Successfully reported this slideshow.
We use your LinkedIn profile and activity data to personalize ads and to show you more relevant ads. You can change your ad preferences anytime.
Inconvenient Materialities
Rick Prelinger
2016-05-11
rick@ucsc.edu
@footageo
1Thursday, May 12, 16
Thank you.
2Thursday, May 12, 16
I've been working as an archivist, perhaps more an outsider or meta-archivist, for some time. I work...
3Thursday, May 12, 16
Digital emergence has led to analog marginality, or at least a widespread sense that we have moved b...
4Thursday, May 12, 16
But material objects never disappeared, and we have to deal with them. And we think of materiality d...
5Thursday, May 12, 16
Physical objects can be extremely inconvenient because of their fragility. One of the most legendary...
6Thursday, May 12, 16
The base of nitrate film, which carries the thin layer of emulsion, is made from nitrocellulose, whic...
7Thursday, May 12, 16
The decomposition of the film base affects the emulsion, the layer that carries the picture, as well.
8Thursday, May 12, 16
As I said, I am leading with a most dramatic example of deterioration. After nitrate, it gets better.
9Thursday, May 12, 16
In the end, known as Stage 5, it is barely recognizable as film.
10Thursday, May 12, 16
Safety-base film is actually more fragile than nitrate in many ways, because of vinegar syndrome. An...
11Thursday, May 12, 16
But physical deterioration, while vexing, isn't in my view the greatest inconvenience. Infinity and ...
12Thursday, May 12, 16
Also, critical theorists are making it hard for those of us who work with archives and memory. Mate...
"archives" — organizations, collectivities or
arrangements, either established or outsider,
within which collecting, prese...
14Thursday, May 12, 16
Most writers and artists have gravitated to the term "archive." Some also use "the archive" and "th...
15Thursday, May 12, 16
"The archive" invites flirtation; the "archives," on the other hand, could not be more demanding. Th...
16Thursday, May 12, 16
I hope you'll excuse my rather polarized treatment of these terms, because I hope we can move towar...
17Thursday, May 12, 16
And just as workers in the archives are made invisible, pre-digital objects like books, films and ne...
Prelinger Library, San Francisco, April 3, 2016
18Thursday, May 12, 16
And I think those of us who are no longer trying to...
Chronik der Anna Magdalena Bach (Straub-Huillet, 1968)
19Thursday, May 12, 16
In fact, the turn to digital revalidates the...
San Francisco Chronicle, 1915-09-14
20Thursday, May 12, 16
But while digitality may revalidate analog, it's rapidly devalu...
21Thursday, May 12, 16
This is funny, because some emerging histories of images and sound (like media archaeology) privile...
22Thursday, May 12, 16
The crisis ecosystem of evidence-bearing physical objects has become really fascinating. The displa...
23Thursday, May 12, 16
Despite its apparent victory over physical media, digitality is fragile. It requires a compliant so...
East St. Louis, Illinois, 2009-11-04
24Thursday, May 12, 16
*** [COULD OMIT] The air of romantic obsolescence that surroun...
A.M. Low, Wireless Possibilities, 1923
25Thursday, May 12, 16
*** [COULD OMIT] Dead media, failed kludges, speculative eng...
Seaside,
Oregon
2015-01-02
26Thursday, May 12, 16
Where I come from, the fast-growing city of San Francisco, glitch is per...
27Thursday, May 12, 16
In fact, glitches aren't only challenges to preservation — preservation itself is a glitch. The nor...
10/8/15 10:55 AMThe Consortium for Slower Internet
Page 1 of 3http://slowerinternet.com/principles.html
THE CONSORTIUM FOR...
From Elmer Dyer Film Library looseleaf catalog books, Hollywood, spring 1970
Angry film librarian venting
29Thursday, May 1...
W1UX, Killingworth, Conn.
30Thursday, May 12, 16
*** [COULD OMIT] An excess of affordances could be a bad thing. Look at B...
U.S. President's Materials Policy Commission, Resources for Freedom,
v. 1, 1951; excerpt from preface, probably written by...
32Thursday, May 12, 16
*** [COULD OMIT] And I want to end by mentioning another inconvenient topic that's lately been inte...
Red-Tailed Hawk nesting, Great Highway & Taraval St., San Francisco, June 2015
33Thursday, May 12, 16
Not to simulate inco...
Eugene, Oregon, 2015-07-03@footage / rick@ucsc.edu
34Thursday, May 12, 16
Thank you.
Upcoming SlideShare
Loading in …5
×

