Monthly Archives: October 2013

CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE

“Environments are invisible. Their groundrules, pervasive structure,
and overall patterns elude easy perception.”
“If a work of art is to explore new environments, it is not to be regarded
as a blueprint but rather as a form of action-painting.”
—Marshall Mcluhan
(Mcluhan 1967, 68; 1987, 325)

CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE - Survey Image

Infraduction

The essay and ideas included here is a discussion of the topics raised through CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE, an artistic research and production residency that took place as part of the lead up to the transmediale festival, afterglow, 2014. The project’s initiation was about uncovering the resources and reserves of physical and material energies, signals and data that scaffold the very possibility of post-digital art-and-technology practices. Through a series of public workshops, and an installation project situated within the transmediale 2014 festival, CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE’s ‘post-digitality’ is not only historical-temporal, but immediate, and dredged up from below, in the present. The artistic project stemming from research and public events through the project creates a media-archaeological site-survey, revealing data and depth of the present moment of an art and technology festival, in the Haus der Kulture der Welt, in Berlin, on Earth. As such, the project intends a kind of post-digital institutional critique, as well as reflecting something of the “geological-turn” in media and media theory through the landscape survey form. When “data mining” and circuit-bent archeologies (Parikka and Hertz, 424), are powerful metaphors and methods for artistic knowledge practices, we perform a survey of the media-technical landscape.

The project spanned the Autumn of 2013, and received the gracious support of the Canada Council of the Arts and the Danish Arts Council, and hosted by transmediale 2014 and the Zentrum für Kunst und Urbanistik (ZKU), Berlin.

Post-digitality and Infrastructure

“… a new poetics giving flesh to a ‘voice from below’, an eloquent voice of the mute. It purported to decipher the signs written on faces, walls, clothes – to travel under the visible stage and disclose the secrets hidden underground.”
— Jacques Rancière
(Rancière, 15) 

If there is something of value in seeking out what “post-digital” might mean for, artists, technologists, and researchers, we first and foremost think it temporally. That is, what we grasp at is ‘afters’ and ‘befores’—placing developments and destinies along imagined timelines. Going “post-” presupposes a hopeful and helpful epochal exit-strategy of lateral reasoning and longitudinal conclusions. Post-digitality smudges across the many real and re-imagined tendencies and nostalgias, regularities and inconsistencies that lie in the wake of a dampened digital euphoria. The result, in our current moment, seems to favour a very tight cybernetic loop, as we re-visit, re-wire, re-create, re-source, re-new, and re-surface the dreams and nightmares of 20 years of somehow anticlimactic technological emissions. The overly enthusiastic 20-something ages into a seasoned, skeptical 30-something, embarrassingly sweeping the dusts of digital idealism from the 1990’s and 2000’s under an IKEA rug. But this dust sifts its way back up through the weft and weave—and we, as with other techno-utopic waves and generations before us, are called to wonder, “What happened?”

With CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE, alongside time-based concepts, we speculate another “way of seeing” the post-digital: to look down, into and through the sediments of a technological present we re-main a re-action to. If “post-” usually refers to that which comes after, let’s look here at what lies below—charting a course not in terms of eras, generations and epochs, but through layers, vertical gradients, veneers and strata—driving our “post-” into the ground. The afterglow, the hangover, of the digital booms and busts we have been experiencing since the late 80’s evidence a very real layering of matter: the dirt and dusts of the digital systems, interconnects and protocols that now wrap the Earth. What matters (that is, presents itself with all its material agency) is technical-trash, overfilled (an)archives, dendritic digital distensions—the bursting at the seams of attentional and intentional gutters.

These gutters of dirt and dust are passageways to geologically thinking, pointing to the “anthropocene,” our current geological age (during which humans and our activities have dominant influence over climate, environment). Our  contributions to the geological record over the course of this era will primarily show the effects of technical media: the electrification, then wiring, then wirelessing, of the globe. For material reminders, consider how the modern engineering concepts of backward-compatibility and innovation, respectively, resonate with proto-geoscientist Steno’s 17th-Century stratigraphic laws of superposition and cross-cutting: “At the time when the lower stratum was being formed, none of the upper strata existed,” and “If a body or discontinuity cuts across a stratum, it must have formed after that stratum.” (Brookfield, 143) CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE, a project of methodological and conceptual misappropriations, extends the work of geological and archeological media thinking. How might we perform a coredrill of media and its technical systems?

CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE?

“…infrastructure is not a substrate which carries information on it, or in it, in a kind of mind-body dichotomy. The discontinuities are not between system and person, or technology and organisation, but rather between contexts.”
—Star & Ruhleder
(Star and Ruhleder, 114)

The mercurial character of technical infrastructure is what renders it critical in two ways. These constellations of technologies are by definition ceaseless and foundational, in the way that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security describes them: “Critical infrastructure are the assets, systems, and networks, whether physical or virtual, so vital to the United States that their incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination thereof.” (Homeland Security Website) But they are also, in a sense critical of themselves, unstable and doomed ultimately to breakdown and failure. Paul Virilio puts frames the broad, pharmacological relation of infrastructures this way: “When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck; when you invent the plane you also invent the plane crash; and when you invent electricity, you invent electrocution…Every technology carries its own negativity, which is invented at the same time as technical progress.” (Virilio, 89)

Looking at the post-digital as infra-digital (below-digital, sub-digital), outlines a superorganism. It is an image of the technical that intends to take account of specific contexts and micro-relations of both creation and use. A post-digital minerality, or elementally shows the desire, the need, to bring the digital euphoria that erupted twenty years ago down to size, down to protocol, down to implementation, down to its gritty, grimy details. The depth of the problems created and solved with technical media might require an engagement with them that is unseductive, respectful, humble—even boring. Contemporary creative practices give account of the resurgence of these purportedly boring things, having renewed resonance and interest. Online culture and art making that we identify as post-digital overflow with concern for the mundane object, the muted image, simple interactions. For examples, load up a few Tumblrs: “Things Fitting Perfectly Into Other Things” (http://thingsfittingperfectlyintothings.tumblr.com) or “The Jogging” (http://thejogging.tumblr.com), with its particular brand of Duchampian manoeuvring. Jack Strange’s 2008 exhibition work ‘g’—an exhibition piece where a lead ball is placed on the ‘g’ key of a Macbook laptop—places technological dullness on a pedestal. Gone is the art-and-technology of “New Media Artist,” aiming at some terrifically preposterous future of art, or of the media. Technical media is composed of embarrassingly simple and commonplace, repeated elements (the micro-switching of a WiFi router, the ordinary hand-to-mouse gestures of a film editor, etc.). The exciting exhilaration of “Where do you want to go today!?” digitality is set against its monstrous monotony: The repetition of keystrokes, clicks, logic gates, ethernet routers and seemingly never-ending lists. (“Where do you want to go today?” was Microsoft Corporation’s global campaign slogan for most of the mid 90s.)

'g' (2008), Jack Strange

‘g’ (2008), by Jack Strange. A “g” key of a laptop is held down by a lead ball, repeating the letter into a Microsoft Word document.

There is a thing that exists in the world, a half-serious post-digital counter-strike, known as “The Society for People Interested in the Study of Boring Things.” One of The Society’s charter members, Susan Leigh Star, has described their activities, characteristically, as a list of things: “Among the boring topics presenters brought to the table were: the inscription of gender in unemployment forms used by the city government in Hamburg, Germany; the difficulties of measuring urine output in a post-surgical ward in the Netherlands, and how to design better cups for metrication; the company mascot and the slogans used by a large Midwestern insurance firm in its attempts to build corporate cultures; and how nematologists use computers to keep track of their worm specimens.” Star continues that, “what they have in common is a concern with infrastructure, the invisible glue that binds disciplines together, within and across their boundaries.” (Star Got Infrastructure?) 

Relying on, and extending Star’s discussions of infrastructure elsewhere (Star The Ethnography of Infrastructure), we can sketch an outlines of a concept of infrastructure that is full of contradictions. Infrastructures are:

  • embedded, but give themselves to experience as secreted access points;
  • transparent in terms of how we use them, but opaque in terms of how they work;
  • articulated at human scale but operational only at much larger and smaller scales;
  • material and systemic, as well as learned and practiced;
  • locally articulated, but rely on a globally “installed base”
  • designed to be reliable and established, but existentially insecure, unpredictable and precarious

The infrastructures of media-technics, is a lively area for cultural and artistic activities, and realist, unidealized approaches to creative work. What we provide with art-and-technology are “punctualized building blocks,” (Parikka and Hertz, 427) and condensation points for the misty haze of technology as it ascends into “the cloud.” We can no longer study or use a thing called technology: “Think of technology as a verb, not a noun.” (Red Burns) Likewise, we can never claim to step outside of the technological: “I don’t see an outside, but see technology everywhere, even where it purportedly is not… Is it never not on?” (Ronnel The Fable of Media Technology) Using Heidegger’s terminology to discuss the experience of use, and the design of informational systems, Star writes: “Within a given cultural context, the cook considers the water system a piece of working infrastructure integral to making dinner; for the city planner, it becomes a variable in a complex equation. Thus we [should] ask, when—not what—is an infrastructure… infrastructure occurs when local practices are afforded by a larger-scale technology, which can then be used in a natural, ready-to-hand fashion.” (Star Steps Toward an Ecology of Infrastructure)

A fascination for infrastructure in art making can serve to point out the links between institutional, economic and political structures, and commonplace and material systems. These “always-on” systems allow for, and (to a lesser degree) are allowed by, art-and-technology practices. These banal systems are what we are not supposed to care about, not supposed to notice, while awestruck and immersed, blown-away by the spectacle, the narrative, the classically aesthetic. What lies beneath? “You wouldn’t be interested,” anyway. And if we we do notice these underlying systems, then something has gone, often terribly, wrong. Infrastructural technologies are like DJ’s—you only realy notice them when they suck.  CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE is a characterisation of the technological that shares much in common with the Critical Engineering Manifesto, prescriptive instead of the technologist :

“The Critical Engineer looks beyond the ‘awe of implementation’ to determine methods of influence and their specific effects.”
— J. Oliver, G. Savicic, D. Vasiliev
(The Critical Engineering Manifesto)

When something works—really works—it becomes infrastructure. We give this name to something we are not enough aware enough normally to name at all. As Douglas Adams has put it, “Technology is a word that describes something that doesn’t work yet.” (Adams How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet) So, infrastructures are at once easily detected and indiscernible — they are everywhere and nowhere, at once. These dynamics of appearance and disappearance, of visibility and invisibility are perhaps somewhat fundamental to what is to be technological. But there are other ways and reasons that technologies disappear, and some of are motivated by worrying realpolitiks of knowledge and access, as well as social relations incumbent of late capitalism.

The Infrastructure of Institutions / Institution of Infrastructure

There are significant impediments to understanding large and complex technologies, and one mode of invisibility is here brought about through a purposeful projection of tedium. For example, “one of bureaucracies’ most effective, least appreciated weapons is its tedious technical reports. Like frigid February elections in Chicago, these fat volumes dissuade all but the most faithful.” (Espeland, 109) There is a particular colour of grey used in the telecommunications industry that, at least in industry folklore, has been psychologically proven to be the world’s most boring colour. This cognitive camouflage marks everything technological that is intended to be uniformly dull and uninteresting. The seemingly colorless cross-connection boxes that stand aloft in the urban landscape are like tombstones of a bygone digital era, an invasive species we aren’t supposed to notice the presence of. Fuller and Goffey define “grey media” as those, “databases, group-work software, project-planning methods, media forms, and technologies that are operative far from the more visible churn of messages about consumers, empowerment, or the questionable wisdom of the information economy.” (Fuller, 9)

Sichert Product Palette

The Sichert family of cross connection and KVz—Kabelverzweiger, or “Cable fan out’—cabinets,  for outdoor use. These grey boxes are used to connect trans-regional and trans-national telecommunications infrastructure to individual subscribers and households, known in the industry as “the last mile.” (Image with the explicit permission of Julian von Hardenburg, Berthold Sichert GmbH management — http://sichert.com)

“Networks can no longer be conceived of as intrinsically utopian. On the contrary, they are now the third terrain (alongside nations and markets) on which the bitter competition for wealth and power are undertaken… they retain, in layers, older formations – network security, network discipline, and network sovereign power over life and death.”
— Sean Cubitt
(Cubitt, 312)

Infrastructures and institutions are related: they are conjoined twins—the former generally thought to be the latter’s more obstinate, material counterpart. The practices of institutions create and sustain infrastructures, and, reciprocally, institutions require the channels and stratifications scaffolded by them. If infrastructures order and delimit a kind of imperceptibly-opaque, fragile, material-technological hyperobject (Morton, 130),  institutions do the same kind of work for social, political and even personal life. Infrastructures and institutions may not be so different, beneath their commonplace surfaces:

“’an idea or something that has been learned can also be considered as having material-objective force in its consequences and mediations,’ the understanding of the material nature of ideas, and their relation to medial activity such as reading, navigation, and calculating, has become commonplace.”
— Matthew Fuller, Evil Media
(Fuller, 214)

And this is where a tension between impressions and realities, a politics of knowledge, at individual and community scales, becomes highly pronounced. Bureaucracies and institutions express a set of techniques that are also present in the design and development of technical infrastructure: abstraction, compartmentalisation, classification, oblivious interiorities — the list of tendentious strategies spins round and round, centrifuging imbalances of both knowledge and power.

Histories and studies of science and technology in the industrial age are witness to multifarious accounts of dangerous and productive complicities like this (Eisenhower famously terming the U.S.’s initial version of such an infrastructure the “military industrial complex” as early as 1961 (Eisenhower, Farewell to the Nation)). A more personal, illustrative account comes from Colleen Black, one of 75,000 residents of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, who’s war-time period in America was spent unwittingly processing uranium for the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. When asked how almost the entire population of the town could have worked in the processing facility, without knowing its incendiary purpose: “You’d be climbing all over these pipes, and testing the welds in them. Then they had a mass spectrometer there, and you had to watch the dials go off, and you weren’t supposed to say that word, either. And the crazy thing is, I didn’t ask. I mean, I didn’t know where those pipes were going, I didn’t know what was going through them … I just knew that I had to find the leak and mark it.” Ms. Black is here speaking of a fearsome impedance matching sometimes achieved by institutions and infrastructures. When capitalism, its institutions, and comprehensive technologies collude, no one needs to know anything: “If somebody was to ask you, ‘What are you making out there in Oak Ridge,’ you’d say, 79 cents an hour.” (National Public Radio, Secretly Working To Win The War In ‘Atomic City’)

Godspeed You Black Emperor! - Yanqui U.X.O. Album Art (back)

Godspeed You Black Emperor!’s Yanqui U.X.O. back cover, showing  relationships between music publishing and recording industries and the military-industrial complex.  (Used with the permission of Don Wilkie—Constellation Records, Montreal, Canada.)

So, nobody gets to know everything. Technologies, when they become infrastructural, are never fully understood by any one. Try asking a car mechanic to fix household plumbing, a supercomputer programmer to reconfigure a Microsoft Windows network, or a WordPress php coder to build a robot. There are vectors of re-integration, signs of domain hopping, but by and large and more and more we just have to “find the leak and mark it,” and wait for the cable repair man to show up. And these contradictorily interdependent-autonomies manifest themselves all the way down. The telecommuting MacBook Pro graphic designer and the resident of a developing-world megacity are different in every way, save this: each is subject to the imposed vulnerability and inflicted impotence of institutional, technical infrastructures. The result is a devolving chain of irresponsibility (where responsibility is “the ability to respond,” as well as its more common meaning). As these infrastructural systems ascend from our physical, then from perceptual, then our conscious realities, we are called upon to think about them less and less, and the consequences get more and more gnarly. It get to the point that even when we would like to find out where the pipes are going, and what is going through them. When confronted with highly complex technological systems, “individuals [are] simply incapable of bearing full responsibility for their effects,” as Jane Bennett discusses in attempting to trace causal logic (blame) to the North American power blackout of 2003.  (Bennett, 24)

Globally, the scaffolding of institutional and governmental power through technological artefacts, often taking the form of territorialisation through instrumental measurement, has long been part of the infrastructural bargain. Techniques include, “dependence on imported equipment rather than self-sustaining networks, and an absence of R&D in the colonized territory.” For electrical power, for example, these are “techniques which keep the regional power companies in thrall to larger global corporate networks of goods and services.” (Cubitt 314)  Information and network archivic infrastructures work in the much the same way—cartographic mapping and scientific investigation (as “quantification” movements of the 18th and 19th centuries) were serviceable preludes to Western European powers’ dominion over the new world, the Indian subcontinent and Africa, among others. German and British geographers, map makers and natural scientists certainly thought themselves to be doing a great, inherent service to the world. And the preplanning of today’s contemporary superpowers seems no less an irreproachably admirable bargain: Google just wants to know, and we just want free email.

