Tobias Bernstrup and Palle Torsson interview – jonCates (2007)

In Uncategorized on 10 listopada 2010 at 8:18 pm


„Make your own exhibitions. Examine it, rip it apart and learn from it and do copy it. Don´t forget that stealing is everything.” from the Museum Meltdown README by Palle Torsson and Tobias Bernstrup (1996)

Tobias Bernstrup and Palle Torsson collaboratively created a series of Art Games in the form of Art Mods called Museum Meltdown from 1996 to 1999. these Art Mods are among the first of their kind, New Media Art interventions into the site of their own exhibition which utilize the possibilities presented by the First Person Shooter as a genre of games. i interviewed Bernstrup and Torsson in 2007 to discuss these Media Art Histories for an essay of mine called Running and Gunning in the Gallery: Art Mods, Art Institutions and the Artists that Destroy Them, which will appear in From Diversion to Subversion: Games, Play, and Twentieth-Century Art, edited by David Getsy. our discussion is both technical and conceptual, involving questions of Institutional Critique, site specificity and personal reflections of the often self-relfexive process of making museums meltdown…


Q: how did you arrive @ the idea of developing the first instance of MUSEUM MELTDOWN in 1996 @ Arken Museum of Modern Art?
were there any previous works (artworks, levels, mods, etc) that particularly inspired or influenced you then in making the first MUSEUM MELTDOWN?

A: „At that time I was collaborating a lot with artist Palle Torsson. We met in art college and shared an interested for video computers performance and Internet. We did an early web based project ‚Join Hands’ in 1995. We both played a lot of computer games and was fascinated by the revolutionary game Doom and the possibilities of modifying the actual game. The initial idea of MM came while planning a new piece for a show at Arken MoMA, we went to see the museum space and were struck by similarities between the museum and a 3D shooter game. The museum interior had a lot of game like texture details such as fake metal panels and big sliding metal doors. So we came up with the idea of designing a game map based on the plan drawings and textures of the space. The in game artworks were to be reduced to low res pixelated images, working as recognizable symbols. The game engine we used was Duke Nukem 3D. Museum Meltdown 1 was followed by two more museum project until 1999 when Palle we did the a version of the Modern Museum in Stockholm based on the Half-Life graphical engine.” – /tobias

A: „I remember playing Marathon for Mac and Wolfenstein 3d… But We were very very stocked by Doom. The impact of space and sound, hallways, the shotgun and monsters. I think at the same time we were concerned (frustrated and interested) about the game that the contemporary art world is. We were invited to take part in a show at Arken Museum of Contemporary art… We
paired together the concrete setting of the postmodern architecture resemblance to FPS games… we felt like the fake metal panel and distorted perspective for the museum could be mapped to the in-world textures of games…. this sign based architecture made us feel the simulation at hand and we took that to make the first Museum Meltdown. More over that representation of space in this respective world has a shadowed relation to the game of this spaces.
When it comes to other artworks I can not to tell …” – //Palle

Q: i am very interested in this point, the artworld as gameworld. what kind of gameworld did or do you think of the artworld as being? what were/are the particular rules of play for the art world game? how did you intend for MUSEUM MELTDOWN to address those issues?

A: „The First,  players point of view: the make fake game, something you have to respect as a learning devise. I mean to crack the codes and use them as you would in any social sphere. And Secondly the system: the codes of hierarchical self-manufacturing Artworld where power upwards works as an isolating layer to the access of production of meaning, most like mass
media. Not for very much of gain I think and allot of frustration. A frustration that you could get rid some of by blowing up masterpieces in Museum Meltdown I guess. This System which aura I do not find very attractive for the moment.
This was not addressed directly as narrative in Museum Meltdown but was more produced in the context of the setting by letting the consepts blead into one another. Like one day I saw a kid pointing his finger formed as a gun at  on of the real guards of themuseum going: – bang. Or like when the head of security showing fear of Museum Meltdown being used as a way to
learn to master a robbery of the museum.
More over that representation of space in this respective world has a shadowed relation to the game of this spaces.” – //Palle

Q: this seems to be a very important key to MUSEUM MELTDOWN, that when you play you literally stand at an intersection between the simulated space and the institutions’ architectural space that exhibiting the work and so you have a sense self-reflective or recursive presence within the game (and within the game within the game). do you agree?

A: „yes !” – //Palle

Q: also, isnt it also accurate that this doublecoded placement, being simultaneously within the physical and virtual museums, contributed to the project’s end? i am also interviewing tobias + he said that you both got to a place where you weren’t interested in simply modelling every museum that invited you to exhibit the project. so perhaps for the player being at this intersection or in this doublecoded context is @ the heart of the work, but couldnt you also say that for you as artists, as a collaborative, you lost interest in being in that place?

