Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Gender in media archaeology: only a boys' club?

One of the set critiques of media archaeology is that it is a boys' club. That is a correct evaluation in so many ways when one has a look at the topics as well as authors of the circle of writers broadly understood part of  'media archaeology'. I make the same argument for instance in What is Media Archaeology?, but there is also something else that we need to attend to.

There is however a danger that the critique also neglects the multiplicity inherent in the approach. For sure, there are critical points to be made in so many aspects of Kittler's and others' theoretical work, but at the same time it feels unfair to neglect the various female authors and artists at the core of the field. In other words, the critique often turns a blind eye to the women who are actively involved in media archaeology. Let's not write them out too easily.

For instance Zoe Beloff's work is of essential value in this regards as her artistic practice digs out alternative media histories of women in a feminist media archaeological way. One should also check out such artists as Aura Satz and for instance Rosa Menkman too. (And the list could/should be extended!)

Lori Emerson is an active figure in the field through her Media Archaeology Lab. In terms of theorists, how can one neglect the pioneering work of Cornelia Vismann? Or for instance Wendy Chun (whether she identifies herself as media archaeologist or not, her work is such an inspiration always)? One of the key writes is Wanda Strauven with her film theory background. Several people in the field explicitly argue how central Carolyn Marvin's classic When Old Technologies Were New was to their thinking. Machiko Kusahara is bringing exciting topics on the media archaeological agenda and such inspirations like Margaret Morse and Vivian Sobchak - again, professors who do not necessarily identify with media archaeology per se... - are important forerunners. Lisa Gitelman and Lisa Cartwright's work pops up frequently. I myself consider for instance Jennifer Gabrys' work (especially on e-waste) a fantastic contribution to the media archaeology/obsolescence discussions. Similarly Shannon Mattern is someone whose work always deserves a shout out.

But for sure - this is just not enough. We could continue listing fabulous scholars but we also need to attend to the finer micropolitics of how articulations of gender, sexuality and embodiment could make the field increasingly vibrant. I myself am keen to follow the route of feminists like Braidotti in her expanded feminism that takes also ecology and animals as part of the concern: what are the processes of writing out, discursive and in non-discursive practices, which are threatening not only the life understood as Bios, but as well as Zoe: the very fundamental dynamics of life on the planet and beyond. Feminism also extends outside the questions traditionally considered about gender.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

A German Affair?

Simone Natale reviews Media Archaeology alongside other media archaeology books (Zielinski and Kluitenberg).

The full review came out in the Canadian Journal of Communication and you can find it here.  But the first footnote is good and interesting. I better quote it in full:

"Although it has recently been largely influential in English-speaking scholarship, media archaeology is indebted to the work of European intellectuals, particularly from Germany, the Netherlands, and Northern Europe. Taking into account the context of its development is essential to comprehending its ends and means. In particular, the German-speaking tradition of scholarship brought to this field some important characteristics: its strong focus on theoretical concerns; its antiquarian vocation, manifested in media archaeology through the attention to “dead” or obsolete media and artifacts; and, last but not least, the leading role that archaeology tout court has had in German culture since the nineteenth century."

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

What is Media Archaeology? reviewed in Neural

A new review of What is Media Archaeology in Neural (April 2013):
"To understand the "futuristic" present we live in it's very important to know our past. This seems particularly true when it comes to media culture. In fact it appears that the only feasible kind of time traveling is what is usually defined as "media archaeology", which allows us to re-create and use the same mediations on content that have been used by people in the past, refashioning their specific media context." [...]

The Archival Command: To Transmit and to Preserve

Whether media archaeology is even that close to Michel Foucault’s archaeology of knowledge is not always questioned. For Wolfgang Ernst, the link is very close, due to the notions of monument that one inherits from Foucault, as well as the non-semantic emphasis of Foucault. However, a lot of media archaeology still vows to principles that are at times further from Foucault. For instance, Foucault was insisting that his archaeology is not so much about giving “voice to the silent”, the neglected or repressed ones of media history. Indeed, his was not a “search and rescue” operation of what was lost, but an analysis of how the various “Gaps, voids, absences, limits, divisions” are distributed. No repression, just a production of distributions.

This leads to questions of how something is “transmitted and preserved”. This sort of archaeology is completely positive in this particular sense, and insists on this monumental aspect: why is something there, and why has it been brought to us. Indeed, his archaeology is handy when it comes to questions of transmission as preservation, the archival command.  A key quote from Foucault elaborates exactly what we are considering also in relation to software preservation/archival matters. There is a “remanence” proper to statements, which is not so much a way back to “the past even of the formulation”. Instead their duration (and distribution) needs to be explained.

Consider Foucault:

“To say that statements are residual is not to say that they remain in the field of memory, or that it is possible to rediscover what they meant; but it means they are preserved by the virtue of a number of supports and material techniques (of which the book is, of course, only one example), in accordance with certain types of institutions (of which the library is one), and with certain statutory modalities (which are not the same in the case of a religious text, a law, or a scientific truth). This also means they are invested in techniques that put them into operation, in practices that derive from them, in the social relations that they form, or, through those relations, modify.”

