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.

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