A: „Yes I did but I was sort of directed out of that intersection by making a videowork . The videowork was a re-cut of an old Swedish classical children’s movie called Pippi Longstocking and was censored for its content about the manifest discourse and crack of the sexualized gaze on children. A conversation that in my work was force to silence by copyright  and copyright holders of the re-cut movies I made, Swedish Film Industry. I came to find the art world not being strong enough to help that expression. I am not at all sorry for this turns but rather in the end this helped me broaden my view on the production of art and life.
Now I am deeply involved in the Swedish pro piracy movement that I find to be very productive in it discourse and again reconnecting to the the artworld via this organisation.” – //Palle

Q: in your more recent personal work, that physical/virtual intersection of spaces is still very important, correct? did working at thaty intersection w/MUSEUM MELTDOWN lose interest to you personally? collaboratively? does this have sum thing to do w/the artworld as a gameworld?

A: „As I see it the artworld, alone, as mem, is not strong enough to help fight the posthuman  battles of the 21-century where the intersection between life, death, simulation, entertainment, code, law are getting more and more undisconnectable. Above all this is more important then mine and Tobias collaboration – as answer. Our collaborative effort are seeing light again as in the workshop we are putting together for the Royal University Collage of Fine Art in Stockholm called Analog vs. Digital.” – //Palle

Q: tobias, for the first version of MM made for Arken MoMA where players able to destroy the art objects +/or architectural features? if so, how did you choose which elements to make destructible? were all artworks destructible or only certain pieces?

A: „In MM #1 the player could only fight/destroy monsters, artworks were more as a dead props or as a set. Some part of the architecture interior could be destroyed. such as glass, and a mezzanine floor that would explode entered the museum. Toilets could also be smashed to cause a little fountain.
In MM#2 at the Cont. Art Centre of Vilnius we made the artworks destructable, destroying an art work would spawn a flying suicide bot that would attack and explode in the player face if not shot down.
In MM#3 at The Moderna Museet Stockholm, we used a new game, that allowed more realism. we more or less represented about 75% of the originals works hung according to the collection. The debris was more realistic, for example when breaking Duchamp’s Large Glass with a crowbar you would see both scattered glass and wood! :) And shooting off a Donald Judd would make metal pieces fly through the room…. everything could be destroyd, just a matter of taste…. if you disliked certain works or not. David Elliott the director of the museum at that time turned out to be a very good player and would stop by the installation from time to time. He never broke any of the works…. but would focus on killing monsters.
In 1998 during the development of MM#3 we launched a beta version the Moderna Museet on national TV’s web space. This was a online multiplayer game using the Quake game engine. However for the final version we decided to use a different game that was Half-Life.” – /tobias


Q: so for MM #1 the toolset was: Duke Nukem 3D + BUILD + MM #2: also Duke Nukem 3D + BUILD + MM #3: Half-Life + Worldcraft. so you never used Quake + Radiant during the MM project? is that correct?

A: „Exactly just build and Worldcraft plus the extra texture programs, EditArt for duke3d, and something for half-life can’t remeber think it was Wad something…
In MM#2 at the Cont. Art Centre of Vilnius we made the artworks destructable, destroying an art work would spawn a flying suicide bot that would attack and explode in the player face if not shot down.” – /tobias

Q: how did the work change for you @ this point? in the „Museum Meltdown FAQ (1999)” you + Palle Torsson stated that the concept of „the Museum versus The Game” was more important than skinning the characters to represent specific curators or otherwise altering the game play. also, as i understand from your 2003 interview with Francis Hunger, it is important to you to retain the rules of game play (even when you negate the expected patterns) that are constants or givens within whichever engine may be used. in the case of the MM project these factors make the context or placement of the work (in the museums that are modeled) critical to the work. with MM #1 the main hinge that the work seems to turn on is that the player is inside the space of the museum + inside the space of the game which is played inside the museum. also, in MM #1, the standard form of game play is the main form of experiencing the work. but it seems that w/MM #2 + #3, w/the added ability to destroy the artworks, the context of the museum becomes a prerequisite for the possibility of destroying the art [works/objects] held inside the gallery. many who have written on + been inspired in their art practices by MM focus on the ability to destroy the art [works/objects]. do you feel that this is an important key to understanding the MM project? was it an important part of the process, to add the ability to destroy the artworks?

A: „Yes as mentioned the first mods dealt a lot more with ideas of space and representation. the look of things.
In the later MM when we wanted to develop this and made artworks breakable. we wanted to turn the game more against the idea museum, institution and the artworks. This gave more distraction towards the environment, you would not experience the space while busy with shooting and destroying. The player was suddenly very occupied with playing and forgot what was happening outside of the game. Like a unaware performer. The breakable artworks were an important aspect of this. It also brought the player in the position of making more personal decisions.
After the MM projects Palle and I continued working separately with game based work, I returned to the idea of less action and more environment.” – /tobias

Q: when you made the various instances of MM did you think of them as new versions of the same project? as upgrades? numbered pieces in a series? has your thinking about that changed now, over time?

