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What Is A Media Lab?

situated practices in media studies

An Interview with Robert Emmons of the Digital Studies Center at Rutgers University-Camden

What is your lab called and where is it?

We are the Digital Studies Center at Rutgers University-Camden. Rutgers-Camden is one of three campuses in the Rutgers system, the State University system of New Jersey. Camden is in South Jersey, just across the Ben Franklin Bridge from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Jim Brown is the Director and Robert A. Emmons Jr. is the Associate Director.

What sorts of projects and activities form the core of your work? Is there a specific temporal or technological focus for your lab?

We are two years old, so we’re still fairly “young,” but our main research project is the Rutgers-Camden Archive of Digital Ephemera (R-CADE). Our primary focus is providing scholars with software or hardware that they’d like to investigate, research, and/or repurpose. The R-CADE makes digital technology available to scholars for research and creative activities.

Scholars are free to take apart, dissect, and repurpose artifacts in the R-CADE as they attempt to understand their historical and cultural significance. While the R-CADE does not preserve in the sense of keeping objects in their “original” condition, the archive is in fact an exercise in the preservation of digital culture. By allowing for the study and exploration of digital ephemera, the R-CADE aims to ensure these digital artifacts a place in our histories and our various scholarly conversations. Each year the DSC hosts a symposium during which scholars share research and creative work. Scholars and artists work over the course of many months by researching and/or repurposing an object of study, and they share this work during the symposium. Our R-CADE Symposium features this kind of work.

In addition, we have a series of mini-grants that we award to people on campus, and this has funded a range of projects: a journal that publishes undergraduate biology research, an R user group for people in the humanities and the social sciences, various video projects (Robert Emmons is a documentary film maker, so we do a lot with digital video). Finally, we have a fellows program that allows scholars to do research and teach without any residency requirement. Fellows can teach online and attend fellows meetings via Skype. This year, we have an exciting group of fellows, including Judy Malloy, Claire Donato, Quinn DuPont, and others.

Who uses the lab? Is it a space for students, for researchers, for seminars?

We have two rooms. The ModLab is our research space, and the CoLab is our teaching space. Both are designed to be reconfigurable (moveable furniture, technology at the edges of the room, etc.) and have large flat screens that enable collaborative work. The ModLab is an open lab that hosts many events and is available as open lab and maker space, the CoLab is primarily for courses but also has some open hours. Both rooms are open to anyone on campus.

What sorts of knowledge does the lab produce and how is it circulated?

Our R-CADE project produces creative work and research; we also host a number of workshops. The lab has helped produce a number of digital video projects and also some websites (including a site for the Israeli Visions of Place art exhibition).

Our biggest project to date was an Electronic Literature exhibition called “A Matter of Bits.” This ran in the Stedman Gallery on campus, and we exhibited more than 50 works of e-lit. Some of that work was displayed on vintage equipment (for instance, a C64 for Nick Montfort’s translation of Amílcar Romero’s Poema 21, a Mac Classic to display John McDaid’s Uncle Buddy’s Phantom Funhouse). We also displayed work on a Kinect, on iPads, and other equipment. This was a large undertaking, and the exhibition ran for three months. We also hosted the launch of the Electronic Literature Collection Volume 3 during that exhibition.

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An Interview with Erandy Vergara of Studio XX in Montreal, QC

Interview by Maya Livio

6/4/2017

Photo credit for images above: Studio XX, Electronic arts for families, 2016. This project receives financial support from the Ministry of Culture and Communications and the City of Montreal as part of the Agreement on the cultural development of Montreal. Photo: Stéphanie Lagueux.

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In this interview, Maya Livio, PhD Candidate at University of Colorado Boulder and Curator of MediaLive and the Media Archaeology Lab speaks with Erandy Vergara, Program Coordinator of Studio XX in Montreal, Canada. The interview was conducted via Skype on April 6, 2017, and edited for clarity.

Maya Livio: Thanks again for speaking with me, Erandy. Tell me about Studio XX, its mission, and how it came to be.

