Friday, 30 April 2010

New Materialisms and Digital Culture -symposium

Please find below information and registration possibility for our symposium
on new materialist cultural analysis as well as info for the launch event of the
CoDE institute and the affiliated Digital Performance Laboratory.

An International Symposium on Contemporary Arts, Media and Cultural Theory

Date: Monday 21 June 2010
Time: 10:00 - 17.30 (18.00 Performance and CoDE Launch)
Venue: Hel 201, Anglia Ruskin University, East Road, Cambridge

Far from being immaterial, digital culture consists of heterogeneous bodies, relations, intensities, movements, and modes of emergence manifested in various contexts of the arts and sciences.

This event suggests "new materialism" as a speculative concept with which to rethink materiality across diverse cultural-theoretical fields of inquiry with a particular reference to digitality in/as culture: art and media studies, social and political theorising, feminist analysis, and science and technology studies.

More specifically, the event maps ways in which the questions of process, positive difference or the new, relation, and the pervasively aesthetic character of our emergences with the world have lately been taken up in cultural theory. It will engage explorations of digital culture within which matter, the body and the social, and the long-standing theoretical dominance of symbolic mediation (or the despotism of the signifier) are currently being radically reconsidered and reconceptualised.

The talks of the event will probe media arts of digital culture, sonic environments, cinematic contexts, wireless communication, philosophy of science and a variety of further topics in order to develop a new vocabulary for understanding digital culture as a material culture.

Speakers include: Dr David M. Berry, Dr Rick Dolphijn, Dr Satinder Gill, Dr Adrian Mackenzie, Dr Stamatia Portanova, Dr Anna Powell, Dr Iris van der Tuin and Dr Eleni Ikoniadou.

The academic programme will be followed by a physical computing and dance performance involving CoDE affiliated staff (Richard Hoadley and Tom Hall) along with choreographers Jane Turner, Cheryl Frances-Hoad and their dancers.

Following the symposium there will also be a short workshop for PhD students on Tuesday 22 June led by Van der Tuin and Dolphijn along with Milla Tiainen and Jussi Parikka. The aim of the workshop is to enable students to discuss and present brief intros to their work on the theme of new materialist analysis of culture and the arts with tutoring from the workshop leaders. The workshop is restricted to max. 10 students. Participation for the selected ten is include in the registration fee. If you are interested, please send an informal message to either or along with a short (approx. 1 page) description of your PhD work and its relation to new materialism.

In addition, we are planning an informal introductory workshop for Tuesday afternoon on experimental performance and physical computing.

The event is sponsored by CoDE: the Cultures of the Digital Economy research institute and the Department of English, Communication, Film and Media at Anglia Ruskin University.

Please register your place here
Fee: £20

Anglia Ruskin University. East Road, Cambridge, UK, Helmore Building, room Hel 201
June 21, Monday

10.00 Welcome and what is new materialism, Milla Tiainen and Jussi Parikka
10.15 Anna Powell (Manchester Met): Electronic Automatism: Video Affects and The Time Image
11.10 Break
11.30 Iris van der Tuin (Utrecht): A Different Starting Point, a Different Metaphysics”: Reading Bergson and Barad Diffractively
Rick Dolphijn (Utrecht): The Intense Exterior of Another Geometry
12.30 Lunch
13.45 Stamatia Portanova (Birkbeck): The materiality of the abstract (or how movement-objects ‘thrill’ the world)
Eleni Ikoniadou: Transversal digitality and the relational dynamics of a new materialism
Satinder Gill (Anglia Ruskin/CoDE and Cambridge University): “Rhythms and sense-making in responsive dense-space'
15.20 break

15.40 David Berry: Software Avidities: Latour and the Materialities of Code.
16.10 Adrian Mackenzie (Lancaster) Believing in and desiring data: R as ' next big thing

17.00 closing and a break

18.00 Open launch and drinks event for the Digital Performance laboratory (CoDE, Music and Performing Arts, Anglia Ruskin) and a science-arts interdisciplinary performance Triggered. Recital-hall, Helmore Building (029), East Road, Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge.