That quote, from Archaeology of Knowledge, is definitely a killer quote. It both highlights the specificity of Foucault’s approach as well as its relevance to the work of maintenance we call “memory”. It also hitns of that connection to Friedrich Kittler’s note near the end of Discourse Networks 1800/1900 that Foucault’s archaeology of knowledge needs to be updated to account for the technical media age: not all discourse networks are libraries and consist of books! And yet, that is already there in Foucault who steered clear from analysis of technical media but still leaves the door open to those other material techniques etc. Obviously Kittler knew this: we need to read carefully the afterwords to the Discourse Networks. It speaks of Foucault's methods, not his theory, acknowledging that difference inside Foucault's own writings and research.

Besides Kittler, there are hints towards the recent work of “cultural techniques” (for instance Bernhard Siegert). This is not to say that this more recent notion in German media theory is a footnote to Foucault -- like Kittler’s work cannot be reduced to such – but only that the emphasis on techniques is definitely something of consideration when tracking some of the archaeologies of the concept of “cultural techniques”.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Media Archaeology and Technological Debris

An event at Goldsmiths College in London:

Postgraduate Workshop & Conference: Media Archaeology and Technological Debris
Thursday, June 20 – Friday, June 21, 2013, Goldsmiths, University of London
This workshop aims to bring academics and PhD students together to
discuss emerging research projects on the field of media studies. It
means to combine the thriving approach of media archaeology with the
growing environmental concerns about technological debris, emphasizing
the complementary character of these topics in the construction of a
material understanding of media practices=92 past, present and future.
We expect to gather a number of emerging investigations that can shed
new light over the socio-political, economic, cultural, technological,
material and aesthetic dimensions of the continuous phenomena of
novelty and obsolescence of media systems. In doing so, we also hope
to create conditions to examine the systems of relationship formulated
around these topics, paying particular attention to the regimes of
value that define media objects either as museum artifacts or as
rubbish in different global/local contexts (such as Europe and Latin
10-15 PhD students will be selected to participate. The workshop
itself will last for two days: The first day will be composed of
closed reading groups in which the seasoned researchers will act as
respondents and mediators for the presentation of the participating
students, while the second day will be a small conference open to the
public. As such, the workshop intends to create a platform for
exchanging ideas and research methods upon this interdisciplinary
The event is being organized by students and graduates of Goldsmiths’
Department of Media and Communications, and is sponsored by
Goldsmiths’ Graduate School.
Confirmed speakers: Sean Cubitt (Media & Comms, Goldsmiths); Graham
Harwood (Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths); Jennifer Gabrys (Sociology,
Goldsmiths); Jussi Parikka (Media & Design, University of
Southampton); Gabriel Menotti (Audiovisual, UFES); and people from
Access Space (Sheffield).
Possible themes include:
- archaeological and anarchaeological research
- the repurposing of old devices (for fun & profit & art)
- programmed obsolescence and the temporality of materials and technologies
- precarious technical milieus
- artifact materiality and value
- media museography and historiography
- transnational contexts for zombie media
- industrial media and environmental hazards
- practices and economies of recycling technology
- electronic recycling and archiving of technological artifacts
- qualities, histories and applications of media systems and media ecologies
- global and local economic forces in cycles of innovation and decay
To apply, please submit a text document containing a title, a brief
description of your project (no more than 250 words), and a brief
biography to by Sunday, April 21, 17:00 GMT.
For more information, see:

Thursday, 14 March 2013

On the moving panorama and other media archaeological inspiration

Not every professor has an office like this. Peep into Erkki Huhtamo’s (UCLA) media archaeological office through this video, and get a taster of his enthusiasm as a collector: zoetropes, mutoscopes, kinetoscope. It demonstrates the curiosity cabinets of media history but also the need to train specialists who are able to maintain these instruments as part of the living heritage of media cultures outside the mainstream. The devices prompt us to ask questions concerning difference: how different media culture could be, and has been.
The video  is a good insight to the just released Huhtamo book on the moving panorama: Illusions in Motion, just out from MIT Press.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Berlin launch of some media archaeology books

Thanks to all who came to our transmediale'13 launch of What is Media Archaeology? and Wolfgang Ernst's Digital Memory and the Archive. We had a blast, and were able to both introduce the books and also carve out some productive differences in our approaches. Ernst brought with him the beautiful magnetic core memory that also is featured on the cover of his book. Part of the Media Archaeological Fundus' collections. For me it was great to be launching this in the midst of yet another great bunch of tm exhibitions of media archaeological resonance: the Octo Pneumatic Media System (a Rohrpost in action), the Evil Media Distribution Centre, Refunct Media vol. 5, and more.


Juan Quinones / transmediale, source.)

Sunday, 13 January 2013

The Underbelly of the Underground

London, 1860s. 

So much had to be in place and happen before Colonel Yolland acting on behalf of the Government stepped in and down. He was there to inspect the Underground, soon planned to be running with tightly set schedules. Every ten minutes from eight in the morning to eight in the evening, from Paddington and Farringdon stations. Before that, from six onwards, and after eight until twelve, every 20 minutes. Not bad service for 1863. And even the third class customers had light -- gas light, of course.