A: „Each museum/game was a new different piece. it’s important to remember that they were site specific. Every museum had it’s long or short history. i.e. in MM2 the building was an old Soviet style architecture museum in Lithuania.
However we came to a point where we would get a lot of requests and could start to imagine ourselves just continuing to build museum after museum in the world. We did not see any challenge in this so we both moved on to new projects.” – /tobias

Q: you mentioned that you both moved on to new projects, did you stay in contact?

A: „there was a geographical move. After college in 1998 I left Stockholm for 6 months going to New York with my partner (video artist Annika Larsson).
Museum Meltdown III was developed when me and Palle where on different continents. I recall sending game map files back and forth over a slow modem connection…. :) we once met up in a Quake version of Moderna Museet during a lecture. Then later we moved to Berlin in 2000 after MM 3, and then later to New again York in 2002.” – /tobias

Q: do you remain in contact?

A: „Yes, we’re still best friends and have a strong bond. We actually discussing a workshop idea right now.” – /tobias

Q: did this moving on also mark a more general move away from collaborative strategies in your work?

A: „In one sense, my performance and animation based work took a very personal and individual direction. But on the other hand I have been collaborating with Annika for several years now when composing sound and music together for her videos.” – /tobias

for more info and versions of the Art Games in the Museum Meltdown series goto:


Tobias Bernstrup and Palle Torsson interview – jonCates (2007)

CTheory Interview Archaeologies of Media Art

In Uncategorized on 10 listopada 2010 at 8:12 pm

Jussi Parikka in conversation with Garnet Hertz

Media archaeology is an approach to media studies that has emerged over the last two decades. It borrows from Michel Foucault, Walter Benjamin, and Friedrich Kittler, but also diverges from all of these theorists to form a unique set of tools and practices. Media archaeology is not a school of thought or a specific technique, but is as an emerging attitude and cluster of tactics in contemporary media theory that is characterized by a desire to uncover and circulate repressed or neglected media approaches and technologies. Its handful of proponents — including Siegfried Zielinski, Wolfgang Ernst, Thomas Elsaesser, and Erkki Huhtamo — are primarily interested in mobilizing histories and devices that have been sidelined during the construction of totalizing histories of popular forms of communication, including the histories of film, television, and new media. The lost traces of media technologies are deemed important topics to be excavated and studied; „dead” media technologies and idiosyncratic developments reveal important themes, structures, and links in the history of communication that would normally be occluded by more obvious narratives. This includes tracing irregular developments and unconventional genealogies of present-day communication technologies, believing that the most interesting developments often happen in the neglected margins of histories or artifacts.

In 2007, Jussi Parikka published Digital Contagions: A Media Archaeology of Computer Viruses (Peter Lang Publishing, New York). In Digital Contagions, Parikka provides an insightful articulation of media archaeology as a research methodology, which he implements to construct a clear cultural history of computer viruses. Parikka inverts the assumption that computer viruses — which are semi-autonomous and self-replicating pieces of computer code — are contrary to contemporary digital culture, instead arguing that computer viruses define the social and material landscape of computer mediated communication. [1] Although computer viruses are often considered as a disease and breakdown within the ecology of media, Parikka argues that these marginal computer programs provide key clues to the material and incorporeal conditions of the network age. They are not accidents of media culture, but increasingly the natural mode of digital media. In other words, the ontology of network culture is viral-like. [2]

In this conversation with Garnet Hertz — who graduated with a PhD in Visual Studies on the topic of media archaeology and media arts from University of California, Irvine — Parikka discusses media archaeology as a methodology of academic research in media studies and the media arts. In the process of constructing a theoretical foundation for media archaeology, they discuss and explore the topics of interdisciplinarity, historiography, art, new media, and academia.



Garnet Hertz: I see Digital Contagions as bringing clarity to the ambiguous concept of media archaeology, and would like to continue to clarify the term here. To begin, how do you define media archaeology, and how do you envision it as a project, movement or an approach?

Jussi Parikka: Media archaeology… ambiguous? Indeed. I was just reminded by an archaeologist at Cambridge that there is a sub-discipline in archaeology called „media archaeology.” Such contexts do not always spring to mind when we consider media archaeology from a more theoretical perspective. For us in media studies and media arts it is quite often the footnotes of Foucault, Kittler, and the dead media of Bruce Sterling that provides the context for the media archaeological way of doing analysis. Media archaeology exists somewhere between materialist media theories and the insistence on the value of the obsolete and forgotten through new cultural histories that have emerged since the 1980s. I see media archaeology as a theoretically refined analysis of the historical layers of media in their singularity — a conceptual and practical exercise in carving out the aesthetic, cultural, and political singularities of media. And it’s much more than paying theoretical attention to the intensive relations between new and old media mediated through concrete and conceptual archives; increasingly, media archaeology is a method for doing media design and art.

After the initial period of tackling the concept of media archaeology in the early 1990s, it is now crucial to take the idea forward and make it more theoretically rigorous. I am not saying it was not rigorous, but there was never a thorough discussion among the „practitioners” of media archaeology. [3]

GH: Do you think media archaeology needs to be explored in reference to traditional critical theory?

