Workshop 2: Jussi Parikka, Nature as Experiment: Eco Media as a Probing of Potentialities
Jussi Parikka (ArcDigital, Anglia Ruskin University) opened his presentation with a reference to Whitehead, positioning speculative thought as a specific discipline. Parikka then proceeded in presenting two initiatives: Harwood, Wright and Yokokoji’s Eco Media ‘‘Cross Talk’’ and Garnet Hertz’s ‘Dead Media lab’. He explained how, the “Cross Talk” project tries to find processes in the natural world (“natural technics”) that could function as carriers of signals or messages. The title of ‘‘Cross Talk’’ corresponds to the prospect of these processes (in the form of materials or forces that were common to the habitats of animals) being accessible to the non-human realms as messages. Jussi Parikka argued that Garnet Hertz’s Dead Media-initiative (2009) aims towards very similar issues at the crossroads of media archaeology and ecology. Parikka positioned his presentation around the intriguing rhetorical question concerning non-human media: “Can ‘natural media’ with its different agencies and sensorium help to rethink human media, revealing opportunities for action or areas of mutual interest?“
Firstly, Jussi Parikka explained that projects such as Harwood, Wright and Yokokoji’s Eco Media (‘‘Cross Talk’’) have developed new modes of thinking media (ecology) through a tracking of the intensities of the medium itself. However, he argued that, in this case the medium is 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. Parikka pointed out that this allows tides and parasites as much as bodily fluids and the nose to become media. He emphasized that the project does not focus solely on the ecological crisis that has been a topic of media representations for years, but seems to engage with a more immanent level of media ecology in a manner that resembles Matthew Fuller’s (2008) call for ”Art for Animals.” Parikka argued that media is approached from the viewpoint of the animal, and such perceptions, motilities and energies (for example wind) that escape the frameworks of ”human media.”
Jussi Parikka concomitantly argued that the Eco Media project is introduced as a certain kind of a system of contraction of potential forces of nature. He explained that it can be seen as a laboratory for experimentation but one that does not rely on creating restricted spaces for animals or natural processes, but tries to tap into their function in the wild. Parikka followed by referring to Harwood, Wright and Yokokoji who in their research report write how: “By teasing out the nascent media already operating as transmissions of chemicals and energies – atmospheric flows, reproductive hormones, scent markers or geological distributions – we plan to finds [sic] ways to integrate ‘natural media’ with human media as ‘eco media’.” (2008:1). He explained how by recognizing how this possibly could have covered a huge amount of work done in natural, life and environmental sciences, their project focused more tightly on some field studies. Parikka referred to these, though the following questions:
- Can the human being become a bloodhound as the experiments with stereo olfactory devices and proper training suggest (drawing on an idea by scientists at University of California Berkeley)?
- Can software successfully “record, generate and layer” bird calls to create places of exploration for non-human communication (a project by tEnt [Tanaka Hiroya + Cuhara Macoto] titled CALL <-> RESPONSE  that the Eco Media refers to)?
- How does the human body extend itself into a machinic receiver through “Eco-Ears”, “a pair of head mounted domes which function like a stereo ear trumpet […] based on a design from the First World War when they were used to listen out for approaching aircraft or artillery.” (Harwood, Wright and Yokokoji 2008: 7)?
Jussi Parikka explained that the methodological point of the project is introduced as creating “points of ‘cross talk’” that are relays through which to establish communication between human and non-human media. He argued that this is done through experiments that themselves consolidate the already existing potentials between such realms, where the ways of perception might have certain points of commensurability but the projects are in a crucial position to match such points, to make them resonate. Parikka pointed out that this reterritorialises ecological processes as media technological.
Jussi Parikka argued that the crucial singularity in the Eco Media project lies with the methodology of “cross-talking” that despite the a bit human-centred idea of “talking” aims to establish connections across various regimes of enunciation and expression: processes usually too fast or slow, loud or silent, big or small for the human perception. As Harwood, Wright and Yokokoji frame it, in terms of practical experiments one of the crucial questions is that of scale: “many natural processes are beyond human scales of perception, too long or too quick.” (2008: 17). Parikka explained that what the project aimed to establish was the realisation of a whole new media sphere that “pass through” humans without us consciously realising it. He emphasized that the milieu here becomes much more than an environment of natural processes; it becomes a media network as they argue, and hence reveals such modalities of expression that can be translated into human media.
Subsequently, Jussi Parikka claimed that the project itself is more interesting as an establishment of a field of its own than any one particular project that was realized under it. It included mapping of earlier projects and related contexts, “field studies” on the human organism with references to Georges Bataille and media historical experiments of Alexander Graham Bell, as well as the “Eco-media Open Day” held at Southend-on-Sea Saturday 27 September, 2008. Parikka argued that The Open Day could be seen as a community orientated exercise in “archaic media” that set against very different modes and even scales of communication media. He pointed out that this was most evident in the “The Great Internet vs. Pigeons Race” that set the carrier pigeons of the Leigh pigeon club against an almost impossible task of battling in speed against the Internet. Funnily enough, the pigeons won due to a failed internet connection.
