Hi DHers! We’re excited to share our progress with you thus far on the MAL Virtual tour. Follow the links below to investigate the various aspects of this collaborative project:
Check out a beta-version of the tour produced with professional software: https://sky.easypano.com/virtual-tour/Tour-36981.html
Examine our process in the making with MIT’s “Build-in-Project” site, which we’ve used to document the project’s successes and failures. This blog will continue to be updated as the project progresses next semester: http://buildinprogress.media.mit.edu/projects/2948/steps
a pixelated garment made with vegetable tanned leather by Whitney Bai: http://whitneyyubai.com/
When I was reading Matt Ratto this week I couldn’t shake the feeling that I knew the name from somewhere. Was it some reading we had done earlier, a name mentioned in passing perhaps? No. I had come across the name while I was researching Brian Kane a few weeks ago before his guest lecture.
In my research I came across his and Catherine Andreozzi project where students made wearable technology with “an emotional appeal.” Maybe I’m just not getting the project, but I didn’t feel anything from the photos. The photos themselves lent themselves more to a high art crowd that it is completely devoid of human interaction or appeal–– it is intentionally trying to make itself sterile. For something that is supposed to connect both technology and humans, I found it to be a less than successful attempt, though the concept was an intriguing one.
More than that, Kane was in a publication created by Garnet Hertz all about Critical Making (with a sticker contribution in the back). However, this piece seems to be much more about Critical Design in the form it is presented to us than Making in that the purpose seems to be more about the creation of a narrative between critics than it is about bringing about change. I liked this definition by Tony Dunne:
“Critical design is related to haute couture, concept cars, design propaganda, and visions of the future, but its purpose is not to present the dreams of industry, attract new business, anticipate new trends or test the market. Its purpose is to stimulate discussion and debate amongst designers, industry and the public about the aesthetic quality of our electronically mediated existence.”
The artist is the Maker, of course, but when all we get is this photo presentation on a website, all I can think is that the ultimate goal was CD and not CM, because there is no discussion of the making, all we get is the finished product.
Dunne, A, & Raby, F. “Design Noir: The Secret Life of Electronic Objects.” Birkhäuser Basel, 2001.
Reading about lab space, I’m struck by what it means to embrace feminism in digital, humanites, and media work. For instance, in Jentery Sayers’s blogpost “The MLab: An Infrastructural Disposition,” he discusses “how the development and maintenance of humanities labs must be informed by precedent, anchored in relations (e.g., with existing models), and understood as cultural practices,” which he posits as the reasons deciding to “share the MLab’s inventory in spreadsheet form to communicate aspects of our physical computing and fabrication research.” The emphasis here on relations and sharing evoke a feminist work ethic that is often neglected in more traditional humanities studies where a scholar writes alone and then tries to share work in the most prestigious (and, consequently, often fiscally and institutionally restrictive) publication.
Moreover, Sayers’s description of the MLab as a lounge continues to highlight a feminist emphasis on openness through sharing: “lending library […] Notes are added. Dialogue emerges in the margins […] several tackboards to share announcements, ideas, and work in progress.” Sayers is stressing the importance of open communication but also of space, which are concepts I keep coming across in my own work.
I work as a research assistant for the Stainforth Library for Women Writers Project, and we recently had a few days of meetings where almost the entire team sat in a conference room for hours talking, working, and thinking. The result was that everyone learned something new about the project, we had a breakthrough about one of the more puzzling aspects of the manuscript, and we all gained a better understanding of how to get the project to the next level. Although the team communicates regularly via email, being in the same physical space offered us a certain productive energy that we don’t otherwise tap into.
On a similar note, I recently conducted an interview with Gabriel Wolfenstein of the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA) at Stanford. When I asked him about how CESTA’s lab space has been conceptualized, he said that, “the conceptual space here is as horizontal as possible” and that, “The layout of the lab is meant to encourage that.” Wolfenstein, like Sayers, also emphasizes the significance of open space for open ideas.
In class discussions, we’ve questioned the importance and relevance of lab space for (digital) humanities work, asking “do we really need a designated space for work that we can just as easily do at home or our favorite coffee house?” After the readings for this week, my answer is yes. I think lab space has tremendous potential for a feminist way of doing DH work with its opportunities for open communications and the sharing of ideas.
When trying to develop a topic for this week and articulate it properly, I had trouble finding a way to distill my thoughts but ultimately it all comes down to one word: yes. Yes, is the appropriate response for several reasons, and not just because I agree with the majority of the authors but because the implementation of new approaches to thinking through media is so vital to continuing (or rather re-starting) the critical thinking process in the academy. As Ernst states (when brilliantly interviewed by Dr. Emerson), any questions of “teaching of media can not be reduced to lectures and texts only. However complicated the definition of “media” might be, as technological media (the focus of the “Berlin school”) they really exist(ed) and need to be experienced in performative ways” (Archives, Materiality and the “Agency of the Machine”). Media is an object, an experience, a thing (das thing in the Heideggerian sense), that both exists and does not exist for us to interact with. So to this call of sensory interaction I answer: yes.
