On the Persistence of Hardware

The surface of electronic utopia is always material.  Any appreciation of the emancipatory promise of electronic media must integrate a sober reckoning of the intractable difficulties on the material level of the technology which should generate this. This panel will take Kittler's "There is no software" to its ethical extreme, delving the shadowlands behind the brilliance of electronic creativity, towards another, parallel and symbiotic creativity rooted in the substances.
Wednesday, 14 September, 2011 - 13:00 - 14:30
Chair Person: 
Baruch Gottlieb
Colette Tron
Eva Verhoeven
Michael Dieter
I-Mine an art-app for iPhone and Android

Chair: Baruch Gottlieb

The surface of electronic utopia is always material.  Should a utopian notion appear here for you to read, it would appear on a hard support which has had to be built, constructed or otherwise fabricated.  Therefore utopia is not just 'content', imagination, ideas. Utopia always has its material counterpart which is today always predicated on global industrial processes.  Any appreciation of the emancipatory promise of electronic media must integrate a sober reckoning of the intractable difficulties on the material level of the technology which should generate this.

This panel will take Kittler's "There is no software" (Kittler 1995) to its ethical extreme, delving the shadowlands behind the brilliance of electronic creativity, towards another, parallel and symbiotic  creativity rooted in the substances.
The persistence of the materiality of our world, and of the media we use to understand it, may be taken for granted, but merits more attention.  Despite the enormous power unleashed by our imaginations through technical, scientific instruments, we, as human beings still exist essentially on a local and social level.  There is an every-growing discrepancy of scale between that of our empirical experience and that of the origin of the technical instruments we use to understand and gain purchase over it.

Our empirical experience of the world is increasingly being substituted or undermined by technologically-informed ideas, supported by technologically-generated manifestations, which offer us multiple simultaneous levels of factuality.  When we forego the instantaneousness and subtlety of using our own senses to apprehend the world,  we are rewarded with a more informational and discrete experience, which promises us access and agency in heretofore secret and unknowable realms of sociability.  The satisfaction of this compromise is always predicated on the promise that the technology will improve.  In other words, though fundamental questions remain unresolved even in today's light-speed knowledge economy, the disquiet these have historically produced is assuaged by the trust that the supplementary techniques are being improved.  Meanwhile there emerge comforting allegories of nature itself being a kind of computer, with an (eventually) interpretable coherent system based on codes (Roof 2007).

There is an expected exponential curve of the 'improvement' of the technologies we use to understand our world. However, as we know, such curves never reach the asymptote, the truth. We will always be approximating for noise and inaccuracy, we will always need other knowledge systems to compensate for the insufficiencies of techno-truth. 

Additionally, the materiality of the computing technology on which all our fluctuating self-perception is predicated is not, itself, so imperceptible and vague. The physical technology of the computer or the sensor or the  network originates in the stuff of the earth, it must be mined or gathered or otherwise acquired, not by machines alone, but by organizations of people.  There are people all the way down the chains of production of the computer from the finished product providing us with truth through the various factories and labs back to the earth.   All along this complex production process we have a 'paper trail' of human facts, a new resource of truth-data, that of the human conditions of the production of technological truth. 

In this panel we will discuss  issues that arise on the horizon of an infinite purchase on universal materiality promised by scientific innovation.  We will investigate the delicate taxonomies and conventions which attempt to articulate and evoke these issues (Galison & Daston 2007),  (Roof 2007) , Nanotechnology promises a made-to-order synthetic reality (Feynman 1959) Data-visualization compress human culture into patterned maps (Manovich, 2010), the fine arts and the “humanities” struggle to measure up to the meaning production of the scientific arts, resulting in politicization (Lyotard 1985, Latour & Weibel 2005, Gillick 2009, etc.)  and surrender (Nigten 2011, etc.). 
Our love interest  in the material of the earth has been revealed by science to be rather childish. As a species, we seem to advance at a snail's pace compared to the machines we have brought forth.  Our current epoch may feature some of our species' first hints of its maturity, with its exigencies and responsibilities and the first foretastes of its decline.  Human art, creativity and imagination has traditionally been located in a notion of eternal childhood.  Our hardware compels us to imagine a new, more mature creativity.