Inconvenient materialities

520 views

Published on

LASER talk by Rick Prelinger at Institute for Arts & Sciences, UC Santa Cruz, May 11, 2016

Published in: Science
  • The Surprising Reason 11:11 Keeps Appearing. Free report reveals hidden messages from the Universe to unlock success, wealth... even true love. Claim your copy and reveal your messages now! ●●● http://t.cn/AiuvUCDd
       Reply 
    Are you sure you want to  Yes  No
    Your message goes here
  • The Surprising Reason 11:11 Keeps Popping-Up: Free report reveals the Universe's secret "Sign Posts" that point the way to success, wealth and happiness. Claim your copy right now! ♥♥♥ http://t.cn/AiuvUMl2
       Reply 
    Are you sure you want to  Yes  No
    Your message goes here
  • Be the first to like this

Inconvenient materialities

  1. 1. Inconvenient Materialities Rick Prelinger 2016-05-11 rick@ucsc.edu @footageo 1Thursday, May 12, 16 Thank you.
  2. 2. 2Thursday, May 12, 16 I've been working as an archivist, perhaps more an outsider or meta-archivist, for some time. I work in an emergent field I call critical archival studies, which means I look at the different ways people are keeping evidence, information and memory. I came of age collecting ephemeral moving images, specifically film genres that others mostly ignored -- advertising, industrial, educational film. In recent years I've concentrated on the most ephemeral images of all -- amateur film and home movies. The digital turn, unkind to so many workers in many fields, was kind to me; I cut my teeth making multimedia film anthologies on CD-ROM, and partnered with Internet Archive beginning in 1999 to build a large open-access historical archival film collection, probably my most effectual intervention in the cultural sphere.
  3. 3. 3Thursday, May 12, 16 Digital emergence has led to analog marginality, or at least a widespread sense that we have moved beyond the era in which information and culture is embodied in physical objects. While I celebrate this trend up to and including the limits of its emancipatory potential, I think digitality has converged with its representation, which is as much a creation of journalism and the California ideology as it's a description of actual trends. It's become hard to separate what digital cultures do from what they pretend to be. Today there are many whose compensation rests on the propagation of futurity, including librarians whose success sometimes depends directly or indirectly on clearing shelves of little-consulted physical materials.
  4. 4. 4Thursday, May 12, 16 But material objects never disappeared, and we have to deal with them. And we think of materiality differently, because its new flavor is principally enabled by consciousness of the digital. Today I want to talk about the persistence of materiality and its gross inconveniences, concentrating on archives as arenas in which contending conceptions of media histories struggle for the win, and try to look a bit into the future without predicting the end of anything.
  5. 5. 5Thursday, May 12, 16 Physical objects can be extremely inconvenient because of their fragility. One of the most legendary examples is nitrate film, which is both beautiful and spectacularly combustible at the same time. While its dangers are actually somewhat overstated, fire and hazmat regulations restrict its storage, transport and disposal. It is less and less likely you will find nitrate film on a rear shelf or in a basement, but I have and you could, and I cite it here as a dramatic, worst-case example.
  6. 6. 6Thursday, May 12, 16 The base of nitrate film, which carries the thin layer of emulsion, is made from nitrocellulose, which is chemically unstable. Archivists recognize five stages of deterioration.
  7. 7. 7Thursday, May 12, 16 The decomposition of the film base affects the emulsion, the layer that carries the picture, as well.
  8. 8. 8Thursday, May 12, 16 As I said, I am leading with a most dramatic example of deterioration. After nitrate, it gets better.
  9. 9. 9Thursday, May 12, 16 In the end, known as Stage 5, it is barely recognizable as film.
  10. 10. 10Thursday, May 12, 16 Safety-base film is actually more fragile than nitrate in many ways, because of vinegar syndrome. And there is a lot more vulnerable safety-base film in the world. It is infectious; one vinegary item can "infect" others nearby. And the way to keep it from accelerating or to slow it down is to keep film very cool or very dry. That is expensive and, in a time of accelerating climate change, possibly unsustainable.
  11. 11. 11Thursday, May 12, 16 But physical deterioration, while vexing, isn't in my view the greatest inconvenience. Infinity and its consequences constitute a greater problem. And when we speak of home movies, which in my view are some of the most important cultural documents of the 20th century, we are indeed speaking of infinity.
  12. 12. 12Thursday, May 12, 16 Also, critical theorists are making it hard for those of us who work with archives and memory. Material media suffers from a discursive gap between the way the world is imagined and some of the ways it actually works. The divide between people who think about archives and people who work in them is striking and unproductive. This divide is manifested in language, in status and in workflow.
