What is your lab called and where is it?
Our lab is called Bilkent Media Archeology Lab. It is located at the Fine Arts, Design and Architecture Faculty of Ihsan Doğramacı Bilkent University in Bilkent, Ankara.
The lab is one of the newest extensions of the Department of Communication and Design’s studios and production facilities called BITS (Bilkent Iletişim ve Tasarım Studuyosu or in English: Bilkent Communication and Design Studio). “BITS” was setup in 1999. Today the studio facilitates two sound stages, a Foley studio (which is under construction), a stop-motion studio, post-production facilities and a multi-camera production setup at the Bilkent Symphony Orchestra Hall.
What sorts of projects and activities form the core of your work? Is there a specific temporal or technological focus for your lab?
Right now the lab is collecting obsolete analogue and digital devices from all over the university, which means rescuing various video tape players and recorders, as well as older computer models and audio-visual devices from being trashed.
In the centre of the lab is a conversion or transfer setup to convert various video formats from analogue sources to digital file formats.
Most of the equipment reflects the department’s 20 years of history since it foundation in 1998, and the development of low cost media production tools.
The Bilkent Media Archeology Lab also collected and still collects various tape-based archives like Bilkent’s own PASO Student Film Festival Archive, the Bilkent Turkish Cinema Archive by Dr. Ahmet Gürata, the FADA Animation Archive, the Bilkent University Institutional History Archive, etc.
Undergraduate and graduate students volunteer in their spare time to check and register tapes of various formats from 8mm video, to Low-Band U-Matic, Beta, VHS, and Beta SP, and convert/transfer them to a series of digital formats with the goal of making them public and accessible again through servers hosted by BCC, the computer centre of Bilkent University.
Some students of the department have already started to curate screenings of Turkish student short films from the early 2000s on campus.
The MFA graduate program in Media & Design, also run by the department, uses also older computer platforms collected in the lab to review and exhibit obsolete CD-ROMs in an exhibition series on campus at the FADA gallery called “On Display”.
As an example, Chris Marker’s milestone CD-ROM work “Immemory” is available for interested students to study on a working system. Other interactive CD-ROMs and older games are also becoming part of the collection.
In Spring 2017, Boran Aksoy and Melih Aydınat, two MFA students, used an analogue video mixer and older consumer cameras from the lab to integrate a video surveillance system into the theatre production of “Madman and the Nun” by Bilkent’s Department of Performing Arts, directed by Daniel Irizarry. The system was used to do a live mix during the performance, which was recorded and projected outside of the theatre space, and later converted to a remote digital system, which allowed the user to choose camera positions while viewing the recorded performance.
Who uses the lab? Is it a space for students, for researchers, for seminars?
Students of the MFA in Media & Design are the ones who use the lab most right now. Boran Aksoy and Melih Aydınat are working on their thesis projects with tools and equipment provided by the lab. They do most of their research in the lab.
The students of the graduate studio in the MFA are using the tools for experimenting with analogue and digital audio-visual technology for their design and artistic practices.
A group of undergraduate students is volunteering to digitize old VHS and Beta tapes to make them available again. They will curate screenings in the Fall 2018.
What sorts of knowledge does the lab produce and how is it circulated?
The lab officially was launched with a workshop and symposium in October 2017: “PLAY/PAUSE, FF/REWIND: Shared Practices & Archaeologies of Media”. To celebrate the launch of our Media Archeology Lab we invited students and scholars from the various universities of Ankara to “Play/Pause, FF/Rewind,” and were excited to host Wolfgang Ernst, Annie van den Oever and Jussi Parikka. The program at this first symposium by and for the lab was concluded with a roundtable discussion on October 6th at Erimtan Arkeoloji ve Sanat Müzesi.
In 2018 I will start a little booklet series on objects from the lab called “Objects of Interest,” together with Alev Değim and the students of our graduate programs. Of course, the title is influenced by the TV series “Person of Interest”. Each of the planed booklets will investigate a specific object from the lab.
As a simple example, the first number investigates Peter Greenaway’s claim, in September 1983, that cinema was murdered by the remote control, and is scheduled to be available in September 2018 as open access publication.
In “Objects of Interests: Objects of Control” I am developing a workshop model or format, where participants relate to box opening, identification, registration and documentation of technical objects obsolete and/or in use from remote controllers, switch panels to surveillance systems. Participants will create representations, visual documents, photos, graphics of found patterns and invisible resemblances of structures, object-cities, technical environments for exhibition, or personal prints to take home. The intention will be to re-use and re-purpose the objects at hand … a main focus of our media lab.
Influential here is Wolfgang Ernst’s Fundus and the attached or linked “Signal Lab” – a constellation, which looks very much suitable, and similar for us.
Tell us about your infrastructure. Do you have a designated space and how does that work?
We have a designated space, which is already getting too small, so we are using the graduate studio for experimental setups and meetings, discussions, and screenings, etc. Keys are handed from one person to the other, and right now, the structure is very informal, just coordinated by the department, its instructors and graduate students.
What sorts of support does the lab receive?
Except the faculty’s own budget, we don’t have any other support. The overall spending for the lab has not been more than 1,000 Euro for buying storage boxes, or building shelves (not-including the workshop, symposium and scholarly visits).
What are your major theoretical touchstones?
Our major theoretical touchstones or influences are naturally the writings of Wolfgang Ernst, Jussi Parikka, Lori Emerson’s work, but also the Video Vortex Network, the video art and experimental activities around GISAM at Middle East Technical University in the late 1990s, which I was part of since 1994, the activities around Kör-Otonomedya, my friends Ulus Baker, Aras Özgün, Hakan Topal in New York, Angela Melitopoulus and Maurizio Lazzarato’s Video Philosophy.
What would you say is the lab’s most significant accomplishment to date?
I guess our symposium!
But also people have started to ask our students about devices and tapes they find. Our own students have begun watching the videos in the lab, and reading manuals. News of the lab is spreading through word-of-mouth.
Could you briefly describe your plans for the lab over the next 3-5 years?
There are at least one or two more years in front of us to sort out what we have in stock, to determine our potential, and to create an identity for our lab environment. We want to be open, flexible, adaptable and up-dateable towards various approaches and interests in the faculty as well as with the university’s general interest in the field of design and technology.
It is our aim to establish the lab with its various units, locations, and facilities not just as a media lab but as an experimental playground for research and education in technological mediation to bridge between science and engineering, and art and design.
Concretely, this means we wish to host interdisciplinary research projects in the sciences, humanities and the arts, and to participate in related international projects, platforms and networks.
What makes your lab a lab?
What makes our lab a lab is simple: we have a shared environment with shared practices related to a diverse range of media technologies from analogue to digital.
Shared practices lead to experiments, and a diverse range of learning methods through practices of box opening, functional tests and identifications, encoding and decoding, transferring and so on. The interesting part is that the environment is combined with a theory and practice project-based approach.
It’s not simply an archive, and it’s not simply a production facility. It is a space where you are able to combine things in different ways, where mistakes are allowed, and where the result is creative, and therefore has the potential to allow freedom in development and practice.