In order to celebrate the 150 years of London tube service, and before the Colonel himself made those last rounds - he was after all the man you had to call when an accident happened, he was after all  Britain’s Chief Inspector of Railways and fierce proponent of railway safety measures - so much hard work had happened that was not just an expression of Victorian spirit for grand architectural projects. Indeed, on the microlevel, imagine the work and consideration that had to be in place. For years, planning and building, engineering the project; considerations of ventilation and sewage had to the priority. Discussions about the soil and shafts, a true mining project that provided the underground transport media it's viability that 150 years later seems more idealistic.

(The Times, Feb 1, 1860).

And it was not without its dangers. Remember the Schivelbusch line, familiar from Virilio as well? That every technology co-produces its accident? The train comes with the train accident, but not all railway accidents and dangers have to do with trains. Indeed, there was a lot more to be worried about before trains were running. Does not take much imagination to remember that it might have rained a lot. June 1862 was especially rainy, to an extent that it caused it's dangers to tbe bricklayers in the tunnels. Accidents were feared, and even without casualties, you can imagine the damage a flooding of the tunnels with massive rain water causes. And the smell and the actions needing to be taken: redirecting through sewers, repairing of the damages, starting again.

This is the microhistory of engineering projects, of transport and media: it takes into account the various seemingly grey elements which actually precede any events and dates that are then deemed of significant from a symbolic point of view. Instead of 150 years of London Underground, we have a longer history of the underbelly of the Underground and its relation to the soil, engineering, labour and other material formations. The city lives not only on top of the surface. It has its guts, where we also move, but also other things move, and our life support has to flow; sewers and ventilation, an underground teeming with life, in the soil. Ask the rats.

(Update/postscript: Someone just suggested Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere as the accompanying novel for this line of thought of the underbelly London...And I also just learned that this was first a tv-serial too.).

Thursday, 10 January 2013

An Alternative Deep Time of the Media: A Geologically Tuned Media Ecology

Next week I am participating in this very exciting symposium at the Ruhr-University in Bochum, Germany. Convened by prof. Erich Hörl, it focuses on the General Ecology of Media and Technology -- as a direction discussing media ecology and the ecological paradigm in critical theory and humanities.

You can find the programme and more info here.

My talk focuses on some new ideas I am having concerning "a geology of media"(yes, a nod towards Deleuze and Guattari's Geology of Morals.)

In short, it is a way to tap into the mineral and material constitution of media technologies -- a media history of matter, so to speak that takes into account the long duree of mineralisation (some 500 million years ago) as constituting a layer of hardware and hardwork that characterises our current idealisation of "cognitive" capitalism too. Hence, we are not dealing only with psychopower/-technologies of contemporary capitalist media culture but also with psychogeophysicalpowers. I like the phrase hardware and hardwork, coined in this nice game project i-mines, and that double articulation after so much talk of software, softpower, etc. reminds of the very material logistics/labour that are a necessary support, an affordance, for digital economy.

My abstract:
An Alternative Deep Time of the Media: A Geologically Tuned Media Ecology

This talk picks up on Siegfried Zielinski's notion of a deep time of the media -- not straightforwardly media archaeological, but an anarchaeological call for methodology of deep time research into technical means of hearing and seeing. In Zielinski's vision, which poetically borrows from Jay Gould's paleontological epistemology at least in its vision, the superficiality of media cultural temporality is exposed with antecedents, hidden ideas, false but inspiring paths of earlier experimenters from Empedocles to Athanius Kircher, Johann Wilhelm Ritter to Cesare Lombroso.

As an alternative deep time, I suggest that instead of male heroes, we approach a more geologically tuned deep time - deep in various senses, down to mineral excavation, and picking up some themes of media ecological sort. The talk aims to introduce a more geologically oriented notion of depth of media that is interested in the mineral and raw material basis of technological development, as well as presents some media historical points of how one might adapt to a material perspective in terms of ecological temporality.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Mareorama Resurrected

Erkki Huhtamo's Audiovisual Performance Production "Mareorama Resurrected" now available for viewing online

An edited version of UCLA Design Media Arts Professor Erkki Huhtamo's acclaimed illustrated lecture performance "Mareorama Resurrected" is now available online. The Performance took place during the Art && Code 3D Conference at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, in October 2011.

Program notes:

"Performed throughout the 1800s, moving panoramas were among the most popular entertainment of the 19th century. In this poetic lecture-demonstration, scholar and media archeologist Erkki Huhtamo draws on his research into moving panoramas and dioramas to discuss various historical apparata that laid the groundwork for 20th and 21st century immersive applications—including those created now by game designers and media artists. The particular focus of this presentation will be on the Maréorama, a huge multi-sensory spectacle created by Hugo d’Alesi and his team for the Universal Exposition of 1900 in Paris. Drawing from high-resolution scans and the original piano music composed for the Maréorama by Henri Kowalski, Huhtamo reconstructs several sequences from this simulated sea voyage on the Mediterranean. The performance features live piano accompaniment by Stephen L. I. Murphy."