Erandy Vergara: The studio was created twenty years ago, its anniversary was last April 2016, by four women artists working in academia and in art and technology. Their idea was to create a space where they could learn how to use different media and also share what they knew. So the idea came from sharing knowledge, sharing space, sharing technologies, and sharing the resources they had—you know, at the time not everyone had a computer. So the basis was this idea of a lab. They didn’t have a gallery in mind, it was more about creating a space where things could happen, where projects could be developed. They started at a public library which let them hide away, and they brought their own computers and gave workshops to the community which could be as basic as how to navigate the internet.

ML: Wow.

EV: This is how it started and eventually the project started taking shape. It was always a feminist organization because they believed there wasn’t enough space for women to raise their hand and say “I want to know how to use this, I don’t want to feel stupid, I want to know.” It was clear to them that if women did not have a foot in cyberspace from the beginning, the gaps that were already very present in society in general and in art in particular were only going to get larger. This is how it started.

So it’s a feminist art and technology space. Eventually—you know, in Canada we have organizations which are called artist-run centres—so eventually they got funding to create an artist-run centre with the mission to support women artists in the development and production of art and technology. It all started as a lab—as having computers that people could play with, and eventually they got a gallery space. And, you know, as technology has changed the lab has changed. The equipment and the practices have always been changing based on new technologies and their new uses.

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An Interview With Dene Grigar from the Electronic Literature Lab & MOVE Lab at Washington State University

Interview by Ryan Ruehlen

1/4/2017

Ryan Ruehlen: Let’s just dive right in. Why don’t you tell me what your two labs are that you run in Vancouver, WA?

Dene Grigar: I have two labs, the Motion Tracking Virtual Environment lab (MOVE lab) and the ELL, which is the Electronic Literature Lab. MOVE lab I have had since 2004 and I brought that with me from Dallas, ELL is relatively new, that on I began building around 2008.

RR: How do those two branch off of each other, and distinguish from one another?

DG: Well if you think about it, if you’re making things that are motion tracked, that are virtual, the MOVE lab has been developed to do performances, installations, games using sensory based technologies and virtual reality and augmented realty, you’re making these things and then they die. They go away they become obsolete, and so the impetus and the connection of those two is that the ELL seeks to preserve those things. So you make this stuff over here, and as I’m making it I’m thinking about what do I need to do to preserve them, what I am going to have to do to keep them for all time? So ELL serves a purpose for all artists in general, or for any kind of making, so that you can keep things alive longer, right? That’s the idea. So the MOVE lab first and it really did spur the idea, “Hey were making this stuff and its incomplete” and so the example of that was when I was doing “When Ghosts will Die” with Steve Gibson. It’s a great piece, it’s an awarding winning piece—we have a nice video documentation of the piece, but the piece itself is gone. It was built on Macromedia Director, and then “8” came out; 2 wiped out Reason 1—all technologies orphan previous technologies. Reason 1 was totally wiped out by Reason 2. There was no back up compatibility whatsoever. We knew that but we really didn’t want to do any updating but you can’t update after a while because the computer gets old. We’re talking years past, right? Macromedia gets knocked out and the rest in general, they’re just gone. Nobody uses Macromedia Director anymore. So you’re making these things, as you’re making them, you’re thinking this is great, it’s going to be a great piece, win an award and then four years later it’s gone, and all you have left of it is the documentation. Thank god we documented it well.

But not everybody does that. I’m not just talking about artists. I’m talking about people who are producing VR for industry, you know, it’s all throw away. And that’s not a good thing. It becomes digital trash, and that’s not healthy.

RR: There are a lot of artists that in the last 10-20 years have been drawn to a more ephemeral way of working, you know? Sort of embracing it, and there is something that is interesting about that form of non-attachment, but I almost wonder if that’s a good thing or not, how do you feel about that?

