Category Archives: ART

Solar System as Waste

Benjamin Bratton’s “Terraforming” collection of essays comprises of theoretical ideas, that read like a manifesto and an experimentation of ideas about how the Earth could develop. In my humble opinion, the essays sound as radical utopias in a way, even though it does answer many questions. When thinking about climate crisis and environmental disasters, I couldn’t help but wonder, do we require a more practical approach? Do we even have enough resources to terraform our planet Earth? Is it a realistic approach? And how can we clean all of our planet?

As an experiment, I have created a small art project of our Solar system from the everyday waste around me.

 

Terrain textures of infrascapes: photo-essay.

In order to understand media-nature interactions, it is quite important to understand that “media analysis starts in landscapes, which themselves include both historical and ecological aspects”. [1] So why is it still, nowadays, that media and nature have a disconnected relationship? Our landscapes are forever changed with the magnificence of power plant chimneys, electrical lines, oil ports, to name a few. The structures and the influence of them are visible from a distance and are there for us to notice without even realising. However, what about the ground and terrain of Earth these majestic structures are built on? What about the close-up view of these terrains that infrastructure stands on?

This photo-essay is exploring the terrain textures of Kruunuvuorenranta, where one of the oil silos of Helsinki is located. The oil silo, nowadays, is mainly used as an event venue for exhibiting art installations and organising events; however, the nature and terrain around it is changed, forever, due to toxic spillage. How these textures differ from pure terrains in nature? Is there “purity” in nature even, nowadays? The discourse in nature purity.

(All photography is by the author, 25 October, 2020, Kruunuvuorenranta)

References:

[1] Bhowmik, Samir and Parikka, Jussi.. (2019).Infrascapes for Media Archaeographers. Schwabe Verlag Berlin GmbH. pp 183-193.

Technosymbiosis of media, performance and plastics.

 

Performance art scene can date back to the primitive people in Paleolithic era creating sacred rituals to emulate the spirit world. It is quite burdensome to produce the exact date of birth of the performance art, as in its essence it is a pure transmission of energy between the artist and the audience at certain given time and space; it happens in present – once the piece is over, it is over forever, only the memory of it can stay. This changes, however, with the birth of media technology, in particular the first film camera.

Kodak created first film camera in the late 80s [1], the first transparent and flexible film base material was nitrocelluloid [2], which was discovered and then refined for the use in film. Now, with this first film camera the performances were possible to capture, store and document them for later use. The performance trace was no longer only in viewer’s memory, but also on a piece of paper.

 

(Photo 1: Original Kodak Camera, Serial No. 540, [3])

 

Nitrate film was used for both photographic and cinematic images from late 19th century until late 40s in 20th century [2]. During this time in performance history, quite a popular style was cabaret. With the birth of revolutionary cultural movements like DADA and Cubism, performance art started to shape its importance in the bourgeoisie fine art society. Performance art was considered and still is, nowadays, as one of the purest artistic expressions. Quite challenging to capture the time and space of a certain moment on film, yet quite revolutionary, provocative and important for the history and theory of performance art the photographs were in the beginning of 20th century.

 

Cabaret Voltaire: A night out at history's wildest nightclub - BBC Culture

(Photo 2: Cabaret Voltaire, [4])

 

However, photographs do not depict the movements, the feelings and expressions of the performer. They are just a still candid photograph of a certain time and moment in that given space. During the same era a new art form in media was born – motion pictures and the first synthetic plastic was produced and patented by Leo Baekeland in 1907 [2]. Polymers like cellulose nitrate, cellulose acetate and polyester play an important role in film history as well as in the making and documenting of the performance history. Many film rolls were used and discarded in the landfill, where most traditional plastics might not decompose.

With the creation of digital cameras in 70s and 80s the feeling of many wasteful materials discarded, like film rolls, seems to have disappeared. But is it really quite so? Inside the digital camera, there are many electronic equipments, sensors, detectors that capture the incoming rays and turn them into digital signals. Digital cameras use digital technology. “Plastics are often neglected within materialist accounts of media” as rightfully Sy Taffel said in their paper “Technofossils of the Anthropocene: Media, Geology, and Plastics. Cultural Politics” [2]. If we go beyond digital camera as a medium to document performance art, we can think of  the quite recent concept of the art of the future, for example mixed reality. Mixed reality can truly help the artist to caption their performance forever. The feeling and experience for the viewer is quite different and incomparable to viewing the performance piece, for example, in the form of photograph or a movie. In mixed reality the viewer can be present with the performer in space. It is no longer the documented trace of performance you are viewing, it is almost like a feeling that you are there together with an artist.

Performance art is art quite often without objects that happen in given space and moment. In order to be present, the viewer needs to be physical in that space. But with the help of the media the viewer can experience partially or fully the artwork. Their symbiosis is strong and it plays an enormous role in the history, theory and development of performance as an art form. The symbiosis of media and plastics might not be as visible to the naked eye, however, it is daily there in our everyday lives capturing incoming rays, detecting the change in the environment and responding with the output. We cannot talk about one without the other, thus performance, media and plastics are tied together in the technosymbiosis of anthropocene.

