Thursday, 8 July 2010

Zombie Media - on Art Methods and Media Archaeology with Garnet Hertz

We are working on a joint text with Dr Garnet Hertz, an artist and a writer, on media archaeology and its connection to DIY art methodologies. This text is to continue our recent discussion on media archaeology published in Ctheory, and continues to elaborate some of the new directions in which media archaeology is inspiring art and theory. Below the beginning of the text that is still work-in-progress, but informs both Garnet's own project on theory of DIY as well as my own media archaeology book.

Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method

A more frightening prospect than a past that never can be regained is a past that never goes away. We know this lesson from horror films with the undead, zombies, and other things supernatural that haunt us, but we recognize it from everyday life as well. We recognize it from the heaps of waste and refuse that pile up in our basements, outside urban centers, and in places which are characterized by obsolescence, discarded objects, and things we hope stay forgotten. Of course, this is not the case with the return of dangerous toxins and other residue from supposedly immaterial information technologies – hundreds of millions of electronic devices discarded annually, most of which are still working. Obsolescence returns. In the United States, about 400 million units of consumer electronics are discarded every year. Electronic waste, like obsolete cellular telephones, computers, monitors, and televisions, compose the fastest growing and most toxic portion of waste in American society. As a result of rapid technological change, low initial cost and planned obsolescence, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that two-thirds of all discarded consumer electronics still work – approximately 250 million functioning computers, televisions, VCRs and cell phones are discarded each year in the (United States.Environmental Protection Agency. Fact Sheet: Management of Electronic Waste in the United States, July 2008, EPA 530-F-08-014. )

The promised discursive disembodiment is embedded in a large pile of network wires, lines, routers, switches, and other very material things that as Jonathan Sterne acutely and bluntly states, "will be trashed". (Jonathan Sterne, "Out with the Trash: On the Future of New Media." In: Residual Media, edited by Charles R. Acland. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), 17.) Far from being accidental, discarding and obsolescence are in fact internal to contemporary media technologies. As Sterne argues, the logic of new media does not only mean the replacement of old media by new media, but that digital culture itself is itself loaded with the assumption and expectation of a short-term forthcoming obsolescence. There is always a better camera, laptop, mobile phone on the horizon: new media always becomes old. The lifecycle of a standardized consumer object is also its Heideggerian style deathcycle – a planned part of the cycle of media-cultural objects.

This text is an investigation into planned obsolescence, media culture and the various temporalities of media objects; we approach this under the umbrella of media archaeology and aim to extend the media archaeological interest of knowledge into an art methodology. Hence, media archaeology becomes not only a method for excavation of the repressed, the forgotten, the past, but extends itself into an artistic method close to Do-It-Yourself (DIY) culture, circuit bending, hardware hacking, and other exercises that are closely related to the political economy of information technology, as well as the environment. Media embodies memory, but not only human memory; memory of things, of objects, of chemicals, and circuits that are returned to nature, so to speak, after their cycle. But these can be resurrected. This embodiment of memory in things is what relates media archaeology to an ecosophic enterprise as well.

Figure remixed by Garnet Hertz:

Phases of media positioned in reference to political economy: New Media and Media Archaeology are overlaid on Gartner Group's Hype Cycle and Adoption Curve diagrams, graphic representations of the economic maturity, adoption and business application of specific technologies.(For more information on Gartner Group's Hype Cycle theory, see Jackie Fenn & Mark Raskino, Understanding Gartner's Hype Cycles, 2009. Gartner Group.) While the diagram itself is a reappropriated remix, the media archaeological phase as well is characterized by methodologies of remix and reuse, which play an ecosophical function as well.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Authenticity, Forensics, Materiality, Virtuality and Emulation at BL