Let’s take a specific thinker to frame media archaeology — Foucault, for example. Clearly, Foucault does not name media per se, and only offers hints of leverage into media through institutions, inscription, and materiality. Media technologies have difficulty fitting into Foucault except via the formulation of the subject via discourse — through the themes of governmentality, institutions of control, sexuality, power, or structures of domination.

Although I can see significant differences between media archaeology and Foucault’s interest in the construction of knowledge, technologies of power, or the formation of the subject, media archaeology has clear points in common with Foucault’s methodology: they both agree that the search for true origins in continually spiraling-backward proto-histories is a wasted effort. They also agree that the construction of linear histories runs the risk of leaving important statements, objects, and networks of power in neglected margins. Media archaeology is linked to Foucault’s archaeology through an analysis and interest in subaltern discourses, local knowledges, and a questioning of progressivism. Similarly, media archaeology emphasizes the material basis of communication technologies.

Do you see this kind of theoretical exercise as a useful approach for media archaeology?

JP: You are quite correct, as was Kittler when he started the wave of media theoretical criticism against Foucault. One cannot adopt a clear model of media archaeology from Foucault or anyone else. We need to rephrase the question concerning influences and models in terms of theoretical affordances; what does, for example, Foucault afford for a media archaeological method? What are his shortcomings for the consideration of technical media culture, of algorithms and oscilloscopes, of hard drives, tubes, valves and semiconductors instead of books and letters? What interests me in pulling Foucault back into this discourse of media archaeology are his concepts that lean towards thinking of the materiality of media, especially dispositif and practice. They are still a bit too underdiscussed in some media theoretical contexts. What I want to use from Foucault is a certain neomaterialist mode of cultural analysis that comes up with approaches that touch on the singularity of the material assemblages, of which technology is one component. In other words, specificity and singularity should be some of the key „aims” of a media archaeological excavation. This should not only be a metaphorical goal, however, as German media archaeologists such as Ernst point out. Taking into account both the singularity of the object and the problems with traditional history as a „narrative mode of describing reality” is a worthwhile mode of excavation. The question is: how should the writing of media archaeology take into account the technical environment in which it is written not only by human hands anymore, but by machines themselves? [4]

GH: I agree that specificity and singularity are simple and clear objectives for media archaeology that can be pulled from Foucault. However, the current situation requires, as Ernst and others have indicated, that media technologies themselves be included as part of the material and social assemblage.

With this in mind, what do you see as the main value of the project of media archaeology within a context of media theory?

JP: In the case of media archaeology, effects and influences are hard to evaluate as the whole network in which it is formed is so widespread. Various streams of thought have gathered around the notion of media archaeology and have reinvigorated notions of history and temporality in media cultural contexts. For a long time, the influences of film studies, new film history, and apparatus theory were evident. New film history was already thinking past the linear mode of writing the history of cinema and pointing towards its intertextual contexts. This fits nicely with the technological changes and discourse regarding multimedia and digital culture since the 1980s. Writers such as Tom Gunning, Thomas Elsaesser and the „Amsterdam School of Media Archaeology” have articulated the new and shifting contexts in which cinema itself becomes a multimedia of sorts. [5]

Beyond cinema per se, the way media archaeology enforced a rethinking of temporalities is useful. Within related scholarly frameworks, various writers suggested a twisting of time. This is understood either in the sense of remediation instead of linear media history (how old media return, in a way, through new media adopting and subsuming them as Bolter and Grusin suggested), [6] as the recurring „topoi” of media history (Huhtamo) [7] or in the „time machine” way of looping the „new in the old” to current media discourses, as Zielinski has explored in his work.[8]

Both Zielinski and Huhtamo have been interested in how design „solutions” take ideas from media history and refashion them. Everyday consumer media (e.g. mobile entertainment), curating practices, representational techniques, and spatial modes of organizing media can borrow heavily from history. I like the idea of a time-machine, or a rewiring of some of the connections of the past and the present, in order to come up with something new. History becomes an archive of sorts, a form of database, that fits the logic of digital culture and Web 2.0 modes of production that are reliant on archives and databases. It forces us to think about the ontology of archives as places where history unfolds, but also twists and turns, becomes a complex set of effects and repercussions.

The archives that allow media archaeological creations are, however, not restricted to what exists. Various discursive positions and imaginary media are displacing notions of media from the traditional broadcast- or apparatus-centered views. Again, with institutions this is an agenda that has spread outside the academia to the work of artists such as Zoe Beloff ( and writers such as Eric Kluitenberg, who has promoted imaginary media through the Debalie venue in Amsterdam ( Indeed, one could see this interest in imaginary media as a continuation of some of Foucault’s ideas relating to the primacy of the discursive instead of just the apparatus, but also as a new cultural historical credo of writing neglected histories. Facetiously, perhaps media archaeology is the „queer theory” of media history: queering media, making the object of media studies unfamiliar and hence expanding its field to include queer practices, discourses, objects. Through media archaeology, the contexts, objects, and processes of media studies have increased explosively and to that I would like to add how they have questioned notions of the temporality of media culture; instead of a linear, progressive time of media, does it follow cycles or other modes of repetition? Or should we think of the time of technology as based on variations and percolations instead of arrows or cycles, as for example Michel Serres suggests? [9]

