The lab is a space where things are unready, unfinished, at risk and without known utility. The common root of ‘lab’ and ‘labour’ is also helpful in that it evokes an active, physical space with bodies in it doing things (which can be a rare thing in the hallowed but empty halls of academia).
An interview with Professor Claudia Mareis and Dr Jamie Allen from the Critical Media Lab in Basel.
“We need places, laboratories, fundamental labs to discuss the terminology, the conceptual schemes, the pedagogies, and the value systems. We need to work on this. This is what the humanities should be doing. Fundamental research like they are doing in the labs.” — Rosi Braidotti
How do you characterise the Critical Media Lab’s work and mission statement; what are the defining characteristics of what you do?
The Critical Media Lab is a place, a physical location and discursive locale, where we attempt to strike a balance between research, writing and reflection that critically examines our contemporary and historical practices of media, design, art and technology, while allowing space and physical resources for these practices themselves. Simply put, production, in the sense of actually producing something that is not a research paper, book or essay format reflection on some other practice (as writing, after all, is also a practice) should not necessitate either tacit or explicit support of the means, techniques or technologies of that production. Making media doesn’t mean you are ‘for’ more media in the world, and having knowledge of the institutional, organisational, social and political effects of media, technology and design making should allow for more, not less, reflexive practice in these areas. McLuhan once quipped regarding his own status as a reluctant hero of media studies how talking about something does not mean you are in favour of it. Making, doing and practicing media, art and design, although productive, need not be productivist in the sense of exacerbating the logics of mass-media, corporate or ahistorical techno-capitalism.
The ‘mission’ of the lab then, which is by no means singular as the lab comprises a number of individual researchers with different interests, styles and directions, is largely to explore what it might mean to make media by ways other than by mainstream, corporatist, or unreflective means. For example, what would a historically informed, contemporary media art practice look like? (“Media archeology as an artistic practice”, Allen & Miyazaki) Likewise but in a somewhat opposing direction, we also speculate as to what ‘other forms’ cultural studies and media studies discipline-oriented research (into the history of cybernetics, say) might take (see collaboration with Kevin Rittberger, where Critical Media Lab interests and research were turned into a public theatre piece, staged in the environment of the lab in Basel). Also important to our work is how new forms of collaboration and research methodologies can bring about these kinds of modulation in formats of presentation, how these presentations remain critical and thoughtful, and a concern for communicating and educating in the context of the lab, within the lab, close to research driven issues, methodologies and materials.