Measuring Infrastructure

“Whenever things were frightening, it was a good idea to measure them.”
—Daniel Kehlmann, Measuring the World
(Kehlmann 16)

The promise that base metals supposed for the alchemist, and the capacities that scryers gave to globes of rock crystal, is the promise that “data” brings to our present moment. Richard Wright’s essay for “Software Studies, A Lexicon” (2007), points to the archive fever and historical anxiety from which contemporary techniques of data visualisation arose: “In 1987 the US National Science Foundation published their “Visualisation in Scientific Computing” report (ViSC) that warned about the “firehose of data” that was resulting from computational experiments and electronic sensing.” (Fuller 78) Artists, “creative technologists,” designers, programmers are, right this moment, developing an enormity of alternate perspectives on comma delimited lists, spreadsheets and other seemingly humdrum data formats and sources. The tools they employ often involve a surprisingly potent mix of simple statistical techniques, aesthetic schemes, and data massaging.

But the whole endeavour reveals a quintessential epistemic irony of our data-age: Data is collected in order to characterise the truth of an object or event. But, having collected too much data, of a kind that is impossible to comprehend directly, we elaborate a whole literature of symbols, infographics, explanations and visualisations.  As Vilem Flusser puts it, “…every mediation between man and the world, [is] subjected to an internal dialectic. They represent the world to man but simultaneously interpose themselves between man and the world (“vorstellen”). As far as they represent the world, they are like maps; instruments for orientation in the world. As far as they interpose themselves between man and the world, they are like screens, like coverings of the world.” (Flusser 2007) We drill-down, slice and sieve the database —digital dowsing, attempting to “strike oil,” or to “sift gold” from these stratifying datasets. And here again is why geological thinking is more than an inter-disciplinary conceit. We find ourselves inventing a new tectonics of the database, an elaborate succession of measurements and multiple-working-hypotheses, that we hope will bring us closer to the realities we seek to characterise. But, there is much to be said for the insights wrought by perspectivally looking at the data. Perhaps “a landscape is best viewed with a single source of light—the sun, one light bulb, a lone candle, a lone writer – so that all the shadows and highlights are true to each other.” (Coupland Extraordinary Canadians Marshall Mcluhan) In order to study something highly non-linear, perhaps we must first arrange it, slice through it, in or with a line.

Infrastructures, networks of materials and people, piping and protocols, seem a favorable source for ever more data, to be distilled and visualised. Operating at the dashboard — via interfaces that try to convey new understandings via illustration — we can decide to engineer awareness in almost innumerable ways. Can we imagine an “infrastructural proprioception” of a kind similar to the “social proprioception” that the social media allows for? (Thompson Clive Thompson on How Twitter Creates a Social Sixth Sense) There will exist a data-space for infrastructure, all the way up, and all the way down. It would seem that withdrawn technological entities call us toward toward then, inevitably in this way:

“Thus what is a mere procedure of mind in the translation of sense-awareness into discursive knowledge has been transmuted into a fundamental character of nature. In this way matter has emerged as being the metaphysical substratum of its properties, and the course of nature is interpreted as the history of matter.”
—Whitehead, The Concept of Nature
(Quoted in Latour, What is the Style of Matters of Concern)
(Whitehead 16; Latour 43)

Performing Infrastructure

Technology slips from the invisible to the visible in a number of ways, some already outlined, and some more intentional and performative than others. The most obvious is perhaps through internal or external failure. This breakdown, as self-critique by and of infrastructure itself, is a reading that Sean Cubitt gives of Mcluhan’s influential description of electric light: “The electric light is pure information. It is a medium without a message.” (Mcluhan 1964: 15) Infrastructural breakdown, here the example and existentialism of electricity and light, can be “an assertion of the criticality of the medium to our innately communicative species.” (Cubitt 15) When a large power blackout happens, it increasingly means a complete severing of all cultural communicative ties—arenas for public and private interactions are artificially lit, and social spheres (in the West, at least) are nearing complete metastasis from situated to networked, analog to digital, neighbourhood to online.

More interesting than breakdowns are instances where infrastructural performers and human actors do a more explicit double-act. A favourite story regarding such a vaudevillian ploy involves one Harvey Schultz of New York City. During a press conference in advance of the 1987 National Football League Super Bowl game, Schultz hinted to the public at large that it might be a good idea for football fans to “stagger their bathroom visits” during the game — so as to avoid a potentially hydraulically catastrophic “Super Flush.” The exacting news outlets of the moment took the story and ran with it. Hearsay about the Super Flush is an important mechanism for rendering of infrastructure in the minds of we who would use it unwittingly. The important thing about  Schultz’s peculiarly artful institutional critique that day at the press conference is not whether or not what he said was true (it was not), but that it made present, perhaps for the first time: New Yorkers have toilets, they are each part of an massively interconnected system,  all connected to an otherwise unnoticeable aqueduct .  Schultz did no less than to render the infrastructure of plumbing and sewage visible, in the consciousness of millions of people. 

The Tri-City Herald - Super Bowl flush warning - January 25th, 1987

The Tri-City Herald article from January 25th, 1987, reporting on the possibility of a “Super Flush” occurring due to toilet activity during the Super Bowl football game. Harvey Schultz, then New York City’s Commissioner of Environmental Protection, urged “Don’t rush—and think before you flush.”

Along with breakdowns (hoaxed or otherwise), we could add a further mode to the ways in which infrastructures move from the mysterious to the manifest. Correlation, a process known to statisticians and scientists that serves to establish links between data derived from individual processes, can further serve to elucidate infrastructures. Marshall Mcluhan expressed correlation in a more felt manner, emphasizing an underlying inclination of systems and people toward patterns and connectivity: “When information is brushed against information… the results are startling and effective. The perennial quest for involvement, fill-in, takes many forms.” (Mcluhan 1967:103)

Consider a phenomenon known to exist in the United Kingdom power industry known as “Television Pickup.” By quite a large majority, the English like to make tea, and watch television drama. Whenever a particularly popular drama or sport programme on the BBC ends, the entire viewing public gets up from their television and makes tea. During these mass-brew events, millions of electric kettles are turned on all at once, just prior to which the national electrical grid system goes into mini-emergency mode. The largest pickup recorded for the TV drama East Enders happened on April 5th, 2001, when an estimated 22 million viewers watched to find out ‘Who shot Phil Mitchell’. (BBC 2007) The post-episode power load by 2290 megawatts and the population of the UK at this time was 58.7 million. (Wikipedia  United Kingdom Census 2001). Television Pickup is a correlation between media, behaviour and electrical supply—and it is this correlation, revealing unexpected infrastructural causalities, that allows for an awareness of subsystems, and how they interrelate. (British Broadcasting Corporation Britain From Above) Through unexpected correlation and causal relationships, technologies are drawn out from their transparent fog, their immanent and pervasive haziness.

The performance of infrastructures, as the rendering present of unwitting, unwanted or unthought systems, has its place and prelude in artist practice. The methods developed by artists and activist associated with forms of “Institutional Critique,” treat institutional infrastructures of art as fodder for artworks that expose and elaborate them. Institutional Critique, serves as perforative and performative interrogation into the value and support structures of the museum, gallery, catalogue and official welcome. Amongst artist Andrea Fraser’s well-known works is “Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk” (1989). The scripted dialogue in these interventions includes not only an exposition of art historical and aesthetic concerns, but also discussions of material infrastructure (water, electrical lighting), museum sponsorship, and cultural-economic and political agendas more widely: “Jane walks into the Coat Room, gesturing toward the drinking fountain at the far end. Addressing the drinking fountain:  Hmm, ‘a work of astonishing economy and monumentality … it boldly contrasts with the severe and highly stylised productions of this form.” (Fraser 120)

One thing that makes the work interesting is that it may not matter if what Fraser is saying is wholly accurate of factual. A narrated dataset of factoids and excerpts, the work presents an appropriately incoherent and unlocatable constellation of information and messaging (some lifted from official museum publications), that the audience is left to interpolate between and within. This is infrastructural theatre of the superorganism of the art museum, and the art world, all strings attached. But what in the post-digital landscape could be thought potent for enlivening and reinvigorating this kind of theater, that could serve as a further “new departure point for what used to be called institutional critique”? ((Holmes Extradisciplinary Investigations)

Andrea Fraser (1989), Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk
Andrea Fraser, as Jane Castleton, highlight the water fountain as part of the Museum Highlights: A Gallery Tour at the Museum of Philadelphia, 1989.

Interminable Terminals

CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE—that is, technological materials that are at once constitutive of social and political meaning, while reflexively analytic and self-destructive—allow art and technology practices to move “Towards a New Critique of Institutions,” as Brian Holmes suggests, through extradisciplinary, or perhaps anti-disciplinary, approaches. (Holmes Extradisciplinary Investigations) A critically infrastructural study (as artwork, as whatever) might appropriate from the grey media of engineering, instrumentation, and technical disciplines, creating less of an artistic gesture and more of an articulation of live research. How “raw” can the “data” of an “art world” be, and how might it be performed for its artists and audiences? How might such infrastructural data be presented in public, such that we are prompted or called to draw an appropriate panoply of individual, evolving conclusions? There are no truths to be evoked, but relationships and resonances can be modelled and estimated, meanings evoked, tendencies charted: further attempts at living in a world we seek to understand. These are extradiscplinary methods and strategies, as a reassessment of the post-digital technological landscape seems necessary: An infrastructural account of the heaving, bristling detritus the digital has left in its wake.

WORKS CITED

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Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter. Duke University Press Books, 2010. Print.

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Brookfield, Michael E. Principles of Stratigraphy. John Wiley & Sons, 2008. Print.

Burns, Red. Address to the incoming Interactive Telecommunications Programme, 2002. Subsequently, Available here: https://twitter.com/WIRED/status/376847688676802560, accessed November 26, 2013. Lecture.

Coupland, Douglas. “Extraordinary Canadians Marshall Mcluhan.” Penguin Group (Canada), 2013. Print.

Cubitt, Sean. “Electric Light and Electricity.” Theory, Culture & Society 30.7-8 (2013): 309–323. Journal Article.

Eisenhower, Dwight. “Military–Industrial Complex – Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.” Available here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military–industrial_complex, accessed November 26, 2013. Web.

Espeland, Wendy Nelson. The Struggle for Water: Politics, Rationality, and Identity in the American Southwest (Chicago Series in Law and Society), 109-110. Print.

Flusser, Vilém. “Our Images” (translated from the Portuguese by Rodrigo Maltez Novaes). Available here http://www.flusserstudies.net/pag/15/flusser-our-images.pdf, accessed November 26, 2013. From Vilém Flusser, “Post-History, Flusser Archive Collection,” edited by Siegfried Zielinski, Univocal Publishing, Minneapolis 2013, p. 91-98. http://www.univocalpublishing.com/books/102-post-history-by-vilem-flusser

Fraser, Andrea. “Museum Highlights: a Gallery Talk.” October 57 (1991): 104. Web. The MIT Press. Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/778874. Journal Article.

Fuller, M. and Goffrey, A. “Evil Media”, MIT Press, 2012. 232 pages. Print.

Fuller, M. “Software Studies: A Lexicon. Leonardo (Series)”, MIT Press, 2008. 334 pages. Print.

Heidegger, Martin. “The Question Concerning Technology”, Trans. W. Lovitt with revisions by D. F. Krell, in D. F. Krell (ed.) Martin Heidegger: Basic Writings, revised and expanded edition, London: Routledge, 311–41. 1993. Print.

Parikka, J. and Hertz, G. “Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology Into an Art Method.” Leonardo 45.5 (2012): 424–430. Web.

Holmes, Brian. “Extradisciplinary Investigations. Towards a New Critique of Institutions | Eipcp.Net.” Available here http://eipcp.net/transversal/0106/holmes/en, accessed November 26, 2013. Web.

Homeland Security. “About the Infrastructure Information Collection Division | Homeland Security.” Available here http://www.dhs.gov/about-infrastructure-information-collection-division, accessed November 26, 2013. Web.

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Kehlmann, Daniel. “Measuring the World.” Quercus Publishing, 2010. Length

McLuhan, Marshall and Fiore, Quentin. “The Medium Is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects.” Gingko Press GmbH, 2011 (Original 1967). 160 pages. Print.

McLuhan, Marshall et al. Letters of Marshall McLuhan. Oxford University Press, USA, 1987. Print.

McLuhan, Marshall. The Gutenberg Galaxy. University of Toronto Press, 2011. Print.

Microsoft Corporation. “Where Do You Want to Go Today? – Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.” Web. 26 Dec. 2013. Available here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Where_do_you_want_to_go_today, accessed November 26, 2013. Web.

Morton, Timothy. “The Ecological Thought.” Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. Print.

National Public Radio, “Secretly Working to Win the War in ‘Atomic City’.” Available here http://www.npr.org/2013/03/03/172908135/secretly-working-to-win-the-war-in-atomic-city, accessed November 26, 2013. Radio Programme.

Oliver, J. , Savicic, G., Vasiliev, D. “Critical Engineering Manifesto.” Available here http://criticalengineering.org, accessed November 26, 2013. Web.

Rancière, Jacques. “From Politics to Aesthetics?.” dx.doi.org 28.1 (2008): 13–25. Web.

Ronnel, A. Recorded address to the Medienwissenschaft group at the University of Basel. “Avital Ronell – The Fable of Media Technology: On My Watch. Available here http://blogs.mewi.unibas.ch/archiv/130, Accessed April 1, 2013. Lecture.

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http://www.flusserstudies.net/pag/15/flusser-our-images.pdf

Do not Return to Sender – Why post-digital aesthetic research should actually distinguish between artist, critics, and audience

By Lotte Philipsen

One significant advantage of moving from a digital to a post-digital paradigm is that a post-digital paradigm enables us to approach art in a more open and critical way than what has been practiced in the digital paradigm. Specifically, a post-digital paradigm

allows us to conduct aesthetic research in contemporary works of art that make use of digital technology in ways that are not automatically identical to what technological or cultural research would do. Carsten Strathausen has termed the latter a ‘rational’, ‘info-‘, or ‘techno-‘ aesthetics, whose ‘heroes are Boscovich, Boole, Turing, and Bense instead of Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, or Adorno.’ (Strathausen, 59) The following will account for the neglect within the discursive framework of the digital paradigm to thoroughly address aesthetic dimensions of new art forms before moving on to investigating one primary requisite for doing so: (re)establishing an awareness of the different subject positions of artist and audience, respectively.

Techno-essentialism in a digital paradigm

In a digital paradigm analyses and debates on the role of new technology in art have had an overall essentialist character in the sense that questions asked basically centred around ‘what is “interactive”, or “networked”, or “digital” (etc.) art?’ These are good and highly relevant questions, but they lack one important component that it is now appropriate to investigate in a post-digital paradigm, that is: According to whom? Or in other words: from which specific subject position are such questions asked? From the position of the artist, the curator/critic, the user, the implied audience or the actual audience? By not explicating which subject positions are addressed when carrying out analyses of new art forms, the results of those analyses are staged as virgin born truths radiating from the works of art.

The confusion between these different subject positions results from the fact that, in the digital paradigm, academic theory on so-called new media art has tended to interpret the works of art according to technological features. Survey books on new media art or digital art are organised either as descriptions/analysis of individual artists or works or according to technological subgenres like ‘video art, ‘network art’, ‘interactive art’, ‘telepresence’ etc. (see Rush, Giannetti, Tribe & Jana, Paul, and Shanken) As a result attempts to critically investigate tendencies across different works of art do not distinguish between the specific technical features applied in a work of art and what is actually encountered by the average member of the audience.

Art404: "Five Million Dollars 1 Terabyte"

Art404: “Five Million Dollars 1 Terabyte”

Consider, for instance, the work “5 Million Dollars, 1 Terabyte” by Art 404 (exhibited at Transmediale 2012), which consist of a black terabyte hard drive exhibited in a vitrine. No matter how hard we look, smell, taste, listen or touch the hard drive, we will never be able to extract the most important feature about this work of art – the decisive factor that transforms the terabyte from a dull object of everyday life and that potentially gives rise to aesthetic experience for the audience: The fact that this particular hard drive contains illegally downloaded material worth five million dollars. The only way of becoming aware of this crucial piece of information is by reading the catalogue text or visiting Art 404’s website. Thus, in reality there is a gap between the experience gained from actually encountering the work in the gallery and from reading about it – a gap that is not really addressed in aesthetic research of the digital paradigm, but which may be taken into account in a post-digital one.

Especially the subject position of the audience seems to have been neglected in the digital paradigm insofar as audience experiences were assumed in aesthetic analyses to be identical to artist’s intention, curatorial/critical framing, or theoretical accounts of technical characteristics and potentials of new art types. If, for instance the use of a specific technology in a work of art was considered to have interactive, or critical, or alienating potentials it was more or less automatically assumed that the audience/users’ experience would correspond to those potentials without paying much attention to the fact that different contexts and subject positions invite different aesthetic considerations. In this sense aesthetic research within a digital paradigm is governed by essentialism rather than contextualism.