In other words, could media archaeology become posthuman or non-human through adopting and investigating temporal processes that are either too quick or too slow for the human senses? This means looking at the microtemporalities of technical media in terms of how, in a condensed fashion, they mediate human culture, as well as observing the longer durations that escape the grasp of human senses. [10]

GH: But what differentiates these values from critically engaged history? In other words, should a thoughtful „new historicist” writing of history look for something new in the past and dig through marginalized narratives in provoking ways? In this sense, is media archaeology a rebranding of new historicism and Kittlerian media materialism?

JP: Since the 1980s, media archaeology has had connections with new histories, new historicism and cultural history. From this context media archaeology carved a disciplinary niche for itself in media studies and the field of new media of the 1990s. It offered a historical perspective to the claimed memory-loss of digital and Internet culture. So, in this sense, the insistence of the relevance of the old and obsolete is the necessary double of the celebration of the new we have been living.

Several people who have knowledge of the disciplines of history and cultural history recognized immediately this tie with the discourses of the 1980s and 1990s; but as a traveling cultural science of sorts (to borrow the idea from Mieke Bal), media archaeology was a conceptual transgression of some of the institutional borders.[11]

Artists such as Lynn Hershman, Paul DeMarinis, Ken Feingold, and Zoe Beloff used the idea of making history present as multilayered phenomena. Again, one could say that this work echoes what Fernand Braudel tried to do with his own historical method of writing a polyphonic, orchestral history of various overlapping temporal layers. Contemporary art pieces can also act as conceptual rewirings, they can expand the way we see media, or even what media is. We need to question the basic concepts through theory and practice, and media archaeological methods in art have not disappeared. On the contrary, they are just emerging, as with the various pieces at the Transmediale 2010 exhibition on Future Obscura — for example Gebhard Sengmüller’s A Parallel Image, a concrete construction of an imaginary visual transmission device (, and Julius von Bismarck’s The Space Beyond Me, with its meditation concerning the machinology of memory (

GH: In reviewing literature on media archaeology, a few key themes appear: media archaeology (1) as a „history of losers”, of what linear history of media „forget,” (2) as a multilayered resonance with new film history and the multiple connections and modalities of media, and (3) as recurring themes (Huhtamo, Bolter and Grusin). These approaches are used to read against the grain of the normal histories of media, as Lovink suggested earlier. [12]

Would you extend this further to see media archaeology as an exploration of potentialities of media, or perhaps as a displacement of the concept of media?

JP: All three are apt approaches, but as you indicate, these are textual methods that reflect some of the themes that media archaeology has inherited from new historicism and new cultural histories. If we think of media archaeology as an exploration of potentialities, we have tools to develop it both as an artistic and conceptual methodology. In addition to the potentialities — an idea I like very much — I have been referring to this task of media archaeology as one of dis- and re-placement of the notion of media and its contexts, not neglecting the connections to political economy and capitalism. By looking at new connections, various studies have been good at destabilizing the way we think about media and how this frames ways to fabricate concrete media machines.

I have framed my forthcoming Insect Media research as a displacement of the notion of media in itself from the usual ways of looking at histories of media only in terms of technology, broadcast media or the other usual suspects. By looking at the conceptual and pragmatic links between insects and technology, we are able to displace and rethink media as not only broadcasted or networked. Media can be envisioned as modes of perception, modes of being in the world and embodiment. In a way, the „motto” of my book is: Pick up an entomology book, something such as John Lubbock’s nineteenth century classic On the Senses, Instincts, and Intelligence of Animals with Special Reference to Insects (1888) suits the purpose. However, do not read the book as a description of the biology of those tiny insects, or solely as an excavation into the microcosmic worlds of entomology. Instead, approach it as media theory and it reveals a whole new world of sensations, perceptions, movements, stratagems, and patterns of organization that work much beyond the confines of the human world.

The recent enthusiasm regarding swarms and distributed networks express not only a metaphorics of a natural ecology of media, but a wider history of tapping into the intensities and potentialities of animal bodies and extracting from there a non-human way of understanding and designing media. In other words, using a theme that was already emerging in the Nineteenth Century, the body of the animal and the insect becomes a media of sorts, with different potentials of exploration, sensation, and perception than the human centered, two-eyed, two-footed, two-armed mode of perception on which so much of our media theory has been based, from Ernst Kapp to Marshall McLuhan. I am looking for the conceptual potentialities of such a displacement, but artists such as yourself are creating embodied material layerings on the fuzzy interzone of living and technology, media and organic — and displacing such divisions.

GH: Bringing this back into artistic practice, does media archaeology find resonance with the media arts since both fields have a history of praising the brilliant-but-uncompleted project? Do both fields glorify the prototypical?

