The Matter with Media

* What frameworks for conceptualizing “the digital” best emphasize its tangible appeal and consequence, as well as its ecological and systemic repercussions? * How do we best challenge the abstract rhetorics of cyber-theory and virtuality of later-day 20th-Century new media and interactive art discourse? * What is the material of “raw data,” and what are its canonical or iconic forms? ...
Saturday, 17 September, 2011 - 09:00 - 10:30
Chair Person: 
Jamie Allen
Chair Person: 
Tom Schofield
Martijn Stevens
Alejandro Schianchi
Ceci Moss
Shintaro Miyazaki
Thomas Zummer

Panel Chair: Jamie Allen
2nd Chair: Tom Schofield

Along with invited panelists, the selected participants will be welcomed to discuss their ideas, artworks, media and other forms of practice-infused research in response to the following ideas:

The early human artists who tapped into this expressive reservoir for their cave paintings, body tattoos, and ritual ceremonies, far from introducing artistry into the world were simply adding one more voice to an ongoing material chorus.” – Manuel DeLanda

Our digital, networked age hides from us in plain sight the concrete, historical and affective correspondences between matter, information and perception. The practice and culture of art-and-technology make it easy to forget the material underpinnings and implications of artistic activity and production. Information systems, media and the electronic arts in particular require the support of a bewildering nexus of power and infrastructure. This fact “alerts us to the attenuated indexical trace of an objective real that haunts the apparently self-referential world of pure simulacra.” The ubiquitous temporal and spatial freedoms promised to us by cyber-theorists and reified in example by artists, are a no-show, or as Kittler emphatically put it, “There is No Software.”

Questions & topic areas:

* What frameworks for conceptualizing “the digital” best emphasize its tangible appeal and consequence, as well as its ecological and systemic repercussions?
* How do we best challenge the abstract rhetorics of cyber-theory and virtuality of later-day 20th-Century new media and interactive art discourse?
* What is the material of “raw data,” and what are its canonical or iconic forms?
* How can we work as artists with information/ signals as material and understand the interpretive and representative extrapolations necessarily being made?
* How does data differ from other materials which have a more obvious physical material forms?
* What powers have we delegated signals and data as things-in-themselves?
* Distinctions between the “natural” and “man-made” as we regard technologies as complex ecologies of matter.
* Distinctions between what is within and without our understanding, control or composition (industrial or economic complexes, ecologies).
* Historical, cultural and contemporary artistic practice relations between “technology”, “new media”, “electronic art” and “mainstream contemporary art.”
* Discourses on aesthetics as to the purpose and function of art as prescient, decorative, memetic, interrogative, challenging and defiant.
* Educational, epistemological differences in the humanities, creative arts practices, and engineering and the sciences.

Paper Abstracts

A matter of perception: exploring the physicality of electronic art

by Dr. Martijn Stevens

It has often been said that the digital is completely void of material and sensual qualities, as physical objects are reduced to a shared language of bits without colour, size, volume, weight or smell. As a consequence, the direct or indexical relationship with a tangible and therefore 'real' reality is broken. This does not mean, however, that the digital is merely a realm of binary code, mathematical representation and illusory simulations, although digital data is not indexical of reality either. Using quantum physics to explore the material basis of electronic art, Laura Marks suggests that the physicality of the digital is rather located in 'the tiny dance of subatomic particles' or the wave forms of electrons. In a similar vein, Jim Al-Khalili argues that 'nothingness' is always teeming with virtual particles. Interfacing the positivist rhetoric of the natural sciences with an understanding of art and media that is informed by notions of materialism, affect and processes of doing and experiencing, I would like to address the physicality of electronic art by focusing on the nonrepresentational, the nonhuman and the nonorganic, thus downplaying the visual in favour of other modalities of perception.

Error in Audiovisual Apparatus as Aesthetic Value

by Prof. Alejandro Schianchi

An error seems to be that which gets between the ideal being and the real being; the error appears to be a singularity, a Non-being that transforms and distorts the Being. Audiovisual techniques, technologies,
devices and media try to suppress errors; however, an ideological and aesthetic possibility hides behind the use of errors. A failure in an apparatus program often sends back a faulty image or a sound which cannot be otherwise conceived. Limits are blurred, and we are faced with the naked truth,without attires or pretenses. We receive
data, waves, and exposed information according to an artificial mechanism which constantly defines itself in its errors.This is what makes an error unique, revolutionary and beautiful, and there lies its value. A short circuit in an appliance builds a new and unpredictable world that is embraced by the artistic field as one more aesthetic element.