Further interaction and experience can be conducted in a variety of ways from building or making, to archiving and reading, to assembling and observing old media. Which way is the correct way? Yes. All of these approaches have their merits as witnessed through this week’s readings and throughout the terms. Ernst provides an example through the MAF of the latter experience whereby in laboratory “it required an assembly of past media objects which teachers and students are allowed to operate with and to touch upon – a limit for curators and visitors in most museums of technology” (Archives, Materiality and the “Agency of the Machine”). The value of this approach is in the concept of media archaeology, as “the bias of MAF based teaching is to train students to resist the nostalgic or even melancholic impulse which is normally associated with so-called “dead media”, and to discover the retro-futuristic element instead” (Archives, Materiality and the “Agency of the Machine”). Ersnt argues that this is witnessed through a non-linear relationship between “past and present media technologies” whereby one technology does not simply derive from another but rather there is developmental, recursive tension between them. This circular or networked structure is similar to one we’ve heard all semester, as illustrated through Pickering’s concept of the mangle of practice where the constant tensions of the machine and the human develop each other continually and through Latour and Woolgar’s argument that the social and science drive forward the progress of technology. This productive dichotomy which ultimately creates an altered future reality is perhaps at the essential of media archaeology, which examines the paths that technology could have taken and the future and potentials it holds. In order to understand the potentials, the user must first understand the machine and its implications thus learning about not only its technological design but also its social, political and economic effects.
“The slightly different philosophy of the MAF is that it does not claim to offer unique artefactual collections but rather wants to train and enforce media research (historical and theoretical) which is not reduced to texts but tested against the material evidence,” therefore offering a different approach than centers that focus solely on archival purposes. One center that offers a hybrid of these two approaches in the Digital Humanities Laboratory at the École Polytechnique Fédéralé de Lausanne which studies projects ranging from “from reconstruction ancient cities to studying how algorithms transforms the way we write” (Digital Humanities Laboratory DHLAB). They list the
following as areas of study/groups: Massive Digitization and Long Term Data Preservation, Automatic Transcription and Data Analysis, Knowledge Systems, Historical Geographical Information Systems, Text Mining and Linguistic Computing, Network Analytics, Geometrical Pattern Discovery, Reading and Writing Technologies, Interface and Data Design. Pickering discusses the multiplicity of scientific culture; Ersnt discusses the need for interactivity; Sayers reiterates the requirement of re-framing technology as central component of development rather than the tool. I think that the groups aforementioned exemplify this multiplicity as they not only exhibit the material agency and analysis but the reflection on the instrumentation, and the cultural and social phenomenon around which these projects developed in relation to other DH fields. Some of the groups such as Text Mining and Linguistic Computing offer a more traditional approach, but other groups such as interface and data design and writing technologies support projects that support technology as the object being studied. This is important as Matt Ratto illustrates the problems with materiality and understanding as “our lack of sensitivity to issues of digital rights may be due to our ignorance of our own legal rights and thus our ignorance of how these rights are being technically constrained. However true this might be, our sense is that this issue is related to a deeper disconnect between conceptual understandings of technological objects and our material experiences with them” (253). Again the answer here is yes.
One of the Digital Humanities Lab’s projects and recent publications examined the technology that Google uses to parse linguistic expressions. “This article argues that linguistic capitalism implies not an economy of attention but an economy of expression” (Reading and Writing Technologies). This type of scholarship that examines the technology critically is important, especially since the authors do so not only by observation but through experimentation. Other projects that this group is currently working on includes a “simulation-humaine” or human simulation algorithm that explores narrative building through predictive models (Reading and Writing Technologies). This type of analysis, not purely big data, not purely making, is a hybrid that embodies Ratto’s concepts he proposes with his flwr experiment whereby “instead, through the sharing of results and an ongoing critical analysis of materials, designs, constraints, and outcomes, participants in critical making exercises together perform a practice-based engagement with pragmatic and theoretical issues” (253). As Latour states (quoted by Ratto) “when things are taken has having been well or badly designed then they no longer appear as matters of fact. So as their appearance as matters of fact weakens, their place among the many matters of concern that are at issue is strengthened” (259); therefore ideas and facts around linguistic patterns, computer design, AI, writing technologies, human-computer interaction and linguistic prediction are addressed in this project.