1.    Feynman, Richard, There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom, Caltech Engineering and Science, Volume 23:5, February 1960, pp 22-36.
2.    Galison, Peter & Daston, Lorraine, Objectivity, Zone Books, Brooklyn, 2008
3.    Gillick, Liam, Maybe it would be better if we worked in Groups of Three?, Eflux Journal, Vol. 3, 2009, http://www.e-flux.com/journal/view/41
4.    Kittler, Friedrich, There is No Software, Ctheory Article: a032, Date Published: 10/18/1995 www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=74 Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, Editors
5.    Latour, Bruno & Weibel, Peter, Making Things Public, MIT Press,  Cambridge, 2005
6.    Lyotard, François, Les Immatériaux, Centre de Création Industrielle Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1985
7.    Manovich, Lev, Trending: The Promises and the Challenges of Big Social Data, 2011 http://www.manovich.net/DOCS/Manovich_trending_paper.pdf
8.    Nigten, Anne, et al, Process Patching, http://processpatching.net/online-reading/chapter1/ch1.html, 2011
9.    Roof, Judith, the Poetics of DNA, University of Minnesota Press, Minnesota, 2007

Paper Abstracts

From « Immaterial » to « hypermaterial »

by Colette Tron

In this proposal, it is submitted to approach the digital technologies through the question of their materiality. To do this, the references will be taken from theoretical and conceptual propositions by some french philosophers. It means the philosophical conceptions on new technologies concerning the materiality that emerged from the exhibition named « Les immatériaux » or « The immaterials » by Jean-François Lyotard in 1985, conceived in the context of the postmodern condition, and until the essay « Economy of hypermaterial and psychopower » published by Bernard Stiegler in 2009, and analysed in the situation that he calls a hyperindustrial society in an ultramodern perspective, this without forgetting the specificities of digital art defined by the artist Edmond Couchot and the philosopher Norbert Hillaire in their book « Digital art, or when the technology comes to the art world » edited in 2003.

Electronic, computer program, virtual interfaces, all constituents of the computer, make seem the digital as immaterial. Electronic by its intangible physical appearance, the computer program by its calculation and its languages, systems that are already symbols, and so, some abstractions. Don’t we call a computer an abstract machine ?

But, how about that ?

The immaterial has been used by Lyotard to define the new state of plastic art produced with  computer, but also its simulated texture composed by complex calculations. And here is coming the program and its central role in the working of computer : it is a specificity of the digital, up to Couchot and Hillaire. But for Stiegler, the invisibility of the material does not make it disappear : in the contrary, the infinitely little is still a state of material, and the problem to consider is the form of the materiality as an information.

This paper would like to develop a sort of historical definition and conception of the new technologies of information through these philosophical concepts.

Digital Materiality – Making the Incomprehensible (unbegreifliche) Perceptible

by Eva Verhoeven

This paper reports on a series of experiments that were conducted as part of a practice-led PhD, which explored the digital potentials at the interface of hardware and software through creative practice. The laboratory-style experiments develop along a trajectory from noise within existent (computer) systems towards speculative interfaces, where conceptions of materiality of hardware and software are brought into question.

Digital processes are omnipresent and yet remain imperceptible and incomprehensible (unbegreiflich) – easily being misunderstood as immaterial. This paradigm of the digital immaterial however is highly problematic, and challenging it becomes particularly important in the light of relays between technological developments and cultural concepts that develop into so-called Digital culture. 

Creative practice has a particular position from which to challenge existing paradigms. The experiment here was used not as a strictly normative scientific method, but as a process that engages in continuous evolvement and invention, while celebrating the constructedness of the pseudo-scientific laboratory.
The series of experiments makes use of the von Neumann architecture that treats software and data the same and through different processes transforms software processes into perceptible dynamic matter.

The Materiality of Digital Utopia

by Baruch Gottlieb

The Materiality of the Digital: The Problematic Persistence of Hardware in Digital Creation.  The citizen creator of the current age is advertised to be empowered of unprecedented means for transforming the world.   Promises to 'Make a smarter planet' (IBM) and make.believe (Sony) harken back to the poetics Plato would expel from his Republic.  This paper will attempt to evaluate the idealism of the digital age with reflection of the material circumstances of the hardware which is expected to generate it.