Viral Not Virus: Alan Liu’s “Viral Aesthetics” Reconsidered

by Ceci Moss

My paper will explore how a particular subset of contemporary internet-based artworks intentionally operate as “work as assemblage” (after N. Katherine Hayles in My Mother Was a Computer). The examples I will use - Seth Price’s Dispersion (2002-Ongoing), Oliver Laric’s Versions (2009 and 2010), and David Horvitz’s Idea Subscription (2009) – all destabilize the idea of a static, ideal “work” by relying on their diffuse circulation and instantiation through networks for their realization. Notably, they all involve a text in some way – Dispersion and Versions are essays about visual culture and the distribution of content online and both take many forms,Dispersion circulates across various media – sculpture and printed booklets – where Versions is remixed by other artists and curators. Idea Subscription was a year-long tumblr blog disclosing written (often whimsical) ideas for readers to implement, which was recently repackaged in book form as Everything That Can Happen in a Day. In response to what Alan Liu terms “viral aesthetics” in The Laws of Cool, I will argue that these works offer another, alternate aesthetic mode to “viral aesthetics” – one that operates through its immersion within the endless stream of information, where presence results from serendipitous instantiation. Liu emphasizes the “destructive creation” of art by Joseph Nechvatal, Jodi, and William Gibson’s Agrippa (A Book of the Dead) – examples that subvert knowledge work by engaging in a destructive mode of productivity, one that problematically contains the assumption that taking something apart reveals its inner truth. While the art practices I would like to discuss also circulate in a “viral” fashion, they do not engage in corrosive destructivity, e.g. Nechvatal’s computer virus projects. Rather, they offer insight by way of a constructive, symbiotic relation with the information technologies that enable them, becoming powerful through their own momentum and spread, an aspect yielded by their existence as “works as assemblage.” By foregrounding the facets of their own transmission, Dispersion, Versions and Idea Subscription provoke a meditation on the movement of information online.

The Ritornelli of Everyday Life. Some Epistemic Experiments with Information Technology

by Shintaro Miyazaki

The ear is not the primary sense of rationality. Only when it comes to hidden matters, it transforms itself from a neglegted organ to the most suited sense of knowledge acquisition. This happened with medical auscultation as early as in the 18th c. or during WWII with sonar. Listening could be reconfigured as a method for a critical inquiry about the matter with media, especially with regard its hidden agencies.

prosthetics, aesthetics, thetics: the intercessions of sound, technics and bodies

by Thomas Zummer

There is something that happens in the very moment of a ‘live’ utterance—that is to say an utterance that is simultaneously performed and transmitted—that is often overlooked, invisible, and, in a strange sense, inaudible. When one speaks, as Bernard Stiegler and Jacques Derrida have explored, as a philosopher, for example, or an artist, a politician or a citizen, into a microphone attached to a recording/transmitting apparatus, one’s words, in the very moment of their production, are swept away from their locus—the body out of which they issue—to appear elsewhere. It is the nature of this conjoined disappearance/appearance of the audible trace that this paper will investigate. How is it that, in the moment of its production, a voice, already a reproduction, becomes an artifact that must be (re)assigned to a register of sense, a community of meaning, a material body? Especially when the artifactual appearance of such a trace is plural, massive, and distributed? What one might say may be interpreted, deployed, decried, and possessed in a variety of ways, with immediate, contradistinct, and contesting claims and interests, drawing upon—or manufacturing— the authority of a certain event, person, context or trace. How is it that such conditions as culpability, sincerity, deceit, truth, or responsibility are reattached, via such audible artifacts, to sources which are neither direct nor unproblematic sites? And with what consequences? This presentation will address the material aspects of sound artifacts as evidence: scientific, social, political, artistic.