Requisite for a post-digital aesthetic research

The post-digital turn paves the way to, once again, consider the genuinely aesthetic potentials of works that make use of new media and technology – without automatically subjecting aesthetic experience to technology. Hence, we may now ask the ‘naïve’ questions of a radical aesthetics of reception to the field of contemporary art, such as: Are new media of aesthetic relevance in a work of art if they go unnoticed by the audience? How do we elaborate on the fact that the same work of art potentially gives rise to different kinds of aesthetic experiences depending on which subject positions (artist, curator/critic, user, audience) engage with the work and in what manners (as intended by someone else or not)? And how do we consider the aesthetic appeal of works of art whose medium is not accessible to our physical senses? In order to investigate such aesthetic questions thoroughly it is necessary to insist (once again) that the subject positions of artist and audience are separated.

But why should we still insist on a separation between the artist and the audience when the field of so-called new media art in many cases is characterised by crowd creation and interactivity that urges co-creation to the extent that such a distinction might seem irrelevant? For instance, the Ars Electronica Prix category of ‘Digital Communities’ consists of works in which such a distinction may seem absurd, since the digital communities function collectively in the participants’ everyday life.

An example could be the 2013 Golden Nica winner “El Campo de Cebada”, the name of an enclosed city square in Madrid, where residents and the council work together – on the physical place and via online social media – to define the use of the square. (Fisher-Schreiber, 200-203) No artist or artists group is credited for this ‘work’ since this is genuinely a collective project. However, when considered from an art (or at least cultural) institutional point of view – as it is the case with Ars Electronica – the prime purpose of “El Campo de Cebada” is to prompt aesthetic reflection rather than immediate function – even if it is the functional dimensions that prompt reflection.

Whereas in Madrid the square is inhabited, in the context of Ars Electronica it is ‘exhibited’, and this sole act of exhibiting automatically installs “El Compo de Cebada” as an object for reflective aesthetic judgement by others than its producers. As Thierry de Duve puts it with reference to Duchamp’s readymades: ‘[T]he sentence “this is art,” by which a readymade is both produced as a work of art and judged to be one, ought to be read as an aesthetic reflexive judgment with a claim to universality in the strictest Kantian sense.’ (de Duve, 320)

Now, participating in “El Compo de Cebada” may (or may not) result in aesthetic reflective judgements among the individuals who engage in the project on an everyday basis in Madrid, but the moment the project is framed by the Ars Electronica as an outstanding work belonging to the ‘Digital communities’ category a non-participating audience is created for the project, and it becomes an object for potential aesthetic reflective judgement to that group of people too.

Estrangement from, in Kantian terms, determined purposes, is basically the definition of art. Furthermore, any work of art (whether it makes use of digital media or not) has at least two different subject positions: the creator and the audience. The DNA of a work of art is its presentation to someone, somehow. Otherwise it is not art. Therefore, the subject position of an audience is crucial – not just to art, but also to aesthetic reflection, since, according to Kantian thinking, the latter resides in this subject position.

Futhermore, especially in the realm of so-called new media art, there are more than one audience subject position. As described by Dominic Lopes, in interactive art we may distinguish between ‘user’ (who explores a work by generating displays in a prescribed manner) and ‘audience’ (who explore a work by watching users generate displays by interacting with a work). The difference can be illustrated with reference to the work “OCTO P7C-1” by the Telekommunisten group (exhibited at Transmediale 2013). The exhibition of this spectacular ‘Intertubular Pneumatic Packet Distribution System’ was, tongue in cheek, described by the Telekommunisten as a demonstration to ‘potential investors and partners’.

OCTO at Transmediale 2013

OCTO at Transmediale 2013

In the exhibition Lopes’ term ‘users’ describes those visitors who engaged actively with OCTO by, for instance, writing/drawing/crafting messages for the postal tubes or sending/receiving such messages by communicating commands to the OCTO-staff working the distribution centre. The distinctive sound accompanying each packet’s travel through the tube system, the messages, the conversations between users and OCTO-workers etc. are all different kinds of audible, visual and sensual displays by which the user gradually explores physical and semiotic dimensions of the work (and potentially gets involved with aesthetic relations with it).

In addition to the user, who acts in accordance with a prescribed manner staged by the creators of the work, the subject position of what Lopes terms ‘audience’ are of relevance when investigating aesthetic implications of a work like OCTO. The audience do not engage directly with the work like the users do, but they watch how users interact with OCTO and they observe how displays are generated as results from this interaction. As such, the audience explores the work, too, albeit in a different manner than users (and may enter in aesthetic relations with the work).

The reason that the subject position that Lopes calls ‘audience’ has been left out of the equation in the digital paradigm, is that the potential aesthetic reflective judgement with this subject position does not fit a techno-essentialist view on new media art. An audience may experience what in the digital paradigm might be described as an ‘interactive, networked installation’ in a very non-interactive, non-networked manner. To be honest, how many of us have engaged actively, ‘face-to-face’ with all the works of art that we know and even value for having provided us aesthetic experiences? And even ‘users’, who do interact actively with a work, may have aesthetic experiences that differ from the technologically defined ones governing a digital paradigm. After all aesthetic experience is a matter of individual judgement of taste.

Towards a radical aesthetics of reception

In conclusion, post-digital research of contemporary art’s aesthetic dimensions should take as its point of departure what we may call a radical aesthetics of reception – not to be confused with what is traditionally known as aesthetics of reception of the Constance School. The difference between the Constance School’s aesthetics of reception and a radical aesthetics of reception lies in the fact that the former, as accounted for Peter Hohendahl, seems grounded in a formalism that centres on the work/phenomenon, whereas a radical aesthetics of reception would take more profoundly into account the aesthetics of Immanual Kant (aesthetic experience results from individual, subjective feelings and not from a concrete object/phenomenon) and the subject position that Roland Barthes termed the ‘reader’. Hence, in a radical aesthetics of reception there is no such thing as aesthetic meaning in the artistic texts – there is not even blanks (calculated by the artist or accidental) in the text – since all aesthetic qualities of a work derives from the receiver of the work, which therefore, ultimately becomes the work’s aesthetic (but not technical) producer.

Especially when it comes to works of contemporary art that make use of new media and technologies, which may not yet be fully culturally established, it seems obvious that the technical and cultural uncertainties surrounding the works may work to boost the potentials of ‘readers’ gaining aesthetic experiences from encountering such works due to the lack of an overall concept by which the works might be comprehended rationally. It seems, therefore, paradoxical when survey books within a digital paradigm attempt to account for the aesthetic characteristics of such works of art by subsuming them under determined technological categories. A post-digital, radical aesthetics of reception acknowledges that art’s receivers  – whether in the subject position of user or audience – may encounter works of art in ways not even imagined by the artist or the curator/critic, and that such encounters may lead to aesthetic experience (just as it may not).

 

References:

Barthes, R.: Image, Music, Text, 1999 [1977], Noonday Press. “The Dearth of the Author” pp. 142-148 and “From Work to Text”, pp. 155-164.

De Duve, T.: Kant after Duchamp, 1996, MIT Press.

Fischer-Schreiber, I. (ed.): CyberArts 2013, 2013, Hatje Cantz.

Giannetti, C.: Ästhetik des Digitalen, 2004, Springer.

Hohendahl, P.: ”Beyond Reception Aesthetics” in New German Critique, no. 28, winter 1983, pp. 108-146.

Lopes, D.: A Philosophy of Computer Art, 2010, Routledge.

Paul, C.: Digital Art, 2008, Thames & Hudson.

Rush, M.: New Media in Art, 1999 + 2005, Thames & Hudson.

Shanken, E. (ed): Art and Electronic Media, 2009, Phaidon.

Strathausen, C.: ”New Media Aesthetics” 2009, in Koepnick & McGlothlin (eds.): After the Digital Divide?,  Camden House.

Tribe, M. & Jana, R.: New Media Art, 2006, Taschen.

www.telekommunisten.net/octo/ (visited 6 Oct. 2013)

Post Digital Publishing, Hybrid and Processual Objects in Print

1. How a medium becomes digital (and how publishing did)

For every major medium we can recognize at least three stages in the transition from analogue to digital, in both production and consumption of content.

The first stage concerns the digitalization of production. It is characterized by soft- ware beginning to replace analogue and chemical/mechanical processes. These pro- cesses are first abstracted, then simulated, and then restructured to work using purely digital coordinates and means of production. They become sublimated into the new digital landscape. This started to happen with print at the end of seventies with the first experiments with computers and networks and continued into the eighties with so-called “Desktop Publishing”, which used hardware and software to digitalize the print production (the “pre-press”), a system perfected in the early nineties.

The second stage involves the establishment of standards for the digital version of a medium and the creation of purely digital products. Code becomes standardized, en- capsulating content in autonomous structures, which are universally interpreted across operating systems, devices and platforms. This is a definitive evolution of the standards meant for production purposes (consider Postscript, for example) into standalone stan- dards (here the PDF is an appropriate example, enabling digital “printed-like” products), that can be defined as a sub-medium, intended to delivering content within certain specific digital constraints.

The third stage is the creation of an economy around the newly created standards, including digital devices and digital stores. One of the very first attempts to do this came from Sony in 1991, who tried to market the Sony Data Discman as an “Electronic Book Player” [1] — unfortunately using closed coding which failed to become broadly accepted. Nowadays the mass production of devices like the Amazon Kindle, the Nook, the Kobo, and the iPad — and the flourishing of their respective online stores — has clearly accomplished this task. These online stores are selling thousands of e-book titles, confirming that we have already entered this stage.

2.The processual print as the industry perceives it (entertainment)

Not only are digitalization processes yet to kill off traditional print, but they have also initiated a redefinition of its role in the mediascape. If print increasingly becomes a valuable or collectable commodity and digital publishing also continues to grow as ex- pected, the two may more frequently find themselves crossing paths, with the potential for the generation of new hybrid forms. Currently, one of the main constraints on the mass-scale development of hybrids is the publishing industry’s focus on entertainment.

Let’s take a look at what is happening specifically in the newspaper industry: on one hand we see up-to-date printable PDF files to be carried and read while commuting back home in the evening, and on the other hand we have online news aggregators (such as Flipboard and Pulse) which gather various sources within one application with a slick unified interface and layout. These are not really hybrids, but merely the products of

‘industrial’ customisation — the consumer product ‘choice’ of combining existing fea- tures and extras, where the actual customising is almost irrelevant.

316Even worse, the industry’s best effort at coming to terms with post-digital print is currently the QR code — those black-and-white pixelated square images which, when read with the proper mobile phone app, allow the reader access to content (almost al- ways a video or web page). This kind of technology could be used much more creatively, as a means of enriching the process of content generation. For example, since they use networks to retrieve the displayed content, printed books and magazines could include QR codes as a means of providing new updates each time they are scanned – and these updates could in turn be made printable or otherwise preservable. Digital publications might then send customised updates to personal printers, using information from dif- ferent sources closely related to the publication’s content. This could potentially open up new cultural pathways and create unexpected juxtapositions. [2]

3. Printing out the web

Many possibilities emerge from the combination of digital and print, especially when networks (and therefore infinite supplies of content that can be reprogrammed or re- contextualized at will) become involved. A number of different strategies have been employed to assemble information harvested online in an acceptable form for use in a plausible print publication.

One of the most popular renders large quantities of Twitter posts (usually span- ning a few years) into fictitious diaries. “My Life in Tweets” by James Bridle is an early example, realized in 2009 [3], which collected all of the author’s posts over a two-year period, forming a sort of intimate travelogue. The immediacy of tweeting is recorded in a very classic graphical layout, as if the events were annotated in a diary. Furthermore, various online services have started to sell services appealing to the vanity of Twitter micro-bloggers, for example Bookapp’s Tweetbook (book-printing your tweets) or Tweetghetto (a poster version).

Another very popular “web sampling” strategy focuses on collecting amateur photo- graphs with or without curatorial criteria. Here we have an arbitrary narrative employ- ing a specific aesthetic in order to create a visual unity that is universally recognizable due to the ubiquitousness of online life in general and especially the continuous and unstoppable uploading of personal pictures to Facebook.

A specific sub-genre makes use of pictures from Google Street View, reinforcing the feeling that the picture is real and has been reproduced with no retouches, while also reflecting on the accidental nature of the picture itself. Michael Wolf’s book “a series of unfortunate events” [4], points to our very evident and irresistible fascination with

“objets trouvé”, a desire that can be instantly and repeatedly gratified online. Finally there’s also the illusion of instant-curation of a subject, which climaxes in

the realization of a printed object. Looking at seemingly endless pictures in quick suc- cession online can completely mislead us about their real value. Once a picture is fixed in the space and time of a printed page, our judgements can often be very different.

Such forms of “accidental art” obtained from a “big data” paradigm, can lead to in- stant artist publications such as Sean Raspet’s “2GFR24SMEZZ2XMCVI5… A Novel”, which is a long sequence of insignificant captcha texts, crowdsourced and presented as an inexplicable novel in an alien language [5].

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There are traces of all the above examples in Kenneth Goldsmith’s performance “Printing Out The Internet” [6]. Goldsmith invited people to print out whatever part of the web they desired and bring it to the gallery LABOR art space in Mexico City, where it was exhibited for a month (which incidentally also generated a number of naive responses from environmentally concerned people). The work was inspired by Aaron Swartz and his brave and dangerous liberation of copyrighted scientific content from

the JSTOR online archive [7]. It’s what artist Paul Soulellis calls “publishing performing the Internet” [8]. All this said, the examples mentioned above are yet to challenge the paradigm of pub-

lishing — maybe the opposite. What they are enabling is a “transduction” between two media. They take a sequential, or reductive part of the web and mould it into traditional publishing guidelines. They tend to compensate for the feeling of being powerless over the elusive and monstrous amount of information available online (at our fingertips), which we cannot comprehensively visualize in our mind.

If print is quintessential of the web, such practices sometimes indulge in something like a “miscalculation” of the web itself — the negotiation of this transduction is reduc- ing the web to a finite printable dimension, denaturalizing it. According to Publishers Launch Conferences’ co-founder Mike Shatzkin, in the next stage “publishing will be- come a function… not a capability reserved to an industry…” [9]

4. Hybrids, calculated content is shaped and printed out

This “functional” aspect of publishing can, at its highest level, imply the production of content that is not merely transferred from one source to another, but instead produced through a calculated process in which content is manipulated before being delivered. A few good examples can be found in pre-web avant-garde movements and experimental literature in which content was unpredictably “generated” by software-like processes. Dada poems, for example, as described by Tristan Tzara, are based on the generation of text, arbitrarily created out of cut-up text from other works. [10] One of the members of the avant-garde literature movement Oulipo created a similar concept later: Raymond Queneau’s “Cent Mille Milliards de Poèmes” [11] is a book in which each page is cut into horizontal strips that can be turned independently, allowing the reader to assemble an almost infinite quantity of poems, with an estimated 200 million years needed to read all the possible combinations. That an Oulipo member created this was no accident – the movement often played with the imaginary of a machinic generation of literature in powerful and unpredictable ways.

Contemporary experiments are moving things a bit further, exploiting the combi- nation of hardware and software to produce printed content that also embeds results from networked processes and thus getting closer to a true form.

Martin Fuchs and Peter Bichsel’s book “Written Images” [12] is an example of the first ‘baby steps’ of such a hybrid post-digital print publishing strategy. Though it’s still a traditional book, each copy is individually computer-generated, thus disrupting the fixed ‘serial’ nature of print. Furthermore, the project was financed through a networked model (using Kickstarter, the very successful ‘crowdfunding’ platform), speculating on the enthusiasm of its future customers (and in this case, collectors). The book is a

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comprehensive example of post-digital print, through the combination of several ele- ments: print as a limited-edition object; networked crowdfunding; computer-processed information; hybridisation of print and digital — all residing in a single object — a traditional book. This hybrid is still limited in several respects, however: its process is complete as soon as it is acquired by the reader; there is no further community process or networked activity involved; once purchased, it will forever remain a traditional book on a shelf.

A related experiment has been undertaken by Gregory Chatonsky with the artwork “Capture” [13]. Capture is a prolific rock band, generating new songs based on lyrics re-

trieved from the net and performing live concerts of its own generated music lasting an average of eight hours each. Furthermore the band is very active on social media, often posting new content and comments. But we are talking here about a completely invented band. Several books have been written about them, including a biography, compiled by retrieving pictures and texts from the Internet and carefully (automatically) assembling them and printing them out. These printed biographies are simultaneously ordinary and artistic books, becoming a component of a more complex artwork. They plausibly describe a band and all its activities, while playing with the plausibility of skilful au- tomatic assembly of content.

Another example of an early hybrid is “American Psycho” by Mimi Cabell and Jason Huff [14]. It was created by sending the entirety of Bret Easton Ellis’ violent, masoch- istic and gratuitous novel “American Psycho” through Gmail, one page at a time. They collected the ads that appeared next to each email and used them to annotate the orig- inal text, page by page. In printing it as a perfect bound book, they erased the body of Ellis’ text and left only chapter titles and constellations of their added footnotes. What remains is American Psycho, told through its chapter titles and annotated relational Google ads only. Luc Gross, the publisher, goes even further in predicting a more perva- sive future: “Until now, books were the last advertisement-free refuge. We will see how it turns out, but one could think about inline ads, like product placements in movies etc. Those mechanisms could change literary content itself and not only their containers. So that’s just one turnover.”