DG: It’s deadly. So my background is Greek scholarship right? Homer was my thing. Then I studied Sappho, and Aristotle and Plato, all those folks; Euripides…when I was studying Greek language, literature and culture, they’d say, “This is all they have left of Euripides plays; we know he did this many.” And you only have this many to study, the rest of them are gone. It’s theater, it’s ephemeral. They’re not documented, ok great—you sit there and think, “Gee, I really love Medea, I would have liked to have had more experiences with stories like Medea.” And then there is conjecture about Aeschylus’ plays, that he was more conservative…what if we had more Aeschylus plays, would we have been wrong about that pronouncement? You know were missing works by Aristotle, we know he wrote something on comedy; we don’t have it. That whole Umberto Eco “Name of the Rose”, is based on that idea that the work has been preserved by the monks, and its a dangerous work and its going to upend society as we know it, and so they’re keeping it away from human beings in the middle ages.

I love ephemeral things. I started with the idea that ephemerality is interesting. And there is something beautiful about the death of a thing, but it’s not healthy for a culture to have no record of the thing. Someone like Sappho is really important; the bee in my bonnet when I was younger was taking World Literature at 12th grade and there were four women in the entire book, it was four inches thick. The guys in my class would say, “You know if women were smart they written more.” And one of the women in the book was Sappho. My teacher said it was the only one we had by Sappho. And the answer was that she wrote no more than that—but the answer is that she did right more than that. We know she had eight books of poetry. This young man’s argument was, “See women aren’t as smart as men because women don’t write.” Well that’s a stupid argument, and we know why they aren’t in that book, but I was in 12th grade and I didn’t have the language to articulate that argument back at him, I just stormed off furious and knew he was wrong.

If we had done a better job preserving the women writers of the period we’d have more. We knew there were more, there’s evidence of it. People were throwing things away—they burned Sappho twice. Books that we don’t have now were burnt twice, in 389 by Christians who didn’t want people reading Pagan female writers and in 1089 for the same reason. And were seeing the same kind of thing happening right now with the Taliban and now ISIS, where they have destroyed this city, which was the city of Zenobia, the warrior queen. It was also a city of great religious tolerance. Knocking out that city wipes out the memory of Zenobia. It wipes out the memory of religious tolerance.

What we have left is ISIS and their dogma. I like to think of human beings as making creatures. The whole point of us is that we make things, and we don’t just make one or two things, we make a lot of things. But we are also creatures of our unmaking and we make things and then we forget about them, we don’t value them, or we value these but not those. So as we make those things we aren’t thinking about what’s going to happen to them once they’re made. What is someone going to do with this once I make it? People makes games, mostly computer games where they go around and kill women or black people and they just put it out there to make a bunch of money not realizing that the thing that they made has a life beyond their hands, and there’s an ethical issue involved here in the production of the things we make. How we make them, and take care of them—how we husband them—how we disseminate that so people understand the point of them, and not making things are are pointless or that are hurtful.

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An Interview with Jason Pace, Executive director of Digital Future Lab at University of Washington Bothell

Interview by Kolby Harvey

What is your lab called and where is it?

Digital Future Lab (DFL), University of Washington Bothell (Bothell, Washington).

What sorts of projects and activities form the core of your work? Is there a specific temporal or technological focus for your lab?

DFL is an interactive media production studio developing narrative experiences and non-violent video games, and offering internships in coding, narrative design, game mechanic/systems/level design, project management, art & animation, marketing, and other disciplines. The focus of the lab, however, is on student professional development and modelling the power of what we refer to as “transformational diversity” to make teams and products more innovative and inclusive. We use game development as our sandbox because it brings together such a wide range of disciplines and allows students from all university majors and programs to deeply participate in R&D without requiring extensive domain expertise.

Research has shown the many benefits of diverse teams, but that research isn’t necessarily translating into business practice. DFL recruits to maximize diversity across the widest possible spectrum (including typical markers such as race and gender, and adding neurodiversity, educational background, and many other forms of difference).

DFL has perhaps one of the most diverse teams in the technology industry, and we apply theoretical content drawn from queer & feminist sources to our culture and team development. Students are expected to actively interrogate issues of race, class, gender, and ability as those concepts relate to the work they produce in the lab. DFL models intersectional approaches to equity and inclusion and has seen exceptional results (e.g., DFL was only the second university studio to meet the quality bar for Microsoft’s Independent Developers Program).

Who uses the lab? Is it a space for students, for researchers, for artists, for seminars?