JP: Regarding artistic methodology, pointing towards the brilliant-but-uncompleted or unrealized project is a nice way of framing it — as long as we analyze the framework we use to judge things as incomplete or unrealized. I love the work done in the context of imaginary media and bringing back obsolete media into our discursive and practical framings, but the notion of obsolescence begs the critical question: obsolete only in relation to the established? Obsolete only as a reaction to the mainstream? If we define obsolescence as something that has fallen out of fashion or has become unwanted, unusable, or outside the mainstream then this definition relies on the constitutive mainstream itself. What we have to realize first is that obsolescence seems to be a key logic of capitalist production anyway — a logic which entails that of continuous production of the new through the production of obsolescence as well. Obsolescence does not just happen; it is produced as part of the consumer cultural logic. The enormous piles of waste and ecological crisis are an index of that kind of logic of obsolescence.

Because of this, there is a danger of it serving reactionary and hegemonic definitions, where it is only through that negation from the mainstream that the forgotten becomes defined. That is why I find value in imaginary media projects that displace our normal ways of approaching what is media and explore media as intensities, sensations, the unthought of. In short: media beyond the representational. We should not only offer representations of imaginary media, but also focus on such affects and percepts (to put it in Deleuze-Guattari vocabulary) that engage sensations in us in ways that are not familiar, like a becoming-insect or becoming-other of our sensorium. I am not only interested in obsolete media but also in such non-representational, „off the radar” media projects in which obsolescence can itself carry potentialities not yet perceived.

GH: To oppose your stance, does media archaeology as a displacement of the notion of media run the danger of making media archaeology even more marginal? Does displacement glorify the trivial, unfinished, and irrelevant without providing a synthesis?

Part of the reason I ask this is that I see some of the same problems within the history of media arts practice: reveling in obscure technologies, projects continually stuck in prototype mode, and work that lacks a connection to „real world” issues and politics.

JP: I would see this perhaps as the lack of theoretical discourse that should have critically engaged and forced some of the positions to explain the wider contexts in excavating media history, whether for a specific art project or from a theoretical viewpoint. This is the „why” question of any media archaeological (re)wiring. Why is this excavation relevant now? The danger is often marginalia for its own sake, a curiosity cabinet way of doing media history that indeed is interesting, but does not necessarily reach out towards issues in politics, or even explicate how to bring in fresh theoretical perspectives.

You make a valid point concerning the glorification of the unfinished. I have to mention Nietzsche if we critique the dangers of history and archaeology: one of the dangers of media history — or any kind of a history, as Nietzsche warned at the end of the nineteenth century — is for it to remain an antiquarian passive collection of facts and dates. With aesthetics, there is the possibility of a careful and theoretically informed excavation to map the singularities and modes of specificity of different media — quirky media devices, for example, that inform a rethinking of materiality in current media practices and arts. For me, the question of singularity and specificity of media in its material qualities for expression is as much a political as an aesthetic question because it points towards thinking of media as potentials for action; what can a medium do? What are its potentials? As an artistic methodology, media archaeology should not only be about using historical themes as a representational focus for a piece of media art. Media archaeological art can invoke concrete alternative histories, can fabricate new machinic apparatuses in an experimental fashion, and can be seen as a way of opening up the workings of technological machines to reveal their microtemporal machinations.

GH: Agreed. Media arts have the potential to skillfully excavate the singularities and specificities of media technologies. For example, the artwork of Paul DeMarinis clearly engages with the spirit of media archaeology and in some cases moves beyond what can be done in text ( One could extend this to claim that DeMarinis’s artwork executes media archaeology more effectively than texts on the topic. Part of this has to do with the limitations of the textual medium: writing multiple layers simultaneously is technically very hard to do. Artistically, it is more straightforward. As a result of the specific constraints of the medium of the printed page, media archaeology functions as a useful methodology for artistic production: it works as an activity as opposed to a narrative. Executing the multilayered component of media archaeology has a clarity when carried through an artwork, as DeMarinis and others do.

JP: True; an increasing number of media archaeologists agree that media archaeology needs to be executed, not constructed as a narrative. History is the form of narratives, while media archaeology is a non-linear engagement with devices and concrete apparatuses that physically carry the past into the present. In, for example, Wolfgang Ernst’s mode of media archaeology, the physicality of technical media seems to become more important than narratives of writing. In any case, DeMarinis is exemplary of proactively working with media archaeological material and excavating differing relations of sensation with media. Examples of this in his work include resurrecting the tactility of media in Gray Matter (1995) or concretely working with the physicality of transmission media, as with the more recent Rome to Tripoli work (2006-2008), which physically recreated the 1908 radio transmitter of Majorana and commented on its colonialist contexts. In addition, another strand of media archaeological art relates to hardware hacking, circuit bending and literally opening up media technologies to reveal the complex wirings through which the time-critical processes of contemporary culture function. This is closer to what Ernst emphasizes nowadays with his „operative diagrammatics.” It’s not only a macrohistorical take on media arts, but microtemporal tinkering and engineering of high-tech that is increasingly closed, as we know, both technically and political-economically.