I will be attending this seminar at British Library, and feeling excited about the stuff I am going to learn; I think its ideal in providing input to some of the cutting edge ways in which we are thinking the notion and practices of the archive in software and network cultures. Themes seem to flag the move from spatial and narrative based archives to investigations into the microtemporal processes in which cultural heritage is being circulated; indeed, we need to think why humanities and historical knowledge needs as much "magnetic flux transitions, hexadecimal code and file system analysis" as it used to do hermeneutics, interpretation etc. Naturally, any kind of opposition of regimes of knowledge production is a mere polemical gesture, but I think this resonates strongly with the Wolfgang Ernst-direction in media archaeology and understanding of the new cultures of memory in the age of high-tech. What's more, is how these new regimes of memory and preservation are articulated together with the notion of the personal -- another key trend in terms of understanding the more microscopic (technical but also sociological) patterns in which traces are left and collected, and gathered meaningful. The mobile, individualized subject that is however increasingly collectivised in terms of traces in clouds and other services is where this new idea of "personal" takes place. On political levels, the problem of the dividual (Deleuze) has tried to articulate this doubling, or multiplication of lives in digital cultures. In addition, what appeals to me are the possible articulations of media archaeology implicitly present in the below text referring to "microscopic" and "mesoscopic" scales of analysis (the latter could be seen closer to where even earlier media archaeological research has been "digging" in terms of interfaces, media environments, etc.).

Authenticity, Forensics, Materiality, Virtuality and Emulation

Advances in the curatorship and scholarship of personal digital archives

from the Personal Digital Manuscripts Project at the British Library
Date: 5 July 2010
Time: 10:00 to 17:


Recently there have been significant and exciting advances made in the curation of personal digital archives. Seemingly distinct aspects of computing have come together to yield a vision of future curation and research in the archival context. The use of forensic technologies has arisen from a profound concern that future digital scholarship must be based on personal digital objects that have been properly authenticated and that future historical research should be able, at a minimum, to interpret available dates, times and origins appropriately. This is digital scholarship and science taken to the microscopic scale of magnetic flux transitions, hexadecimal code and file system analysis.

At the same time there has been a desire to capture the context of creativity and historical happening in the fullest way, and this is manifesting itself within the computer environment, at the mesoscopic scale, in the evocative viewing of the personal digital objects through the original graphical user interface, complete with desktop layout, folder directories, application toolbars, and network volumes, resources and venues, and in the selection of menu items with a mouse,
trackpad or touch screen - with this research experience being made possible through the use of emulators and virtual machines and bootable disk images. Beyond the original computer environment, there is the capture of the physical environment through immersive photography, 3D graphical imagery and audiovisual interviews in the presence of archival objects. This is digital scholarship at the macroscopic scale of the virtual experience of local landscapes
of home and study, of lab and studio.

Within the British Library, the Personal Digital Manuscripts Project has recently been reinvigorated by internal funding, and it will be introduced over the course of the seminar. Its aim is to provide for enhanced curation, for the integration of digital and analogue components of personal archives, and for streamlined workflows through authenticated capture, processing and access of personal digital objects via emulation as well as migration.

Invited Speakers

Erika Farr and Naomi Nelson of Emory University will report on the pioneering use of emulation for the digital archives of Salman Rushdie. In the words of their introduction to the emulated environment: “Rushdie’s exact directory structure is available to browse, and each file can be opened in the application in which it was created, such as MacWrite Pro or ClarisWorks”.

Christine A. Finn writer, broadcaster and researcher, and Research Associate of the University of Bradford, will provide an account of her original research with the vintage computer community and of the classic computers themselves as contemporary archaeological Artifacts, the title of the book that arose from her fieldwork in the Silicon Valley.

Vincent Joguin President and CEO of Joguin SAS will provide an overview of the EU-funded project Keeping Emulation Environments Portable (KEEP) including an introduction to the Olonys universal virtual machine (which he codesigned for longterm portability) and the Disk2FDI software for floppy disk imaging.

Matthew G. Kirschenbaum of the University of Maryland will discuss digital materiality from the perspective of the humanities researcher, arising in part from his exploration of computer media forensics and restorative activities in capturing digital creativity, and following on from his ground-breaking book Mechanisms. New Media and the Forensic Imagination.

Michael G. Olson of Stanford University Libraries will report on his establishment of a Digital Forensics Lab for digital archives (the first of its kind in the USA) and the context of his work with personal archives including that of the evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould.