DFL is primarily used by undergraduate and graduate student interns.

What sorts of knowledge does the lab produce (writing, demonstrations, patents etc.) and how is it circulated (e.g. conference papers, pamphlets, books, videos, social media)?

DFL produces both original commercial IP (we recently launched our first game Ghostlight Manor on the Steam distribution platform and will soon release an updated multiplayer version as a Microsoft Windows 10 app store release). Proceeds from the sale of the game are split between the program (funding paid student positions, purchasing equipment) and the students who contributed to the project (we use a points-based system  to determine student profit sharing that includes length of service and type of contribution).

Most of our projects originate as research prototypes designed to teach introductory programming concepts to high school and university students. This work has been published in journals such as the IEEE journal Computer and featured at conferences such as SIGCSE and FDG.

We’ve also begun operationalizing our approach to diversity and creating workshop content to help academic colleagues and industry leaders integrate transformational principles into their daily cultures and hiring practices.

Tell us about your infrastructure. Do you have a designated space and how does that work?

It’s important that our highly diverse teams are able to work together in the same physical space to develop the exceptional interpersonal skills required to execute high-level tasks while they’re also building domain competence. DFL is located in a secure 1000 sq. ft. studio in a central location on campus and can be accessed by interns 24×7. There are currently about 50 student interns working in the lab and our space can hold a max of 25 at a time (we’ve capped student participation at 50 due to space and staffing constraints).

What sorts of support does the lab receive? (e.g. government grants, institutional grants, private donors)

The lab has historically been funded by institutional grants, although we’re working to move to a self-sustaining model via external grants and donors.

What are your major theoretical touchstones?

The development work in the lab draws from a broad theoretical base that includes fields ranging from human-centered design to digital poetics, but all work is conducted under the umbrella of intersectional feminism.

Going off of that, your lab seems deeply committed to social justice, equity, and inclusivity. Can you speak to this? How has this affected how your lab functions and the kinds of work your lab produces?

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An Interview with Marcelo Fontoura of Ubilab at Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul

What is your lab called and where is it?

Our lab is called Ubilab, a short name for Laboratory for Research on Mobility and Media Convergence (or Laboratório de Pesquisa em Mobilidade e Convergência Midiática in Portuguese). It’s located at PUCRS, a catholic university in Porto Alegre, southern Brazil, and started its activities in 2011.

What sorts of projects and activities form the core of your work? Is there a specific temporal or technological focus for your lab?

In terms of areas, we are focused on mobile communications and Internet of Things from a media convergence perspective. These areas are connected to the Social Communication’s School, so we research them through a ‘lens’ of the media studies. Usually, our projects involve companies asking us to try to understand how a new technology can help them, in an applied fashion. Thus, we usually try to delve into the company’s context and generate reports on opportunities and good practices they can follow. In some researches we also help to produce actual products to reach specific goals, such as how to communicate with lower classes through mobile, how to use IoT devices to improve in-store experiences, or how to make a multimedia assistant for a radio station. In cases like this, we help their partners offering our know-how about the relations between information consumers and technology.

Who uses the lab? Is it a space for students, for researchers, for seminars?

It is a space mainly for researchers to do their tasks for the lab. The goal is to be like a co-working space, where you can use the lab’s tools and structure to develop our researches. We also use it for meetings with members and with partner companies. Actually, our staff is composed by four professors, one PhD student, one MsC candidate and three undergraduate students.

What sorts of knowledge does the lab produce (writing, demonstrations, patents etc.) and how is it circulated (e.g. conference papers, pamphlets, books, videos, social media)?

For our partners, we produce reports, guides and keynotes on select subjects. Generally, we gather all the insights and findings we had and published papers or present them at conferences. We have a website and a Facebook page where we highlight our researches and partnerships.

Tell us about your infrastructure. Do you have a designated space and how does that work?

