Une Archeologie des Media, Exhibition, Seconde Nature, Aix en Provence, France.
22 May- 28 June 2015
Curated by PAMAL (Preservation and Art- Media Archeology Lab) and ESA Avignon.
Archeologies des Media, , Emmanuel Guez Guest Editor ,Magazine des Cultures Digitales #75, Paris, France,2014, 114pp, illus. ISBN 978-2-36807-043-7 ISSN 1638-3400
Reviewed by Roger F Malina, School of Art, Technology and Emerging Communication, University of Texas at Dallas, and Executive Editor Leonardo Publications, MIT Press, USA.
I managed to catch the excellent exhibition “Une Archeologie des Media’ on its last day at Seconde Nature in Aix en Provence, France (http://www.secondenature.org/-Archeologiedes-Media-.html). I was the only visitor in the well laid out and airy rooms, the only sounds were occasional chirps from some of the 30 year old computer equipment on display. Curated by the group PAMAL “Preservation and Art- Media Archeology Lab” at the Ecole Superieure d”Art d’Avignon, the exhibition included ten installations displayed as art works. These ranged from slide ‘re-enactments’ of Eduardo Kac’s 1985 videotext poems, to recoding manifested as menus of DOEK Jan de Weille and Annie Abrahams 1990 Amiga 500 proto net-art, to a staging of Scrumology Prod 2015 collaboration art and technology scrums. The rooms came across as strange combinations of mausoleum and animist ritual chambers. The pieces ‘spoke’ as cultural artefacts rather than as artworks. The exhibition would have been totally at home in Paul Otlet’s 1910 “Mudaneum’, which he envisaged as ” as an enormous intellectual warehouse of books, documents, catalogues and scientific objects. Established according to standardized methods, formed by assembling cooperative everything that the participating associations may gather or classify. “(Union of International Associations, 1914, p. 116). In fact their status as artworks seems irrelevant to me, they are clearly evidence of artists’ roles in articulating digital culture as it happens, as early adopters of new technologies, but not only smart users but smart developers – pushing their development in directions driven by agendas very different than those of the hardware and software designers. It seemed to me the exhibition managed to display, in uneasy equilibrium, display of hardware (functional or not), emulation or performance of work, display of work intended on line and not in physical space , explanatory material and a successful contextualization of work that was not intended to be shown together.
The accompanying issue of MCD, Magazine des Cultures Digitales, guest edited by Emmanuel Guez, provides an excellent snapshot of current discussions in the Archeology of Media. (MCD has become a leading theoretical and contemporary digital art magazine in France). The issue provides a number of well-developed texts surveying Archeology/Recycling, Exhibition, and Conservation. The texts are remarkably free of usual contextualizing to our favorite ‘french’ philosophers; their list of ‘key’ books are those by Friedrich Kietler, Siegfried Zielinksy, Erkki Huhatamo and Jussie Parikka (there is little discussion of variable media approaches – our very recent Leonardo Book- Re-Collection: Art, New Media and Social Memory by Richard Rinehart and Jon Ippolito would have been a good addition). The issue has a refreshing mixture of theoretical/conceptual articles and texts by artist/developers and curators and comes across as a productive nexus of theory and practice.
The PAMAL (http://pamal.org/ ) groupe at the Ecole Superieure d’Art d’Avignon, led by Emmanuel Guez, has a strategy that reminds me of that developed by groups such as Triple Canopy in New York; their practice combines research, exhibition and interventions as ways of unpacking the ‘history and meaning of things as they happen’. PAMAL has three interconnected axes on conservation/restoration/archeology of media, Digital Art Vanishing Ecosystem which seeks through artistic experimentation to re-enact and develop work with a particular interest in the glitch (the MCD issue has number of interesting discussions on bugs and glitches), and a third which is curatorial and exhibition theory and practices.
The archeology of media field is benefit of the long life expectancy of the generation of pioneers many of whom are living and active in their 80s and 90s and in a position to ‘push back’ on the young historians, curators and theoreticians trying to write multiple narratives of our art, science, technology fields of practice. By coincidence the exhibition Primary Codes (http://www.oifuturo.org.br/evento/codigos-primordiais/) is running15 Jun — 16 Aug 2015 at Oi Futuro Flamengo in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with staging of early work by Frieder Nake, Paul Brown, Harold Cohen and Ernest Edmonds- all three early pioneers in computer arts and still very active; these four artists have plenty to say on how the archeologists of media mis-interpret or mis-read developments that they were players in.
As pointed out by Kittler, Huhtamo, Grau and others, many of the underlying cultural imaginaries have long histories particularly as they are tied to emerging recording and transmission technologies in the nineteenth century. Yet often current artistic work is driven by a sense of a-historical immediacy ( eg the current déjà vu of the oculus rift). As I have argued elsewhere, we are seeing the development of what might be called the ‘hard humanities’ where historians and theoreticians find themselves not only articulating narratives of the past but also being asked to be pre-scriptive on future cultural change and innovation. In this we benefit not only from the pioneers still alive an able to challenge our interpretations, but also the creation of hybrid spaces where artists, historians, theoreticians and curators work elbow to elbow if not linking arms.