Finally, why can’t a hybrid art book be a proper catalogue of artworks? Les Liens Invisibles, an Italian collective of net artists have assembled their own, called “Unhappening, not here not now” [15]. It contains pictures and essential descriptions of 100 artworks completely invented but consistently assembled through images, generated titles and short descriptions, including years and techniques for every “artwork”. Here

a whole genre (the art catalogue or artist monography) is brought into question, show- ing how a working machine, properly instructed, can potentially confuse a lot of what we consider “reality”. The catalogue, indeed, looks and feels plausible enough, and only those who read it very carefully can have doubts about its authenticity.

5. Conclusions

Categorising these publications under a single conceptual umbrella is quite difficult and even if they are not yet as dynamic as the processes they incorporate, it’s not trivial to define any of them as either a ‘print publication’ or a ‘digital publication’ (or a print

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publication with some digital enhancements). They are the result of guided processes and are printed as a very original (if not unique) static repository, more akin to an ar- chive of calculated elements (produced in limited or even single copies), than to a classic book, so confirming their particular status. The dynamic nature of publishing can be less and less extensively defined in terms of the classically produced static printed page. And this computational characteristic may well lead to new types of publications, em- bedded at the proper level. It can help hybrid publications function as both: maintaining their own role as publications as well as eventually being able to be the most updated static picture of a phenomenon in a single or a few copies, like a tangible limited edition. And since there is still plenty of room for exploration in developing these kind of process- es, it’s quite likely that computational elements will extensively produce new typologies of printed artefact, and in turn, new attitudes and publishing structures. Under those terms it will be possible for the final definitive digitalization of print to produce very original and still partially unpredictable results.

References

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_Discman [2] Alessandro Ludovico. Post Digital Print, Onomatopee, Eindhoven, 2012,

ISBN 9789078454878 [3] http://booktwo.org/notebook/vanity-press-plus-the-tweetbook/ [4] http://photomichaelwolf.com/#asoue/14 [5] Sean Raspet. 2GFR24SMEZZ2XMCVI5L8X9Y38ZJ2JD

25RZ6KW4ZMAZSLJ0GBH0WNNVRNO7GU 2MBYMNCWYB49QDK1NDO19JONS66QMB 2RCC26DG67D187N9AGRCWK2JIHA7E2 2H1G5TYMNCWYM81O4OJSPX11N5VNJ0 A Novel. PoD, 2013, 516 pages.

[6] http://printingtheinternet.tumblr.com/ [7] http://tech.mit.edu/V131/N30/swartz.html [8] http://soulellis.com/2013/05/search-compile-publish/ [9] http://www.idealog.com/blog/atomization-publishing-as-a-function-rather-than-

an-industry/ [10] Florian Cramer. “Concepts, Notations, Software, Art”, 2002.

http://www.netzliteratur.net/cramer/concepts_notations_software_art.html [11] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hundred_Thousand_Billion_Poems [12] http://writtenimages.net/ [13] http://chatonsky.net/project/capture/

[14] http://www.mimicabell.com/gmail.html [15] http://www.atypo.org/it/work/unhappening-not-here-not-now/

Prototyping the Future of Arcade Cabinet Emulation (draft)

Introduction:

This paper is a background research piece into the development of an interactive installation that prototypes a possible future trajectory for arcade videogame emulation. The project aims to explore how the experience of interfacing with complete arcade videogame cabinets can be recreated in virtual reality space. As an interactive experience it is intended to not just authentically recreate the aesthetics of the videogame input and feedback mechanisms, but also the full physical design of the cabinet, including the appearance of the enclosed game circuitry.

 

 

 

 

Emulation as Platform Augmentation:

 

An emulator is a software or hardware system that recreates the system architecture of a computer system on another platform. Through the virtual machine of an emulator it is possible to experience a computer system transplanted as a subroutine of a more advanced platform, whether it be hardware of software based. They are computers within computers.

 

Emulation is a legal grey area, and is tolerated to an extent by the owners of the emulated system. Upon boot up the MAME emulator presents a splash screen upon reminding the user that they must legitimately own a copy of the game rom they are about to load. However in practice, most users don’t actually own the rare and costly game PCBs that physical contain the game code. Instead they simply use an online search engine to obtain the required rom files illicitly.

 

Emulators replicate the functionality of a past platform while also leveraging the additional affordances offered by the emulation host. For example, MAME features a memory editor and dissembler that allows users to edit a games code as it runs, viewing changes of the end user experience immediately. In this case the emulator takes a system that was designed purely for the ‘play only’ consumer space and augments it with a developer level interface. With the additional use of an assembler package and an eprom burner, it is possible to transfer this new code creation to an eprom chip, and in turn to an arcade PCB, thus allowing the hacked game to be played through the original arcade hardware platform.

 

When a game originally designed for playback on a cathode ray tube display is presented through the clear viewfield of an LCD or LED display, its gains pixel sharp clarity, but also loses part of the original monitor colouration that was taken into consideration by game designers. The CRT filter built into the Atari 2600 emulator Stella addresses this issue, allowing for image ghosting and colour mixing that helps to partially mask the systems high level of sprite flickering. Similarly, the SLG-1000 hardware device by Arcade Forge recreates the scanlines of bulky CRT tubes on flat panel HD displays, improving aesthetic authenticity when playing classic games by embracing an outdated display limitation into an essential feature.

 

 

 

 

The Physiology of an
Arcade Cabinet:

 

In comparison to their home computers and videogame consoles, the underlying technology powering arcade videogame platforms is lesser known. Each arcade PCB is a standalone computer. These devices range from bespoke PCBs for single games such as Pong, to standards based upon home console technologies like the Sega Naomi which is closely related to the Sega Dreamcast console, to adapted PC compatible machines.

 

One main unifying standard between the disperate hardware types is the JAMMA standard. It is not the only standard of its kind, but it is the most prolific. Up until 1985 arcade game manufacturers used a variety of different wiring systems in the design of their cabinets. This lack of hardware interchangeability led to increased costs for arcade owners, who had to replace entire cabinets each time they bought a new game. The JAMMA standard agreed by the Japanese Arcade Amusement Manufacturers Association introduced a 56 pin connection for connecting game PCBs to cabinets, allowing the exchange of JAMMA PCBs between compatible machines in a manner similar to the process of swapping a game cartridge on a home console system. These pins allow the connection of a power source, speakers, monitor, coin-slot switch, and the action buttons and joysticks or other controller peripherals.

 

Structurally arcade cabinets are unglamorous, built from the same materials as their kitchenware namesakes. Indeed, Atari’s Irish operation in the 1970s bought a local furniture manufacturer to produce arcade cabinets for the European market [ link ]. Wear and tear on these wooden frames in the arcade environment has led to high collectors prices for well preserved originals. This battle damage adds character, but is also a problem for their preservation. Rust, chipped fiberboard, and split veneers all add up to heavy restoration projects worthy of a Discovery Channel show.

 

An arcade cabinet is a host shell for the game logic contained on the arcade board, and in many cases the design of this enclosure adds an additional level of atmosphere and immersion to the game that is difficult to recreate outside of it’s natural environment. At the most basic level, these enhancement typically amount to cabinet artwork and an illuminated title marquee that seek to sell the game narrative to prospective punters. At the high end of the market arcade games move close to simulator territory, adding enhancements such as hydraulics and force feedback. Many of the arcade cabinet designs by Yu Suzuki for Sega meet this level.

 

 

 

 

Recreating the Arcade Cabinet as a Digital Artifact:

 

While working at Sega Japan, Yu Suzuki was responsible for the design of several of Sega’s arcade hits, including Hang On (1985), Afterburner (1987), ThunderBlade (1987), and Out Run (1986). Each of the cabinets featured simple stand-up (SD) and also sit-down deluxe (DX) models. The deluxe models of all these videogames all brought a high level of technical and aesthetic polish to their cabinet design. For instance, the deluxe model of Hang On takes the shape of a 500lbs reproduction of a Ducati motorcyle, which the playermust lean left and right upon to steer. It is a game that demands the player to move their whole body weight to control it.

 

Suzuki’s emphasis on the physical design of the arcade game recognises that the physical design of the cabinet is the most immediate part of a games ‘attract mode’: “with arcade games, the cabinet is the most important thing. When you see a cabinet, that’s usually when you decide whether you want to play a game or not… The form is the most important thing when you buy a car, right?” Yu Suziki, Sega (Ashcroft, p.131-132).

 

In the pioneering 3d sandbox games Shenmue (1991) and Shemue II (2001) on the Sega Dreamcast console, Yu Suzuki recreated a number of his coin operated arcade videogames in the virtual space. The interactive 3d renderings of his deluxe arcade cabinets including the aformentioned Hang On and Out Run, in addition to Space Harrier (1985), which is widely credited to be the first sit down arcade cabinet. Each game is a full emulation of the original system, and the player can walk around the virtual space and inspect the design and artwork of the the arcade cabinets from different angles, all while sampling the ambiance of a 1980s Japanese arcade amusement centre.

 

Upon starting each virtual arcade game, the player viewpoint switches from a 3rd person perspective to completey replacing the playfield with the arcade monitor view. The design decision to momentarily switch out of the surrounding environment and allow the diagetic onscreen space of the emulated system to take over the host games screen space is understandable, since these sub games are not critical to the overall narrative. Also the 1998 Dreamcast hardware was already pushed to its maximum when emulating the aforementioned arcade games, so adding any image filtering or other graphical embelishments would have been beyond its capabilities.

 

 

This perspective on the monitor is developed a step further in the arcade games included as part of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. When a player steps up to a coin-op to play either Let’s Get Ready to Bumble, Go Go Space Monkey, or Duality, the screen is taken over by the coin-op, except that unlike Shenmue the view takes a step backwards. GTA:SA acknowledges the medium of the CRT screen, showing the tubes curvature as well as the surrounding plastic bezel.

 

 

GTA:SA modder ThePaddster has modified the arcade machine textures from San Andreas, replacing them with the artwork for Bally Midway’s Mortal Kombat (1992). Unfortunately the modification does not change the subgames, but the effect of changing the cabinet graphics is interesting and a tangible step towards a customisable, virtual arcade, where game roms manifest as digital game cabinets in a 3d space instead of 2d images in a folder.

 

 

In a visual and touchscreen interface style common to mobile and tablet conversions of arcade and console titles, Capcom’s Mega Man II on iPhone uses an onscreen representation of the arcade cabinet facade to frame it’s emulated Nintendo Entertainment System game. This style of virtual arcade machine takes a further step back from the monitor than GTA:SA, incorporating a joystick control panel as well as the game logo embedded into a representation of an arcade cabinet marquee. The additional graphics also form a necessary visual filler between the games original display ratio and the widescreen aspect of the iPhone.

 

 

The next logical step in improving experiential and aesthetic experience of the virtual arcade machine is to take an additional step back in perspective to encompass both the onscreen space and the peripheral vision of the player. While this expanded view adds distractions to the subgame experience, it can be argued that to block out the ambiance of the immediate environment causes existing virtual coin-op gaming experiences to lose a level of reality and authenticity.

 

 

 

 

 

Prototyping a Virtual Reality Arcade Machine Emulator:

 

A prototype aims to provide the experience of using a technology, whilst not necessarily using the same technology as the envisioned end product. It is intended as a demo of an arcade emulation style that goes beyond displaying the arcade artwork in a 2d form, instead actually wrapping it around a 3d model of the particular coin-op machine, while allowing the player to view the inside of the arcade machine.

 

At the time of writing, the powerful and affordable Oculus Rift development kit has made virtual reality a viable option over two decades since the first commercial attempts at immersive VR. By using a virtual reality headset the user can experience the playfield from a real-world perspective.

 

If used as part of the digital arcade prototype this would allow momentary glances at the digital arcade cabinets control panel and frame during gameplay. The player could also opt to move away from the screen and inspect the cabinet internally, viewing the PCB from the perspective of the arcade operator while accessing information on its hardware specifications.

 

The ComputerSpeilMuseum in Berlin has a Pong cabinet with plexiglass fitted to the back so that visitors can view the circuitry of the machine. This is an important consideration as the electronics of this artifact are as noteworthy a part of the interface as the controllers and audiovisual feedback. A complete VR arcade cabinet simulator should include an option to view the internal structure of the cabinet itself.

 

This internal view of the digital arcade cabinet serves three purposes. Firstly it provides an operator level interface for the user beyond the game calibration screen that allow operators to change in-game variables such as the default number of lives and difficulty levels. Secondly it demystifies the internal structure of the arcade machine, presenting the internal aesthetics of the wiring and circuitry as a visible and essential part of the overall cabinet build. The third advantage is that it provides an historical and educational document of the machine hardware that is impervious to wear and tear.

 

A real consideration for if this concept prototype were to become an actual emulation system is the workload involved in sourcing and producing 3d models. Emulation software relies on community effort for the continued updating of the source code, as well as the procurement of the less legal items such a rom files, game artwork, instruction manuals. For a 3d arcade cabinet emulator to succeed, it would need an open format that allows the community to create their own 3d cabinets, complete with exterior artwork and interior game wiring and PCBs.

 

In an exhibition setting, the VRAME installation could take the form of a minimal pedestal containing a harness for the VR headset along with a control panel using physical game controls. A square outline on the ground could signify the object now built in virtual space. The second option is to remove the controls, instead using a wireless gesture capturing system to match the players hand movements to a 3d representation of their hands in 3d space, registering collisions with the digital renderings of the control panel. Both options have their pros and cons. The gesture based version keeps the physicality of the emulated control system purely digital, allows for it change and adapt dynamically. On the other hand, the tangible controller adds a grounded, solid, yet distant link between the playing human and the cyber arcade cabinet.

 

(draft version 1.1, Oct 4th)

Post-digital: a term that sucks but is useful (draft 2)

% “Post-digital”, a term that sucks but is useful
% Florian Cramer
% October 2013

(Preliminary disclosure)

When first confronted with the term “post-digital” half a decade ago through my students, I found it – in an age of cultural, social and economic ruptures driven to non-trivial extents by computational digital technology – rather silly. Today, in the age of ubiquitous mobile devices, drone wars and the gargantuan data operations of Google, the NSA and other global players, it may appear even sillier: as either ignorance of our times or Thoreauvian-Luddite withdrawal from them. The latter option is tempting, yet naive. For the arts, they boil down to the history of the 19th century Arts and Crafts movement repeating itself, with its program of handmade production as resistance to industrialization. And indeed, this history is partly repeating itself in today’s renaissance of artists’ printmaking, handmade film labs, limited vinyl editions and what have you. But on closer inspection the dichotomy between digital big data and neo-analog DIY isn’t as clear-cut as it may seem. And this is where the attribute “post-digital” makes sense.

post-what?

From a philosophical standpoint, one can only agree with Geoff Cox and his critique of the term “post-digital” as a questionable continuation of other nouns prefixed with “post”, from postmodernity to posthistoire. I would like to frame it, however, within more pragmatic, popular and colloquial frames of references, both as regards to the prefix “post” and to the notion of “digital”. Rather than “postmodernity” and “posthistoire”, the “post” in “post-digital” could be compared to post-punk (punk culture continued in ways that both were punk and not), post-communism (still the reality in all former East block countries), even postcolonialism and, to a lesser extent, post-apocalyptic (pop cultural, Mad Max style). None these words would be done justice if one identified them as Hegelian historico-philosophical categories. Rather, they describe mutations that are often still ongoing: postcolonialism does just not mean the end of colonialism akin to Hegel’s and Fukuyama’s end of history, but its transformation into less clearly visible power structures that are still in place, have left their mark on languages and cultures, and most importantly still govern geopolitics and global production chains.

Likewise, “post-digital” refers to a popular cultural – rather than media theoretical – notion of “digital”, the kind of connotation nicely illustrated by contemporary Google image search results on the word “digital”:

Google image search result for "digital", 9/2013

Google image search result for “digital”, 9/2013

“Post-digital” first of all means any media aesthetics that leaves behind these clean high tech, high fidelity connotations. The word was coined by musician Kim Cascone in 2000 in relation to glitch aesthetics in contemporary electronic music [1]. In the same year, the Australian sound and media artist Ian Andrews broadened it into a “post-digital aesthetics” that rejects the “idea of digital progress” and “a teleological movement toward ‘perfect’ representation” [2]. Andrews, in other words, thought of “post-digital” as an antidote to techno-Hegelianism.

Both Cascone’s and Andrews’ papers were firmly based on the culture of audiovisual production. In this world, “digital” had been synonymous with “better” for a long time: the launch of the Fairlight sound sampler in 1979, the digital audio CD in 1982, the MIDI standard in the same year, software-only digital audio workstations in the early 1990s, real-time programmable software synthesis with Max/MSP in 1997. Similar teleologies are still at work in video and TV technology, with the ongoing transitions from SD to HD and to 4K, from DVD to BluRay, 2D to 3D, always sold with the same narrative of innovation, improvement, and cleaner reproduction. Cascone and Andrews simply rejected this. “Post-digital” might have been confusingly named because Cascone’s glitch music actually was digital, even based on digital sound processing artifacts. But it should rather be seen as a reaction to an age where even tripods are being sold with “digital” stickers attached in order to suggest that they are new, improved technology.