However, what the lab does not have is making in the sense that Sayers imagine it. “Papert emphasizes the use of transitional objects—gears, computers, other physical objects—as a way of connecting the sensorimotor “body knowledge” of a learner to more abstract understandings. Here, he emphasizes that these objects do not just serve to “illustrate” concepts but act as means for projecting oneself into an abstraction” (Ratto 254). Sayers describes the Makers Lab at the University of Victoria in very physical, simplistic terms, wherein students create objects out of kits and circuits that integrate fabric and electronic for example. But is “making” that different from the work at École Polytechnique Fédéralé de Lausanne? “Making electronic music by hand frequently advocates working backwards (or reverse engineering), documenting what works and what doesn’t, and bending electronics toward new expressions. In materials, you also find many self-aware (and often humorous) tutorials, which suggest that technical education need not be bland or decontextualized in its didacticism. It can self-reflexively represent the culture from which it emerges, avoiding both technological instrumentalism and determinism in the process” (Sayers “Make, Not Brand”). Does the human simulation project not fulfill these perimeters? Perhaps it is in the conceptualization of the project and approach rather than the actual act of doing itself that determines whether this shift in understanding occurs. For Sayers and I would argue many of the theorists we’ve read this term, “the key, then, is framing a technology as something that’s central to making art and culture, rather than subordinating it tool-like to a means of mechanical or digital reproduction.” (“Make, Not Brand”)
29 November 2015
Means and Ends: Digital Humanities and the Technopolitics of Critical Making in Media Studies
“Media in its various layers embodies memory: not only human memory, but also the memory of things, of objects, of chemicals and of circuits.”
– Hertz and Parikka (425)
I apologize in advance for any inadvertent overlap between our postings this week; admittedly, I haven’t had the chance to read all of yours prior to this. I do, however, echo Laurel’s point about our class readings and discussions coming full circle (or full circuit, as it were).
‘Thinking outside the [black] box’:
Hertz’s point about the remediation of technology amidst the capitalist, consumer-driven (and, to a large extent, marketing-driven) dependency on planned obsolescence is a sobering reminder of the ‘planned acquiescence’ of, to borrow from Deleuze, “societies of control.” Particularly when read in tandem with Dr. Emerson’s interview with Wolfgang Ernst. Yet, I found Hertz’s efforts to distinguish between “media archaeology” and “art methodology” somewhat abstruse (425). To wit: how, specifically, do the two practices/methodologies differ in relation to, what Hertz terms, “the political economy of information technology”? (425) (i.e. collecting and archiving vs. making and tinkering?). Is the criterion (for Hertz) the reappropriation of technological artifacts for uses other than their original intention? Furthermore, how significant is this distinction, given that whether a thing ‘stops’ working or is used for other purposes than originally designed, it is removed from its sociocultural context and thereby a potential site of political resistance to the trajectory toward “mainstream obsolescence”? (428: fig. 5).
Q: Despite all efforts to the contrary, yesterday’s avant-garde is today’s garde-arrière: do we still find ourselves somehow tethered to the ‘old’/ ‘new’ dichotomy?
Wolfgang Ernst’s concept of “media potentiality” is intriguing, however, I struggled to grasp his notion of the “retro-avant-garde” (perhaps I’m too hung up on Bürger’s definition of the term). Regardless, his notions of inertia and entropy are thought-provoking: namely, that media doesn’t die: instead, it simply becomes remediated such that, the materiality, or ‘shelf-life’ of media artifacts, naturally undergoes an ineluctable process of ‘ware’ and tear, so to speak. I am also curious as to how he would describe the organizational layout of the MAF (i.e. if not chronological, as in a museum, diachronic or synchronic?)
I admire Matt Ratto’s approach to “critical making” insofar as it attempts to make the shift from means and ends to means as ends: e.g. “the process of making is as important as the results” (254). Drawing on such heavy-hitting pedagogical theorists as Dewey, Vygotsky, and Piaget, Ratto privileges “constructionalism” over “constructivism,” and, I think, offers a convincing trial-and-error case study to distinguish between the two interrelated concepts (254). The ‘failure’ of his “bristlebot” experiment and the ‘success’ of his Flwr Pwr exercise suggest that we– as users, makers, and co-creators– become emotionally (i.e. affectively) invested in technological processes of design, manipulation, and creation. Ratto’s incisive correlation between “caring for” and “caring about” our evolving relationship with technology and Latour’s dichotomous “matters-of-fact”/ “matters-of-concern” resonates with my own (albeit nascent) perspectives on issues of technological preservation, reinvention, and sustainability (259). Yet, I wonder if Ratto offers a viable solution to the seemingly irreconcilable aporia between Snow’s “two cultures.” Far be it from me to admit, but perhaps it’s time to begin thinking beyond dialectics and, instead, work toward redefining the limitations that continually plague the humanities (digital and otherwise). In other words, I would like to know more about the role of critique in Ratto’s version of “critical making.”
