// issue 18 2011: Trans

Editorial

Issue Edited by Andrew Murphie, Adrian Mackenzie and Mitchell Whitelaw

It is now perhaps a commonplace that digital, networked and informational media are extremely transient. They diversify in form and function at a dizzying rate. At the same time, they transit and fuse “social” and “natural” differences in a manner which reconfigures all  the worlds involved. It is also perhaps a commonplace to suggest that some established powers have found it difficult to come to grips with this (although this is perhaps beginning to change). For many, from seriously challenged newspaper proprietors to established media disciplines, it might be time to pause for breath, if only for a moment—to regroup and adapt established practices and ideas, to count the survivors from among the old media worlds of just a few years ago.

While occasionally sympathetic, this issue of the Fibreculture Journal questions this approach. If we pause for breath, it is to take in the new air. This issue draws on the accelerated evolutions of media forms and processes, the microrevolutions in the social (and even the natural sciences) that dynamic media foster, even the way in which “new” media lead us to reconsider the diversity of “old” media species. Summed up simply here under the sign/event of the “trans,” this issue catalyzes new concepts, accounts of and suggestions for new practices for working with all these processes.

We hope that as they meet, the ideas and practices discussed here become joyfully invested in something like a wave of ‘speculative pragmatism’ (Massumi, 2011a; see also 2011b). This issue diffracts something of this wave, embracing and thinking through what must be embraced and thought through, establishing new forms of critique, or new forms/concepts of design, in order to infra-act with the emergent worlds of contemporary media. It rethinks the forces and ephemeral forms of digital and networked media via a “radical empiricism”. Relations and dynamic ecologies come first, before fixed forms and established disciplines or business models.

If we sometimes turn to the past in this issue it is to follow Foucault’s very well known suggestion that ‘power is not homogeneous but can be defined only by the particular points through which it passes’ (Deleuze, 1988: 25). In the passed, there is a—

… certain form of local and specific struggle whose relationships and necessary unity could no longer come from a process of totalization or centralization, but rather, as Guattari put it, from a transversality. These two aspects, the practical and the theoretical, were closely linked. (24)

Several articles deal with this question of local and specific struggles in what we might call the ‘trans-situational’ (Massumi, 2002: 217) diagram of power (here power meaning as much what is capable of being done as what constraints or formations might surround this).

The first article in this issue, Petra Gemeinboeck and Rob Saunders’ ‘Other Ways Of Knowing: Embodied Investigations of the Unstable, Slippery and Incomplete’ perhaps captures everything that this issue was intended to be. It aims for a ‘politics of transmateriality’, not only in theory but in a series of practices/artworks. These works include highly original robotics pieces in which somewhat “neurotic” robots find themselves in a situation which is quite literally ‘unstable, slippery and incomplete’ (thus the robotic neurosis that arises). In Zwischenräume [In-between Spaces], a robotic installation still in the making, ‘a group of autonomous robots punch holes into the walls’ of a gallery ‘to inspect what’s outside, signal each other, and conspire’.

Kristoffer Gansing, in his ‘The Transversal Generic: Media-Archaeology and Network Culture’, ports François Laruelle’s concept of the generic into a testing of the limits and movements of media archaeology. He suggests there is now a ‘generic archaeological impulse’ that is often key within the use of media, and that this means “new” media are increasingly concerned with pasts, not the future. This—along with its ability to rethink media definitions, relations and actual instances with an archaeologist’s attention to specificity—perhaps makes the emergence of media archaeology so important. Yet Gansing suggests that the take up of the ‘generic archaeological impulse’ in general culture (and as part of contemporary Capital within the cultures of digital and networked media) also leads us to question some aspects of media archaeology from within. In the process Gansing discusses a number of key media art works (such as Google Will Eat Itself). He also provides a fascinating thinking through of that most humble of media technologies, the overhead projector.

Michael Dieter takes on the question of struggle, the local and transversality quite directly in ‘The Becoming Environmental of Power: Tactical Media After Control’. In an extremely subtle reading of both Foucault’s security dispositif and De Certeau’s concept of ‘practices’, Dieter provides a welcome rethinking of priorities of relation between strategies, tactics and general politics, insofar as these involve tactical media. The stakes are high. Dieter contextualises media-related activism within ‘what Brian Massumi has described as the globally amplifying threats for large-scale disruption characteristic of the becoming environmental of power’. He aims to give ‘a different conceptual approach for critical media art projects in terms of ontopolitical problematics’.

In ‘Programmable Platform? Drupal, Modularity, and the Future of the Web’, Fenwick McKelvey gives a detailed account of the modular nature of Drupal, alongside an account of Simondon’s concept of information. McKelvey explores the nature of the ‘programmability’ of platforms such as Drupal, and of ‘programmability’ in general. He does so via a consideration of both his general commitment to FOSS  and one specific instance of this at the juncture of the technical and the social—an internship at Rosario, Argentina with a women’s rights organization in the city.

