big thanks to everyone involved.

(image by Camila de Ávila)

For those interested in recent Brazilian discussions on media archaeology, see here a recent interview we did with Alex Martire and Camila de Ávila. Includes Portuguese subtitles.

Categories: media archaeology

The Lab and the Field, the Image and the Instrument

October 8, 2021 Leave a comment

I was kindly commissioned this short text about Su Yu Hsin’s frame of reference video installation at the Alexander Levy gallery (Berlin). Originally published by the gallery, here’s the text below as well alongside links to the work.

See here for the Online viewing gallery.

See here for a video sample.

The Lab and the Field, the Image and the Instrument

Su Yu Hsin’s frame of reference (I and II) consists of images about images. The recursive story of environmental data offers a literal frame of reference about images that are captured in multiple windows. These moving images are nested inside other moving images. This assembly of views – scientists in action, rivers in flow, aerial views, simulations, and graphs – comes out of a patchwork of instruments of sensing that also have be nested somewhere on the field in order to transport data somewhere else. Not that the field, the lab, and data are considered separate. Any situated knowledge does not imply stand-point stability but the existence of relations, vectors of movement, and the painstaking work of trying to think what scales, what does not.  Questions of proximity and distance become reversed so that any objective set of views cannot start as uninvolved distance. Instead, they have to share a terrain and be somewhere, sometime, and for some duration. The intimacy of scientific practice can be breath-taking.

These are some of the visual dilemmas of the Anthropocene landscapes that are not modelled anymore based on the genre of the landscape painting but abstract art: intensities of color, variation, and pattern that become epistemically meaningful for specialist analysis.

The composition of carefully crafted scenes is cinema about instruments. The scenes could be narrated as featuring scientific practice but there’s more at play as you can imagine. It is not that frame of reference is only about scientific practice of measurement and the critical zone of life that covers the planet but that the images become instruments that start to compose the space they are in. They are involved. They are based on but also feed forward observations.

These involved observations are, as Su Yu Hsin tells us, on the ground as the surface layer of life, but they are also off the ground; these spaces are seen through the capacity of the instruments which allow the space to lift from a specific place onto a (data) server across the planetary surface. Instruments that specify place, images that are composed in that space, and yet data that is circulating much beyond those locations. Planetary sensing, and planetary circulation of data are tightly interlinked.

frame of reference is a story of patchy images: particular views in particular time, composed and stitched together after being captured. At this particular time a certain strength wind was passing through this landscape. This patchiness is not mere limitation, but a condition of their own existence as partial views to any site and sight. It is only through the dynamic patchiness of any landscape, field, and observation that a pattern can be spotted; a systemic property determined by a heterogeneous ground.

Gradually, live shots make way for data-views; lidar imaging, simulations, satellite sensing and more. Any view taken is taken twice: first as moving images, then as moving data; first as recording of light and other signals, then as model and simulation composed of those signals. The proliferation of patchy images also makes us realise the change in what sort of images we are watching.

Change and flow are one example of the patches in motion, concretely visible on the image surfaces in Su Yu Hsin’s work. The centrality of flowing water as well as submerged views is one indication of circulation too. Any location of a patch is not necessarily contained by its site of observation and the hydropoetic moving images in frame of reference make a point about this aspect of knowing through means of aesthetics. None of this is about a stable thing but a process of composition: a river flow, atmospheric chemistry, soil composition, landscape migration. Only the scales of composition and change vary.

On the ground, in the air, and under water; the images are involved in the elemental mix. The environment is one of material capacity to be sensed as well as already sensing. Su Yu Hsin captures the double-aspect why we are drawn to it: the epistemic and the aesthetic as the two sides why a surface measurement of the Earth can become both data and sensation, measurement and affect. As such, the videos exhibited could easily be seen as perfect illustrations of the past years of art and science work with a special attention being paid to the posthumanities of environmental scales, the material agency of not only the scientists but also the landscapes, and the intensive site of the field that is immanent to the lab also the voice-over speaks of.