'Triggered' showcases the results of a practice-as-research project into methods of interdisciplinary collaboration between a group of contemporary dancers, musicians and music technologists. The nature of this collaboration has allowed performance to emerge from artists and disciplines interacting and responding to each other. The bespoke technologies used in the project enable sophisticated dialogue between movement and sound, between music composition and choreography. The nature of interaction and narratives created are key areas of investigation and these areas will explored in a workshop on the second day of the conference. Performing, choreographing, composing and building the production are Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Tom Hall, Richard Hoadley, Jane Turner & dance company.

Day 2 (June 22)

10.00-12.30 Helmore 251
New materialism: art, science, media –workshop with selected PhD students with Dr Iris van der Tuin and Rick Dolphijn, along with Milla Tiainen and Jussi Parikka
12.30-14.00 lunch
14.00 an experimental performance/HCI workshop and interaction possibility with Jane Turner, Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Dr Satinder Gill, Dr Richard Hoadley and Dr Tom Hall.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010


The easiest target to ease your pain in the midst of funding cuts and the crisis of British universities is to blame the post 1992 universities - the ex-polytechnics. It seems that in the still very rigidly divided British class society, its the ex-polytechnics that are responsible for all the bad in the academic cultures of the Empire. It seems that the good old values in hard sciences and English (which still quite recently, less than 100 years ago was seen as a Mickey Mouse subject as well, but now celebrated as a corner stone of UK universities) are being threatened by such transdisciplinary newcomers as media studies. Indeed, I would be afraid too, as what the future of universities will need are new mixed perspectives, hybrid disciplines that are able to smoothly maneuver between critical theory, technology and culture and develop an understanding of the nature-culture (i.e. science-humanities) continuum.

Hence, it is joyful to read in the midst of polytechnic-bashing about 19th-century -- and British 19th-century specifically, when such institutions as the Royal Polytechnic Institution were not only celebrated back here but also envied across Europe. Such Polytechnics were indeed leading in various fields so crucial for the whole birth of technological, scientifically driven media culture that was emerging back then. Scientific progress, new forms of visualisation and spectacle, curiosities of useful and ephemeral kinds, were recognized to co-exist in a manner that indeed was a mix of popular attractions and scientific interest. As said, such polyverses were envied across Europe: "'When will Paris have its own Polytechnic Institution?' Abbé Moigno asked impatiently in his magazine Le Cosmos in August 1854" (Mannoni, The Art of Light and Shadow, p 268). (Moigno was btw. anyway a big fan of Anglo-American sciences, and did translations and introductions to developments at the other side of the Channel). The French had been at the forefront of developing inventions concerning light and its manipulation in terms of various projection and other apparatuses, but it seems that around mid 19th-century, Britain was able to provide a strong institutional support for development of such inventions on a wider scale too.

What to me is curious about such institutions that engaged with not so much in high abstract science but in experimental, hands-on and engineering approaches to new ideas and innovations is how they are, actually, different from Royal Science. Indeed, in this case I am using Royal a bit differently and more in the fashion that the philosophers Deleuze and Guattari used the concept. For the two French philosophers, Royal Science is one connected to the State as a power formation, and aims at stabilized formations, predictabilities, abstracted forms of ideal and imperial kinds. Naturally such classic institutions as Royal Polytechnics and such were created closely with State interests (science and technology was seen already then as the flagship for the Empire, not only know in the midst of the Digital Economy hype), but perhaps there is a potential to see a nomadic undercurrent in some of the interests of knowledge/creation in them as well, that is relevant for a consideration of contemporary institutions. This is indeed where the other concept, an alternative from Deleuze and Guattari kicks in; nomadic science that is an intellectual/pragmatic war machine for them. It is less interested in discovering organic, ideal and fixed essences than mapping out matter in its intensity, full of singularities that can take that active matter into surprising directions.