Yes, we have two rooms inside the university’s tech park. The main one is a twin room, where we have some computers, an Apple TV and other gadgets. This is a space for discussion and traditional work, where we even have a small museum of old technologies. The other is more like a workshop, with two 3D printers, IoT devices, Virtual Reality headsets and a drone. Both are always available for our researchers.
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An Interview with Daniel Fetzner of the Laboratory of Media Ecology

Ambient technologies such as smartphones create novel environmental references between people, nature and technology. The Laboratory of Media Ecology (LME) at the University of Applied Sciences Offenburg examines these structures, in theory and practice, in the form of experimental setups and text work.

What is your lab called and where is it?

Our lab is called Media Ecology Lab (LME) and is situated at Offenburg University in Germany.

What sorts of projects and activities form the core of your work? Is there a specific temporal or technological focus for your lab?

In our work we focus on artistic research in the context of the media ecological discourse. As media is embedded in specific social, spatial and narrative situation the context matters and creates diverse entanglements that we explore. We try to consider technology not as an end in itself.

The focus of the LME is on space installations, interactive film, 360° video and performing arts. Through the mediation of theoretical and practical foundations from the fields of media art, media science, media informatics, media phenomenology, graphics programming and physical computing, we support and accompany student explorations. Depending on the application field, sensor data from the immediate environment, data from the internet or generative values are used.

Who uses the lab? Is it a space for students, for researchers, for seminars?

The LME is intensively used by our students and researchers. We also use it as an experimental framework during our interdisciplinary conferences in the fields of media, somatics, dance and philosophy. The purpose of our use of technology is speculative and aiming at the exploration of our senses.
How does it feel?” is a leading question.

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An Interview with Mark Algee-Hewitt of the Stanford Literary Lab

Interview by Hillary Susz, MFA Candidate at CU Boulder

HS: What is your lab called and where is it?

MA-H: The lab is called “The Stanford Literary Lab,” and it is located at Stanford University, in Palo Alto, California.

HS: What sorts of projects and activities form the core of your work? Is there a specific temporal or technological focus for your lab?

MA-H: Our focus is primarily on the quantitative, and computational, analysis of texts in order to speak to questions of Literary critical or historical interest. In terms of our methodologies, we work with a variety of different text mining, NLP and otherwise quantitative approaches depending on the needs of the given project. Chronologically, our work ranges from the Medieval period, to contemporary writing. But, what unites the research of the Literary Lab is our primary focus on the Literary critical questions that we seek to answer through this range of methodologies. That is, our projects and studies are rarely inspired by a technology or method, but rather, seek to find (or create) appropriate methods for the Literary critical and historical concepts that we research. Although most of our work has been on corpora that are specifically Literary (whether prose or poetry), recent projects have begun incorporating other kinds of texts into our analyses.

HS: Can you clarify what you mean by critical or historical interests? What are the critical questions you seek to answer? What are examples of projects that explore these questions and interests? 

MA-H: What really drives the lab as a research group are concepts that are important to us as humanists. Most of us are literary scholars, so that takes different forms based on the questions we want to explore. Some of us deal with critical theory—representations of gender or exploring the discourse of race in American fiction. Some of us take a more formalist approach—the shape and form of narrative or how word patterns change across texts. We seek to understand the function of literary texts in a historical context. A lot of our projects deal with synchronic structures in the world, even if they don’t change over time.

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An Interview with Neal White of the Office of Experiments

Interview by Jussi Parikka

6/2016

Neal White runs the Office of Experiments, a research platform that “works in the expanded field of contemporary art.” The Office employs methods of fieldworks, works with a range of partners including scientists, academics, activists and enthusiasts, and is described as exploring “issues such as time, scale, control, power, cooperation and ownership, highlighting and navigating the spaces between complex bodies, organisations and events that form part of the industrial, military, scientific and technological complex.” White is also Professor at Westminster University, London.

This interview, conducted via email in June and July 2016, was set in the context of the What is a Media Lab-project and aims to address the questions of artistic practice, labs and the (post)studio as an environment of critical investigations of technological and scientific culture. Another interview with Neal White, conducted by John Beck, is published in the new edited collection Cold War Legacies (Edinburgh University Press, 2016).

