Seed, Image, Ground

August 25, 2020 Leave a comment

The new video essay Seed, Image, Ground is the most recent example of our collaborative work with Abelardo Gil-Fournier emerging from our project on vegetal surfaces and media aesthetics. Launched today, the video was commissioned by Fotomuseum Winterthur as part of their cluster Situations/Strike. Below the introduction text and the video! Please contact me or Abelardo for any queries related to possible video installation versions of the piece.

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Seed, Image, Ground (2020)

Seed bombing is a technique used in forestry, agriculture, and environmental restoration where biodegradable containers filled with seeds and soil nutrients are dropped from flying aircrafts to the ground. Conceived after WW2 by an RAF pilot, its use has been fostered during the last decade, linked to the increased deployment of robotic aerial vehicles in environmental monitoring.

Seed, Image, Ground works with selected promotional images and videos related to seed bombing. It combines them with footage showing the movements of seeds and leaves, and the growth of plants. The video essay concerns the link between images, seeds, aerial operations, and transformation of earth surfaces into data. It acknowledges how the history of botanic knowledge and visual surveys of green surfaces is a history of images, and how the latter is also a history of circulation, speed, and motorised aircraft. Such images operate much beyond visuality.

Seed, Image, Ground offers an alternative way of understanding “the strike.” From metaphors of war to guerrilla farming, from agricultural techniques and reforesting to the automation of airspace and environmental management, the observation of growth of vegetal surfaces unveils connections to parallel histories of the logistics of military perception.

Sound design by María Andueza Olmedo. Research for the video essay was supported by the project Operational Images and Visual Culture, situated at the department of Photography at the Academy of Performing Arts, Prague. The project is funded by Czech Science Foundation project 19-26865X.

 

Sensoria by McKenzie Wark

August 17, 2020 Leave a comment

McKenzie Wark’s new book Sensoria: Thinkers for the Twenty-first Century is out and I am chuffed (as the British say) to be included in the fabulous lineup of theorists and writers that she rolls out in this follow-up of the General Intellects volume.

“As we face the compounded crises of late capitalism, environmental catastrophe and technological transformation, who are the thinkers and the ideas who will allow us to understand the world we live in? McKenzie Wark surveys three areas at the cutting edge of current critical thinking: media ecologies, post-colonial ethnographies, and the design of technology, and introduces us to the thinking of seventeen major writers who, combined, contribute to the common task of knowing the world. Each chapter is a concise account of an individual thinker, providing useful context and connections to the work of the others.

The authors include: Sianne Ngai, Kodwo Eshun, Lisa Nakamura, Hito Steyerl, Yves Citton, Randy Martin, Jackie Wang, Wang Hui, Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, Achille Mbembe, Eyal Weizman, Cory Doctorow, Benjamin Bratton, Tiziana Terranova, Keller Easterling, Jussi Parikka, Deborah Danowich and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro

Wark argues that we are too often told that expertise is obtained by specialisation. Sensoria connects the themes and arguments across intellectual silos. The book is a vital and timely introduction to the future both as a warning but also as a roadmap for how we might find our way out of the current crisis.”

A Recursive Web of Models: Studio Tomás Saraceno’s Working Objects

My article on Studio Tomás Saraceno’s work is now out in the Configurations journal.

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The text follows up from the Palais de Tokyo show On Air (curated by Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel) and I’ve tried to articulate these points in the article in a couple of different contexts. While there is clearly lots (more) to be said about questions of artistic practices with animals (including multispecies ethnography), and what that implies for the field of environmental humanities, I am here a tad more focused on the question of the image, the model, and the exchange between art and science. Admittedly, “art and science” is a rather low res description of many of the actual workings of what happens in such practices, which is also why I have mobilised the term working objects (hat tip to Daston and Galison) in this context (while I acknowledge that so much more could be said). And keep your eyes open for Sasha Engelmann’s work on Studio Saraceno’s work btw.

In the meantime, see also the video “Studio Visit with Tomás Saraceno“.

A Natural History of Logistics

Here’s the video of my Strelka / #TheTerraforming keynote, “A Natural History of Logistics”. Thanks to Benjamin Bratton for the introduction to the talk (and the invitation to be part of The Terraforming Faculty). The talk stems from the seminar and the studio brief we did with the group in February in Moscow. While I outline some theoretical ideas for this synthetic (fake!) discipline, the researchers’ responses in February through mini-projects presented astonishingly good ways how the idea was taken forward: some historically grounded, some speculative, some somewhere in between, takes on soil, seabed mining, geomagnetism, tidal cycles, weeds, and more. Also thanks to Abelardo Gil-Fournier for his lecture and other work for the seminar.