But more than illustration, frame of reference becomes a collaborator in all of those endeavours; alongside the field, the lab, and the database, also the image and the studio, the frame and its aesthetic references as a site of participation.

Further reading:

Horton, Zachary (2021) The Cosmic Zoom. Scale, Knowledge, and Mediation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lowenhaupt Tsing, Anna; Mathews, Andrew S., and Bubandt Nils (2019) “Patchy Anthropocene: Landscape Structure, Multispecies History, and the Retooling of Anthropology” Current Anthropology Volume 60, Number S20, https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/full/10.1086/703391

Weather Engines in progress

September 29, 2021 Leave a comment

Here’s the first public, online glimpse to our work-in-progress curatorial project Weather Engines. Commissioned by Onassis Stegi (Athens), Daphne Dragona and myself are curating an exhibition as well as a range of activities of public talks, workshops, and more on the theme that is not merely about the technicalities of weather – such as weather modification/geoengineering – but about a wider sense of embodiment and environments of weather as techniques, affects, and politics.

We have also edited a little glossary of a book Terms of Weather to go with the exhibition with contributions from so many exciting writers, theorists, artists, and architects addressing core terms for this expanded understanding of weather. The book will be out in late 2021 already both in English and Greek.

The exhibition takes place in Athens in Spring 2022.

Final volume of Recursions: Hardwired Temporalities

September 14, 2021 Leave a comment

We are happy to announce that the collection Media Infrastructures and the Politics of Digital Time: Essays on Hardwired Temporalities , edited by Axel Volmar and Kyle Stine is out in the Recursions series both as Open Access and as hardback (for libraries).

“In a crucial sense, all machines are time machines. The essays in Media Infrastructures and the Politics of Digital Time develop the central concept of hardwired temporalities to consider how technical networks hardwire and rewire patterns of time. Digital media introduce new temporal patterns in their features of instant communication, synchronous collaboration, intricate time management, and continually improved speed. They construct temporal infrastructures that affect the rhythms of lived experience and shape social relations and practices of cooperation. Interdisciplinary in method and international in scope, the volume draws together insights from media and communication studies, cultural studies, and science and technology studies while staging an important encounter between two distinct approaches to the temporal patterning of media infrastructures, a North American strain emphasizing the social and cultural experiences of lived time and a European tradition, prominent especially in Germany, focusing on technological time and time-critical processes.”

The book is also the last volume we (myself, Anna Tuschling, and Geoffrey Winthrop-Young) published as founding editors of Recursions (2014-2021). From Sybille Krämer’s Medium, Messenger, Transmission: An Approach to Media Philosophy to the two books out this year (Media Infrastructures and the Politics of Digital Time and Jane Birkin’s Archive, Photography and the Language of Administration) we managed to publish key works by both established senior philosophers and from emerging talented scholars in ways that we hope contributed to the international media theory discussions in a significant way. While we have expressed our wish to the publisher, Amsterdam University Press, to discontinue the series, we will continue to support the published books and their authors to ensure they get the attention they deserve.

As a reminder, have a look at the full list of Recursions volumes.

Grounding

September 10, 2021 Leave a comment

Our video piece Seed, Image, Ground is on display until October 18 at the Grounding exhibition in St Petersburg, at the Dokuchaev Soil Museum. For us, that institutional and narrative context is perfect, considering the book on Vegetal Images we are writing with Abelardo Gil-Fournier features occasional appearances of Dokuchaev, Vernadsky, and others.

Furthermore, the video is featured currently in an exhibition on air/atmosphere in Shenzen, in this one on soil/grounding in St. Petersburg, and next year in a context that adds another elemental twist to the contextualization of Seed, Image, Ground (that was originally commissioned by Fotomuseum Winterthur for their series “Strike/Situations”.)