Among the various aspects of technically reproduced sound as evidentiary trace that will be addressed are: the cinematic hors-cadre or off-screen sound; audial spectrality (e,g., hauntings, possessions, ‘phone calls from the dead’); social media, audio environments, music and aesthetic soundwork.

Bios of the Participants

Shintaro Miyazaki

Shintaro Miyazaki (theorist & artist), born 1980 in Berlin, has spend his youth in Basel (Switzerland) and has studied Media Theory, Musicology and Philosophy at the University of Basel (M.A.). Since 2007 he lives and works in Berlin. Miyazaki is interested in the Epistemology and Archeology of everyday technologies, which store, transmit and calculate/manipulate informations. In general he is interested in the hidden structural relations between sound/music and the cutting edge of knowledge, technology, science and culture. He is as well active as an conceptual and transmedial artist creating epistemic devices and opensource software. He is currently a independent PhD Researcher at Humboldt University Berlin at the Chair for Media Theory and holds a scholarship by cogito foundation (Switzerland). In 2008 he founded “Institute for Algorhythmics“.

Alejandro Schianchi

Alejandro Schianchi, theorist, professor, and artist, lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Electronic Arts. Having graduated from the University of Cinema wiht a B.A. in Cinematography, he’s also an Electronic Technician in Computers. Professor in several fields in the Electronic Arts career at the University of Tres de Febrero, has also taught at the University of Buenos Aires in the Faculty of Architecture and Design, University of Cinema, Cievyc and University Maimónides. He has made installations, videos, photography, videosculptures, performances, and has shown his works in Germany, USA, Canada, Spain, Romania, Denmark, Slovenia, Peru, Brazil, and in the most well know places in Argentina. Alejandro won a mention in the Limbo award of Electronic and New Media prize in conjunction with the Espacio Fundación Telefónica and the Buenos Aires Museum of Modern Art.Has made presentations about Art & Technology in ‘Cátedra UNESCO de Turismo Cultural’, AAMNBA, 2009; ‘Medida Italiana: Videoarte Italiano’, Espacio Fundación Telefónica, 2010; ‘GLI.TC/H’, Chicago, USA, 2010; ‘Pursuit: Failure Symposium’, Berlín, Germany, 2010; among others.

Ceci Moss

Ceci Moss is a writer, musician, DJ, and curator. Prior to her current position as Senior Editor of Rhizome, she managed the Special Projects of the New Museum of Contemporary Art and Rhizome. She presently writes and edits the online contemporary art and music blog A Million Keys. For the past seven years, she’s programmed the weekly radio show Radio Heart on KALX and East Village Radio. She studied Sociology, History and French at UC Berkeley, and Critical Theory in Paris, France at the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris III/Centre parisien d’études critiques. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Comparative Literature at NYU.

Martijn Stevens

Martijn Stevens, after receiving a PhD degree in the Humanities with a thesis on the position and transition of art museums in today’s digital culture, is currently a lecturer at the Department of Cultural and Literary Studies, where he teaches digital art and culture, media studies, critical theory and cultural education. He is also affiliated with the Radboud Honours Academy, which offers both disciplinary and interdisciplinary programmes for talented students from all faculties. His sidelines include the quality assessment of higher education, the internationalization of teaching and research, and the membership of the board of the Platform for research and education in Communication, Media and Information, hosted by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Before turning to academia, Martijn worked in the field of the preservation and dissemination of media art.

Thomas Zummer

Thomas Zummer, is an artist and lecturer at the Tyler School of Art and a visiting professor in critical studies in the Transmedia Programme at the Hogeschool Sint Lukas, Brussels, as well as visiting professor at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee. Thomas Zummer is an internationally aclaimed independent scholar and writer, as well as being an artist and curator. As an artist he has exhibited internationally since 1976, including at Exit Art, Thread Waxing Space, and The Dia Foundation in New York City as well as at the CAPC in Bordeaux and Wigmore Hall in London. With his wife, they have had a long collaboration as well with The Wooster Group, acting in many of their performances. Most recently, Zummer was artist in residence at the haudenschildGarage in La Jolla, California. In 1995 Thomas Zummer won 5th Prize in the ACA/CODA Architectural Design Competition for the City of Atlanta for the 1996 Olympics.