All posts filed under: articles and essays

Mediating the Tree: Infrastructures of Pulp and Paper Modernity in the Bowater Papers

Article written with Rafico Ruiz based on a short-lived trade publication produced by the Bowater paper mill in 1950s Newfoundland. Excerpt from the introduction: Thinking of paper via the tree requires some new conceptualizations of environmental media theory. First, trees are a problematic model of an “extractive” logic, since they are not exactly extracted from the land but cleared, razed, felled, harvested, and exploited. This act of deforestation can—at least in theory—be fol- lowed by its opposite, reforestation: trees are an example of a resource that is not finite and that can be replaced. Second, paper provokes an expansion of what constitutes elemental media, broadening from the four elements (earth, water, fire, air) as used by John Durham Peters (2015), to include other primary matters, such as the tree.4 This might lead to the question: could there be a media philosophy of tree, or wood, or forest? Could we think of these together under a common rubric such as “xylomedia” (from the Greek “xylo” or “relating to wood”), and would such a material enfolding be …

“The Intrinsic Value of Valuable Paper”

ABSTRACT Authentication devices transform cheap paper into legitimate documents. They are the sensory, informational, and computational features that make up valuable papers like banknotes and passports, and they provide the confidence required in moments of exchange and passage. These devices – which include techniques like watermarks and specialized threads, proprietary substrates and inks, or RFID chips – are the product of security printing, an industry that continuously reinvents the possibilities of paper. Importantly, these components protect paper things from counterfeiting, allowing it to function as an original and authentic copy and to do the logistical work of connecting quotidian materials to global networks. The value of valuable papers is therefore not purely extrinsic, socially or discursively established, but is also performed through its intrinsic material qualities. These are the authentication devices that are read, assessed, and trusted as paper things are circulated, and they are what securely connects paper to infrastructures of mobility. Online First

“Nano-Optical Image-Making”

This article has been a long time coming* but it is finally available in print form in the April 2020 issue of Leonardo.  Nano-Optical Image-Making: Morphologies, Devices, Speculations ABSTRACT This article provides a technical overview of nano-optical image-making produced between the author, engineering scientists at the Ciber Lab in Vancouver, and the artists Christine Davis and Scott Lyall. It situates the work in relation to other optical technologies like holographs, to the primary application of nano-optical images as authentication devices, and to other artistic practices interested in nanoscale interactions of light and matter. The paper articulates the convergence of visual technologies and designed materials by explaining how the principles of structural color can be used for the production of images. Building a discussion on the shift from device to medium that is anchored around questions of remediation and reproducibility, it concludes with a speculation on informatic matters, or the convergence of mediating functions at the surface of things. *Accepted for Online First publication in January 2018. See on Academia      

Don’t Copy That: Security Printing and the Making of High-Tech Paper

Abstract Printing is not a new media technology, but it is continuously being renewed. In this sense, it is an example of novelty going largely unnoticed, woven into the quotidian and ordinary in unassuming ways. One reason for this is the incomplete way we tell the story of printed paper, which privileges narratives of readings, access, and dissemination. To complicate the way media scholars think printing, this article turns to the case of security printing, which produces objects like banknotes and passports that circulate with trust and authority. Here, printing emerges through the specific need to print securely, offering a narrative based on the need for order and protection. The work of security printing, always straddling between art and science, produces artefacts understood as authentic copies. Such a transformation of paper into valuable object relies on the technical artistry of the security printer, who sets the aesthetic and material standards of authenticity through physical features like watermarks, engravings, holographs, special substrates, threads, or inks. Drawing on a close reading of informational materials produced by the …

Storing Authenticity at the Surface and Into the Depths

Very happy to be part of issue 32 of Intermédialités/Intermediality, edited by Nathalie Casemajor and Sophie Toupin, on the topic of Cacher/Concealing. I contributed a paper on security devices used in passports/banknotes called Storing Authenticity at the Surface and Into the Depths: Securing Paper with Human- and Machine-Readable Devices. Here is the abstract: This article examines the media technologies that mark paper as authentic. Using the examples of passports and paper banknotes, it considers the security features (e.g. graphic marks, holographs, chips) that do the work of reliably storing, protecting, and communicating authenticity across both space and time. These overt and covert authentication devices are examined in two interconnected ways: 1) as technologies with specific temporal conditions, constrained both by technical longevity and functional lifespan; and 2) as technologies that must be continuously reinvented to outpace counterfeiters and forgers. Together, these attributes have led to strategies of concealment that shift authentication from a human-legible activity at the perceptible surface to one that is concealed in the depths of machine readability. While this adds a level …