In closing, for me, it seems that the goal of the digital humanities is (at least in part) to amend Pound’s Modernist mantra from “make it new” simply to: “make it.” Throughout the semester I’ve been noticing the convergences between “thing theory”/ O.O.O. and our class’s discussions of media, objects, and agency, and see substantial potential for future research and criticism devoted specifically to treating media/technological artifacts as ‘things’ (as opposed to ‘objects’). While Yeats may have been right when he claimed: “things fall apart,” however, according to Hertz, Ernst, and Ratto, this doesn’t necessarily entail their final demise. Instead, technology and media are ripe to be resurrected, reanimated, and/or resuscitated into new objects of (and for) reinvention, innovation, research, and critical inquiry.
Emerson, Lori. “Archives, Materiality and the ‘Agency of the Machine”: An Interview With Wolfgang Ernst.” Library of Congress. Web. 29 Nov 2015.
Hertz, Garnet and Jussi Parikka. “Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method.” Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012. Web. ProjectMuse. 29 Nov 2015.
Ratto, Matt. “Critical Making: Conceptual and Material Studies in Technology and Social Life.”
The Information Society: An International Journal, 27:4. London: Routledge, 2011. Web.
28 Nov 2015.
 “Postscript on Societies of Control.” October, 59 (Winter 1992). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. JSTOR. Web.
 Something akin to what Bill Brown refers to elsewhere as an object’s “misuse value”– (“The Secret Life of Things: Virginia Woolf and the Manner of Modernism.” Modernism/Modernity 6.2 (1999). Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins UP. ProjectMuse. Web.)
 “The Second Coming” The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats (1989)
The various spaces of labs carry with them various implications and capabilities. In this regard, I’m mainly focusing on how “making” takes place based on the material and online infrastructures and interfaces of a DH lab. This train of thought was prompted by work like Jentery Sayers who articulates in his articles how the physical interactions in his labs lead to better material inquiries into older technologies. This made me think about the progression of our own class, along with the what we have been reading, and the implications or capacities of each lab space.
In the beginning of class, we spoke about humanities computing, and the digitizing of literature. I’ll preface that my interest in this online, or “non-physical” space of the “immaterial” lab is not to take away from the material assemblages that make computers, the internet and online communication possible. Instead I’m using the term “non-physical” superficially to think through the differences or similarities between computing as digitizing laboratory work versus makerspaces engaging with material technology objects. This is also not to ignore how these labs spaces can become hybrid spaces of material pursuit and online colloboration with members discussing projects in person or over platforms like Skype. Instead this is to acknowledge how some labs may have less physical interactions or material goals when digitizing, scanning, visualizing or representing data. This type of DH work can take place through non-physical collaborative spaces, and in some of the DH labs present today, still do. For the CATH lab, Professor Radcliffe explained that the CATH lab was a collective of collaborators, and not necessarily a space where people met. This type of non-physical lab can allow for various collaborations over the vast space of the internet (over cables and through servers!), while also taking place in non-lab spaces. Communication is digital, but it is not necessarily restricted by proximity. This space was expanded through the making of digital DH work and expanded through the use of technology. This expansion was not only about digital collection and interpretation, but also about creating digital work.
From this image of the lab space, we then learned about the makerspace and the media archaeology lab. In these “physical” spaces the material object of technology became a prime source of inquiry. These lab spaces allow for experiential learning as the material object becomes a new space for scholarly research. I was very fascinated by Sayer’s article “The Relevance of Remaking”, and all of the matters that Sayers attends to. I felt that Sayer gave more insight into the Parikka and Ernst readings from previous weeks. Those readings at first appeared to be about dissecting the material from the human in order to remove the material history from its cultural position. Sayer’s article shows that material research can be about “what isn’t at hand, or what we don’t know, or what we’re willing to conjecture. In this sense it borrows heavily from traditions in cultural criticism.” In this sense, research becomes imaginative, reconstructive, and somewhat immaterial. These questions raised by Sayers seemed to have very fascinating results. Here, Sayers details how processes or interfaces with “’dead’ or ‘obsolete’ technology in the MLab […] assert themselves.” In this example, Sayers and his team can “reframe normative histories of science, engineering, and technology that typically privilege the perspective of the lone white male inventor.” From Sayer’s article, I see how investigating material objects can situate technology in a wider historical narrative. In these examples, the makerspace appears to be a physical space for testing and handling cultural critiques and analysis in some very interesting avenues with critique informing material processes.
In Sayer’s work, this cultural handling is enacted through a community of collaborators who want to test both the technology and the user interfaces. This had echoes to Matt Ratto’s “Critical Making: Conceptual and Material Studies in Technology and Social Life”, because the makerspace seems to resist on some levels essentializing and removing the relationship of technology and culture. Instead, it is work that engages both the material and the community in order to dissect how the two interact in processes: “in its focus on the constructive process as the site for analysis.” In Professor Emerson’s interview with Wolfgang Ernst, Ernst appears to paint this also as a work of re-configuring or “re-assembl[ing]” in order to excavate: “Taking machinic elements apart in order to try to reanimate their function is a way of media analysis in the strict sense: not restricted to textual interpretation but to diagramatic reading of circuit plans and material hermeneutics (media-archaeological philology).” This requires a re-working or resisting of the perceived dualism between human and technology, and instead encourages a type of collaboration with materiality in order to try and rediscover functionality in a physical space.
