Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Media Archaeology and New Media Studies

I am giving a talk in Leicester soon, Wednesday March 3.
The talk is at De Montfort University, 4 pm, room: Clephan 3.02

Here is a short abstract:

Media Archaeology and New Media Studies

This talk introduces key points about the emerging theoretical and methodological framework of "media archaeology". It discusses its roots in theories of visual culture and birth as part of the new media boom of the 1980s and especially 1990s. What the talk argues is that media archaeology needs to redevelop itself not only as a textual method, but also as a practical engagement with contemporary technical media cultures. It needs to develop its relations with such new fields of media studies as software studies, and hence update its agenda from the primarily reliance on visual media to a variety of other modalities of media sensation and logic.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Archaeologies of media archaeology

In terms of the archaeology of media archaeology, the roots of many of the media theoretical debates in the early 20th century writers and artists are important. The references to Walter Benjamin are already part of the tool box of the theories of media archaeology, similarly as they recognize for example Dolf Sternberger's Panorama of the 19th-century as one of the forerunners of thinking old media. Indeed, the social and technological changes that branded the first decades of the century left their mark in a close rethinking of memory, history and media technology as intimately connected.

This is where it would be interesting to ask questions such as how Erkki Huhtamo's ideas of recurring topoi, topics, related to Aby Warburg's dynamograms that Buchloch describes as "the recurring motifs of gesture and bodily expression that he had identified in his notorious term 'pathos formulas." (See Buchloch's article in the 2006 book The Archive.) And its not only that, but as I wrote above, the wider term changes in terms of understanding ruins, remnants, media technologies - in addition to a polarized social political atmosphere. Here we already find a great articulation of a new form of subjectivity and historical consciousness emerging that is less universalising, less narrative and more open to media technological (i.e. not only literary) articulations. I find Buchloch's summary intriguing:

"Thus one could argue that by the mid 1920s a variety of homologous new models of writing and imaging historical accounts emerged simultaneously, ranging from the montage techniques of artistic practices to Warburg's Atlas or those of the Annales historians. In all of these projects (literary, artistic, filmic, historical) a post-humanist and post-bourgeois subjectivity is constituted. The telling of history as a sequence of events and accounts of its individual agents is displaced by a focus on the simultaneity of separate but contingent social frameworks and an infinity of participating agents, while the process of history is reconceived as a structural system of perpetually changing interactions and permutations between economic and ecological givens, class formations and their ideologies, and the resulting types of social and cultural interactions specific to each particular moment."

What the text could emphasize more, or directly, is that memory becomes immanently modulated in media technological constellations. That is the value of Warburg's Atlas as a work of juxtaposed imagery (memory as images), as well as the reconfiguration of everyday sensations, perceptions, and structures of memory in the midst of mass-produced media. Furthermore, interesting in terms of archaeology of media archaeology is the connection established with the Annales in the above quote. Whereas the link between media archaeology emerging in the 1980s and new historicism (and new cultural histories) is clear, we can find yet another link already in this pre WW-II school of historical thought. In terms of intellectual content, excavating this link to Foucault and hence channeled further to later media archaeological theories might be one way to establish interesting connections; in terms of a media technological history, its the links to Warburg, Benjamin, the Surrealists, montage-thinking and other different ways of conceiving memory, perception and temporality that could provide alternative ideas.

Of course, when talking of 1920s, a connection between Mnemosyne-atlas as a mode of clustering and the current project driven by Lev Manovich concerning cultural analytics in the age of computing power has clear parallels.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Critique of Archival Reason exhibition in Dublin

An event/exhibition in Dublin which makes me feel I was some hundreds of miles up from where I am now.

Critique of Archival Reason.

To quote from the introductory text:
"The concept of archive naturally seems to evoke an image of control and survey. For example, in The Order of Things, Foucault has described the archive as a system introducing order, meaning, boundaries, coherence and reason into what is disparate, confused, and contingent. The archive is a product of the will to represent, the desire for surveyability and transparency while emerging in modernity as a rigid scopic regime where multiformity and diversity have been reduced to levels of equivalence.