"digital" tripod

“digital” tripod

In this sense, “post-digital” reenacted older forms of resistance to formalist, mathematically driven progress narratives in music – namely the opposition to serialist composition in 20th century contemporary music that started with John Cage, continued with the early minimal music of La Monte Young and Terry Riley and did not end with improvisation/composition collectives such as AMM and Cornelius Cardew’s Scratch Orchestra. The serialism of Stockhausen, Boulez and their contemporaries was digital in the most literal sense of the word since it broke down all parameters of musical composition into computable values and applied numerical transformations to them. In the later age of mass consumer media technology, computations shifted from composition to signal processing, and from production to reproduction. (Involving sometimes the same companies, such as Philips – which founded a studio for contemporary electronic music in the 1950s and co-developed the audio CD in the early 1980s.)

Most serialist music, however, was not electronic but composed with pen and paper and performed by orchestras. This highlights a crucial point: unlike in the colloquial usage of the word (but also its common understanding in the arts and humanities), “digital” does not have to involve electronics at all. In this sense, the technical-scientific notion of “digital” can – paradoxically enough – be applied to devices that would be called “post-digital” in the arts and humanities.

What is post-digital then?

(I am trying to reiterate and systematize points I had written down in previous publications.)

Going back to Cascone and Andrews, but also to post-punk, postcolonialism and Mad Max, “post-digital” most simply describes the messy state of media, arts and design after their digitization, or at least after the digitization of vital parts of their communication. While contemporary visual art, for example, only slowly begins to accept net artists as regular contemporary artists (and among them, rather those whose work is gallery-compatible like Cory Arcangel’s), its discourse and networking have already profoundly changed through the e-flux mailing list, art blogs and the electronic e-flux journal. These media that have largely superseded paper art periodicals in circulation, power and influence at least for artists and curators. Likewise, paper newspapers have become post-digital, or post-digitization media where they shift their emphasis from news (for which the Internet is faster) to reportage and commentary.

“Post-digital” thus refers to a state where disruption through digital information technology has already occurred. Which can often mean – as for Cascone – that it is no longer perceived as disruptive. In this sense, the term “post-digital” is positioned against the term “new media”. At the same time, as its negative mirror, it exposes (perhaps even deconstructs) the latter’s hidden teleology: If “post-digital” evokes critical reactions concerning the historico-philosophy embedded into the prefix “post”, then it also the reveals the previous lack of such criticality towards the older term “new media” which is no less Hegelian.

Furthermore, “post-digital” describes a perspective on digital information technology that is no longer focused on technical innovation or improvement, even rejecting innovation narratives. Consequently, the distinction between “old” and “new” media collapses in theory as well as in practice. As Kenneth Goldsmith observes, his students “mix oil paint while Photoshopping and scour flea markets for vintage vinyl while listening to their iPods”[3]. Each medium is chosen for its own particular material aesthetics including artifacts. Lo-fi and misbehavior is embraced, just as in Cascone’s digital glitch and jitter music, but just as much in analog grain, dust, scratches or hiss, as a form of practical exploration and research that understands media from their misbehavior. This approach of using technology against its high end promises boils down to practically the same as to what computer hackers do, namely taking systems apart and using them against their design intentions.

Post-digital risograph printmaking, audio cassette production, mechanical typewriter experimentation or vinyl DJing clearly overlap with hipster retro media trends, including the digital simulation of analog lo-fi in popular smartphone apps such as Instagram. Rediscovery and repurposing of these “vintage” media with a hacker spirit, on the other hand, set it apart from this culture.

Non-digital media technologies such as the ones mentioned above become post-digital when they are not simply nostalgically revived, but functionally repurposed in (often critical) relation to digital media technologies: zines that become anti- or non-blogs, vinyl as anti-CD, cassette tapes as anti-mp3, analog film as anti-video.

On the other hand, ethics and conventions that became mainstream with Internet communities and Open Source/peer-to-peer culture become retroactively applied to the making of non- and post-digital media products, such as in collaborative zine making events (which are in extreme opposition to the hyper-individualist zine cultures of the post-punk 1980s and 1990s). If one maps Lev Manovich’s 2001 taxonomy of “new media” as “Numerical Representation”, “Modularity”, “Automation”, “Variability” and “Transcoding” to a contemporary zine fair or risography community art space, then “modularity”, “variability” and – in a more loosely metaphorical sense – “transcoding” would still apply to the contemporary cultures of working with these “old” media. In other words, “post-digital” can usefully describe “new media”-style approaches to working with (so-called) “old media”.

This hacker and community-oriented approach shifts the previous dichotomies of “old” and “new” media, analog and digital to a new difference of shrink-wrapped versus Do-it-yourself. No medium embodies this better than the magazine and web site Make, published by O’Reilly since 2005 and instrumental in the foundation of the contemporary maker movement. Make covers 3D printing, Arduino hardware hacking, FabLab technology, as well as classical DIY and crafts, and hybrids between them.

Conversely, the 1990s/early 2000s equation that analog mass media (such as newspapers and radio) are corporate and “new media” such as web sites are DIY, is no longer true ever since user-generated content has been co-opted into corporate social media and mobile apps. The Internet as an self-run alternative space – central to many activist and artist’s online projects from The Thing onwards – simply is no longer intuitive for anyone born after 1990 and identifying the Internet with corporate, registration-only services.[4]

The Maker movement, whether in FabLabs or on zine fairs, embodies a shift from the purely symbolic, as privileged in digital systems (for which the login is the perfect example), towards the indexical: from code to traces, and from text to context. While 1980s post-punk zines, for example, resembled manifestos (such as those of the Berlin Dadaists in the 1920s) and 1980s Super 8 films (such as the Cinema of Transgression) created underground narratives against mainstream cinema, the majority of contemporary zines and analog films tend to shift from content to pure materiality where the medium, such as paper or celluloid, indeed is the message; from semantics to pragmatics, and from meaning to being.[5]

When ‘post-digital’ is ‘digital’ and vice versa

From a technological and scientific point of view, the word “digital” is wrongly understood and used by Cascone. That also applies to most of what is commonly labelled “digital art”, “digital media” and “digital humanities”. If something is “digital”, it neither has to be electronic, nor involve binary zeros and ones. It does not even need to be attached to electronic computers or any other kind of computational device.

Conversely, analog does not mean non-computational or pre-computational, since there are also analog computers. (Using water and two measuring cups for computing additions and subtractions – of quantities that can’t be exactly counted – is a simple example for analog computing.) “Digital” simply means that something is divided up into exactly countable units – countable with whatever system one uses, whether zeros and ones, decimal numbers, strokes on a beer mat or the digits of one’s hand. (Which is why “digital” is called “digital”; in French, for example, the word is “numérique”.) Therefore, the Western alphabet is a digital system, the movable types of Gutenberg’s printing press constitute a digital system, the keys of a piano are a digital system, Western musical score notation is digital aside from such non-discrete value instructions as adagio, piano, forte, legato, portamento, tremolo and glissando. Floor mosaics made from monochrome tiles are digitally composed images. These examples show, too, that “digital” never exists in any perfect form but is always is being abstracted and idealized from matter that, by nature and the laws of physics, has chaotic properties and often ambiguous states[6].

“Analog” conversely means that something has not been chopped up into discrete, countable units, but consists of an signal that by itself as no discrete units but is gradually and continuously changing, such as a sound wave, light, a magnetic field such as on an audiotape but also on a computer hard disk, the electrical flows in any circuit including computer chips, a painted color gradient. The fingerboard of a violin is analog, because it is fretless – undivided -, the fingerboard of a guitar is digital, because frets divide it into single notes. What is commonly called “analog” photographic and cine film is actually a hybrid of analog and digital: the particles of the film emulsion are analog, because they are in organic-chaotic order and not reliably countable like pixels -, the single frames of a film strip are digital since they’re discrete, chopped up and unambiguously countable.

This means that media, in the technical sense of storage, transmission, computation and display devices, are always analog: The voltage in a computer chip is analog, and only through filtering, one can determine whether high voltage corresponds to a “zero” and low voltage to “one” (which is why worn/out hardware can make bits flip and turn zeros into ones); the sound waves produced by a sound card and a speaker are analog; etc. An LCD screen is a hybrid digital-analog system because its display has discrete, countable, single pixels, but the light they emit is an analog continuum.

There is hence no such thing as digital media,[7] only digital or digitized information: chopped-up numbers, letters, symbols and whatever other abstracted units as opposed to continuous, wave-like signals such as physical sounds and visuals. Most “digital media” devices are really analog-to-digital-to-analog converters. An mp3 player with a touchscreen interface, for example, takes analog, non-discrete gesture input, translates it into binary control instructions that trigger computational information processing of a digital file, ultimately decoding it into analog electricity that another analog device, the electromagnetic mechanism of a speaker or headphone, turns into analog sound waves. The same principle applies to almost any so-called digital media device, whether it’s a photo or video camera, or a military drone. As soon as something is perceivable (and thus aesthetic), it takes the form of non-discrete waves and therefore is analog.

“Digital art” based on the technical definition of “digital” would, however, likely be called “post-digital” or even “retro analog” by art curators and media studies scholars: stone mosaic floors from Internet image memes, for example, installations with mechanical typewriters[8], countdown loops on a Super 8 or 16mm film projector.

The everyday colloquial meaning of “digital” is metonymical: anything connected to computational electronic devices, even if it’s a tripod. It is a notion fostered and solidified last not least by marketing and product advertising. Some eyebrows should thus be raised when the humanities simply take it over, in the concept of “digital humanities” for example, without any question asked. In that sense, “post-digital” art, design and media works – whether or not they actually should be called post-digital – often make up for lacking critical reflection of digitality.

Conclusion (draft of the draft)

In the year 2000, the notions of “post-digital” proposed by Cascone and Andrews were somewhat contradictory in that they simultaneously rejected the rhetoric of “new media” while heavily relying on it. Cascone’s paper drew on a “Wired” column of Nicholas Negroponte, Ian Andrews’ paper on Lev Manovich’s “Generation Flash” which advocated the very opposite of the the analog/digital, retro/contemporary hybridizations that are associated with the term “post-digital” today. If post-digital aesthetics consists, metaphorically speaking, of postcolonial practices in a communications world taken over by a industrial-military complex of a handful of global players, then it is perhaps easiest to think of it as the opposite of (Ray Kurzweil’s and Google’s) Singularity movement, the Quantified Self movement and other forms of techno gnosis.

Nevertheless, it is often driven by structurally similar fictions of agency:[9] the fiction of agency over one’s body in the Quantified Self movement, the fiction of the self-made in the DIY and Maker movements, the fiction of more direct engagement with media in handmade film labs. (Sociologically, both cybergnostic and post-digital cultures might be seen as either over-affirmation of or scepticism towards system complexity, and desires of agency. – to be elaborated)


  1. Kim Cascone, The Aesthetics of Failure, in: Computer Music Journal, vol. 24 issue 4, December 2000, 12–18  ↩

  2. Ian Andrews, Post-digital Aesthetics and the return to Modernism, 2000 (accessed 9–2013)  ↩

  3. Kenneth Goldsmith, Uncreative Writing, Columbia University Press, 2011, 226  ↩

  4. In a project on Open Source culture with Bachelor students from the Willem de Kooning Academy Rotterdam, it turned out that a number of students believed that web site user account registration was a general feature and requirement of the Internet.  ↩

  5. It’s debatable to which degree this reflects the influence of non-Western, particularly Japanese (popular) culture on contemporary Western visual culture, particularly in illustration (which amounts to a large share of contemporary zine making). This influence even more clearly exists in digital meme and imageboard culture.  ↩

  6. This is what Friedrich Kittler meant in his opaquely written essay “There is no Software”, in: Stanford Literature Review", vol. 9, 1992 (1991),81–90.  ↩

  7. Even the piano, if considered a medium, is digital only to the degree that its keys implement abstractions of its analog-continuous strings.  ↩

  8. Such as Linda Hilfling’s contribution to the exhibition MAKEDO at V2_, Rotterdam, 29–30 june 2007.  ↩

  9. This is how Aldje van Meer, coordinator of CrossLab at Willem de Kooning Academy, interprets art students’ preference for working non-electronically and “rather make a poster than a website”.  ↩

Post-Digital is Post-Screen – Towards a New Visuality

Galileo_Telescope_art_BR

If the interest in the post-digital proofs anything, it is that the usefulness of the digital as a discursive element in analyzing the impact and place of technology in society and culture is waning. Digital technologies on the other hand only grow and proliferate. This raises the question: why do we need or want to discuss matters in terms of a post-digital condition if digital media do not seem to loose ground by far? I look at this issue in the context of art. Here, the digital realm tends to be perceived as screen-based. This tendency is validated by popular approaches in media art, most notably that of Lev Manovich (3). The computer however started out completely ‘screenless’, and today the miniaturization and new applications of digital media bring new forms of ‘screenlessness’ (Van Kranenburg 6). A screen-based analysis and view of art in this context literally glosses over the issues in this area.

 

A problem here seems to be the visual impermeability or spatial dispersion of the works in question. Rudolph Arnheim offers a possible basis for an overarching theory for a new visuality in his book Visual Thinking (274). Arnheim describes how a non-retinal way of seeing exists in science, where the knowledge of the existence of events, structures and objects often precedes or even constitutes their visibility. By applying this visualizing method to the sculptural use of networks, code art, and conceptualist practices in complex digital environments, I try to, at least in part, include the inherent instability of the works in question in a new view of art in the expanded digital field.

 

At the same time there is a level of abstraction in all practices of art, including the examples used here, which cannot be described in terms of a visualization derived from scientific knowledge alone. The perceptional model adapted from Arnheim therefore needs additional analytical tools to further explore specific works and practices. This however will not be discussed in this text, but I want to address it in my talk. Expertise in specific fields and sub-fields from both the media art field and the contemporary art field is necessary to complete any picture of art in the expanded field of digital art: the post-digital sphere.

 

The Bright and Blinding Screen

 

In her book Where Art Belongs the art writer Chris Kraus puts what she calls ‘digital forms’ in the same realm as video (119). She is but one of many critics and theorists that describe art in the digital realm in terms of the image and the screen (Bourriaud 69; Foster 105; Jameson 110; Krauss 87; Virilio 14; Rancière 18). The manner in which it is described is almost always negative. Computers are described as the present day epitome of Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle, or as problematic because prolific image copy machines.

 

This superficial view of the computer and digital media in general is supported or at least barely countered by influential writers from the media art field. Lev Manovich’s bestseller The Language of New Media describes the computer almost entirely in terms of cinema. Even the chapter called The Operations, after a chapter on screens, solely focuses on image editing and image sequencing (117). In his book The Interface Effect Alexander Galloway starts off with a respectful yet also critical analysis of Manovich’ cinematic approach of new media. Galloway takes his criticism of this approach further by connecting it to another popular approach, that of remediation (20). The theory of remediation draws a straight line from medieval illustrated manuscripts to linear perspective painting to cinema to television and lastly to digital media (Bolter, Grusin 34). The radical transformations brought on by digital technology are explained only by stating it ‘can be more aggressive in its remediation’ (Bolter, Grusin 46). Galloway however observes that, far from remediating a visual language like that of cinema, the computer ‘remediates the very conditions of being itself’ (21). In terms of art practice this means that digital media remediate art as is, with all its complexities and contradictions. Digital media however do so from their own form of Dasein, which comes to be through their design and application.

 

The focus on the screen therefore is not a problem produced by digital technologies per se. To find a possible cause and solution for this problem it seems more appropriate to approach it as a continuation and amplification of issues in art criticism and cultural theory at large. Though a variety of approaches to discuss art involving digital technologies exists (Blais, Ippolito 17; Cramer 8; Popper 89; Bazzichelli 26; Holmes 14), “no clearly defined method exists for analyzing the role of science and technology in the history of art” as a whole (Shanken 44). Edward Shanken notes how after the heydays of modern art historians stopped describing technological developments in art (45). In this period especially digital technologies have prospered exponentially. This change in art historical method has created a lack of analytical tools to grasp the realities of art in the age of digital media.

 

Visualization of Highly Complex Forms

 

The illusionary malleability and disappearance of digital media in the remediation of being Galloway describes, should not be interpreted as digital technologies having no form. What Galloway’s Interface Effect means for art is that the art object exists within a complex system of elements that are technological and political at once. He speaks of an ‘anti-anthropocentrism of the realm of practice’ (22). Galloway further describes the overwhelming problematic of visualization of data and digital environments in general, and calls for ‘a poetics as such for this mysterious new machinic space’ (99).