GH: Apart from media archaeology being valuable in providing a mode of production for media artists, do you think the approach as a method of constructing a history of media arts is in danger of dwelling in archaic marginalia? In my opinion, there still is no clear history of media arts written. Exploring marginalia is useful in the critique of an established body of discourse, but media arts is historiographically not at the stage where it even has a canon. One could argue that the media arts needs a textbook at this point in history, not rewirings via marginality.

JP: But how could we write a history of media arts, as the whole notion of the media arts seems to disperse the concept of media? What if one of the tasks of media arts — and media archaeology — is to continuously renegotiate the definition of a medium?

GH: I’d argue that dispersing the concept of media is not the primary role of media arts. The dispersal of a definition of media is something that may be of interest to media theory, but expanding a definition has little to do with making art. I think it is an overconceptualization to think a history of media arts cannot be written. The construction of a history of the media arts seems straightforward — I think of Frank Popper’s Art of the Electronic Age (1993) or Edward Shanken’s recent Art and Electronic Media (2009) as starting points. Of course there are dangers of lumping diverse artists into specific categorizations or just presenting a collection without a thorough synthesis, but I think a synthetic approach may be more constructive than a media archaeology of media art. In other words, one could say that we need a history to rewire before we can do a rewiring of the discipline.

JP: In terms of Shanken’s great and useful contribution, I think of it more as an archive of sorts than a narrative. It’s not a history book in the mode of narrative that we think of history inherited from the nineteenth century. It’s an archive of various themes and pieces that could lend themselves to different constellations and groupings. We need textbooks on media arts, but I find the idea of a media art history in the singular unworkable. How can we write such histories of media art not historically but more „media artistically,” that is, taking into account the materialities of media through which history is articulated, not relying on written narrative as the only way of producing historical, temporal knowledge? As you said, DeMarinis offers inspiring insights into media history, but not in a narrative mode. In terms of writing such textbooks we both see as needed, categorizations are useful and I don’t object to them, but any synthesis is really good only when it affords further elaborations and new syntheses. Syntheses should be productive, not conclusive — hence disjunctive as well.

GH: What is the value in being uncategorizable, though? Isn’t part of the task of mobilizing sidelined objects and discourses to make them legible and understood? There’s a distinct difference between transdisciplinarity that works to maintain a legibility to its parent disciplines and being unclassifiable and outside of any discipline — „undisciplined” perhaps.

JP: As mentioned earlier, one of the emerging ideas for me is to think of media archaeology as a traveling discipline. Mieke Bal is my reference point in this regard. The background of the idea of media archaeology is that it transgresses institutional disciplines and that its multi-institutional nature is one of its strengths; it moves between media and film studies, history, media arts, and design departments — especially in the North American and German-speaking countries and the Netherlands. It has not yet settled in only one institutional framework. However, it has drawn in its emergence from the resources in those institutions in which transdiscplinary research has been integrated at the outset into the goals and working methods of research and creative practice.

Transdisciplinarity and the ability to extract from a range of theoretical and practical sources underlines media archaeology’s nature as a method and discipline of changing academic times, when (again) disciplinary boundaries are shifting and media related topics span much beyond the strict confines of media as a cultural industry. As a traveling, wandering, and hopefully aberrant enterprise, media archaeology could work towards evaluating its own premises of knowledge both in a field of capitalist new media culture and in the discourses of media theory. Taking it in directions that force it to speak more about politics, affects, sensations, materiality, and embodiment, for example through actual art projects that are media archaeological, is one of the ways to proceed, I would say. As a traveling, nomad enterprise, it also has to be an orphaned one….

GH: This reminds me of Roland Barthes’ claim that, „[i]n order to do interdisciplinary work, it is not enough to take a ‚subject’ (a theme) and to arrange two or three sciences around it. Interdisciplinary study consists of creating a new object, which belongs to no one.” [13] Interdisciplinary work like media archaeology is a nomadic enterprise whose strengths and weaknesses exist through its aberrance. A wandering and traveling discipline can be alluring, but momentum, legibility, and sustainability of the field are difficult to maintain if it is homeless or not understood within a larger body of discourse.

Is media archaeology destined to always be a hybrid discipline? Is creating institutional settings for a sustained work in media archaeology as important as coming up with such creative ideas, objects, or theories?

JP: This is not only the challenge of media archaeology but of humanities in the twenty-first century. There we see a continuous excitement about interdisciplinarity while the actual job markets and curricula lag behind. Any hybrid concept and transdisciplinary homeless theory or object needs caring for, in the sense of sustainability, in order for it to get off the ground, and this is the challenge for the more established figures in this field: to create networks and courses through which the ideas gain wider currency. As such, it is a matter of funding, which in the UK is going to be interesting with the Higher Education and research budgets for Arts and Humanities being slashed. Where I am learning most about „media archaeology” at the moment is in archives and museums where practices of archiving in the age of social media tools, computer forensics, and other new ideas and techniques are implemented.