With all of these considerations, it appears that many lab spaces are trying to resist dominant functions of technology as a hidden process of output and efficiency. Working with “obsolete” or “dead” technology is re-envisioning history and various interfaces. Working with technology is acquainting researchers with the material spaces where technology and humans collaborate towards various goals. In some ways, provides further ways to see how there really are no “non-physical” labs, but I make this tenuous distinction to explore the various facets of the different types of work. The lab that I’ll be focusing on for the class discussion is a lab that focuses on digitizing work. The lab, the Digital Innovation Lab at UNC at Chapel Hill works on mapping projects, visual tours, and recovering narratives in history. I hope that in tomorrow’s discussion we can use this lab, along with Sayers’s labs and all of the other labs we’ve delved into in order to discuss the capabilities, differences, similarities, and implications of the varying material and digital work in DH labs.
Ernst, Wolfgang, interview by Lori Emerson. 2013. Archives, Materiality and the “Agency of the Machine”: An Interview with Wolfgang Ernst (February 8). Accessed November 28, 2015. http://blogs.loc.gov/digitalpreservation/2013/02/archives-materiality-and-agency-of-the-machine-an-interview-with-wolfgang-ernst/.
Hertz, Garnet and Jussi Parikka. “Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method.” Leonardo 45.5 (2012): 424-30. Print.
Ratto, Matt. “Critical Making: Conceptual and Material Studies in Technology and Social Life.” The Information Society: An International Journal 27.4 (2011): 252-60. Print.
Naturally, I find myself gravitating towards Hertz and Parikka’s article, “Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method.” Having presented on Parikka’s “Media Theory and New Materialism” several weeks ago, it’s interesting to see the shape Parikka’s opinions take a year later. Generally speaking, the content of “Zombie Media” is something I grapple with fairly often, particularly this idea of purchasing technological products with the knowledge that they will become obsolete. When I try to take account of how many phones, laptops, etc. that I’ve personally owned and where they might be now, the shameful truth is that I have no clue what became of my consumption.
I was already aware of “the concept of planned obsolescence first put forward by Bernard London in 1923, as a proposed solution to the Great Depression” (425). I learned of this concept in a women gender studies class after we began to map the formation of cultural norms for women, such as shaving legs and underarms, all of which related back to this consumption plan meant to pull the U.S. out of the financial hole, so to speak. Planned obsolescence is specifically a consumer capitalist issue, one that is destroying our planet, but Hertz and Parikka tell us that, “The political economy of consumer capitalism is a media archaeological problem as well” (427).
When Hertz and Parikka state, “In other words, technological objects are designed as a “black box”—not engineered to be fixable and with no user-serviceable parts inside” (426), Macintosh products (closed systems) come to mind specifically. When I encounter service errors with my MacBook or iPhone, I must go to the source (i.e. the company) to fix them. Additionally, it is becoming more and more commonplace for those of my generation to lack any sort of programming ability; so even at micro levels, users struggle with customizing, building, or understanding the hardware they interact with every single day:
“The inner workings of consumer electronics and information technologies are increasingly concealed as a result of the development of newer generations of technologies, a feature that is characteristic of recent decades of technological culture” (427).
Hertz and Parikka take a closer look at contemporary electro-movement techniques, such as “circuit bending,” which essentially recycles and repurposes old technologies, “…it can be connected to tinkering as a methodology of media archaeological art…circuit bending is a way of operating that reminds us that users consistently reappropriate, customize and manipulate consumer products in unexpected ways, even when the inner workings of devices are intentionally engineered as an expert territory” (426).
Despite my focus on the environmental impact of technological consumption, it is important to note Hertz and Parikka emphasize that media archaeology is “not always connecting such ideas to poetical economy or ecology” rather, the primary focus is on “…the nature of temporality in contemporary electronic digital culture…The circuit, not the past, is where media archaeology starts if we want to develop a more concrete design-oriented version of how we can think about recycling and remediation as art methods” (427).
This is where I begin to see ties between “Zombie Media” and Parikka’s “Media Theory and New Materialism,” both articles pointedly depoliticizing media and materialism, choosing to “go inside a device” rather than “back in time to media history” (427). Again, we go into the function of a device and remove the emphasis of the assumed user. I can follow Hertz and Parikka through this, albeit with a bad taste in my mouth. As Parikka defends in “Media Theory,” “In the wake of the Kittler-effect, media archeology becomes a way to investigate not only histories of technological processes but also the current “archeology” of what happens inside the machine” (86).