Nomadic science experiments with matter on hand; it teases out potentials, and directions for becoming/use/applicability to use a bit different terms in a manner that does stay close to the dirtyness of the world. This is where practical, experimental sciences, engineering and "applied perspectives" can actually carve out more about the world in its intensive materiality, than the royal sciences. It is for me an artistic perspective to science/technology; the much talked about field of sci-arts that can work taking aboard "the best of both worlds", so to speak. The cutting edge ideas in science and technology, but recontextualised in artistic methodologies and critical agendas. (And yes, not being only naive: I am completely aware how well embedded certain science-art collaborations are in economic wealth creation and even in military related developments and institutions).

Perhaps such perspectives have importance on various levels; to perspectives of media archaeology that are interested in nomadic ideas, practices and such assemblages of experimentation where invention happens in pragmatics. Not the inventions of for example media technologies in terms of their mathematics or logical implications, but in terms of experiments with materials, machines and such. A media archaeology of dirty machines, and trying out.

But it has importance also to ideas concerning contemporary institutions of knowledge/creation. Ex-polytechnics should perhaps more explicitly celebrate the engineering, arts, and applied sciences background, but not forgetting that theory is a practice too. This includes it as work of trying out, aberration, and dirty experimentation that works best in close proximity with the materiality of the world. Naturally its clear that there is a strong pull towards such Polyverses as the flagship of Royal interests; i.e. in various cases for example part of the new Digital Britain and the future of the Digital Economy. Yet, we should dig out minor passages, imperceptible places of research-creation and such where also new ideas, tinkering and experimentation without respect to theory-practice division can take place.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Choice, self-regulation, security and other characteristics that make us desire to see less

"Not long ago it would have been an absolutely absurd action to purchase a television or acquire a computer software to intentionally disable its capabilities, whereas today's media technology is marketed for what it does not contain and what it will not deliver." The basic argument in Raiford Guins' Edited Clean Version is so striking in its simplicity but aptness that my copy of the book is now filled with exclamation marks and other scribblings in the margins that shout how I loved it. At times dense but elegantly written, I am so tempted to say that this is the direction where media studies should be going if it did not sound a bit too grand (suitable for a blurb at the back cover perhaps!).

I shall not do a full-fledged review of the book but just flag that its an important study for anyone who wants to understand processes of censorship, surveillance and control. Guins starts from a theoretical set that contains Foucault's governmentality, Kittler's materialism and Deleuze's notion of control, but breathes concrete specificity to the latter making it really a wonderful addition to media studies literature on contemporary culture. At times perhaps a bit repetitive, yet it delivers a strong sense of how power works through control which works through technological assemblages that organize time, spatiality and desire. For Guins, media is security (even if embedding Foucault's writings on security would have been in this context spot on) -- entertainment media is so infiltrated by the logic of blocking, filtering, sanitizing, cleaning and patching (all chapters in the book) that I might even have to rethink my own ideas of seeing media technologies as Spinozian bodies defined by what they can do...Although, in a Deleuzian fashion, control works through enabling. In this case, it enables choice (even if reducing freedom into a selection from pre-defined, preprogrammed articulations). Control is the highway on which you are free to drive as far, and to many places, but it still guides you to destinations. Control works through destinations, addresses -- and incidentally, its addresses that structure for example Internet-"space".

Guins' demonstrates how it still is the family that is a focal point of media but through new techniques and technologies. Software is at the centre of this regime - software such as the V-Chip that helps parents to plan and govern their children's TV-consumption. Guins writes: "The embedding of the V-Chip within television manifests a new visual protocol; it makes visible the positive effects of television that it enables: choice, self-regulation, interaction, safe images, and security." What is exciting about this work is how it deals with such hugely important political themes and logics of control, but is able to do it so immanently with the technological platform he is talking about. Highly recommended, and thumbs up.