As a final thought, here is a small performance and entertainment to compare thermoplastics and thermoset plastics.

 

(Video 1: Comparison of plastics in digital media 1, thermoplastics examples, by the author)

 

(Video 2: Comparison of plastics in digital media 2, thermoset plastics examples, by the author)

 

References:

[1] Ma, Jonathan. (2017). Film Photography History and Emergence of Digital Cameras. https://sleeklens.com/the-history-of-film-and-emergence-of-digital-cameras/ [Accessed 4 October 2020]

[2] Taffel, Sy. (2016). Technofossils of the Anthropocene: Media, Geology, and Plastics. Cultural Politics. 12. 355-375. 10.1215/17432197-3648906

[3] National Museum of American History. Original Kodak Camera, Serial No. 540. https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_760118 [Accessed 5 October 2020]

[4] Sooke, Alastair. (2016). Cabaret Voltaire: A Night out at History’s Wildest Nightclub. https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20160719-cabaret-voltaire-a-night-out-at-historys-wildest-nightclub [Accessed 5 October 2020]

 

 

Infragraphy Volume 2, Fall 2019

INFRAGRAPHY Volume 2. is a compilation of critical student artworks and short essays dealing with the materialities of media technologies and their environmental implications.

These works and texts are the outcomes from the course ‘Media and the Environment’ in the Fall of 2019 at the Department of Media, Aalto University. The course was a series of scholarly readings about and around the themes of media including media’s relations and impacts on the so-called Anthropocene, thermocultures of media, ecologies of fabrication, media and plastics, Internet of Things, Planned Obsolescence, e-waste, and media’s energetic landscapes. A key approach of the course was also introducing artistic methods and practices that could address emerging media materialities. The final exhibition of the course was a collection of student artworks as a response to the contemporary discourse of political economy of media and related environmental implications.

DOWNLOAD PDF: http://blogs.aalto.fi/mediainfrastructures/files/2020/01/Infragraphy_Fall2019_WEB.pdf

The Anthrobscene – Course Exhibition 22.11 – 9.12.2019

Artists: Reishabh Kailey, Gurden Batra & Serpil Oğuz. Discarded electronics and wood, 2019

The Anthrobscene – Media and the Environment Course Exhibition
Department of Media
22 November – 9 December

The Anthropocene is nothing but the Anthrobscene. This obscenity according to media philosopher Jussi Parikka (2015) is— “because of the unsustainable, politically dubious, and ethically suspicious practices that maintain technological culture and its corporate networks. Obscene because this age marks the environmentally disastrous consequences of planned obsolescence of electronic media, the energy costs of digital culture and furthermore the neo-colonial arrangements of material and energy extraction across the globe. To call it anthrobscene is just to emphasize what we knew but perhaps we were shielded away from acting on—that is the horrific human-caused drive toward a 6th mass extinction.” 

The exhibition is a collection of student artworks that deal with the materialities of media technologies. It is a response to the contemporary discourse of political economy of media and related environmental implications. It tackles the Anthropocene through the lens of media theory, culture and philosophy to understand the geological underpinnings of contemporary media. 

Artists: Gurden Batra, Ameya Chikramane, Punit Hiremath, Eerika Jalasaho, Julia Sand, Reishab Kailey, Kevan Murtagh, Hanna Arstrom, Leo Kosola, Takayuki Nakashima, Liisi Soroush, Surabhi Nadig Surendra. 

Artists: Reishabh Kailey, Gurden Batra & Serpil Oğuz. Discarded electronics and wood, 2019

Fictional screams and other assaults

This post includes mentions of sexual assault.

When reading Parikka’s The Anthrobscene, I was particularly appalled by the chapter And the Earth screamed, Alive. There’s something about non-animals, or even non-humans, screaming in fiction that scares the heck out of me but also fascinates me. Humans have always had a thing for humanizing objects and animals, through fables and other stories. This chapter immediately made my think of a scene from the old YouTube phenomena Annoying orange, where a speaking apple is suddenly chopped into pieces by a human, something that’s quickly forgotten by the other fruits witnessing the slaughter.

Parikka, on the other hand, draws a daunting image of Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional character Professor Challenger, in his short story When the World screamed*, piercing the Earth’s crust and making it scream. Parikka describes this as a rape-like scene and develops this further in the reference section, stating that:

The allusion of rape is made even more obvious when considering the long-term mythological articulation of the earth as female. The female interior is one of valuable riches.