Addressing data, I feel, is useful, and Parikka certainly makes a great argument for this, but his theoretical approach and method problematically erase the user of such devices. Is it not also worth viewing user data? As we saw in Erin A.’s presentation, we know that class effects ones ability to use and access basic technology. Race and gender likewise influence this. To me, this proposed approach works from an assumed “we,” othering individuals that cannot participate in this conversation. More than anything, I am curious as to why Parikka seeks to separate analysis of the user from analysis of the device, as if the device transcends its human creator or ecological consequences. Because of this, I’m not sure what to make of Hertz and Parikka’s statements on information technology “traversing political economy and natural ecology” or how technical media “taps into the temporalities of nature—thousands of years of non-linear and non-human history” (429).
My personal view is that this article makes many contradictory statements regarding media archaeology, and I’m not sure what to take away here. Just as science detrimentally seeks to exclude cultural theory, I feel that there is a danger to pretending that we may separate the device from the creator/user of the device for analysis or that we may eliminate responsibility from art methods.
While reading “Zombie Media,” performance and installation artist Mary Mattingly, who meticulously catalogues her consumption in an online archive and has created giant sculptures composed entirely of waste, came to mind. Art21 follows her process in this 10-minute video, under which a journalist posses the question: “Do objects come with responsibility?” Mattingly’s art, creative process, and way of life center around the concept of planned obsolescence and one’s role in it as consumer. Similarly to circuit benders, she repurposes technological waste, “…what gets bent is not only the false image of linear history but also the circuits and archive that form the contemporary media landscape” (427). Where she differs from Hertz and Parikka, however, is by highlighting waste politically in our culture. Waste and consumption are not only the art but the method of the art itself. One can hardly separate the consumer from the technological products in Mattingly’s work.
A few questions that arise from my reading of “Zombie Media” and viewing of Mattingly’s art processes:
Some of these questions work in tandem with Hertz and Parikka’s assertions, while others, I feel, interrogate the relationship between the user and the device, as well as deconstruct who specifically benefits from this separation. While I have some reservations about jumping aboard “Zombie Media,” I feel that many of the points are valid and crucial to understanding Media Archeology as a field and some of the rhetoric and methodology behind it. Whether or not I fully agree with the article, I find it useful for probing my own understanding of the field and for locating some of the existing holes in terms of cultural theory.
Hertz, Garnet and Jussi Parikka. “Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method.” Leonardo 45.5 (2012): 424-30. Print.
Miller, Weseley and Nick Ravich. “Mary Mattingly Owns Up.” New York Close Up. Art21.org. 2013. Film.
Parikaa, Jussi. “Media Theory and New Materialism.” What Is Media Archaeology? Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012. 63-89. Print.
Garnet Hertz and Jussi Parikka’s article on “Zombie Media” discusses a host of significant issues relevant to our course concerns: for example, adhering to the notion of media as Foucauldian archive, the twin roles of ‘artist-archaeologist’ and ‘t(h)inker,’ and the metaphor of media archaeology as circuit bending—an inaccurate remaking that is a process and a becoming in itself. Most significantly, though, I was struck by their claim that the field of media archaeology now requires “a more thorough non-human view” due to the contemporary global ecological crisis (429); this is another of our readings that thereby echoes Andrew Pickering’s “mangle” of human and machinic agents. Hertz and Parikka claim “that media never dies: it decays, rots, reforms, remixes and gets historicized, reinterpreted and collected,” a cycle that drives their research regarding the reuse of electronic materials. Their investigation into planned obsolescence—the argument that many products are designed with an intentionally limited useful life, the merits of which remain contentious even when leveled at corporate giants such as Apple—makes me question how often we reuse ‘dead media’ materials, particularly in media labs. Jenterey Sayers asks helpful questions with regard to the University of Victoria’s Maker Lab: “what materials [should] we use for fabrication, where [do] those materials ultimately go, and how should we think proactively about waste and repurposing?” (http://maker.uvic.ca/remaking/). Although Sayers interrogates the notion of material wastes in the specific setting of a maker lab, the principles apply across the board for maker and hacker culture – whether a makerspace, hackerspace, or media lab, all seem connected by an underlying objective to empower communities to learn how things work and reflect on the processes and purposes of media (old and new) in contemporary society.