JP: Can you start by describing what the Office of Experiments does? I am interested in its institutional form in the sense also Gilles Deleuze talks of institutions as “positive models for action” in contrast to law being a limitation on action. The Office also carries the legacy of modern institutional form par excellence – not the artist’s studio with its romantic connotations, not the laboratory either with its imaginary of science, but the office as an organizational site. Why an office?

NW: The Office of Experiments makes art through a process of collaboration in which all of those who undertake research, make or apply thinking to a project can be credited. We bring together artistic forms of research with experimental and academic research in the field, undertaking observational analysis, archival research, road trips, building platforms and prolonged formal visual studies that reflect the complexity of the subjects we approach. Our approach is to build a counter rational analysis or account of the world in which we live. To move this away from any poetic vision, we draw on ideas from conceptual art, and disciplines such as geography and science studies, architecture and political activism, as well as looking at physical space, data, and the material layer which connects the observatories, global sensors etc of our contemporary world; the interface between the technological and material world.

Having some formative education in Digital Arts, an MA in 1997 and then running a successful art and technology group in Shoreditch, London, in late nineties and up to 2001 (Soda), my experiences collaborating with others was critical to how I work now, and the work of others that interests me. As I wanted to deliberately move away from the hermetic space that media / digital art was creating for itself – the Lab, and to set up an independent contemporary art practice, that moved across spaces, enclosures, archives, in and out of galleries, often working in situ, and which was networked, I needed to find a way of working with others that was neither exploitative nor driven by serving another discipline or field.

Having opened conversations with John Latham in 2002-3, the now late British artist, I was introduced to Artist Placement Group. I was strongly influenced at this point both by Latham’s ideas of time/temporality (as applied to institutions) as well as incidental practices, and I applied those in an instituent form (Raunig) as Office of Experiments. The Office was therefore the solution to working collaboratively as an artist in a critical way, so that credit would be spread, and all those collaborating within each project get something out – whether as art or as an academic output/text, relevant to their individual discipline.

I was attracted to the term Office initially as it holds some idea of power, when thinking of a government department or Bureau, but is also instrumental – something that I felt was and is increasingly asked of art (evaluating audiences for funding etc). However, Office alone does not work, it is too close to that which it is critical of, so it is only when used with the term experiment, and the ideas of experimental systems (Rheinberger), which were also key to my work at this time, that an agonistic dichotomy comes to the fore. This works for me, as we could say the terms are counter-productive, the name undermines itself linguistically (i.e. As Robert Filliou put it “Art is what makes life so much better than Art’). In this respect, it serves the ideas that shape our research, to create a form of counter-enquiry that can hold to account the rational logic of hard scientific enquiry, ideas of progress, the ethical spaces of advanced industry and science.

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An Interview with Jason Nanna of the Synchroton Media Research Laboratory

What is your lab called and where is it?

I run the Synchroton Media Research Laboratory, located in Milwaukee, WI USA.  It is augmented by the Geographical Research Unit, a nomadic dwelling and testbed for alternative living and my personal R&D/performance activities.

What sorts of projects and activities form the core of your work? Is there a specific temporal or technological focus for your lab?

At its core I view one of the primary roles of the SMRL is as an extra-institutional research/collaboration center for projects and people related to my personal fields of interest.  Located in an old factory building, it comprises a workshop and test bench for electronics design, modification and testing, and a large studio space suited to facilitating a wide variety of experimental endeavors, mostly alternative media production, forms of performance or creation that tend toward interdisciplinarity and are strongly non-traditional. It’s a direct reflection of my own attitudes toward prevailing and minor forms of creative production.

Who uses the lab? Is it a space for students, for researchers, for seminars?

[The lab] is a loose resource network for those around me (perhaps a few dozen) with limited/nonexistent access to resources that might otherwise be provided by universities or makerspaces. The lab stocks, accumulates, and redistributes equipment and supplies (especially electronics components and such) to people around me — in particular the group of artists that occupy or regularly work in the building in which it resides, which is a large (broadly defined) artist studio space. I do everything I can to provide technical assistance, tools, etc. to those around me.

