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."