I began trawling the web for maker and hacker cultures employing sustainable practices and came across Access Space, a UK community media lab that was built by volunteers from locally recycled computers that run free, open source software (http://access-space.org/). Its web page asserts that
At Access Space, people interested in art, design, computers, recycling, music, electronics, photography and more meet like-minded people, share and develop skills and work on creative, enterprising and technical projects. […] Access Space is an inclusive environment. As well as working with artists, academics, creative technologists, programmers, other professionals and students, 50% of the participation in Access Space’s activities are from people in danger of exclusion and on the margins of society, including: people with disabilities, homeless people, ex-offenders, asylum seekers, refugees and people with mental health issues. Through Refab Space, Access Space engages with self starters and entrepreneurs as well. One of the strengths of Access Space is that it brings people from different backgrounds together. (“about”)
As an organization, Access Space is therefore extremely self-aware about the communities it embraces and the values that it actively fosters (incidentally, Access Space and the University of Sheffield have just jointly published a great study on “Barriers to women’s involvement in hackspaces and makerspaces” found at http://access-space.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Barriers-to-womens-involvement-in-hackspaces-and-makerspaces.pdf). In 2012 Access Space also expanded into a larger lab called ReFab Space which is intended to act as a more localized and better-equipped space for crafting and building. Concerning sustainability, Access Space and ReFab Space seem to have two major goals in mind: to enable communities to use their electronic media for longer by fortifying and repairing technologies, and to reuse old electronic materials to build new things.
Matt Ratto’s article neatly ties together the relationship between the practical, social, and theoretical aspects of the type of work that can take place in environments such as the Access and ReFab spaces. He promotes ‘critical making’ as a blending of the hobbyist and scholar, a way to connect tinkering and theorizing in multiple processes; for example, material prototyping can extend individual reflection and serve as a focus for community discussion and problem-solving. In my own work analyzing digital literature, I’ve been concerned with various discursive approaches to reconnecting the material and conceptual, but I’m not too flash on the actual tinkering and making side of things. I’m looking forward to applying to join CU Boulder’s hackerspace, the Blow Things Up Lab (http://www.btulab.com/), to start implementing more material processes in future scholarly projects. For a non-techie like me, it’s the perfect chance to explore the affordances of different media that I tend to use with my blinkers on in everyday life, as well as tinker around with the small cardboard box of “dead media” that currently sits in one of my bedroom drawers. Explosions away!
Hertz, Garnet and Jussi Parikka. “Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method.” Leonardo 45.5 (2012): 424-30. Print.
Ratto, Matt. “Critical Making: Conceptual and Material Studies in Technology and Social Life.” The Information Society: An International Journal 27.4 (2011): 252-60. Print.
Chapman and Sawchuck’s article, “Research-Creation: Intervention, Analysis and ‘Family Resemblances’” defines research-creation projects as those which “integrate a creative process, experimental aesthetic component, or an artistic work as an integral part of a study” (5). As such, the focus of their article is “how this practice contributes to the research agenda of the digital humanities and social sciences” (5, emphasis mine). The role of creative practice as an intervention or as knowledge production in humanities scholarship has been on my mind for weeks now, but with a different orientation—what happens if we apply these same interventionist modes of scholarship to pedagogy?
The traditional “argumentative form(s) that have typified much academic scholarship,” the “firmly established protocols and practices for what constitutes valid scholarship” and the “normative frameworks for modes of presentation” are not exclusive to the research produced; those same values are reified in the pedagogical practices through which we demand that scholarship (from graduate students, but also from undergrads) (6). The same values that push traditional scholarship toward the monograph shift pedagogy in the humanities to act in service of the “regime of truth”; even in the more creative-leaning academic disciplines (literature, art history, etc.) we often construct courses that value individual product over collaborative process and emphasize singular, standardized interpretation that has been solidified by experts on the canon. “Learning” as a messy, process-based and constructive process is often subordinated to “knowing” as a concrete, stable harmony with “formulaic representations of the academic genre” (6). When it comes to student learning (and perhaps to graduate research, as well), I think something crucial is lost in the consistent push to comply with “normative frameworks” – a sense of ownership over one’s learning. Apologies if this sounds like fluff; I hate to be vague, and there’s nothing less useful than undefined buzzwords. When I say “ownership”, I don’t mean confidence, or pride—those are things you can get from learning (knowing) the right answer as prescribed. Ownership, I think, comes only from making something when there is no single answer to be given or single standard with which to comply; as such, it requires creativity, and that creativity engenders a sense of power. Ownership is a position from which one can create truly original, innovative work, since the work is not oriented toward someone else’s norm.
I can certainly see how all four iterations of “research-creation” can destabilize traditional research agendas—can they also change how we teach that research?
I’m especially interested in creation-as-research, perhaps because it is “the most controversial” of the four categories; it also seems to be the most aligned with my own interest in creative project as a form of ownership. According to Champan and Sawchuck, Creation-as-research “involves the elaboration of projects where creation is required in order for research to emerge…while also seeking to extract knowledge from he process” (19). The end-game for such projects is research, but:
The prolific use of the forward-slash points to the mutability of the phenomena that can be deployed and analyzed; the do-to-engage methodology of creation-as-research is applicable, perhaps, to all areas of learning. With some adjustment, it could be creation-as-research-as-pedagogy. Such a practice would involve the use of “projects where creation is required” as a pedagogical tool, making students into constructive producers as opposed to solely receptive interpreters (21). Ideally, following Chapman and Sawchuck’s reading of Heidegger, it would employ creation as a form of knowledge production as well as reflection on that creative process, bringing literature, art, etc. into “greater degrees of ‘unconcealment’ by being employed in ‘hands-on’ situations, in addition to being analyzed and interpreted” (21).