But I agree, being a nomad in a field that no one can claim as his or her own will always be romanticized, as well as not belonging in the capitalist or proprietary sense. Perhaps that would be a less melancholic sense of seeing transdisciplinarity, although there is the constant danger of the romanticism of being against institutions altogether.

Instead of being anti-institutional, it is perhaps more relevant to build methods of participation and openness within institutions. Though to date media archaeology has primarily been articulated by a few thinkers, such as Zielinski and Huhtamo, it is engaged with many new ways of addressing media history. The future of media studies is a study not only of media, but of archives and temporality. It is a constant creative tension of the old with the new.



[1] For an overview of Digital Contagions, see Joseph Nechvatal’s „IF/THEN: Jussi Parikka’ s Digital Contagions: A Media Archaeology of Computer Viruses” published at newmediaFIX in September 2007 and available online at (Last accessed June 28th 2009).

[2] Jussi Parikka, „The Universal Viral Machine – Bits, Parasites and the Media Ecology of Network Culture” CTheory – An International Journal of Theory, Technology and Culture, December 15th, 2005.

[3] Erkki Huhtamo and Jussi Parikka (eds.), Media Archaeologies (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, forthcoming Fall 2010).

[4] Wolfgang Ernst, „Dis/continuities: Does the Archive Become Metaphorical in Multi-Media Space?” New Media, Old Media. A History and Theory Reader, eds. Wendy Hui Kyong Chun and Thomas Keenan (New York: Routledge, 2006), 105-124.

[5] See Thomas Elsaesser, „The New Film History as Media Archaeology” CINéMAS, vol. 14 (2004), No. 2-3, 71-117.

[6] Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, Remediation. Understanding New Media (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1999).

[7] Erkki Huhtamo, „From Kaleidoscomaniac to Cybernerd: Notes Towards an Archaeology of the Media” Leonardo, vol. 30 (1997), No. 3, 221-224.

[8] Siegfried Zielinski, Deep Time of the Media: Toward an Archaeology of Seeing and Hearing by Technical Means (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2006. Orig. 2002).

[9] Michel Serres and Bruno Latour, Conversations on Science, Culture and Time Trans. Roxanne Lapidus (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1995) p.58-59.

[10] See Axel Volmar (ed), Zeitkritische Medien (Berlin: Kadmos, 2009).

[11] Mieke Bal, Travelling Concepts in the Humanities. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002).

[12] Lovink characterized media archaeology as a discipline of reading against the grain, [a] hermeneutic reading of the new against the grain of the past, rather than telling of the histories of technologies from past to present. Geert Lovink, Archive Rumblings: An Interview with German media archaeologist Wolfgang Ernst, Nettime-mailing list, February 26, 2003,

[13] Roland Barthes, The Rustle of Language. Trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1986) 72.

Media Archaeological Resources


Gebhard Sengmüller (

Paul Demarinis (

Julien Maire’s The Inverted Cone at Transmediale 2010 (

Julius von Bismarck’s The Space Beyond Me at Transmediale 2010 (

Garnet Hertz’s Dead Media Research Lab (

Zoe Beloff (

David Link (

Micro Research Lab, Berlin (

Jussi Parikka’s Cartographies of Media Archaeology blog at (

Alex Galloway and Ben Kafka’s New York University course titled „Media Archaeology” in the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication (

Mediaarthistories-blog (

The Web Dossier of the 2004 Media Archaeology and Imaginary Media event in Amsterdam, organized by Eric Kluitenberg (


Jussi Parikka holds a PhD in Cultural History from the University of Turku, Finland and is Reader in Media Theory & History at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK. He is the Director of the Cultures of the Digital Economy Research Institute and also the co-director of the Anglia Research Centre in Digital Culture (ArcDigital). Parikka’s new book Insect Media, forthcoming in 2010, focuses on the media, theoretical, and historical interconnections of biology and technology. The co-edited collection The Spam Book: On Viruses, Porn, and Other Anomalies from the Dark Side of Digital Culture was released in 2009, and Media Archaeologies is forthcoming in 2010. Currently he is writing a manuscript on the theory and methodology of media archaeology for Polity Press.

Garnet Hertz is a Fulbright Scholar and contemporary artist whose work explores themes of technological progress, creativity, innovation and interdisciplinarity. Hertz is a Faculty Member of the Media Design Program at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, a Postdoctoral Scholar at the Institute for Software Research at UC Irvine and is Artist in Residence in the Laboratory for Ubiquitous Computing and Interaction at UC Irvine. He has shown his work at several notable international venues in eleven countries including Ars Electronica, DEAF, and SIGGRAPH and was awarded the prestigious 2008 Oscar Signorini Award in robotic art. He is founder and director of Dorkbot SoCal, a monthly Los Angeles-based DIY lecture series on electronic art and design. His research is widely cited in academic publications, and the popular press including The New York Times, Wired, The Washington Post, NPR, USA Today, NBC, CBS, TV Tokyo and CNN Headline News.


In Duchamp on 6 listopada 2010 at 10:42 pm