Jussi Parikka of Anglia Ruskin University who conducted his doctoral thesis on a media archaeology of computer worms and viruses at the University of Turku will discuss some of his more recent research as well as a multidisciplinary initiative, the Cultures of the Digital Economy Research Institute (CoDE), of which he is Director.

Daniela Petrelli of the University of Sheffield will reflect on the findings of the EU Marie Curie project Memoir: Remembering Things Past, an examination of personal digital objects as the source of memories, most especially autobiographical. The design and impact of digital devices that are integrated in everyday life and enable ready recollection and reflection will be contemplated.

Gabriela Redwine of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas will introduce aspects of the Mellon-funded project that is producing a report entitled Computer Forensics and Born-Digital Content in Cultural Heritage Collections, of which she is a coauthor along with Richard Ovenden of the Bodleian Library of the University of Oxford and principal author Matt Kirschenbaum of the University of Maryland. She will briefly consider some of the ethical issues that arise in the use of forensic technologies.

Seth Shaw of the Rare Book, Manuscript and Special Collections Library of Duke University will discuss recent collecting efforts including the ‘papers’ of ePoet Stephanie Strickland, and with a brief note on work with the emails of the economics Nobel laureate Leonid Hurwicz.

Matt Shreeve of Curtis+Cartwright Consulting will introduce the JISC project that is directed at Clarifying the Purpose and Benefits of Preserving Software, in association with the newly founded Software Sustainability Institute.

Jeff Ubois who is exploring new approaches to personal archiving for Fujitsu Labs of America will summarise the Personal Archiving 2010 conference which he organised in San Francisco and will discuss future possibilities.

Kieron Wilkinson and István Fábián of the Software Preservation Society will give a talk and a very exciting pre-release demo of the ready-built KryoFlux equipment that provides for extremely low level and accurate capture and analysis of floppy disks.

Simon Wilson, a digital archivist at Hull History Centre will provide an overview of the international project Born-Digital Collections: An Inter-Institutional Model for Stewardship (AIMS) involving collaboration between University of Virginia, Hull University, Stanford University and Yale University.

Members of the British Library Helen Broderick of the Personal Digital Manuscripts Project will describe aspects of cataloguing and making available digital personal archives by means of the
British Library’s newly instituted eMSS Server, and the enhancement of the archive through immersive photography of the creative environment: examples will stem from the archives of Ronald Harwood, Ted Hughes and Harold Pinter.

Jude England Head of Social Sciences will chair the final session.

Kristian Jensen Head of Arts and Humanities and SRO of the Personal Digital Manuscripts Project will provide a brief welcome and introduction.

Jeremy Leighton John of the Personal Digital Manuscripts Project will highlight some of the findings of the Digital Lives Research Project (funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council) including the use of forensic techniques in the archival and historical context. In particular, the concept of Virtual Archival Computing, the use of virtual machines, VM snapshots and the booting of disk images within a forensic framework and over a network will be elaborated. There will be examples from the archives of evolutionary biologists William D. Hamilton and John Maynard Smith.

Demos, Overviews and Topics

Beyond the presentations themselves there will be demos of the forensic capture of digital media involving write-blockers and forensic equipment; and the KryoFlux technology.

An outline of the recent developments of the EU-funded Planets project (Preservation and Long-term Access through Networked Services, led by the British Library) will be provided, specifically highlighting its contributions to emulation including a remote emulation service over the network, GRATE. Attendees will learn about or be able to discuss the following topics:

• Virtual archival computing and the use of bootable forensic disk images and virtual machines as a means of providing repeatable and authenticated access to original computer environments.
• Personal digital archives as a source of original software for longterm preservation and as a motivating factor in this endeavour
• Low level capturing of magnetic flux transitions on floppy disks as well as higher level bitstream capture that is accurate and measurable
• The anthropology and archaeology of the vintage computer community
• Digital materiality? What is it and why does it matter?
• Universal virtual machines and open source emulators that are compliant with digital preservation requirements
• Why use forensic technologies in the context of digital archives?
• What is enhanced curation?
• Highlights of the Digital Lives Research Project
• The eMSS Server at the British Library
• Issues of licensing and software inheritance and reuse
• Next steps: networked integration