Reticular Aesthetics: Adversarial Media Art after the Material Turn

by Michael Dieter

This paper theorizes emergent political qualities of media art as challenging the boundaries or definition of the social through an active experimentation with things. At a time where categorizations of artistic engagements with technology are increasingly complex and unclear – especially in the rifts, overlaps and possible convergence between new media and contemporary art (Manovich, 1996; Lovink, 2008; Quaranta, 2010) – I offer a theorization of object-orientated politics as a defining impulse of media art practice. Of course, stressing the constitutive role of things, materialities or objects has become something of a customary gesture in the field, from vitalist accounts of media ecology by Matthew Fuller (2004) and Andreas Broeckmann (1995) to the medium-specificity of software studies or general use of a vocabulary of non-human agencies inspired by Actor-Network-Theory (ANT) and the work of Bruno Latour. As part of a broad ‘material turn’ throughout philosophy, social sciences and cultural studies, this orientation toward things, however, raises both important ontological and epistemological questions, especially regarding understandings of the role of politics. Against this general backdrop, my paper, therefore, aims to contribute to definitions of media art projects forged in adversarial contexts (works that might also be considered as examples of tactical media) and to understandings of an object-orientated politics through the concept of reticular aesthetics.

With reference to the ‘ecosophic’ art practice of Critical Art Ensemble and Preemptive Media as illustrative examples, my argument is that an important long-term trend in media art has been to draw together or reticulate object-orientated agencies in a political register. This mode of reticular aesthetics cannot be understood as purely representational; rather, it refers to projects that actively incorporate objects into the processual expressiveness of the work. Aesthetics here is defined in the well-known terms of Jacques Rancière (2006; 2010) as sense (aesthesis), or more specifically, as the ‘distribution of the sensible’ – where political resonance occurs by overturning stabilized formations of perception. However, as opposed to Rancière’s exclusive concern with subjectivities (or alternative contemporary art theorizations of inter-subjective or relational aesthetics), my argument is that a significant feature of media art is an engagement with objects as participating in political expressions by including themselves out. This should be understood as the definitive critical gesture of reticular aesthetics: a reordering of sense by experimental techniques that make objects intelligible, allowing everyday technical things to speak and become visible.

Bios of the Participants

Colette Tron

Colette Tron was born in 1968 in Marseille, France. She works in the fields of communication and language. After having worked in cultural journalism, she is currently working as a writer, using different mediums of communication of language (radio, books, theater, audiovisual, multimedia...), and in questioning their function experimenting with creation that is specific to each one. She collaborates with artists from different disciplines, in France and elsewhere. She participates in festivals reading poetry, writing and interpreting her texts for sonorous creations, collaborates into collective projects using electronic and digital technologies, and participates in colloquiums with forms of writing-NTIC as their theme. By founding the association Alphabetville in 2000, she has created a place of reflection around the rapport between language and the media, technic and art, aesthetic and society, and tries to articulate the practice and theory by dialoguing with the artists, researchers and cultural operators involved and publishing the results of the researches.

Eva Verhoeven

Eva Verhoeven (DE) is a practitioner and researcher who works within the field of Interactive Media Theory and Practice. Current projects explore potentialities at the interface of hardware and software using methods based on laboratory style experiments adapted for creative purposes. She completed her PhD in Digital Art in 2009. She has collaborated on and participated in xxxxx@Piksel events and has presented and exhibited her work in Europe and the US. She lives and works in London and teaches on the BA Graphic Design/New Media at the University for the Creative Arts.

Michael Dieter

Michael Dieter is a researcher on media art and materialist philosophy. His writing concerns critical uses of digital and networked technologies, and covers topics such as locative media, information visualization, gaming and software modification. He is an ongoing contributor to the magazine Neural, an assistant editor for the Institute of Network Cultures and a member of the editorial committee of the Fibreculture Journal. He has taught at University of Melbourne and is currently based at University of Amsterdam.

Baruch Gottlieb

Baruch Gottlieb is a Canadian filmmaker, artist, writer and organizer, working on themes related to the technical image. Gottlieb's art examines the immense discrepancies of scale in the contemporary experience of the world, from the astronomical, through the 'human scale', to the infinitesimal, through a ‘syntax of human form’ of dance , movement and bodily expression in media. This work thus always includes a performative aspect and has also been implemented in works of stage performance, public art and net-based art.

Gottlieb is founding member of the Laboratoire Deberlinisation, and co-creator of the AFRO series of utopian pan-african currency and ancillary projects. He organizes the SFX series of sound-art festivals in Seoul, the McLuminations series of philosophical screening events in Berlin and itinerant events under the epithet New Materialism.