Starting with Duchamp, visual artists have engaged in the epistemology of the archival order. Artists appropriated, interpreted, reconfigured and interrogated archival structures and archival materials aiming at deconstructing them as compulsive, taxonomic knowledge systems. Para-archives were developed as a demonstration of the impossibility of categorizing the contingent for the sake of representation and to demand attention for a non-hierarchic heterogeneity and an anomic form of knowledge production. Hal Foster argues that by focusing on unacknowledged and repressed qualities, artistic archives show the essence of the archive as 'found yet constructed, factual yet fictive, public yet private'.

This fold-like nature also appears characteristic for the manner in which currently, topical, research-based art practice relates to the concept of archive. In line with Roland Barthes' The Pleasure of the Text, one could speak of transforming a noun into a verb, i.e. of a processual pleasure of archiving. Such an archiving is a rhizomatic activity and a 'becoming archive' where ultimately the will to connect what cannot be connected is decisive. New forms of display will emerge in connective mutations of entirely diverse registers. No longer is an archiving consciousness placed in the supportive narrative of a contextualizing infolab developed parallel to the exhibition. Rather a research-based practice knows how to present both constitutive segments in a fluent and integral manner. Such integral practices are the departure points for the exhibition Critique of Archival Reason.This is also a critique in the Kantian sense of an activity not determining apriori its criteria, but apostiori in a form of experimental and immanent research into decisive and separate faculties.

Exhibiting a book - inherently connotative of organization and order - appears to be one of the possible forms of presenting a critique of archival reason. A book functions as a montage table of imagination, and as a thinking machine, Cecilia Gronberg claims. Her telephone directory type work (in collaboration with Jonas (J) Magnusson) Reconnections: Transcription, Lists, Documents, Archives investigates the archive of the first Swedish telephone factory and interconnects conceptual art, Perec, archival aesthetics, French Maoism, record photography and Midsommarkransen's local history. Irene Kopelman's work Drawing Archive adopts a sculptural approach. The work shows that drawing - guaranteeing categorical, scientific knowledge in 19th-century archives - functions as an important method for artistic thinking in an artistic archive through a process of drawing differences. Installation work could engineer an exchange between the semiotic structure of the traditional archive and the imaginary connotation of the artistic archive, says Shoji Kato. Kato deploys literally the arthistorical opposition horizontal versus vertical. On the floor there is a scale-model-type representation of the economic infrastructure of a city; on the wall there is its painted, cartographic representation called Tie: Place and Symbols. Kato describes the emerging artistic process of thought fluctuating between the two pieces as an 'embodied potentiality of plurality'.

A critical focus on mass media's archival reason is demonstrated in various works. Mass media develop authentic forms of narrativity and fiction sometimes even based on an absolutely empty archive as Jeremiah Day's work Fred Hampton's Apartment shows. The singularity of the artist is absent in much documentary work. Therefore, in the form of narrative performances, Day pushes the artist back into the center. How should an artist relate to the role that ubiquitous digitization plays in producing a documentary practice? Sean Snyder's work Index addresses that question through various formats of storage-media-images from his physical archive. The images have been destroyed and digitized, thus outlining a selective topology of the materials of artistic research. Herman Asselberghs delves into the question of what would happen with archiving the first decade of the 21st century if the mass media would omit 9/11 as icon for that period. His i-pod presentation Black Box shows 2/15 - the day when 30 million people demonstrated against starting a preventive war in Iraq - as an iconomic reassessment of 9/11.

This exhibition accompanies the conference Arts Research: Publics and Purposes. GradCAM-Dublin, 15.2-19.2. Keynote Speakers: Anton Vidokle (17/2/10) and Ute Meta Bauer (19/2/10).

This project is co-organised by the European Arts Research Network and GradCAM-Dublin with Centrifugal. This project is in part funded by the EC-EACEA Culture 2000–2007: 'Artist as Citizen' project. The project has been generously supported by the Mondriaan Foundation."

Thursday, 11 February 2010

interview on media archaeology and media arts

I have spent the day editing an interview we did with Dr Garnet Hertz on the methods, contexts and relations to media arts of media archaeology. The process has been long but enjoyable (and we hope to find a place to publish this extensive interview) as it has really helped me to articulate several things that might form some core statements in my forthcoming book as well. Garnet himself is a specialist in media archaeology as an artistic methods and I am grateful for his collaboration on this. This has really made it clear how media archaeology has to move from being a "mere" textual practice to a fully fledged artistic method - and that methodology needs to be articulated clearly. I think there are two ways to progress here to take it forward (and how it has been taken forward); media archaeology as a method for concrete machinics of media (whether in the fashion of Paul DeMarinis, or then e.g. the hardware hacking, circuit bending way proposed by the Berlin school promoted by Ernst). On the other hand, there is the ontological argument, as I would label it; that stems already from Kittler, continued by Ernst, but also lots of other recent developments which insist on the specificity of the material in technological excavations; the materiality of the contemporary, scientifically informed, media culture.