On the Concept of Recognition in Media Art

Now available: proceedings from the fantastic Politics of the Machines: Art and After (EVA Copenhagen) conference that was held in May are now online. I have a paper here which is my first working through the concept of recognition and how it might be useful in thinking politically about the media artwork, particularly artworks that explore the automated recognition of human emotions by computers that rely on a biometric analysis of the body. ABSTRACT On the Concept of Recognition in Media Art: Emotional Reactions, Empathetic Interactions Biometric technologies have transformed recognition into an empirical and automated activity. But recognition is not just a matter of identification or surveillance. As computer systems become capable of detecting human emotion, we are reminded of philosophical approaches to recognition that place it as central activity of human self-realization and social existence. Bringing together these dual notions of recognition, this paper considers how artists are taking hold of the technical possibilities of recognition to make political the media artwork. Specifically, it turns to Karen Palmer’s interactive film RIOT (protoype) (2016), …

Audible Walls, Breathing Vaults, and the Fantastic Sites of Re-Imagination

Based on a presentation at the Media Art Histories conference in Riga, Latvia a couple of years ago, the final paper of my longstanding Polish media art project has been published in Acoustic Space #15: Open Fields. Art and Science Research Practices in the Network Society. It looks at the fantastic as a productive mode of re-imagination and re-making, inspired by that famous Shklovsy notion of ostraniene, or defamiliarization. The article turns to Polish media artworks that—through images, experiences, and encounters —are not only strange but also disruptive, challenging the architectures, broadly defined, of the contemporary condition. Dominik Lejman’s Breathing Cathedral (2005) provides a case of a media art practice that harnesses the interplay between materiality and immateriality to re-imagine urban history, civic politics and architectural heritage; in Making the Walls Quake… (2012) Katarzyna Krakowiak creates a space where architecture becomes audible; and in She-Ona: Media Story (2008) Izabella Gustowska produces a fantastical experience of our mediated environment in a way that reflects back on the structures of the digital condition and transforms the technologies …

Technologies of Wonder

I chaired a special session panel called “Technologies of Wonder ” for the New Media Caucus at the 2015 College Art Association meeting. The papers were then published in Media-N. The entire issue is available online, including my intro, and my paper on “Seeing Nano: Vision, Optics, and the Sight of Impossible Things.”

Designing Nano-Media Across Disciplines

As part of my Postdoc with SFU, I worked with a lab specializing in nano-optics. One of my interests was to bring artists to the lab to see how we could engage and present this emerging technology in innovative and creative ways. The result was an insert featured in the journal PUBLIC. The story of the project, including technical background, connections with art- and media- making processes, as well as production/manufacturing challenges, are discussed in a paper I presented at ISEA 2015 called “Designing Nano-Media Across Disciplines: Circular Genealogies and Collaborative Methodologies at the Optical Frontier,” which can be found here.

Real and Virtual Histories of Past and Future in the Heritage Village

This paper considers the immaterial aspects of the history of land as way to reimagine heritage. Through the heritage village – that imagined, artificial, and curated representation of history with very particular kinds of material iterations and legacies of the past – we consider the immaterial memories and histories that have becomes absent from the staging and design of heritage as collective history. We examine the way that these omissions function in the imagination of the present and future by turning to the site-specific contemporary art exhibition Land/Slide Possible Futures (2013). Located on the site of Markham Museum heritage village in Ontario, Canada, this expansive project reveals the imbricated histories of the rise of the heritage village and that of the suburb. Turning to Duke & Battesby’s Always Popular, Never Cool and Terrance Houle’s There’s Things That Even a Drunk Will Never Forget, among others, we argue for the heritage village as a lieu de mémoire, where memories are continuously unearthed, revealed, and imagined, and where artists transform archival collections and historical architectures into surreal …