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What Is A Media Lab?

situated practices in media studies

Tag / media archaeology

An Interview with Caroline Bassett and Sally-Jane Norman at the Sussex Humanities Lab

Interview by Niki Tulk

11/2017

“We plan to maintain our breadth across performance/music media arts, history, everyday life and mediated life, critical theory—but/and we also want to push our critical edge. So much work in DH hasn’t been critical in orientation, and we do many of us, in different ways, come out of that tradition. So we’re intending to keep asking questions about gender, power and digital technology, automated epistemologies—and their supposedly ‘neutrality’, and to integrate those into our more material work more deeply.” – Caroline Bassett and Sally-Jane Norman on the future goals of the Sussex Humanities Lab, UK

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

We are the Sussex Humanities Lab (SHL), based at the University of Sussex, in the Downs outside the City of Brighton, UK. We are a research centre/programme and we span a series of Schools of Study—with a strong base in media and film (School of Media, Film and Music), and in HAHP (History, Art History and Philosophy) also in Education schools and in informatics and engineering (E&I) (computer scientists). ‘We’ are (i) the programme (SHL), (ii) the named and supported members of the team—academics at all levels, technical support people, project manager, admin (iii) we have a physical ‘lab’ space – we call this the ‘Digital Humanities Lab’, It is at the heart of our work, although its not always where we do things…

NT: 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 initially funded for four years—so this means our tempo needs to be pretty rapid. We are tasked with providing enough evidence of some form of sustainability at the end of that time, to become a permanent research centre within the University—in some shape or other. We don’t necessarily think we should simply seek to ‘do the same again’, at the end of our project time. We have a bunch of official KPIs (performance indicators) and the plan we bid for the funds with also sets out a series of targets (for engagement, impact—look up the UK meaning of that term…, and for grant capture). Those are rather official though. I would expand all that to say that we want to:
*Generate new forms of thinking and new forms of research—both in the humanities in general (where digital transformation produces new possibilities and opens new perspectives) and in relation to the computational as the subject of inquiry. That’s the big goal really. To do that we need to:
Intervene into the fields that together constitute digital humanities (lower case), by which we mean both traditional DH areas and also cultural, media, digital media, code studies, areas which have been exploring digital transformation in different ways for an equally long time. We think DH can become broader, more diverse, more multi-mediated—and that it needs to become more critical. We recognize the tension between critical theories of DH that can just produce abstraction, and the need to engage materially with new possibilities and new methodologies arising through big data, various forms of automation, and other new computational technologies. We think it can be productive—and that it’s fine if it sometimes produce antagonism. Actually in our lab we argue all the time. We are superb at arguing … including about our name: we deliberately adopted the “Sussex Humanities Lab”—rather than “Digital Humanities Lab”—name, precisely to demarcate ourselves from technical servicing- oriented DH bodies that have spread over the past couple of decades. The frequent mobilisation of big digital infrastructure funds as a rationale for developing (otherwise poorly supported) humanities research has resulted in a lot of projects where the (funded) tail wags the (confused) dog. We did not want to be identifiable with these countless, very similar organisations that have jumped onto the DH/ “cyberinfrastructure” bandwagon (e-science in the UK), simply to
develop new kinds of insufficiently conceptualised and critiqued demonstrations of technical prowess and gimmicky computational affordances doomed to swift obsolescence. We want the dog to wag its own tail – happily and excitedly, and in ways that can energise and contagiously enthuse others.
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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 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 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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An Interview with Bernard Perron, Guillaume Roux-Girard and Carl Therrien at Ludiciné Lab, Université de Montréal

What is your lab called and where is it?

Our lab is called the Ludiciné Lab, and is located in the Department of Arts History and Films Studies at Université de Montréal (Montréal, Québec, Canada). You can find the basic information about our installations and collection (70+ platforms, 3500+ games) under the “L” at <www.ludov.ca>

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

The primary focus of the lab is to support pedagogical activities such as classes and seminars provided within the undergraduate Minor in game studies as well as the Master degree with an option in game studies. The lab also supports research projects such as the “Video game genres and discourse communities” project conducted by the Ludov team (supervised by Bernard Perron, Dominic Arsenault, and Carl Therrien), and the “History of the game experience” project (supervised by Carl Therrien). Acquisitions reflect the needs of our classes and projects, which focus on technological, formal, psychological and aesthetic properties of video games and game playing, and the evolution of these dimensions in history. Game boxes, magazines and other epi/paratextual elements are also collected and made accessible.

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

All of the above, but it is mainly used by students at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.

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)?

The lab is a great space to host internal presentations for Ludov related research projects. It will also host game demonstrations for students in the upcoming semesters. The creation and objectives of the lab have been the subject of conference papers, and its role in the production of knowledge is always acknowledged in the journal papers published by members of the research teams. More information about these contributions can be found on the pages for each research project, under the “O” (for “observation”) at <www.ludov.ca>.

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

Yes, we indeed have a designated space. The first small space we had was redesigned in the Summer of 2013. It is divided between a play space, and a storage room where the material is kept, filed and maintained. We now have around 15 play stations (HD, PC, Retro and Emulation). We are open 16 hours per week. We hire two undergraduate students per semester to prepare the playing materiel for the students. The latter reserve online the day before their visit.

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

All the support comes from university funding, more specifically from the Arts and Sciences Faculty. It was based on a 5-year development plan. After this, we’ll need to be more creative. However, we also had a lot of donations from students and private collectors. Video games companies such as Warner Bros. and Ubisoft Montréal have sent us some of their games. Professors also use their own research funds (from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Fonds Société et culture of Québec) to add to the collection.

What are your major theoretical touchstones?

Video game history, media archeology, genre studies, paratextual studies. The Lab is an ideal resource to develop case studies of specific platforms, studios or games.

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An Interview with Dr. Matthew Kirschenbaum of Maryland Institute for Technology

Interview by Jaime Kirtz

Matthew G. Kirschenbaum is Associate Professor in the Department of English at the University of Maryland and Associate Director of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH, an applied thinktank for the digital humanities). He is the author of Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination (MIT Press, 2008) and Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing (Harvard University Press, 2016).

JK: Can you explain a bit about you, your role in the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities and how you came to be involved?

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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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An Interview with Wolfgang Ernst

 

The Media Archaeological Fundus is populated with core technological molecules which at first glance look outdated but become a-historical once they are deciphered with media-archaeological eyes, ears and minds.

Can you start by telling us a bit about how the idea for the Media Archaeological Fundus came about? 

The seminar for Media Studies was founded at Humboldt University in Berlin in 2003, replacing the former seminar, Theatre Studies. All of a sudden, spaces like the student practicing stage and its related fund of objects for rehearsal were empty. This was the ideal moment for the Berlin school of media studies (insisting on the materialities of communication and epistemic technologies) to claim such rooms under new auspices. The stage became the Media Theatre where technical devices themselves become the protagonist, and the fund became the space for a collection of requisites of a new kind: media archaeological artefacts.

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Post-Studio Practices: An Interview with Neal White of Office of Experiments

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 was networked and moved across spaces, enclosures, archives and galleries. Therefore I needed to find a way of working with others that was neither exploitative nor driven by serving another discipline or field.

Neal White runs the Office of Experiments, a research platform that “works in the expanded field of contemporary art.”

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