  13. 13. "archives" — organizations, collectivities or arrangements, either established or outsider, within which collecting, preservation, access and archival labor occur "the archive" — an umbrella term for critical, conceptual, philosophical, artistic, literary, psychoanalytic constructs centered around collections and/or archival process 13Thursday, May 12, 16 I'm fascinated by the imprecision that exists between "archives," which most archivists define as places of collecting, preservation, access and archival labor, and "the archive," which I consider an umbrella term for critical, philosophical, artistic, literary, historical, or analytical constructs centered around archives and/or archival process. And since words matter a great deal, I'll take a minute to talk about this fuzziness.
  14. 14. 14Thursday, May 12, 16 Most writers and artists have gravitated to the term "archive." Some also use "the archive" and "the archives" interchangeably without interrogating possible differences. But the fuzziness surrounding "the archives" and "the archive" vexes archivists. An unstable amalgam of the unconscious and quotidian, the "archive" has become an undemanding construct. It serves the critical disciplines as they interact with history and memory without necessarily requiring sharp definition. [You might think of the "archive" rendering as a screen onto which traces of theory flash for long moments before fading.] For artists, writers and theorists, "the archive" is terra nullius, open for unchallenged occupation. There is little engagement with archives as working entities; reflection and critique is typically second-order, once-removed, focusing on the construct rather than the workplace.
  15. 15. 15Thursday, May 12, 16 "The archive" invites flirtation; the "archives," on the other hand, could not be more demanding. They adopt, protect, preserve, reformat, describe and publicly expose archival materials, mixing objects and labor. And though their workplaces may seem quiet and their workflows pretend to appear apolitical, archives overflow with contention. To collect is to commit to the survival of certain records over others; to arrange and describe is often to enclose; to preserve is to resist power, violence and constraint; to proffer access is to invite misunderstanding and aggression. And yet "archives" yearn for praxis; even menial archival labor is practice in search of theory. Archival labor is often inconvenient labor for its employers: it is racialized, gendered, of a class different than those to whom archives deliver services. The presence of archival labor can be an unsettling reminder of the overhead involved in maintaining memory, in administering the often weighty traces of cultural and social discourse. It is tempting to imagine this labor as anachronistic, to imagine a digitized world staffed by efficient and uncomplaining machines, even if the price of lack of contention is ever-poorer user interfaces.
  16. 16. 16Thursday, May 12, 16 I hope you'll excuse my rather polarized treatment of these terms, because I hope we can move towards reuniting them and the practices to which they refer. Could we try to draw connections between academic, artistic and archival labor? And could we try to link the conceptual umbrella we call "the archive" with the more quotidian work of "the archives"? Could we daylight archival theory? We might listen harder to the people who perform archival labor and begin to think of it as cultural work or research rather than simply wage labor. For years feminists have known to kick open the kitchen door, but few archival theorists have considered the politics of archival workflow.
  17. 17. 17Thursday, May 12, 16 And just as workers in the archives are made invisible, pre-digital objects like books, films and newspapers are often seen as anachronistic. But neither nostalgia for the physical nor the celebration of digital conquest make much sense. To transcode a formulation from artist and writer Jen Bervin, it's becoming clear that physical and digital materials each have different jobs to do.
  18. 18. Prelinger Library, San Francisco, April 3, 2016 18Thursday, May 12, 16 And I think those of us who are no longer trying to put analog and digital into opposition are on the right track, unless you're talking about obvious attributes like weight, physical bulk, and dependence upon electron flow, or unless you need conflict for yet another sensational news story. Every day in our library (if you haven't, please come visit sometime!) we realize that analog- digital hybridity is not a transitional state, and I hope it remains a permanent one.
  19. 19. Chronik der Anna Magdalena Bach (Straub-Huillet, 1968) 19Thursday, May 12, 16 In fact, the turn to digital revalidates the analog. I make digital films that play before audiences who talk while the film runs. I thought this was radical, until I realized I was actually channeling the Elizabethan theater whose front pit was filled with loud and boisterous groundlings. The affordances of digital media — its properties that make certain actions possible — are giving us a new understanding about how physical media forms actually work. Ebooks have taught us much about physical books, and weavers take inspiration from screens. [As film curator Alex Horvath pointed out, the renaissance of Baroque-era musical instruments is a relatively recent phenomenon.]