All the articles in this issue of the Fibreculture Journal give voice to the transformative nature and powers of contemporary media’s new worlds and engagements, even as these so often stutter and stumble. This issue critically explores the specific dynamics of digital, networked and informational media in the light of the constant transformations, micro and macro, that are these media’s very power, if also their difficulty. The articles address these media’s own ecologies of ongoing transformation, and/or their co-evolution with other worlds (social and political worlds, natural worlds, the worlds of science, or art, of pleasure, of philosophy and theory).

To give this precision, we sought articles for this issue, theoretical or analytic, critical and/or propositional, that engaged with contemporary media worlds within the parameters (or “conceptual parametrics”) of three concepts: transduction, transmateriality, transversality. We began from the assumption that the lifeblood of digital, networked and informational media is to be found in transductions (the relay of forces, for example in a corkscrew, in the modulation of a video signal by audio data or in the formation of a crystalline structure) (Mackenzie, 2002 and Shaviro, 2006). ‘Transmateriality’ is a term recently developed by Mitchell Whitelaw—one that allows us to think very specifically about the complex yet insistent materiality that works within transductive events, including those involving contemporary media, which are so often seen as somehow only immaterial. If computing allows for an ‘incredibly dynamic, pliable set of techniques for manipulating the material environment’ (Whitelaw, 2009), then transmateriality suggests ‘the extension of transduction to an understanding of the material relations and transformations involved in a computing immersed in the material world’. In this, computers are taken to be ‘material machines dedicated to propagating a behavioral illusion, or call it a working model, of immateriality’ (Kirschenbaum, 2005; see also Kirschenbaum, 2008). ‘Transmateriality is an attempt to “ground” the digital without losing sight of its (let’s say) generative capacities’ (Whitelaw, 2009). Through all this runs an obvious transversality, from which it seems much of contemporary culture, and some of media disciplines and industries, tend to run but from which they cannot hide. ‘Transversality’ is a transformative mobility—for better or worse—through different systems (that can be at once technical, but also social, political, natural). It could be seen perhaps something of a conceptual or pragmatic choice (to think or act ‘transversally’). So it has something of an ethical dimension. However, it also makes an onto-genetic claim: to think or act transversally is to more effectively immerse ourselves in the kind of ongoing and real onto-genesis that is the world. Transversality tends to be lateral, rather than hierarchical—or rather it eschews, as it undoes, both the vertical and the horizontal. A transversal connection does not just connect fields or sets of pre-existing relations. It transforms the things/events that are brought into connected networks.

All these ‘trans’ indicate events that are at once material, technical and social. This issue did not require submissions to engage with the thinkers behind these ideas. Rather, transduction, transmateriality and transversality were meant as catalysts for experiments in radical empiricism, for immersions in the dynamic relations that distribute themselves within new media worlds.

Yet part of this catalysis of radical empiricism has involved important and detailed accounts of key concepts and thinkers of things “trans”. John Tinnell’s ‘Transversalising the Ecological Turn: Four Components of Felix Guattari’s Ecosophical Perspective’ is a more than timely and thorough account of the ecosophy of Félix Guattari. Tinnell suggests that Guattari’s work on ecosophy has been strangely neglected at times, as has its relation to his also strangely neglected work on ‘post-media’. Thinking these together gives us a different understanding of ‘transversality’, one that might help accomplish the now crucial task of thinking environment and media ecologies together. Tinnell suggests that ‘Guattari’s conception of post-media is true to his idea of the “new aesthetic paradigm”, which, at a basic level, involves the explosion of artistic techniques and mentalities into arenas of social practice and institutional politics’. By ‘taking a post-media stance towards emergent media, we can think the new and think it collectively, but only to the extent that we develop digital practices capable of producing a new (ecosophical) relation between individual subjectivity and the collective thought’ and, of course, the environment.

Gilbert Simondon’s work is taken up by several articles in this issue. Simondon’s work on transduction and individuation is finally being taken up on a larger scale within thinking on a range of media and other issues. So we are pleased to provide what we think is an important contribution to this taking up of Simondon’s work, here in thinking about media issues. In a dramatic and original rethinking of the interaction design of what they call ‘interactive environments’—Christoph Brunner and Jonas Fritsch’s ‘Interactive Environments as Fields of Transduction’ effectively transversalises interaction design. They move what is already a dynamic field of work beyond the phenomenological, embodied interaction, and certainly many of its previous more cognitivist theoretical iterations (as useful as all these might be). In doing so, they move interaction design towards a consideration of field as such. They discuss Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s artwork Voz Alta, and an interaction design experiment they themselves undertook, Impossible Room, in order to lay out a radical “template” for rethinking the very nature of interaction design. As part of the basis for this template, they detail Simondon’s thinking on information, emotion and more.

Simon Mills’ ‘Concrete Software: Simondon’s mechanology and the techno-social’ gives a detailed account of Simondon’s often ambiguous relation to the social. Mills rethinks Simondon’s better known work on the associated milieu and concretization via the lesser known work on human cultural progress in ‘The Limits of Human Progress: A Critical Study’ (Simondon, 2010). He analyses the Foreign Exchange Market and the Twitter API in glorious detail along these lines. Mills’ important and different understanding of Simondon and the social makes room for Simondon as a thinker who allows us to ‘capture the reality of the ongoing operation’ of ‘recursive relations’.