Jussi Parikka also pointed out that we can understand that “Cross Talk” as a focus on lived relationality, or the primacy of relations; a perspective that is useful for a wider consideration of media ecologies as well. He referred to Fuller, who establishes this point about relationality when argues for the potentiality of art to make new scales sensible. Jussi Parikka argued that this can be seen as a political invention of scales and relations, and we could easily extend the idea to media ecological considerations:
“A dimension of relationality, the combinatorial arrangement of such relations, can further be said to provide a means toward describing, actuating, or multiplying the powers of an element within a composition.” (Fuller 2005: 131).
Parikka claimed that relationality here becomes not only an ontological fact of assemblages (that relations are external to the components they connect and hence have a dynamism and reality of their own [DeLanda 2006: 10-11]), but as much a tool for excavating such arrangements of relations and summoning what kind of elements the passages between arrangements consist of. In short, if you want to understand an arrangement, such as a media technological assemblage, look at its relations and compositions.
In this sense, Parikka followed, media ecological objects are also processes and “compositional dynamics” as Fuller (2005: 131) argues pointing towards Whitehead. Objects are far from inert “things” but consist of various dimensions of relationality. Relationality is here not a matter of communicating content so much as a weaving in and out of scales into its assemblage. Therefore, Jussi Parikka argued that The Cross Talk mode of communication is in this sense communication as a topological weaving of various scales of perception, motility, sensation into the assemblage where human media is able to touch with animal and natural media.
Jussi Parikka proposed that methodologically the project outlines the themes of how such transversal communication across scales can be also brought to bear on the recent ecological contexts. He claimed that the project does less a work of analysis than invents such points of proximity for “new catalytic nuclei capable of bifurcating existence.” (Guattari 1995: 18). Furthermore, Parikka argued that, it’s a testing ground for what they call “species centric assumptions” concerning media – security, privacy, public – and how such notions can be “tested” through new transpositions (Harwood, Wright, Yokokoji 2008: 16). Indeed, Parikka explained that, they also mention how this idea extends their previous work with “free media” that involves projects of community inclusion and experimentation with open formats and free technological infrastructures. Through methods that range from documentation of project stages, practical methods and key questions raised within the project and through correspondence, as well as public presentations the project worked to bring such fields as ecology, biosemiotics, zoosemiotics, socio-biology as well as ethology in touch with concerns that are relevant both for the technological assemblages of contemporary media and also for the aforementioned political economy of media. (Harwood, Wright, Yokokoji, 2008: 17). Jussi Parikka argued that here, aesthetics turns into politics, and the relations of perception and modes of organization extend into a reconsideration of how we might think human media as well.
Jussi Parikka proposed that the Cross Talk in this sense is a mode of transversal connectionism. He explained how, for Guattari, the notion of transversal communication emerged from the innovative practices at the La Borde institute, where the relations between patients and staff was reshuffled on a continuous basis, consolidating such new transversal connections that cut across hierarchical and horizontal power relations. Parikka also referred to Genosko, who has suggested the notion’s usefulness for a wider politico-ontological methodology that should be taken into account in the context of transdisciplinary knowledge. This means establishing “new connections between science-society-ethics-aesthetics-politics” (Genosko 2002: 200), which reshuffle the roles of such institutions or regimes of enunciation by bringing them into new proximities.
Jussi Parikka argued that as a “change in focus”, the Eco Media project proposes to look at such things as bodily fluids or bodies as conduits for communication; from spit to Alexander Graham Bell’s nineteenth century experiments of using human bodies to transmit phone calls (Harwood, Wright, Yokokoji 2008: 3). Parikka emphasized that this was not conceptualised as a straightforward historical excavation but as a return to “experimental historical forms” (Ibid: 8), and practical exercises such as using archived recordings of cod breeding from 1971 (National Sound Archives), and replaying the sounds to “young codlings as they entered the Thames Estuary.” (Ibid: 7). Parikka argued that the performance piece by Graham Harwood and Matthew Fuller extended the usability of archives in a bit similar way as the sound artist Mira Calix’s use of archived insect noises from the Museum d’Histoire Naturelle in Geneva. For the Harwood-Fuller experiment, Parikka pointed out, the context was however different, and was performed as part of the Eco Media field day in 2008, and extending the transmission of archive material to an audience of non-humans.
Parikka illuminated how the project’s final report includes an appendix that works as a dip into media history revealing the multiplicity of bodies of communication; from pigeons to magnetism; from horses to using phenomena such as light for communication and media; from bodies of monks wired up by Jean-Antoine Nollet in 1746 to a variety of materials like woodcuts and selenium (by Paul Nipkow in 1884 for his early TV systems). Indeed, Parikka argued that the history of media can be seen as a work of probing the qualities of the material in order to find out what different bodies can do; what can they afford in terms of communication and contraction of the world in terms of their qualities; how matter can circulate energy and meaning. Parikka pointed out that in this sense, the notion of media archaeology expands beyond human media, and the contexts of Eco Media project not only extending transversally to nature, but also towards history becomes understandable.