In addition, the interview helped me to kick-start the idea of media archaeology as a traveling discipline. It has not found a stable home yet, but in the manner that Mieke Bal writes about traveling concepts, media archaeology is a toolbox traveling between and across discplines and institutions from film to media and art schools; concrete archives and theory institutions. There lies its promise as well in terms of trying to advance an understanding of such traveling sets of theories as a crucial component of the 21st century arts and humanities agenda -- traveling not least between arts and sciences, humanities and technology.

More soon, if we found a journal or some other venue to publish the interview...

Monday, 8 February 2010

Media Archaeological Art/methods; Transmediale 2010

A theme such as "Futurity" is begging for media-archaeological approaches. No wonder then that at the 2010 Transmediale Future Obscura-exhibition several art works employed media-archaeological methods, and even the term was explicitly mentioned several times.

Of these, Gebhard Sengmüller's A Parallel Image was the strongest in terms of its affiliation with this strand of thinking/doing old media, new media. It also investigated imaginary media but in much more interesting fashion that mere discursive excavations. Sengmüller constructed a transmission device for visual data that does not break visual elements into discrete elements then sent over to the receiving end, but employs a very messy (one has to say) way of parallel image transmission; Instead, every pixel element is sent in parallel "directly" to the receiver via some 2,500 cables. Hence, it detaches from the universally adopted ideas that were early on formulated by the Frenchman Maurice Leblanc in 1880 that images are to be broken into lines before transmission and that light is after that to be translated into electric signals; and at the receiving end, the receiver's function is the further translation of electric currents into an image (as the catalogue text to A Parallel Image introduces).

Instead, Sengmüller describes his idea of practical uselessness but of media-archaeological interest:

"... an apparatus that links every pixel on the 'camera side' with every pixel on the 'monitor' side in the technically simplest way possible. Taking this idea to its logical conclusion, this leads to an absurd system that connects a grid of 2,500 photoconductors on the sender side with 2,500 small light bulbs on the receiver side, pixel by pixel, using a total of 2,500 copper wires. In addition, there are wires that supply each of these 'image transmission - micro units' with electricity."

For Sengmüller, complexification becomes an artistic method, in conjunction to its historically tuned nature.

Similar promise of media archaeological methodology was present in both Julius von Bismarck's the Space beyond me through the use of its 16mm projection-cum-immersive installation (alas, the piece was not operational when I was around!) and Julien Maire's The Inverted Cone. Addressing directly the nature of temporality, Maire's piece was tuned with Henri Bergson's cone-like structure of memory that stretches between actuality and the bubbling under intensive virtuality full of potentialities. The result was, I have to say, impressive in its subtlety that was suggestive of the continous de- and recomposition processes of memory. Memory become in that installation room a machinic process of composition reminding of the unconscious less as a theater than a machine to borrow Deleuze and Guattari. Again, the short text was using the trope of the media archaeologist - and why not. It was again embedded in this idea of time-traveling, but this time as machinology of sorts.

In general, what we did not see was a strong articulation of what is the media archaeological method in media arts. Without going into details here, so far the developments have been mostly pointing towards at least four directions (apologies in advance as such a classification needs a much more careful eye);
1) use of historical themes in representational terms as part of a piece
2) invoking alternative histories, that offer critical insights through the piece (perhaps some of Zoe Beloff's women's histories coupled together with technogical themes of mediation)
3) imaginary media constructed; devices that are dead, or never built being reconstructed and re-employed whether out of curiosity value that investigates the nature of obsolescence, progress and technological culture as one of novelty; or then to bring out also directly political themes such as new technologies as direct threats to the living world, the ecology (as Garnet Hertz argues through his dead media works)
4) media archaeological art methods as excavating the machine; past and/or present. Opening up the machine to investigate its microtemporal fluxes, machinics, operational principles is something again very "Berlin-style" and represents a powerful way of incorporating media archaeology as a method of opening up contemporary technologies (hardware hacking, circuit bending) and hence connecting to themes of political economy.