Troy Rhoades, in ‘From Representation to Sensation: The Transduction of Images in John F. Simon Jr.’s ‘Every Icon’, gives a highly precise and detailed account of a specific series of occasions of transduction, between art and science, in John F. Simon Jr,’s well-known internet art work. In the process Rhoades allows us to rethink while maintaining the relations between science and art, and gives what has to some extent been a missing account of the “body” and the “thing”, as these concepts were deployed by Deleuze and Guattari in What is Philosophy?. This allows us to rethink body and thing, and art and technology in terms of transduction.

Vince Dziekan’s ‘Anxious Atmospheres: the Transdisciplinary Practice of United Visual Artists’ rethinks the transdisciplinary—especially as this works, in both practice and theory, between traditional arts such as architecture, design and electronic arts. Dziekan has a specific interest in ‘reinterpreting the aesthetic conditions associated with exhibition’. He gives a detailed account of the way in which London-based art and design practice United Visual Artists, or UVA, create responsive installations that bring alive the transdisciplinary (along with a rich transversality and transmateriality).

In thinking through various events as “trans”—via the concepts and practices associated with transduction, transversality, and transmateriality, the issue first argues for the urgency and necessity of taking the complexity of transversal events and relations into account at the junctures of technology, the social and the environment. Second, the Trans issue gathers what is effectively a new wave in thinking about media differently, particularly about the way that digital and networked (although not only digital and networked) media further, complicate and sometimes simply allow us to understand and engage with things/events that are “trans”.

Each of the articles in the Fibreculture Journal 18, Trans issue demonstrates that any individual/individuating/social or natural ecology is to some extent a network, and any network involves an ecologies of transversals. Crucially, the micro-reconstitution of relations is as important as, if not more so than, the macro-reconstitution of somewhat illusory states (see Fuller, 2010; Murphie, 2006; Raunig, 2008).

Acknowledgements

Andrew Murphie would like to acknowledge the support of the Australian Research Council. This is one outcome of an ARC Discovery grant concerning “dynamic media”, on which he worked in partnership with Anna Munster, Adrian Mackenzie, Brian Massumi, Mat Wall-Smith and others. He would also like to acknowledge: Erin Manning and Senselab, Concordia University, Montréal; the Digital Urban Living Center at The Department of Information and Media at Århus University, Denmark; and of course the staff of the School of English, Media and Performing Arts at the University of New South Wales, Sydney. This issue would certainly not have been possible without the support of all these people and institutions. As always, a huge debt of gratitude to the Fibreculture Journal’s manager, Mat Wall-Smith.

Editors’ Biographies

Adrian Mackenzie (Centre for Social and Economic Aspects of Genomics, Lancaster University) researchs in the area of technology, science and culture. He has published books on technology: Transductions : bodies and machines at speed (London: Continuum, 2002/6); Cutting code: software and sociality (New York: Peter Lang, 2006; and Wirelessness: Radical Empiricism in Network Cultures (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010), as well as articles on media, science and culture. He is currently working on practices, ethics and politics of collaboration in biology.

Andrew Murphie (University of New South Wales, Sydney) <http://www.andrewmurphie.org/> works at the junction of contemporary and future media and social change, cultural theory and theories of perception/the events of thinking. He also has interests in interaction design, education, new publishing, electronic arts and music, and the history of modeling media and cognition, and its social impacts. He is the Editor of the open access, online journal, the Fibreculture Journal (http://fibreculturejournal.org/) and co-author, with John Potts, of Culture and Technology. Recent chapter publications include: ‘Performance as the Distribution of Life: from Aeschylus to Chekhov to VJing via Deleuze and Guattari’, ‘Differential Life, Perception and the Nervous Elements..on the Technics of Living’, ‘Deleuze, Guattari and Neuroscience’ and, with Lone Bertelsen, ‘An Ethics of Everyday Infinities and Powers: Félix Guattari on Affect and the Refrain’. Andrew also works with Senselab in Montréal.

Mitchell Whitelaw (University of Canberra) is an academic, writer and artist with interests in new media art and culture, especially generative systems and data-aesthetics. His work has appeared in journals including Leonardo, Digital Creativity, Fibreculture, and Senses and Society. In 2004 his work on a-life art was published in the book Metacreation: Art and Artificial Life (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004). His current work spans generative art and design, digital materiality, and data visualisation. He is currently an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Arts and Design at the University of Canberra, where he leads the Master of Digital Design. He blogs at The Teeming Void.

References

  • Deleuze, Gilles. Foucault (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988)
  • Fuller, Glen. ‘Transversality’, Event Mechanics, [blog], (2010), http://eventmechanics.net.au/?p=675
  • Kirschenbaum, Matthew. ‘“Every Contact Leaves a Trace”: Computers Forensics and Electronic Textuality’, talk presented at History of Material Texts workshop at the University of Pennsylvania, April 4 (2005), http://www.otal.umd.edu/%7Emgk/blog/LeavesATrace.pdf
  • Kirschenbaum, Matthew. Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008)
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