 

The merging of machine and, in this case, art practice means we need a method that is simultaneously applicable to both. Within a context that is deeply connected to the scientific realm applying a form of visual thinking described by Rudolph Arnheim seems fitting. In his book Visual Thinking he describes various forms of visualization, one of which is that of scientific knowledge (274). It boils down to ‘seeing’ things you know are there but which cannot be seen by the naked eye. It is not a form of imaginative mental construction of unreal events or phenomena. Arnheim calls such visualizations ‘models for theory’. He describes examples of how such models appear in nature sciences and geometry. Even if he uses examples from the hard sciences, his approach of scientific visualizations is largely psychological (275). He explains how every scientific model of an ‘invisible’ event or object is never static or stable, as it is based on a mixture of observation, experience, and psychology.

 

As an illustration: Gallileo not only had to battle church dogmas. He also had to constantly challenge his own, learned modes of perception, and in the end he did not completely succeed. Gallileo refused to accept planets rotated around the sun in ellipses rather than in circles. Arnheim quotes Erwin Panofsky pointing out that ‘the ellipse, the distorted circle, “was as emphatically rejected by High renaissance art as it was cherished in mannerism” (278).

 

Application of Theory – Post-Screen Views of the Digital

 

I now try to apply Arnheim’s notion of models for theory to art, to see beyond the screen of the spectacle. Literature on art in this context shows a variety of forms, of which a poetic use of code (Baumgärtel 11; Goriunova, Shulgin 4; Arns 194; Cramer 8), a sculptural use of networks (Popper 181; Weiß 175; Shanken 140), and conceptualist practices (Greene 9; Holmes 20; Hand 10) are examples that show the heterogeneity of the field. I concentrate on these, while being aware of the interdisciplinary character of each work in these areas, and of the physical and conceptual overlaps between them. What all have in common is of course a connection to the digital field. This means all include some form of application of, or reference to, executable code.

 

Visual Thinking in Action

 

Various authors have described the deep entrenchment of code in culture and society, and its defining role in new systems of power (Galloway, Thacker 30; Galloway 54; Wark [029]). Others have emphasized the generative aspect of code, and its prominence outside institutional realms (Arns 201; Goriunova, Shulgin 6). Some even go as far as describing code art as a virus, or as an antibody against a sick culture (Blais, Ippolito 17). What is clear from all descriptions of code art is that it cannot be represented on a retinal plane in its entirety, or in its full capacity. Code as a written text, deep within a computer or presented on screen or paper, encompasses a potential activity that cannot be grasped from a literal reading or retinal observation alone. Code is perceived through its products, as screen-based results of software, or through its effects within a physical environment, or both.

 

According to Arnheim, in a scientific form of visualization ‘all shapes are experienced as patterns of forces and are relevant only as patterns of forces’ (276). The shapes he refers to do not need to be physical. ‘The kind of highly abstract pattern I have been discussing is applicable to non-physical configurations as readily as to physical ones, because there again the concern is with the pattern of forces, a purpose best served by exactly the same means’ (Arnheim 279-280). Pictures, models, or visualizations developed from interpreting these patterns of forces depend on former experiences and intellectual preconceptions of the beholder. To illustrate how this can play out: whereas Jacques Rancière describes the future of the image and representation in terms of ‘machines of reproduction’ (9),  Galloway looks at the same surface and sees what he calls The Interface Effect, which is an effect ‘of other things, and thus tells the story of the larger forces that engender them’ (preface). One sees a copy and editing tool, the other a change of what images represent.

 

A similar conclusion could be drawn for conceptualist practices in the expanded digital field. Without recognition of the influences and driving force of digital technologies within them, an analysis easily misses the point. The reason I call particular practices conceptualist is that they largely manifest themselves in some form outside of digital media, yet their shape is defined through these media. The technology seemingly disappears in it, it ‘remediates the very conditions of being itself’ (Galloway 21). Works range from performance and activist art to sculpture, painting, video, and prints (Holmes 47; Olson 59). Works in this highly diverse group of practices seem to have three things in common: they use the Internet as an information or material resource; they use the Internet as a community space; and they use digital media for publication purposes (Bazzichelli 28; Goriunova 29; Holmes 66; Hand 47). Some works, such as that of the Yes Men/rtmark, are described in books about net art and digital art (Baumgärtel 106; Stallabras 8; Greene 92; Paul 209). More object-based work, like that associated with the ‘Post-Internet’ label, still largely needs to find its way into literature. Marisa Olson describes the extensive use of found photography in Post-Internet practices in terms of a revaluation of ‘portraits of the Web’. ‘Taken out of circulation and repurposed, they are ascribed with new value, like the shiny bars locked up in Fort Knox’ (59). Like code art, these two extremes, of activist and object-based art, can only be understood fully from a perspective that takes note of those ‘patterns of forces’ that give them their power.

 

The visualization of digital networks in art requires an explicit visualization of hardware as well as of information flows. In network art installations hardware is essential, and most of it is far beyond sight. Any Internet connection quite easily runs halfway around the world (Terranova 44). The myriad of specific operations to realize an Internet connection happens almost entirely automated (Weiß 36). It runs across different national borders in ways largely beyond our control. Internet connections therefore are not neutral, straightforward couplings of machines. Yet Internet connections in works of art are mostly discussed in terms of technology, virtual spaces, and telepresence, and seldom in terms of visualization of the mixed physical and techno-political essence of the network (Goldberg 3; Popper 363; Shanken 32; Paul 93). I think this is a strange oversight. By making an Internet connection part of a decentralized installation or performance, an artist creates an installation that involves the temporary application of a shared, semi-public infrastructure. By interpreting the ‘patterns of forces’ involved conceptually, spatially and physically, a larger and less abstract view of this installation emerges.

 

Finally

 

I realize I walk a tightrope when I suggest using Arnheim’s theory of scientific visualization to art. Arnheim has been accused of having a highly formalist approach to art (Fox, NY Times). The chapter Models for Theory in Visual Thinking however describes a visualization method that leaves more room for subjectivity and instability than one would expect. Arnheim extensively describes the subjective development of scientific models (279). This development also involves a change over time and an ‘open-endedness’. There is no final outcome, since any visualization in this context concerns phenomenal events that largely escape the eye, and will undergo constant re-assessment. I am not proposing to follow Arnheim’s ideas to the letter. I propose to take the concept of a scientific visualization, and adapt it to art that involves structures, systems, or processes that are too large, too dispersed, or too small to see with the naked eye.

 

References:

Arnheim, Rudolf. Visual Thinking. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1969-1997. Print.

Arns, Inke. “Read_me, run_me, execute_me.” Media Art Net 2, Thematische Schwerpunkte. Eds. Frieling, Rudolf, Daniels, Dieter. Vienna: Springer. 2005. 194-208. Print.

Bazzichelli, Tatiana. Networking, The Net as Artwork. Aarhus: Digital Aesthetics Research Center, Aarhus University. 2008. Print.

Blais, Joline, Ippolito, Jon. At the Edge of Art. London: Thames and Hudson. 2006. Print.

Baumgärtel, Tilman. [net.art 2.0], Neue Materialien zur Netzkunst, New Materials Towards Net Art. Nürnberg: Verlag für moderne Kunst Nürnberg. 2001. Print.

Bolter, Jay David, Grusin, Richard. Remediation, Understanding New Media. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 2002. Print.

Bourriaud, Nicholas. Relational Aesthetics. Dijon: Les Presses du Réel, 1998. Print.

Cramer, Florian. Words Made Flesh, Code, Culture, Imagination. Rotterdam: Piet Zwart online publication, 2005. PdF. http://www.pzwart.wdka.hro.nl/mdr/research/fcramer/wordsmadeflesh/

Foster, Hal. The Return of the Real. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 2001. Print.

Fox, Margalit. “Rudolf Arnheim, 102, Psychologist and Scholar of Art and Ideas, Dies.” New York Times, June 14, 2007. Web. Accessed 1 October 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/14/obituaries/14arnheim.html?_r=0

Jameson, Fredric. The Cultural Turn, Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983-1998. London: Verso. 1998. Print.

Galloway, Alexander. The Interface Effect. Cambridge: Polity Press. 2012. Print.

Galloway, Alexander, Thacker, Eugene. The Exploit, A Theory of Networks. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2007. Print.

Goldberg, Ken. Introduction: The Unique Phenomenon of a Distance. The Robot in the Garden, Telerobotics and Telepistemology in the Age of the Internet. Ed. Ken Goldberg. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 2000. Print.

Goriunova, Olga, Shulgin, Alexei. Read_Me 2.3 Reader. Helsinki: NIFCA Publication. 2003. Print.

Greene, Rachel. Internet Art. London: Thames and Hudson. 2004. Print.

Hand, Autumn. Intersecting Art Experiences – Approaching Post-Internet Art as a medium for dialogue in this information age. University of Amsterdam MA New Media paper. 2012.
Holmes, Brain. Escape the Overcode. Eindhoven: Van Abbemuseum Public Research. 2009. Print.

Kranenburg, van, Rob. The Internet of Things – A critique of Ambient Technology and the All-seeing Network of RFID. Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures. 2008. Print.

Kraus, Chris. Where Art Belongs. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e). 2011. Print.

Krauss, Rosalind. Perpetual Inventory. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 2010. Print.

Olson, Marisa. “PostInternet: Art after the Internet.” FOAM International Photo Magazine. Winter 2011/2012. 59-63. Print.

Paul, Christiane. Digital Art. Revised and Expanded Edition. New York: Thames and Hudson. 2003-2008. Print.

Popper, Frank. From Technological to Virtual Art. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. 2007. Print.

Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. 2000. Print.

Rancière, Jacques. The Future of the Image. London: Verso, 2007. Print.

Shanken, Edward. “Historizing Art and Technology: Forging a Method and Firing a Canon.” Media Art Histories. Ed. Oliver Grau. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2007. 43-70. Print.

Shanken, Edward. Art and Electronic Media. London: Phaidon Press. 2009. Print.

Stallabrass, Julian. Internet Art – The Online Clash of Culture and Commerce. London: Tate Publishers. 2003. Print.

Terranova, Tiziana. Network Culture – Politics of the Information Age. London: Pluto Press. 2004. Print.

Virilio, Paul. Art as Far as the Eye Can See. Oxford: Berg. 2005-2007. Print.

Wark, McKenzie. A Hacker Manifesto. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. 2004. Print.

Weiß, Matthias. Netzkunst, ihre Systematisierung und Auslegung anhand von Einzelbeispielen. Weimar: Verlag und Datenbank für Geisteswissenschaften. 2009. Print.

An Ethology of Urban Fabric(s)

by Jonas Fritsch and Bodil Marie Stavning Thomsen, DAC/CAVI/PIT, Aarhus University

‘… no one knows ahead of time the affects one is capable of; it is a long affair of experimentation…’ (Deleuze 1988/1970, p. 125)

With this piece, we wish to open up a patchwork of relational thinking of the ethology of urban fabric(s) from a post-digital perspective. We understand the notion of urban fabrics non-metaphorically to denote actual, textural manifestations to be studied in their processual complexity. Rather than attempting to define the notion of urban fabric(s), we want to use it creatively to open up lines of thought and experimentation as part of the 7-year research project IMMEDIATIONS: Art, Media and Event. We take the term ethology from Deleuze’s book on Spinoza, where he states the following:

“Ethology is first of all the study of the relations of speed and slowness, of the capacities for affecting and being affected that characterize each thing. For each thing these relations and capacities have an amplitude, thresholds (maximum and minimum), and variations or transformations that are peculiar to them. And they select, in the world or in Nature, that which corresponds to the thing; that is, they select what affects or is affected by the thing, that moves it or is moved by it. For example, given an animal, what is this animal unaffected by in the infinite world? What does it react to positively or negatively? What are its nutriments and its poisons? What does it “take” in its world? Every point has its counterpoints: the plant and the rain, the spider and the fly. So an animal, a thing, is never separable from its relations with the world. The interior is only a selected exterior, and the exterior, a projected interior. The speed or slowness of metabolisms, perceptions, actions, and reactions link together to constitute a particular individual in the world” (Deleuze [1970] (1988), 125).

Looking into the ethological workings of urban fabrics directs our attention towards a range of possible areas of investigation and propositions, among other things:

  • What is the velocity of urban fabric(s)?
  • What characterizes urban fabric in terms of amplitude, thresholds, variations, transformations; what affects or is affected by urban fabric(s)?
  • What relations and capacities emerge through the processes concerned with the creation and distribution of urban fabrics?
  • What interfaces between (what kinds of) exterior and interior are produced by urban fabric(s) (animal-organic, skin-textile/skin-city, language-fabric, habit-character)? How does this relate to the intensity in the formation/transformation of habits, perceptions, actions, movements in urban environments?

In the following we will sketch out some lines of thought that we wish to develop through the course of the IMMEDIATIONS project, ending in a proposition for possible forms of experimentation and expositions.

VELOCITY of urban fabric(s)

When asking questions about the velocity of urban fabrics, our attention is circling around two main themes at the moment; the speed vs. slowness of fashion and the temporary nature of the built environment.

In fashion, novelty and modernity have been aligned with the shifts and modi of fashion (la mode) since 1850, and considering that the development of capitalism had its take-off from the industrial production of linen by the meter (the Jacquard loom/ weave), novelty in fashion has been a very visible force for the understanding of ‘time as progress’. The aesthetic novelty in the form of a folding, a lace trimming, a color shade or a cut in its always renewed relational connectivity with bodies and urban surroundings has been an aesthetic concern for designers and users of fashion alike. This relational/spatial production of attractions that has very much been assumed by the film industry and contemporary interface screens, forms the basis of contemporary uses of former fabrics of fashion. The recycling of former fashion clothings is very much a digging into (imaginary) spaces belonging to older or disappeared spaces and places in the city, forming our experience of the urban fabric. The culture of recycling, reusing and the compilation of fabrics belonging to different clothings and body-sizes have developed into a new model of business ecology in which the relational capacities of body and fabric are re-thought. This ‘slowing down of fashion’ in order to focus on affect and appreciate the relational production of spaces and places in connectivity with the ethology of the fabric-becoming-body is further elaborated in the section Relational Capacities.

Focusing on the temporary nature of the built environment, we want to move from a top-down understanding of/bird’s eye perspective on urban fabric(s) (from e.g. city planning as seen here: http://www.bricoleurbanism.org/ideas/urban-fabric-form-comparison/ ) to the actual configurations and compositions of texture and their relation to experience in and of the urban sphere. Here, we are interested in the use of different forms of duration relating to the materiality of the cityscape, as well as in the changes in velocity and perception with the advent of digital activations of the city, e.g. through mobile phones, media facades, and so forth. The slowness of the built environment can be disrupted through the use of digital layers, changing our perception of the built city, as seen in the art practices of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, United Visual Artists and the Graffiti Research Lab (http://www.graffitiresearchlab.com/blog/). In addition, a range of practices have arisen around the creation of temporary urban spaces, among others the Danish-based Institut for (X) who are working actively with emerging spaces in the city as part of their artistic and investigative practice, as seen in the project ‘Platform 4 (http://www.detours.biz/projects/platform-4/). For a large part, Institut for (X) use wood to built structures that can easily be dismantled again. Looking at interventionist strategies such as Urban/Guerilla Gardening and Urban/Guerilla Knitting (http://knitthecity.com), it might be argued, from an ethological point of view, that we are witnessing a simultaneous ‘speeding up’ of the built infrastructure, as well as a ‘slowing down’ through the use of a range of analog (post-digital? nostalgic?) materials, textures and fabric.

CHARACTERIZATIONS of urban fabric(s)

When trying to understand what affects or is affected by urban fabric(s) through looking into what characterizes urban fabric(s) in terms of amplitude, thresholds, variations, transformations, we want to sketch out two (admittedly rather general) points of entry; how does the urban fabric affect our ability to act and how does it act upon us and how is this manifested in the fabric? The first point of entry we wish to unfold theoretically building on the work of Jacques Rancière on the ‘distribution of the sensible’ in relation to his politics of aesthetics:

‘I call the distribution of the sensible the system of self-evident facts of sense perception that simultaneously discloses the existence of something in common and the delimitations that define the respective parts and positions within it. A distribution of the sensible therefore establishes at the same time something common that is shared and exclusive parts. This apportionment of parts and positions is based on a distribution of spaces, times, and forms of activity that determines the very manner in which something in common lends itself to participation and in what way various individuals have a part in the community of citizens.’ (Rancière 2004, p. 12)

We believe an ethological understanding of urban fabric(s) needs to take into account the way in which it distributes the sensible, the aesthetics of the urban fabric, which ‘‘…determines a mode of articulation between forms of action, production, perception and thought.’ (Rancière 2004, p. 82 (Glossary). The urban fabric(s) conditions our (common) experience of the city, the choices we make there, the actions we undertake, the things we do and do not do, on what Brian Massumi terms a microperceptual level – with, what might be termed, macropolitical consequences. Here, microperception is bodily, but qualitatively different from perception in that it is felt without registering consciously:

‘The world in which we live is literally made of these reinaugural microperceptions, cutting in, cueing emergence, priming capacities. Every body is at every instant in thrall to any number of them. A body is a complex of inbracings playing out complexly and in serial fashion. The tendencies and capacities activated do not necessarily bear fruit. Some will be summoned to the verge of unfolding, only to be left behind, unactualized. But even these will have left their trace.’ (Massumi 2009, p. 5)

Massumi relates the notion of microperception with that of micropolitics, resonating with Rancières notions of the aesthetics of politics and politics of aesthetics:

‘If there is such thing as an ‘aesthetics of politics’, it lies in a re-configuration of the distribution of the common through political processes of subjectivation. Correspondingly, if there is a politics of aesthetics, it lies in the practices and modes of visibility of art that re-configure the fabrics of sensory experience.’ (Rancière 2010, p. 140)

To Rancière, these practices of re-configuration can emerge through artistic practices that bring about dissensus, a  ‘..dissensual re-configuration of the distribution of the common through political processes of subjectivation.’ (Rancière 2010, p. 140). Thomas Markussen has explored how this might come about in a design practice, focusing on the micro-political and aesthetic dimensions of urban design activism understood as proper designerly ways of intervening into people’s lives (Markussen 2012). According to Markussen, who also builds on the work of Rancière, urban design activism ‘uses the sensuous material of the city while exploring the particular elements of urban experience’ (Markussen 2012, p. 41). He mentions a range of examples, e.g. Institute for Applied Autonomy’s iSee-project allowing people to chose the least surveilled routes through urban spaces (http://www.appliedautonomy.com/isee.html) and Santiago Cirugedas Recatas Urbanas (Urban Prescriptions), exploring the relation between the regulations of the city municipality and the need for extra room through the construction of scaffolds which are then turned into places of dwelling (http://www.recetasurbanas.net/index1.php?idioma=ENG&REF=1&ID=0003). These projects can be said to experiment with the way in which urban fabric(s) can be renegotiated through artistic and designerly experimentation, highlighting existing distributions of the sensible on a microperceptual- and political level, offering ways for people to engage with the urban fabric(s) to act upon this.

