Friday, 16 October 2009

Dead Media/Live Nature

I am going to give a talk in a couple of weeks in Amsterdam as part of the matinees of the Imaginary Futures research group. I was kindly invited there by Wanda Strauven. Its on Friday the 30th of October, I think starting around 10.30 or 11, and located at Bungehuis, Spuistraat 210, room 101.

Here is the abstract:

The talk Dead Media/Live Nature focuses on the transpositions of media and nature through recent art projects such as Harwood-Wright-Yokokoji's Eco Media (Cross Talk) and Garnet Hertz's Dead Media. The Eco Media project developed new modes of thinking and doing media (ecology) through a tracking of the intensities of nature. However, in this case the medium was understood in a very broad sense to cover the ecosystem as a communication network of atmospheric flows, tides, reproductive hormones, scent markers, migrations or geological distributions. The project does not focus solely on the ecological crisis that has been a topic of media representations for years, but also engages with a more immanent level of media ecology in a manner that resembles Matthew Fuller's call for Art for Animals. Media is approached from the viewpoint of animal perceptions, motilities and energies (such as wind) that escape the frameworks of "human media." In this context the rhetorical question of the Eco Media project concerning non-human media is intriguing: "Can 'natural media' with its different agencies and sensorium help to rethink human media, revealing opportunities for action or areas of mutual interest?" In addition the talk will expand the notion of "dead media" as articulated recently by Garnet Hertz, and discuss its relevance for establishing a connection between media ecology and media archaeology.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Affect - start of the RIB and ArcDigital theme year

What are affects good for? I am not referring to the stuff going through your body and your mind, but the concept. ArcDigital and RIBs (Representation, Identity and the Body) theme year on Affect was kicked off yesterday with discussions based on Nigel Thrift's and Eric Shouse's texts. Good points followed, so many I cannot summarize them here. But for me, its the possibility of tapping to various weird materialities that "affect" affords us. This ranges from the 0.5 second delay between event and consciousness Wundt talked about, the odd reactions that Reagan talking can have, the relationality of bodies in movement, as well as for example the software objects defined by their relations -- i.e. also non-human affects being possible. Affects are the element of transformation, and transmission -- of bodies relating and being in their relatedness. As Joss Hands pointed out, the danger of the concept is becoming too wide, too vague. Hence, there is no one big theory of affect, just good uses in contexts where we need to think beyond signification, representation and the human.

Affects are more -- they are the primary surplus due to their by definition relational nature. This is where the connection to sensations might become clearer. To quote Massumi: "Sensation is the registering of the multiplicity of potential connections in the singularity of a connection actually under way. It is the direct experience of a more to the less of every perception." (In Parables for the Virtual, p.92). What is the relation between sensation and affect? Definitely, in the Deleuzian inspired schemes, its not always clear. If affects include/are transitions, sensations travel as well. Consider Deleuze writing on Bacon: "Bacon constantly says that sensation is what passes from one 'order' to another, from one 'level' to another, from one 'area' to another. This is why sensation is the master of deformations, the agent of bodily deformations."

Affects are less. They escape the conscious perception, flee and yet effect, impose on social interaction. Its the mentioned lost time, perhaps -- in terms of capturing the possibility of tapping into the preconscious. We smile before the joke gets funny, we react before the person even starts to make sense, we feel it already before the actual meeting has started. Of course, so closely connected to feelings -- they loop together, as Milla reminds us. It does not stay unnoticed by the intensive body that we engage continously with agendas, structures, classifications and so on of emotions. Affects produce emotions that are shared, but they feedback through various political and social acts of naming etc?

Are they tonalities? Yes, to an extent that tonalities are shared, or connect things/people/entities in time-spaces. Its the in between of perceiver and what is perceived. To again quote Massumi: "The properties of the perceived thing are properties of the action, more than of the thing itself. This does not mean that the properties are subjective or in the perceiver. On the contrary, they are tokens of the perceiver's and the perceived's concrete inclusion in each other's world." (again from Parables of the Virtual, p.90).

Vocabularies for weird materialities? This ranges from bodies in movements, of micromovements on the skin, such concrete inclusions of bodies sharing something and becoming together, of non-human objects/processes defining each other, of feeling the intensity of fastness, slowness, closeness, distance. Its what psychophysiology was keen on mapping in the 19th century in connection with the birth of modern media culture (as always, Jonathan Crary's Suspensions of Perception is the book to read), and what biotechnologies, brain and cognitive sciences and even quantum physics inspect. It is also the regime of things such as somatosenses -- proprioception, kinesthesia, the visceral...(Eleni Ikoniadou who is just finishing her PhD from UEL on rhythmic ontologies is working in this field).

In the midst of a panorama of approaches, what seems to become increasingly crucial is that we need new cartographies of affect -- ones that don't rely only on psychoanalysis etc., but inspect art/science/technology/philosophy as the source of innovation/invention.

To conclude, a good example of such interchanges: Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau's Nano-Scape system from 2001.

Friday, 2 October 2009

First ArcDigital talk of the Semester: Dr Joyce Shintani

A big thanks to Dr Joyce Shintani for kicking off ArcDigital talks for this semester! We started these lectures last academic year in order to excavate the interzone between theory and practice of/in digital culture, the trandisciplinary zones often left untouched by the established disciplines of academia. Last year we had a range of excellent speakers from Espen Aarseth to Steven Shaviro and Gary Genosko (and a number of others!), and this year we continue from Shintani to Greg Elmer, Wolfgang Ernst, Richard Grusin...and so on.

Shintani's talk focused on music and sound in recent media art --- and she presented an overview of some of the themes in recent exhibitions such as Art Basel, Ars Electronica and Sonar (Barcelona). By focusing on the element of music, Shintani was touching on such regimes of sensibility too often left untouched by the visual emphasis of media art/theory -- an idea that resonates strongly with such claims for a "sonic turn" in cultural theory. Turn or not, such a multimodal perspective is much needed to understand multimedia as something more than just multiple media put together. Indeed, its not only sound and something else, but a focus on sound that deterritorialises our perspective on works of art from visual screen based to installations. Its not only about music per se, in that sense, but about sound as an attraction point for the user and for the analyst. Shintani pointed to some implications:

- music has been built upon the centrality of the word (as already Adorno argued); hence a much more multimodal approach is needed -- media is not only literature based, but interfaces of direct bodily sensations, musical expectations etc. demand a different focus
- This has implications in terms of institutions from teaching to performance
- a post object-subject approach demands a much more refined idea of embodiment and interaction than has been catered in the word-biased approaches.

All this is clear and stems from what she identified as current "trends" -- not in terms of fashionability but the singularity of some of the works she is interested in;
- Increasing minituarization
- Enabling ease of access to sound/music -- i.e. a certain DIY approach
- cooperation and collaboration in the process of art making
- "sophistication" of interactivity in connection with easing of access
- a strong focus on mixed media -- "Continuation of breaking down of barriers, mixing of media that stems from Adorno's "Verfransung" -- a wandering crossover, aberrant paths of and in media production).

In this context, Shintani is working on her new project: "Embodiment and "the Other". A multidisciplinary Comparison of Changing Aspects of the Subject in Musical Multimedia Works.