This semester, as part of the English department’s Teaching English: Uniting Pedagogies of Literature & Writing course, I tried experimenting with such a creation-as-research-as-pedagogy method…whether or not my attempt lines up with what a creation-as-research-as-pedagogy could be, or even with my own hopes or expectations, I’m not sure…but it was really interesting to try and see where my hopes for “interventionist” practice hit the brick walls of standard protocol, and where my own normative habits and values as a humanities scholar undermined the project.
The goal of the unit was to explore Graphic Literature (comics, graphic novels, graphic short stories) as literature, diving into the high-art / low-art distinctions and traditional standards for what “counts” as work worth analyzing. The final “paper” for the unit, then, was a collaborative attempt by the students to create their own piece of graphic literature. They were also asked to submit a reflective paper articulating the motivation behind their choices for the piece, drawing on examples from works we’d read during the semester and ideas discussed in the course re: method, medium, cultural value, etc.
The final product was one of the coolest pieces of scholarship (can I call it that?) that I’ve ever received from students: the choices were deliberate and informed, the process was collaborative (though not without its pitfalls), and the students were engaged – but all of these things are true only in a range. Even with a small number of students, the project impacted some more than others. The sense of “ownership” seemed directly proportional to the amount of work put in by each (which wasn’t necessarily equal); reflection became somewhat secondary since most effort was put into the creation of the work itself. Does that mean that less analysis was taking place, since I didn’t see it all on paper? Does that mean that less learning was taking place?
When it comes to research, especially after reading Champan and Sawchuck’s article, the answer seems to be no—following Chapman and Sawchuck’s reading of Garis, “one valuable way ‘to know’ is ‘to do’” (14). When it comes to pedagogy, which is so tied to assessment and the “deliverables” of proof of knowledge, the practicality of creation as scholarship becomes more suspect—can such practices actually intervene in a system that (in my opinion) overvalues assessment and proof of knowledge (8)? That might be a question for another post; for now, I’ll satisfy myself with its potential. As Chapman and Sawchuck state, “paradigms are mutable and have the potential to grow, shift, or even be overturned when alternative technologies, practices and anomalous discoveries accumulate to the point where new epistemological and ontological foundations present themselves in flashes of insight” (24). Perhaps, then, the “open-ended goal” presented for research in the digital humanities and social sciences could expand, acting as a destabilizing force for pedagogy and the humanities as a whole.
“Media Archaeological Fundus” (MAF) is a terrific moniker, and I knew I had to write about the term and its relationship to the work done in the MAF, after reading Lori Emerson’s interview with Wolfgang Ernst. I glossed over the term when I first read it. I couldn’t quite place it. But seeing it a second time, it hit me: the uterus. While “fundus” (Latin for the bottom, lowest part) can be used to describe the part of many different organs which is farthest from its opening, the uterus seems like the most appropriate allusion given the Ernest’s description of the MAF and its credo.
I’d argue that the MAF’S physical space resembles a womb. It’s not entirely empty, but it is both roomy and teeming with possibilities. Resisting “the nostalgic or even melancholic impulse” to study “dead media,” the MAF trains students to “discover [media’s] retro-futuristic element[s].” To accomplish this, Ernst explains that two elements must be present in the MAF: “technological media elements” and the “eyes and minds” of media archaeologists. The MAF is not interested in merely making machines work again, although that is an important part of “reanimate[ing] their function.” Instead, the MAF aims to revivify mechanic elements in unexpected ways. In joining the human and machine and in being a space of origination and development, the space experimentally conceives new hermeneutics for studying media.
Of course, one could easily make an argument for “fundus” referring to eyes—especially with the whole cones, rods, perception thing going on. So if you’re not sold on the feminization of the space, fine. But the MAF is certainly understood as an academic institution that studies media, which is contingent upon human deciphering. Using the word “organ” once and “medientheater” (media theatre) three times, its credo reminds me of another theatre: the anatomy theatres of seventeenth-century Europe.
As spaces of experimentation and invention, both theatres disrupt their respective disciplines’ long-standing hermeneutics. Resisting the urge to define what biological and mechanic elements are for, the performances and the spectacles observed in these spaces broaden our understanding of what the human body and technology are capable of doing.
Lori Emerson, “Archives, Materiality and the ‘Agency of the Machine’: An Interview with Wolfgang Ernst” (2013)