The entry into the second point – how urban fabric acts upon us and how it is manifested in the fabric – can be opened by Hito Steyerl’s video installation for Documenta XII, 2007, Lovely Andrea: http://www.ubu.com/film/steyerl_andrea.html. In Steyerl’s search for an image of japanese bondage, that was taken of her in 1987, she documents on the one hand that power relations within a contemporary visual dominance does create an endless appetite for images of ‘truth’ and ‘freedom’, and on the other hand that images can create facts and can produce realities to unravel the interconnectedness of bondage and webs. Her examples that she weaves together are bondage girls, Spiderman and prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. Like the cobweb serves the purpose of attracting and capture, weaved fabrics, web-designs and the Internet all leave marks in the skin and connects us to buildings, archives and urban distribution and traffic (cf. traficking). In Steyerl’s case the unraveling of the web actually generates an idea about the scale and amplitude of trades and transactions of bonding. The thresholds that determines Steyerl’s access to her own image are spelled out as ‘the cameraman’ and ‘the studio’. The discursive ownerships belonging to the 1980s are still controlling the entry points to the material archives, but the search machines of the internet archives have for a long time attracted our appetite for ‘new material’. If this material is thought of as all the archives and databases of the Internet the thresholds are easily identified as Google, Facebook etc – and the code is the password, that includes and excludes. Deleuze wrote in 1990 on the (then future) web control that the code – “one’s (dividual) electronic card” – would grant or deny access to “one’s apartment, one’s street, one’s neighborhood” creating a universal modulation (“Postscript on the Societies of Control” https://files.nyu.edu/dnm232/public/deleuze_postcript.pdf). Deleuze compared his modulation, i.e. the processes by which we connect or are denied access to the weave of the Internet archive, to the coils of the serpent – whereas societies based upon disciplinary systems of control described by Foucault are compared to the ethology of mole and molehill. This line of thought makes it possible to think of the serpent in its relation to its coil as a rubbing between two surfaces – the skin and the ground. The friction created is becoming the new fiction, the affective field of creation. The fabric (of the ground) is just as much affected by the skin as the other way around. The skin leaves traces and form patterns in the fabric (of urbanity, the Internet, the brain) just as the fabric determines the possible coiled movements (of the snake).

RELATIONAL CAPACITIES of urban fabric(s) (distribution and creation)

Talking about the relational capacities of urban fabric, we want to investigate the creation and distribution of fabric and textiles on a local and global scale. On a global scale, it is possible to look into and critically account for the complex networks of production of fabric – clothes, books, archival material on the Internet, economic transactions – to suggest a starting point. We have not yet developed a vocabulary to address this but are looking for ways to move into these explorations. Locally, we are interested in the above-mentioned business models of recycled clothes appearing around flea markets and re-sewing businesses (http://www.melangedeluxe.dk/conditions/ ). Also, we see examples of shops appearing where you have to donate a piece of clothes to be able to buy a new one. In addition, bringing it back to a global scale, we want to pursue what happens to the recycled clothes and how this can be inserted into other-than-urban loops and what that might entail. Whereas this might seem rather ‘down to earth’ or even simplistic following from the previous section, we do see a potential for these investigations to enter more complex conceptual infrastructures through the analysis and experiments with different kinds of creation, distribution and circulation of urban fabric(s). In addition, we wish to explore how this might relate to textures and not only textiles.

Although this might be argued to be the least developed part of the ethology of urban fabric(s), we believe there is great potential in tying these explorations together with the previous sections to allow for a diagrammatic conceptualization of the relational complexity at stake here.

EXTERIOR/ INTERIOR of urban fabric(s) (interfaces)

The new kinds of shared interfaces of urbanity and fabrics can be outlined in reference to Jacque Rancière’s chapter on “The Surface of Design” in The future of the Image [2003] (2007). His take on design is “[...] the way in which, by assembling words or forms, people define not merely various forms of art, but certain configurations of what can be seen and what can be thought, certain forms of inhabiting the material world” (p. 91). His example is the development of streamlined, pure poetic forms by French poet Stéphane Mallarmé and the development of functionalist design by German architect, engineer and designer, Peter Behrens. In the same historical momentum they “define a new texture of communal existence” (p. 97). They both interface with the world around them. Mallarmé learns from the dancer Loïe Fuller and her transformation of dance to “a fountain, a flame or a butterfly” becoming “a luminous statue, combining dance, sculpture and the art of light into a hypermediatic type of work” and thus she is “an exemplary graphic emblem of the age of electricity”, but she also had Behrens design of an advertisements for a German mouthwash product, Odol, projected onto her skirt. This movement-body-fabric constellation of Fuller’s shows an interface between art and signs. They become equal on a shared and “common physical surface” [of] signs, forms and acts” (p. 99).

One way of exemplifying what generates the surface for contemporary interfaces between art and technology is definitely the software as a weave of algorithmic codings. In the case of interactive architecture or media facades, where buildings become interfaces, and the relation between the interior/exterior is broken up, we can argue, with Rancière, that these algorithmic codings are in fact re-distributing the sensible through an (inter)activation of the urban fabric(s):

‘This is not a simple matter of an ‘institution’, but of the framework of the distributions of space and the weaving of fabrics of perception. Within any given framework, artists are those whose strategies aim to change the frames, speed and scales according to which we perceive the visible, and combine it with a specific invisible element and a specific meaning.’ (Rancière 2010, p. 141)

In continuation of this line of thought we might ask: What interfaces between (what kinds of) exterior and interior are produced by urban fabric(s) (animal-organic, skin-textile/skin-city, language-fabric, habit-character)? The animal-organic-artificial concerns the raw material of the production of fabric (e.g. wool-bamboo-polyester) and its relation to the distribution of the sensible through affective fields. The skin-textile activates a thinking of the skin and textile as surfaces that co-constitute complex interweavings of texture and fabric, as developed in the previous section through the story of the serpent. The language-fabric relation is etymological and can be used to develop the relation between text and textile, where text has etymological roots to both ‘weaving’ and ‘tissue’. An interesting example here concerns the language ‘Linear B’ in which the content of the communication relates directly to the production of textiles (e.g. how many sheep are needed to produce a garment). In this project, it is our ambition to generate material fabrics that invite to interfaces between animal-organic, skin-textile/skin-city, language-fabric, habit-character.

EXPERIMENTS

Conurrently with these conceptual investigations of a possible ethology of urban fabric(s), we are also proposing to enter into a range of experimental practices on the verge of art and design. At the moment, we are contemplating how to go about this kind of experimentation, which we want to aim at different distributions of the sensible – dissensus – through new interweavings and interfaces that rupture relations and invent new relationships. Re-thinking the notion of ‘fiction’, Rancière argues that it is possible to change ‘…existing modes of sensory presentations and forms of enunciation; of varying frames, scales and rhythms; and of building new relationships between reality and appearance, the individual and the collective’ (Rancière 2010, p. 141). In the IMMEDIATIONS project, we want to situate this kind of interventionist or practice-based experimentation within an academic context as a kind of research-creation.

References (suggestive)

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Félix. [1980] 1987: A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia II, trans. by Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Deleuze, Gilles [1990] 2002: “Postscript on Societies of Control”. CTRL SPACE: Rhetorics of Surveillance from Bentham to Big Brother. Thomas Y. Levin, Ursula Frohne and Peter Weibel (eds.): CTRL [SPACE]: Rhetorics of Surveillance from Bentham to Big Brother. The MIT Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts & London, England.

Deleuze, Gilles [1968] 1990: Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza. The MIT Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts & London, England.

Greenfield, Adam and Shepard, Mark (2007): Urban Computing and its Discontent. New York: The Architectural League of New York.

Markussen, Thomas 2013: The Disruptive Aesthetics of Design Activism: Enacting Design Between Art and Politics. DesignIssues 29:1.

Massumi, Brian 2009: “Of Microperception and Micropolitics. An interview with Brian Massumi, august 2008. INFLeXions no. 3. Micropolitics: Exploring Ethico-Aesthetics. October 2009.

Massumi, Brian 2002: Parables for the Virtual. Movement, Affect, Sensation. Duke University Press: Durham and London.

Rancière, Jacques [2000] 2008: The Politics of Aesthetics. Continuum: London and New York.

Rancière, Jaques [2003] 2007: The Future of the Image.Verso, London, New York

Rancière, Jacques [2004] 2010: Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics. Continuum Books: London and New York.

some old problems with post–anything (draft version)

working title: Residual cultural logic of the post-digital – or, some old problems with post–anything / Geoff Cox (Aarhus University)

According to Florian Cramer, the “post-digital” describes an approach to digital media that no longer seeks technical innovation or improvement, but considers digitization something that already happened and can be reconfigured. He explains how the term is characteristic of our time in that shifts of information technology can no longer be understood to occur synchronously – he gives examples across electronic music, book and newspaper publishing, electronic poetry, contemporary visual art, and so on. The examples demonstrate that the ruptures are neither absolute nor synchronous, but operate as asynchronous processes, occurring at different speeds and over different periods and being culturally diverse in each affected area. In the post-digital condition, terms like “old” and “new” media no longer exist as meaningful, but only as technologies of mutual stabilization and destabilization.

Despite the qualifications and examples, there seems to be something strangely nostalgic about the idea of the ‘post-digital’, bound to older ‘posts’ and the announced end of this and that. I am further reminded of Fredric Jameson’s critique of postmodernity, identifying the dangers of conceptualising the present historically in an age that seems to have forgotten about history (in The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, 1991). His claim was that the present was being colonised by ‘pastness’ displacing ‘real’ history’ (1991: 20) – evoking neoliberalism’s capture of history. The Hegelian assertion of the end of history – a history that culminates in the present – is what Francis Fukuyama famously adopted for his The End of History and the Last Man (1992) to insist on the triumph of neoliberalism over Marxist materialist economism. In Fukuyama’s conception of history, neoliberalism is now the actual reality. He is drawing upon Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit but also Alexander Kojève’s Introduction à la lecture de Hegel: Leçons sur “La Phénoménologie de l’Esprit” (1947), and his “postscript on post-history and post-historical animals” in which he argues that certain aesthetic attitudes have replaced the more traditional ‘historic’ commitment to the truth. (See Boris Groys for more on this).

This corresponds somewhat to the way that Jameson contrasts conceptions of cultural change within Modernism expressed as an interest in things ‘new’, in contrast to Postmodernism’s emphasis on ruptures, and what he calls ‘the tell-tale instant’ (like digitisation) to the point where culture and aesthetic production are effectively commodified. He takes video to be emblematic of postmodernism’s claim to be a new form but also reflects centrally on architecture because of its close links with the economy. For our purposes now, we should cite digital technology as both demonstrating aesthetic mutability as well as economic determinacy. He also points to the contradictory nature of some of postmodernism’s claims: from Lyotard’s notion of the end of grand (totalising) narratives that is itself presented in totalising form, and that any so-called distinct break from what went before or an end of history, contains residual traces from modernism itself (“shreds of older avatars” as he puts it). He concludes that postmodernism is “only a reflex and a concomitant of yet another systemic modification of capitalism itself” (1991: xii) – ‘late capitalism’ in other words (a term allegedly taken from Adorno).

Rather than support a distinct paradigm shift (post-something), Jameson argues for the use of the term ‘late-capitalism’ to counter the popular phrase that Daniel Bell called ‘postindustrial society’. This serves to reject the view that new social formations no longer obey the laws of industrial production and reiterates the importance of class relations. Here he is drawing upon the work of the economist Ernest Mandel in Late Capitalism (1978) who argued that in fact this third stage of capital was in fact capitalism in a purer form – neoliberalism with its relentlessly expanding markets and guarantee of the cheapest work-force. Can we argue something similar with post-digitality? How are lines of continuity and discontinuity registered? Is this not simply a reaffirmation of the power of digital media in residual form?

Jameson adopts Mandel’s ‘periodising hypothesis’ or ‘long wave theory’ of expanding and stagnating economic cycles, wherein expansion is in parallel to the previous period’s stagnation. Jameson describes these as: (1) market capitalism; (2) monopoly capitalism, or the stage of imperialism; (3) multinational capitalism, or what some people (misleadingly) call the post-industrial period (1991: 35). These periods expand capital’s reach and further enhance commodification and cheap labour. He then relates these economic stages directly to cultural production, as follows: (1) realism – worldview of realist art; (2) modernism – abstraction of high modernist art; and (3) postmodernism – pastiche (as distinct from parody or irony). These developments are uneven and layered, without clean breaks as such. He asserts that “all isolated or discrete cultural analysis always involves a buried or repressed theory of historical periodization” (1991: 3). And yet cultural production is resigned to making empty reference to the past in a retro-culture or nostalgia of repackaged ideas and surface images. The past is reduced to a vast database of images without referents that can endlessly reassigned for commodification and indiscriminate use.

To understand the present economic crisis, Brian Holmes does something similar in tracing cycles of capitalist growth and the slumps that punctuate them (2013). He refers to the Russian economist Nikolai Kondratiev, who identified three long waves of growth underpinned by techno-economic paradigms: “rising from 1789 to a peak around 1814, then declining until 1848; rising again to a peak around 1873, then declining until 1896; and rising once more to a peak around 1920 (followed by a sharp fall, as we know, in 1929). […Kondratiev] also observed that an especially large number of technological inventions tended to be made during the slumps, but only applied during the upsurges.” (2013, 204-5) This is what informs Joseph Schumpeter’s influential idea of how innovations revolutionize business practices – what he later calls “creative destruction” and later “disruptive innovation” by others – to demonstrate how profit can be generated from stagnated markets. Holmes explains: “Investment in technology is suspended during the crisis, while new inventions accumulate. Then, when conditions are right, available capital is sunk into the most promising innovations, and a new long wave can be launched.” (2013: 206)

Is something similar taking place with digital technology at this point in time following the dotcom hype and its collapse? Is the pastiche-driven retrograde style of much cultural production an indication of business logic that seeks to capitalize on the present crisis (given the paucity of other options)? Yet, as Holmes argues: “To understand how such crises unfold it is not enough to look at technological innovation. We will need another set of lenses, in order to focus on labour, culture, conflict, and political mediation.” (2013: 208) [after all] “Technology has as much to do with labour repression as it does with wealth and progress. This is our reality today: there is too much production, but it is unaffordable, inaccessible, and useless for those who need it most.” (208-9) This position seems to concur with the overall problem of endless growth and collapse – the reification of class divisions – where old technologies are repackaged but in ways that repress historical conditions. To repeat Jameson: cultural production is resigned to making empty reference to the past in a retro-culture or nostalgia of repackaged ideas and surface images – endlessly reassigned for commodification and indiscriminate use.

In conclusion, and following Jameson, the present phase of capitalism should be conceived like Marx did before as both the best and the worst thing that ever happened – to view it simultaneously in terms of catastrophe and progress (1991: 47). This means to inscribe the possibility of change into the very model of change offered up as unchangeable – or something similarly paradoxical (and dialectical). This is (arguably) the central purpose of cultural production and a project to which post-digital research (if we use the phrase) might be suitably deployed. Perhaps we should also remind ourselves of one of the initial sources of the concept ‘post-digital’ (as Cramer does), occurring in Kim Cascone’s essay “The Aesthetics of Failure: Post-Digital Tendencies in Contemporary Computer Music” (2000) and his follow up “The Failures of Aesthetics” (2010) in which he recognises the processes by which aesthetics are effectively repackaged for commodification and indiscriminate use.