What sorts of support does the lab receive? (e.g. government grants, institutional grants, private donors)

It is personally funded – the only real support it receives is rent-compensation in exchange for my own activities managing the artist space.  I believe its continued existence for over a decade to be one of the exceptional accomplishments of this space as existing outside of those institutional opportunities(which also entail certain demands and expectations) although it is largely owing to self-sacrifice.  It is not suited towards entrepreneurship, perhaps the opposite – rather towards encouraging those things that are incapable of surviving by way of mass appeal.  I have had bad experiences with grant-based funding in the past, and prefer to pursue a course of minimal financial requirements.

What sorts of knowledge does the lab produce and how is it circulated?

Much of the ‘research’ has lately been in the realm of analog audio/visual synthesis but it is one of many meanderings.  The studio has a vast array of obsolete and obscure technology and one strong focal point is an  attempt to discover lost technologies or re-contextualize old technology to new ends – a prime example being the large array of nuclear instrumentation modules which have been at one point used to design a computerless interactive audiovisual game. Although much work is done around the lab involving the state of the art as well, I believe that one of its strong focal points is taking a critical stance to the notion that technological progress invalidates and ‘obsoletes’ old technologies.  Also, working against the sense in which media production comes as the second half of a process which first involves consumption of corporate/mass-defined tools. A primary objective is to change the media landscape through an engagement with the tools themselves, crafting or modifying, prototyping, creating bespoke technologies, relying on and contributing to the open-source landscape. Technological engagement at a low level rather than buying a few apps and calling oneself a ‘media artist’.  On a related note I personally find the term ‘artist’ to be problematic and I believe my problem domain to be much wider than creating aesthetic works (that perhaps include some ‘commentary’ or something).

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An Interview with Emmanuel Guez at PAMAL Lab, Avignon, France

This interview has been translated from French.

PAMAL [Preservation and Art – Media Archaeology Lab] is probably the first media archeology lab in France – what makes it a media archaeology lab and what are the core activities of your activities? Is there a specific temporal or technological focus for your Lab or what forms its core?

EG: PAMAL was founded in 2013 at the Ecole Supérieure d’Art in Avignon.

If we were to define the archeology of the media, I would say that it is the science of media life and death.

From the media, we take up the definition given by Friedrich Kittler: machines for recording, storage and manipulation of data. The field of study of PAMAL does not cover all media, but only digital machines: computers and networks.

A Media Archeology Lab is primarily a place of experimentation. It seems impossible to understand the media without experimenting, without confronting the matter, that is to say code, hardware, infrastructures …. Our field of experimentation is the artistic production and preservation of works of art and digital literature.

We are currently developing four research programs.

The first concerns the conservation and restoration of digital works of art.

The second one concerns the exhibition.

In the third, we try to build an online, dynamic and collaborative relational database, which allows us to account for technological temporalities, obsolescence phenomena as well as software and hardware (in) compatibilities.

Finally, we set up a studio of art-archaeological art creation.

I want to go back to the first two research programs.

At PAMAL, we duplicate missing or sick works, even in a deficient way. We reconstitute them with the original machines (ie. the hardware and the stack of softwares). We call these duplications of the “original originals”, which then become “archives”. For example, we have restored a Minitel server for a telematic work by Eduardo Kac or a work on Amiga 1000 by Annie Abrahams and Jan de Weille, whose only available trace was code printed on paper listing.

The gaps that appear during the production of the second originals interest us to the highest degree. While the dominant approach in the conservation-restoration of uncoded works is to integrate the gap, our approach is to exhibit it. Deficiencies can be the manifestation of what we call breaks in the media ecosystem (uses and discourse, and especially material / software correlations) and are, therefore, instructive in thinking about the archeology of the digital arts. They enable us to measure endangered knowledge, know-how, devices and technical devices.

All this invites us to think differently of the exhibition of works: how far must we show fully functional works? How to show dead or dying works? How to integrate the bug in the exhibition? The stakes are important here because the dominant practices within French institutions are emulation, portage or, to a lesser extent, reinterpretation. For them, everything happens as if the machines did not produce effects on perception and on experience. As if, by themselves, these machines did not tell something. We believe that we must revisit the logic of access to works of art and digital literature and that we can not reduce a work to its “functioning” or to its idea.

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