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What Is A Media Lab?

situated practices in media studies

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An interview with Professor Claudia Mareis and Dr Jamie Allen from the Critical Media Lab, Basel

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.

Syntegrity Bild copy

Kevin Rittberger’s “Syntegrity” (2015)

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Experiments in Multimedia Installation in Genova

Simona Barbera is an artist and an instructor of multimedia installation at the Academia Legustica di Belle Arti in Genova, Italy. In collaboration with her students, she runs a small media lab intended for experimental work and critical study in the fields of installation art, expanded cinema, sound art and material forms of display. What is […]

Prototyping the Past: the Maker Lab in the Humanities at the University of Victoria

An interview with Jentery Sayers and Tiffany Chan

What is your lab called and where is it?

We’re the Maker Lab in the Humanities (MLab) at the University of Victoria (UVic). We opened our doors in September 2012, with Jentery as 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 prototype the past by prototyping absences in the historical record. That is, we remake technologies that no longer exist or function like they once did. The technologies we prototype are dated anywhere between the 1850s and 1950s, which give us a sense of media history prior to personal computing but after early feedback control and related mechanics. These prototypes usually inform present-day technologies — wearables, cloud computing, and optical character recognition, for example — by giving them a sense of texture and change. How did these technologies become those technologies? Who contributed? Who got credit? Who was ignored? What materials were used, and when? Who or what was deemed innovative or obsolete, and under what assumptions? Did old stuff actually work how people said it did? Continue Reading

Bedroom as Beadwork Lab?: An interview with Cedar-Eve Peters

Interview by Chalsley Taylor

Cedar-Eve Peters is an Anishnaabae visual artist and beader from the Ojibwa nation, currently based in Montreal. Cedar sat down with me to discuss the nature of her workspace and its relationship to her beading practice. We also grappled with a question previously asked on the dhtoph blog: “do we really need a designated space for work that we can just as easily do at home or our favorite coffee house?”

The transcription has been edited for clarity.


So how would you describe your lab space?

Very messy. Like right now it’s very disorganized.

Could you talk about where it’s located?

Oh yeah. My workspace is also my bedroom, so sometimes that’s annoying because I can’t separate workspace from sleep space. I guess it’s kind of organized. Everything’s in containers at least, but it just seems like things are all over the place right now.

What would you say the workspace itself consists of?

Mm…beads? You mean the materials?

Not so much the materials but the things your going to use. Like this chair, and that desk, the way it folds down, the cutting mat and the loom, your boxes of beads; these are all things that you need to get this work done.

Yeah. I guess I don’t think about that. Containers and shelves. Mostly containers I guess. A bunch of lights.

A surface?

Not so much right now. [laughs]

Surface space must be essential being that you need to be able to see all these tiny beads.

Yeah, if the surface isn’t clean then I feel like I can’t think straight, so that’s annoying. But also, it helps in a way cuz I’m just like, stimulated by everything thats around.

Is that a positive to working in your bedroom?

No. [laughs] I don’t think so. Continue Reading