 
References:
Kim Cascone, ‘The Aesthetics of Failure: Post-Digital Tendencies in Contemporary Computer Music’, Computer Music Journal 24.4 (Winter 2000).
Florian Cramer, “Post-digital Aesthetics” (2013), available at http://lemagazine.jeudepaume.org/2013/05/florian-cramer-post-digital-aesthetics/
Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Verso, (1991), available at http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/us/jameson.htm
Alexander Kojève, Introduction à la lecture de Hegel: Leçons sur “La Phénoménologie de l’Esprit” (Paris: Gallimard, 1947).
Brian Holmes, “Crisis Theory for Complex Societies” in Tatiana Bazzichelli and Geoff Cox, eds., Disrupting Business, Autonomedia 2013, pp. 199-225.

 

dusk to dawn: horizons of the digital/post-digital (1st draft)

By Eric Snodgrass

The viscous spread of the digital, while asynchronous (Cramer) and political in its levels of saturation, is a seeming matter of fact today. In a perhaps slightly oblique fashion, this paper would like to touch on notions of technological saturation, with a focus on two particular embedded augers of the “post-” of post-digital: namely, anamorphic death and quotidian banality.

Blue flowers
“The equipment-free aspect of reality here has become the height of artifice; the sight of immediate reality has become a blue flower in the land of technology.”
- Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproducibility

“Cybernetic microscopes and metal antidote
Two telescopes that magnify eyes of a roach
Three computers to cup of coffee planted with my hand and
Astroplanets detached turn on rear foggers
Cut the light on the kid, and turn the bright on
Supersonic waves combine and burn as brainwaves
I see the mascot of Evil he’s not Kneivel
Shakespeare’s gone don’t even think about it

Yes, as I’m going to the park, I see… Blue Flowers!
It’s raining green, by the pond Blue Flowers!
It’s totally raining green, pouring Blue Flowers!
I smell the bees and the birds Blue Flowers!
Different aspects of life, blue flowers”
- Kool Keith (aka Dr Octagon), Blue Flowers

Did Kool Keith read Benjamin? In both, scenes of a surgeon’s operating room and the interpenetration of its equipment – “planted with my hand” (Keith) – into the “tissue” (Benjamin) of its patients’ reality. The blue flower, with it’s cold, unnatural luminescence, acting as a ready stand-in for romantic longings of a future harmony between Man and Nature. In pure sunlight blue fades, hence the blue flower’s natural habitat in the threshold moment of evening and its twilit hues of what is known as “the blue hour.”

The “meagrely endowed” (Finlay) natural selection of this planet’s predominant browns and greens set underneath a sky of unsaturated blue, and its artificial supplementation in the form of the many shades of man-made artefacts, each trying to catch the eye of that second sun that is man’s visual cortex in ever more heliotropic stimulation. The blues of technology. Chroma key blue, signifier of a world predestined for post-production. The post-crash blue screen of death. The default “Bliss” wallpaper of Windows XP, one of the most widely embedded images of the digital age, with its pacifying blue-green pastoral…ah, the supreme flattery of Graphical User Interfaces and this particularly memorable “topography of pure departure” (Harpold). A fig leaf of an image.

Bliss
(‘Bliss’ – Windows XP default wallpaper)

Tech logo blue. IBM deep blue. Facebook blue. The chirpy, social pastel of Twitter blue and the vaguely translucent gradients of iOS 7 blue. Blue, blinking Bluetooth, blue. The comically widespread saturation of a blue/orange chromatic pairing in digitally produced movie posters, complementary cold and hot colours that are able to “pop” amidst their surroundings while studiously avoiding the stronger cultural associations of other colours (Barackman). So many blue avatars of the digital, flowering all around, each striving to stand out and yet still fit in at the same time. Saturated glow of the digital and its attention economy, ethereal stimulant and banal sedative, blue pill.

Death becomes them
As a preformative affix that will lay waste to its stem, the prefix of post- can be seen as signifying a recognition (and even premediation) of collapse. A kind of “anterior posteriority” (before-afterness) such as Ray Brassier describes in his writing on the “truth of extinction.” While there may be many possible post- conditions, each with its own colour scheme, this familiar face of death can still be relied on to show its true colours. For Brassier, the truth of extinction can be seen to annul binaries such as mind and world, Man and Nature. Perhaps the post- of the post-digital is partly intended to mark out another site of “so many ontological cave-ins,” similar to that which Rosalind Krauss (“Reinventing the Medium”) speaks of in relation to photography’s saturation into mainstream, everyday ubiquity. At the site of such cave-ins: collapsed hierarchies, binary annulments, ontological levellings. What, in the end, is it that we are so intently tracking today in all the lovely gadgets of the quantified self. “Listen to your heartbeat, delete beep beep BEEP” (Keith).

Speaking on Benjamin’s notion of the “outmoded” object, Krauss describes that particular moment of temporal limbo for a medium in which it takes on a status as outdated but not quite fossilised into what Hertz & Parikka call the “archaeological phase” of a product’s lifecycle. Krauss christens this in-between phase “the twilight zone of obsolescence.” In such a zone the outmoded object may be seen to cast what Benjamin describes as the “profane illumination” of its own afterglow, radiating a critical light through its previously mythic status amongst its users and also out at these same perpetrators of its killing. A rediscovering, even if only for a moment, of its “true gravity” (Benjamin) outside a “totality of technologized space” (Krauss). Death becomes the medium, technology, object.

(Takeshi Murata, video for Oneohtrix Point Never’s “Problem Areas”)

The forward momentum in post-digital seems aimed at getting on with things. The point in temporarily dwelling on a situation such is this is simply that it might prove conducive for tracing the contours of any particular condition of post-. “Blue hours,” such as those that Benjamin and Krauss outline, hint at a moment of heightened atmospherics in which mediation itself can be said to subtly throb, flexing the curvature of its horizon in a just noticeable fashion. At such moments, in such a zone, the second nature of the technological unconscious that Benjamin (“The Work of Art…” & “Little History of Photography”) speaks of, might provide uncanny or unusually unique modes for perceiving the technology in question, before eventually subsiding as residue into the general atmospherics of mediation, inevitably playing a role, small or large, in the various ecologies that designate visibility, mass, time, space, velocity, value.

Scenes such as those of Benjamin and Krauss suggest an aspect of something that was always there, awaiting its release. A capacity of rebirth that death, in various guises, acts as ground for. Lest we forget, in the decade leading up to the post- of the post-digital, we were inundated as never before with fantasies of the post-apocalypse and its central figure of the undead. Alongside popular culture, we have similarly been abuzz in media theory with discussions of the visible and invisible. This saturated sense of the dormant, subliminal, repressed, anamorphic.

In their essay “Stretched Skulls: Anamorphic Games and the memento mortem mortis,” Stephanie Boluk and Patrick LeMieux discuss the qualities of anamorphism as it has been explored in classic perspectival images of the Western tradition, and how recent trends in the computational realm of digital space can be seen to be extending the nonhuman dimension that the anamorphic hints at into further horizons of speculation. The crux of their proposal is as follows:

“this essay treats anamorphosis as the rule governing vision rather than the exception to “normal” sight. We argue that there is no central, authoritative, or natural way of seeing despite the way optical technologies simulate the effects of light on the human eye. Even after the centuries-long construction of the modern viewing subject, the most naturalistic representational technologies still suppress a strange supplement. Whether one is examining early painting or traversing the polygonal environments of a virtual world, an anamorphic remainder looms in the interstices between technics, optics, and human perception.”

In addition to the popular and media theoretical contemporary contexts mentioned above, this anamorphic remainder might be said to loom particularly large at the very moment when the mimetic capacities of the computer graphics industry are attaining levels of visual fidelity that are “converging at the limits of our biological systems” (John Carmack of id Software and now Oculus Rift fame, cited in Boluk & LeMieux). Another potential threshold moment then in which we see a corresponding post- response to, in the form of a  a noticeable blip of anamorphic game design (see, for instance, LeMieux’s own procedural workouts, such as 99 Exercises in Play and Helen Keller Simulator). In this case, the mathematical technique of perspectival rendering, with its “long history of perceptual conditioning” (Boluk & LeMieux), may well be “decoded” and potentially unravelled through still further renderings of mathematics. One more expression of the death wish that is inscribed within mimetics of all kinds, digitisation being a prime example. Baudrillard (p.25): “If the universe is what does not have a double, since nothing exists outside it, then the mere attempt to make such a point exist is tantamount to a desire to put an end to it.”

(Alan Sondheim, WTC)

The anamorphic image forecloses the possibility of a resolved image for its anthropocentric audience. In discussing the proprioceptive sensations of unease at play in the confict between optic and haptic space within the digital, Boluk & LeMieux invoke Mark B. N. Hansen’s (p.198–9, cited in Boluk & Lemieux) discussion of the incommensurable, weird topology of the “digital any-space-whatever”: “you feel the space around you begin to ripple, to bubble, to infold… and you notice an odd tensing in your gut, as if your viscera were itself trying to adjust to this warped space.” A potentially unsettling, physiognomic double take that occurs in such artificial flowerings of awry indexical mediations, the technology experienced as a second nature that returns and confronts the gaze with the primacy of its own uncanny contortion act (Miriam Hansen, p.189-90).

From here to banality
“Now that we’re in that future, of course, plastics are no big deal. Is digital destined for the same banality? Certainly. Its literal form, the technology, is already beginning to be taken for granted, and its connotation will become tomorrow’s commercial and cultural compost for new ideas. Like air and drinking water…”
- Nicholas Negroponte, Beyond Digital

“No one really dreams any longer of the Blue Flower. Whoever awakes as Heinrich von Ofterdingen today must have overslept. […] No longer does the dream reveal a blue horizon. The dream has grown gray. The gray coating of dust on this is its best part. Dreams are now a shortcut to banality.”
- Walter Benjamin, Dream Kitsch – Gloss on Surrealism

From dusk to dawn. The sun also rises. In their outline of a practice of zombie media, Hertz and Parikka have already provided one example of a post-digital blueprint for an ethico-aesthetic DIY practice that is able to respond to the embedded post- of planned obsolescence, with its environmental saturation of obsolete technologies whose relative material permanence endows them with an extended afterlife in which they may be rediscovered, recycled, remixed and reinterpreted. A shift in focus then from the illuminating qualities of immanent or recently occurred death, to that of the never-really-dead “untimeliness” of “media undead” (Wolfgang Ernst, cited in Hertz & Parikka). A media archaeological manoeuvre that kicks up the dust-to-dust material permanence and permeation of technology and its ash heap of digital rubbish.

For Hertz & Parikka, a practice of zombie media (such as they see in the circuit bending movement) may involve “customized, trashy and folksy methodologies” that go against the grain of the still dominant “glossy, high-tech ‘Californian Ideology.’” In his writing on surrealism and kitsch, Benjamin highlights how the Surrealists, in their crosshatching of the dream world with the objects, furnishings and “cheap maxims” of the everyday, “are less on the trail of the psyche than on the trade of things.” At the pinnacle of such a practice, “the topmost face on the totem pole is that of kitsch. It is the last mask of the banal, the one with which we adorn ourselves, in dream and conversation, so as to take in the energies of an outlived world of things.”

In the face of its own unsettling anamorphic alterity and death drive, the digital has shown an impulsive readiness to latch onto the banal. Instagram unleashes the social practices of digital photography with a few simple visual filters that aestheticise the temporal in a technique of “fauxstaglia” (Memmott) that masks the too obvious qualities of the selfie in sufficiently profane illumination. At the same time, online meme ecologies act as conductors of a craving for a replicable, utilitarian vernacular of rough and ready image macros that can serve as express circuits to banality.

histology
(Talan Memmott, submission to the online course Banality Based Banality)

“Banality is the new uncanny. Objects are possessed with a degree of understanding from the virtual now. The banality of the object is what returns its aura, because the object cannot do fantastical things, an orange cannot talk to you, a piece of cheese cannot suddenly project itself into outerspace…”
- Talan Memmott, in conversation

The very banality of the digital returns a sense of the real. Under such a condition of what media artist and theorist Talan Memmott is knowingly referring to as “banality-based-banality,” the emphasis is no longer on startling juxtapositions of everyday objects such as the surrealists were after, but rather in the increasingly natural, i.e. banal, overlap of what was previously felt as unnatural. In a post-digital ecology, does the “blue spill” of a poorly composited blue screen image matter anymore? The one ecology readily overlaps on the other. And overlaps, and overlaps. Does a post-digital practice respond in any way to and/or enact an interpassive acceptance of so-called invasive technification as a ubiquitous banal given? Is it a moving on from and/or moving away from its infinitely scrollable terms of reference that were apparently already signed off on long ago? Is a post-digital aesthetic BFFs with the New Aesthetic? Does it produce works for dissemination in this particular wing of the Tumblrverse, is it critically and artistically excited by the potentially anamorphic gaze that is machine vision? The drone and its use as both weapon and camera for music videos or Sunday picnic fun. The soon to be ubiquitous 3D printed “blobject.” Each on display and primed for capture by a super-duper smartphone, a Google “glasshole,” your enthusiastic/bored/enthusiastically-bored self. Is the post-digital hung and hung up on such displays?

As a result of its own equally strong levelling power, in which all things are fair game (“ask me anything”), banality can be said to establish a certain democratic plateau for the internet “junk” that it gleefully recycles. With its kitsch-like focus on furnishings and proliferation, the banal can be seen to travel an inverse trajectory to that of the dismantling power of death and the anamorphic. At the same time though the banal retains its own power to cut through, to interpenetrate such layers of existence and extinction. The still paroxysmal primacy of laughter that a meme unearths. Krauss’s own resharing of a well-worn passage by Roland Barthes, his reflection on the compelling kitsch of the photonovel and its “anecdotalized images”: “but I myself experience this slight trauma of significance faced with certain photonovels: ‘their stupidity touches me.’”

At each turn, in searching for this conceit of post-digital, there seem to be examples to hand that can easily confound the attempt to grasp it. Is it in the end a conceptual blue flower? Indeed, can something as nebulous as “the digital” even really be treated in a remotely similar manner to an object or a medium? Do its material relations make it meaningful to discuss as any kind of concrete entity? Can it really become obsolete or post-? Is it closer to the domain of aesthetics? For Lev Manovich, the ground of a “post-medium aesthetics” is broken with the outgrowth of hybrid, intermediated, uncategorisable artistic forms of practice (around the mid-20th century onwards), that “threaten the centuries-old typology of mediums” with arbitrary combinations of previously distinct disciplinary materials and art objects, which in part pave the way for a post-medium condition that the rise of software cements. This fissiparous nature of the post-medium is echoed in Florian Cramers’s outlining of a “post-digital condition,” in which “‘old’ and ‘new’ media no longer exist as meaningful terms, but only as technologies of mutual stabilization and destabilization”

Amidst this haze of “fuzzy” (Cramer) concepts, perhaps the ostensible limit-condition or levelling qualities of anamorphism and banality can be of some use in dealing with the very recursive, mise-en-abyme quality of the digital. Of particular note, one might want to consider what happens when the anamorphic and the banal overlap and even pair together in strange technological assemblages that can in some cases prove to be aesthetically compelling and at other times politically devastating (e.g. “the banality of evil”). The writings of Jorge Luis Borges have commonly been held up as textual precursors of a certain aspect of the digital condition, and if much of the force of Borges’ ficciones is in their imparting of an immanent, calm yet vertiginous sense of banal anamorphism/anamorphic banality, then perhaps in examining contemporary examples of such pairings, one can begin to consider in what ways they still hold sway and where they might be sliding into a form of obsolescence. And in doing so, perhaps at least occasionally attempt to further speculate on any potential horizons, vanishing points or false dawns of the post-digital proposal.

//end of draft. This was all new material for me, but it is proving helpful in further developing the (still underdeveloped!) concept of “in-sensensitive media” that I am exploring in my dissertation, with its focus on how “sensitive” media experiences are often complicit with the “insensitive” mechanisms that underwrite them, and the resultant undulatory sensitivities that arise out of such shadings of a clear sensitive/insensitive divide. The plan for this paper is to finish it by taking a closer look at one or two examples of this anamorphism-banality pairing.

Works cited
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- “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility: Second Version”
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Boluk, Stephanie & LeMieux, Patrick. “Stretched Skulls: Anamorphic Games and the memento mortem mortis.” Digital Humanities Quarterly, Vol. 6, No. 2 (2012). <http://www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/6/2/000122/000122.html>

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Hansen, Miriam. “The Blue Flower in the Land of Technology,” New German Critique, No. 40, Special Issue on Weimar Film Theory (1987): 179-224.

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Hertz, Garnet & Parikka, Jussi. “Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method,” Leonardo, Vol. 45, No. 5, (2012): 424–430.

Keith, Kool (Dr. Octagon). “Blue Flowers.” Song lyrics. <http://rapgenius.com/Dr-octagon-blue-flowers-lyrics>

Krauss, Rosalind E. “Reinventing the Medium,” Critical Inquiry, Vol. 25, No. 2, “Angelus Novus”: Perspectives on Walter Benjamin (1999): 289-305.

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