I wanted to shape my own opinion of the matter, so I read the full short story. It can be debated whether Doyle intended this to be a rape scene or not. Professor Challenger himself refers to the drilling as a mosquito penetrating the skin of a human, or “vigorous stimulation of its sensory cortex”. This seems to reflect general assault rather than sexual assault. But then again there is certainly many references to the femaleness of the Earth, and even a sexual one, in conversation with driller Mr. Jones:


Professor Challenger, who is described on one hand as a madman and an abuser, and on the other as a genius and someone that it’s impossible not to admire, has obvious megalomania. He does not empathise with the creature he imagines Earth to be. It seems that it rather annoys or even threatens him that the Earth is so oblivious to humans and their makings. He wants her to acknowledge his existence and he can only come up with one way of doing this – by penetrating her nervous system and causing her pain.

So it’s not clear whether we should read this scene as rape, but if we do, it’s used in a manner that is depressingly common in pop culture. The female character Earth is only present in the story during the assault scene, she doesn’t have a story arc of her own and she doesn’t interact with any other characters than the rapists. She’s only mentioned in relation to the upcoming rape and there are no other female characters in the story. Surely she reacts very strongly to the assault by throwing out the perpetrators and the equipment they’ve used to penetrate her, but it’s also stated that there were no casualties from the event, which means that in the end no one suffered from her revenge act. The story ends on a high note, with Professor Challenger being applauded for his scientific “break-through” of proving that the Earth is alive. Mother Earth heals herself from within and nothing more is told about whatever mental trauma she now has to go through inside her safe womb within layers of metal and soil and beneath her outer surface of plants and water.

We have gotten so accustomed to reading and watching stories of rape this way that we can’t even imagine the alternatives**. The new Netflix series Unbelievable deals with rape in a new way and has been praised in reviews for this. Vulture uses the headline “How Unbelievable Tells a True Crime Story Without ‘Rape Porn’”*** and writes

The Netflix drama is less interested in the rapist and his horrific crimes than in another, more insidious villain: the criminal-justice system.

The series follows two female criminal detectives struggling to gain justice for several rape victims, depicting rape from the victim point of view and not putting much attention the male perpetrator or his psyche. I haven’t yet been able to watch the series myself, but I hope it will live up to its reputation. I can’t help but wonder how Doyle’s short story would have been written had it taken on the same perspective as Unbelievable – following the victim in her fight for justice after the assault, in a world completely uninterested in her version of the story. In the end it makes me question rape as an analogy for man’s destruction of the planet at all. The Earth is, contradictory to Professor Challenger’s ideas, not just one entity but many, and the environmental destruction is complex and takes different shapes in different parts of the world. Giving the planet emotional traits and a gender might make it more human to us but it’s none the less a false perception of reality, a romantic idea of “him” against “her”, with only one potential outcome – she succumbs to his wishes, or else he will take her by force. In this version there is no “us”, no life in harmony with the other, a complete lack of seeing humans as part of the ecosystem and the planet itself. It’s as problematic as the general depiction of women in pop culture, seen as “the other sex”, something exotic. In this version of women, there is a before and an after – once she’s had intercourse, whether consentual or not, she’s not pure anymore and will never be again. This image of the Earth is as damaging as the image of women: Why would we try to save something that we’ve already used and abused? If it doesn’t gain us, the perpetrator, why would we try to improve our actions and reverse some of the harm done?

* https://classic-literature.co.uk/scottish-authors/arthur-conan-doyle/when-the-world-screamed/

** The Black List website found that 2400 out of 45,000 scripts submitted to them included rape. https://blog.blcklst.com/sexual-violence-in-spec-screenplays-8f35268b689

*** https://www.vulture.com/2019/09/unbelievable-netflix-susannah-grant.html

Infragraphy Volume 1, Spring 2019

This first volume of Infragraphy is a compilation of critical student writings and photo essays about media, infrastructure and the environment. These texts are outcomes from the “Archaeology of Media Infrastructures” Master of Arts course in the Spring of 2019 at the Department of Media, Aalto University Finland. The course examined media infrastructures including the concept of deep time, the materialities of the Internet, Artificial Intelligence, digital labor, water, energy, and critical infrastructure.

Download PDF: Infragraphy_Vol1_Spring2019

#Carbonfeed by Jon Bellona and John Park

I came across to this art project which sonifies Twitter feeds and also makes physical data visualizations. I find the one in the image quite powerful and poetic.

With the advent of social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, humans have increased their production of digital content.[1] Even simple online interactions generate carbon emissions; a Google search has been estimated to generate 0.2 grams of CO2.[2] To keep pace with growing online media, there is an increasing dependence upon data centers,[3] which now account for 2% of the US’s electricity consumption.[4]

source: https://carbonfeed.org

Undersea internet cables seen through art

Artist that came to mind while thinking of media infrastructure: EVAN ROTH – Landscape with a ruin

Images taken from the webpage: http://www.evan-roth.com/work/landscape-with-a-ruin/

(Photo by Vinciane Lebrun-Verguethen, courtesy of the Mona Bismarck American Center)

Roth’s art piece comments on the undersea internet cables. I found his webpage maybe a year ago and Samir Bhowmik’s own work on these cables made me remember this.

This is my post commenting on the first lecture, delayed because of technical issues 😉