And watch here the projects from the first day:

and the 2nd day in full:

The Terraforming final projects

The final projects of the first Terraforming cohort at Strelka Institute are going to be premiered this week Wednesday and Thursday (July 1 and 2) at 7 pm Moscow time. “The work presented will cover a range of topics of space and sci-fi, artificial food and landscapes, geo- and macro-engineering, and range from speculative design proposals, to cinema, to legal frameworks, to practical propositions for intervention.”

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I was happy to be part of the Strelka Institute’s programme as a Faculty member. Working with this massively talented and engaged group of researchers was really a joy.  In February, we worked with the brief on “Natural History of Logistics” which is somewhat also the topic of my keynote (on Thursday). The other speakers are: Benjamin Bratton, Lisa Messeri,  Helen Hester and Kim Stanley Robinson.

The links to the broadcasts for the two days are below:
Here’s a glimpse of what I posted earlier on “Media theory with the Terraformers“.

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.

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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.

To Media Study

April 26, 2020 Leave a comment

I was invited to contribute a short text for the inaugural issue of the new journal MAST – The Journal of Media Art Study and Theory. The whole issue is a great compilation of interesting and insightful texts that you can access as direct PDF here.

My text was a brief take on media studies – both media studies as a discipline and media study as an activity. Here’s the beginning of the text that can be accessed through the PDF link above.

To Media Study: Media Studies and Beyond

To study media is to study more than what we already recognize as media. The beauty of media study should involve the possibility of methodological and theoretical labor that investigates what even constitutes its object of knowledge and the process through which such objects of knowledge are stabilised as the thing that circulates as “media” in academia. It even includes the possibility of considering academia as an institution and its practices as “media,” a proposition made by Friedrich Kittler (2004). Indeed, universities consist of a changing set of practices and techniques programmed into students and future staff, hardware from libraries to mail systems and objects of knowledge that provide one operating system for a range of contemporary operations—mathematics to philosophy as well as computing. Not that we need to accept all the details and specifics of the story (and its European bias, as Kittler also stated) but the methodology of realising that media relates not to “communication,” but to material architectures, cultural techniques, and infrastructures from hardware to standards is the key takeaway. In short, even the academic study itself is, well, media.

To study media is to study what then even becomes media in the first place, and how mediation is much more than what counts as media as such. Hence, media study and its stabilized version in academia, Media Studies, can be in a privileged position to understand how the question of media shifts from the human scale of interface to large-scale networks, infrastructure, and logistics. Some of the greyest things are the most exciting when it comes to understanding the powers of media: administration, logistics, infrastructural arrangement and territorial governance. Media is placed in actual spatial, material, and institutional realities.

Not that the academia is the sole place of media study – media study also happens outside Media Studies. Indeed, to radicalize Kittler’s point about media at the university, we need to recognise the subtle – and sometimes not so subtle – mechanisms of economic power that enable and disable the possibilities of study. To study media is also to recognise, as Stefano Harney and Fred Moten (2013) importantly argue, that it happens in contemporary contexts of debt and governance that are, one might add, part of the “media” and cultural techniques of the university and of how it produces experience and habit. To study should not be about the reproduction of misery as part of the policy of the current academic institutional landscapes, or as Moten puts it: “I think that a huge part of it has to do simply with, let’s call it, a certain reduction of intellectual life – to reduce study into critique, and then at the same time, a really, really horrific, brutal reduction of critique to debunking, which operates under the general assumption that naturalised academic misery loves company in its isolation, like some kind of warped communal alienation in which people are tied together not by blood or a common language but by the bad feeling they compete over.” (Harney and Moten 120).

[…continues: here. PDF]

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.

Media Theory with the Terraformers

April 7, 2020 1 comment

A new interview is out in the Strelka Mag. We conducted this discussion with Yulia Gromova in Moscow during my teaching gig at Strelka’s The Terraforming program in February. The interview also briefly touches on my brief that we executed with the program researchers: we inaugurated a new synthetic discipline called A Natural History of Logistics and related to the body of work in media theory, architecture, urbanism, etc. The idea was to tease out various historical and contemporary – actual and speculative – points of connections between systems often deemed “natural” and “technological” so as to problematise the division into the two, and also to understand the various affordances so-called natural systems have in relation to questions of infrastructure and logistics. This also then facilitated looking at the various material frictions in logistical systems in relation to territories, environmental concerns, political questions, etc. The results presented by the Strelka researchers of the Terraforming cohort 2019-2020  – from architects to designers to artists etc. – were really inspiring and impressive.

The interview in Strelka Mag also speaks of some other work, including on Geology of Media etc.