Secondly, Jussi Parikka focused on the analysis of Garnet Hertz’s Dead Media-initiative (2009). He explained that it borrows the name from Bruce Sterling’s classic 1990s commenced excavations into the zombies of media history – the dead that refuse to go away, and Sterling’s attempt to create a sort of an indexical archive for such dead technologies. Parikka argued that in the context of the growing ecocrisis, Hertz updates a much stronger ecosophical interest.
Jussi Parikka claimed that under the umbrella agenda of “how to creatively repurpose and reuse electronic waste”, media ecology becomes not only a relation of stabilisation of consumerism, or a negative enterprise of “holding back” as a more classical stance of consumer criticism would suggest. Instead, he argued, Hertz’s project (http://www.conceptlab.com/deadmedia/) is about active contextualisation of creation through three fields of interest:
1) “repurposing” as a creative and artistic methodology that takes into use the “leftovers” of information technology boom and addresses the problems of electronic waste (chlorinated solvents, brominated flame retardants, PVC, heavy metals, plastics and gases). Jussi Parikka argued that this is also a creation of a new temporality in terms of detaching the cycle of consuming from the short-spanned individualized human time of “use-worthy” technologies and extending that towards non-human dimensions.
2) “community and artistic production” as context for dead media. Through DIY methodologies and “circuit bending”, a whole new realm of understanding and again extending the use of media technologies is opened. With some similar ideas as in Mediashed’s “free media” projects that also Eco Media continued, this stream of Dead Media interest is promised as creating such new communities that form around opening up technologies.
3) “innovation through analysis of media history” points towards an active reframing of the temporalities of media “evolution”. Instead of linearities of past media understood as bypassed presents, time is implicitly understood in such a media archaeological context as a continuous relocation and reallocation of potentialities.
Jussi Parikka followed in describing how for Fuller (2005), one of the tasks of media ecologies is to carve out unaccounted for potentialities from standardized media objects. Parikka argued that the examples of media ecology analyzed above point towards such a potentiality but with a specific nod towards a creative reuse of history. At the same time, he pointed out that, the use of history summons a new mode of temporality that reminds of a certain media archaeological agenda; time becomes a rewiring of potentialities, not a stable archive of collected past presents. Parikka illuminated how this supports the wider reconsiderations of the place of nature in current technoculture where nature has been turned from an object of stability and stillness into a mode of becoming of heterogeneous bodies and relations, but also an interest in the economic possibilities of intensities of bodies, referring to Thrift (2008: 56-74). Jussi Parikka argued that the supposed “stillness of nature” turns out to be a multiplicity teeming with potentials, that are increasingly also the motor of production of value for the capitalist tapping into lived bodies. Parikka emphasized that Media ecological projects have in this sense to be aware of the contexts of capitalism in which “ecologies” are produced.
In conclusion, Jussi Parikka wrapped up some of the key features of “media ecology” as read here through especially the Eco Media-project, and also the Dead Media project. Parikka argued that media ecology involves an expansion of “media” to include a number of such processes, objects and modes of perception, motility and relationality that are not usually seen as “media” in its modern, cultural sense; in this expanded mode, media becomes more an ethological relationality than merely a technological object. Hence, Parikka claimed that, media ecologies can take its cue as much from flows and streams of nature or the modes of perception of animals. Jussi Parikka closed his presentation by stating that media ecology is topological.
Discussion following Jussi Parikka’s presentation focused around five themes: references to Ruskin, bionics, traditional and cybernetic vision, conception of animal in the research and life as technology.
Firstly, references were made to Ruskin in terms of ‘the business of things’. Connections were also made to theories of Deleuze and Guattari, as well as, Hardt and Negri in the context of modernity of immanence. It was pointed out that, as early, as in the works of St Francis anticipation of the engagement with animals was outlined, pointing to reification of the theology of the natural.
Secondly, the following questions were posed:
- What about bionics?
- Is this a bionic project?
Jussi Parikka referred to the long history of mapping animal beings in terms of whether they can do things better than humans and why. He emphasized the enthusiasm for non-human animal and described a new insect media project coming out next year.
Thirdly, the problematic of the difference of the traditional and cybernetic vision of bringing the animal processing close to machine processing, was debated. It was agreed that both are aiming to do cybernetics and both are a part of a long history of variations. The difference was acknowledged in terms of political emphasis – political economy of bodies – pointing to the dimension of the experimental responsibility.
Fourthly, an observation was made with a reference to the work of Deleuze – according to his philosophy, an animal is not interesting in itself, but when a philosopher writes as though s/he is an animal (i.e. dog in Kafka) – that is, when a human experiences a world like an animal. Subsequently, a question of ‘Where are politics in this in that sense?’ was posed.
Concomitantly, the issues of trying to rescue animals from psychoanalysis and the oedipal scheme of things were probed in the context of rescuing animals from existing only as metaphors.
Finally, the problem of life as technology was debated in terms of the image of the world as a distinction between that of the robot versus that of the forest. Here, the following questions were posed:
- How do we think about technology?
- How do we consider the capacity of technological objects?
Here, in the conclusion, the double shifting of the issues of translation and the truth of others was acknowledged.