  20. 20. San Francisco Chronicle, 1915-09-14 20Thursday, May 12, 16 But while digitality may revalidate analog, it's rapidly devaluing it. Physical objects are being disposed of and destroyed at an accelerated rate. I have to ask: do physical objects still have the right to exist? For some media, like newspapers, journals and videotape, this has already been settled in the negative. Shelves are emptier and stacks gone in many libraries.
  21. 21. 21Thursday, May 12, 16 This is funny, because some emerging histories of images and sound (like media archaeology) privilege apparatus and container over content. The story of countless dead or comatose media platforms exists less in the surviving images and sounds than in or on the containers, labels, reels, caddies, leaders, labels and postmarks. [The history of the educational and industrial film distribution systems lives on the cans and shipping containers that protected the reels as much as in the catalogs and trade journals. (Recanning isn't always a good idea!)] As an aside, this is akin to pioneer electronic publishing executive Bill Dunn's assertion that the importance of metadata exceeds the value of data it describes.
  22. 22. 22Thursday, May 12, 16 The crisis ecosystem of evidence-bearing physical objects has become really fascinating. The displacement and expulsion of physical materials in favor of digital surrogates is akin to urban gentrification, and as archivists, scholars and citizens we will one day have to answer for it. Because the attributes that distinguish the physical are exactly what we should be preserving, and they are a pain. Physical objects, no matter how many we discard, are incredibly persistent. And their persistence is inconvenient. They're the table scraps, the leftovers of digitization, and there aren't enough dogs around the table to gobble them down. We are basing entire new phenomenological, philosophical and scholarly agendas on one recent technological turn (digitality), and for some reason we find ourselves staging a battle against physical materials in order to make room for apparent digital abundance.
  23. 23. 23Thursday, May 12, 16 Despite its apparent victory over physical media, digitality is fragile. It requires a compliant social order, the accommodation of governments, and the steady availability of energy. It is not a monolith; the Chinese digital world works differently than the North American. And its corporate structures and business models are experimental. We shouldn't overreact today to a force that will behave differently tomorrow.
  24. 24. East St. Louis, Illinois, 2009-11-04 24Thursday, May 12, 16 *** [COULD OMIT] The air of romantic obsolescence that surrounds a lot of historical media and communications technology today is quite striking and entertaining, and we might actually enlist it to help build a bridge between media archaeologists, their complex assertions, and the public, but we need to push it hard to really learn something. It's fun to touch and revive obsolete or failed tech, but what exactly does it tell us? While the landscapes of our many deindustrialized cities are rich texts crossed by threads of evidence that implicate many players, most visitors see only ruin porn.
  25. 25. A.M. Low, Wireless Possibilities, 1923 25Thursday, May 12, 16 *** [COULD OMIT] Dead media, failed kludges, speculative engineering ventures that pass neither usability nor smell tests and express poorly integrated relationships between information and its embodiments are all deeply fascinating, but we need to squeeze those "neglected margins" hard. And yet anything we can do to question the unreasonable faith much of the world seems to have in the robustness and persistence of the digital is most welcome. As long, perhaps, as we are not fetishizing digital fragility, or mourning losses not yet incurred.
  26. 26. Seaside, Oregon 2015-01-02 26Thursday, May 12, 16 Where I come from, the fast-growing city of San Francisco, glitch is perhaps the most-used mode of appropriation. Why do we love glitch so much? It's becoming a real 21st-century fetish. But it's nothing new. It's proudly and joyously traditional: people have stepped on snapshots, cried over letters whose ink smeared, wondered what's on the pages missing from library books, felt the thrill of film burning and blossoming in the gate.
  27. 27. 27Thursday, May 12, 16 In fact, glitches aren't only challenges to preservation — preservation itself is a glitch. The normative lifecycle of digital media is ephemeral. As Howard Besser stated in 2001, the default condition of electronic objects is to disappear. [It's a bit like filmmaking, where it takes an aggressive producer to make movies — to push back against resistance, to deploy and coordinate money, properties, people — because the default condition of movies is not to be made unless they are forced to be made. Each completed film is a flaunting of the odds.] Similarly, preservation is the realest of glitches, especially in our age of massive media abundance. The archivists’ job is to hack media so that it can be preserved against its will.
  28. 28. 10/8/15 10:55 AMThe Consortium for Slower Internet Page 1 of 3http://slowerinternet.com/principles.html THE CONSORTIUM FOR SLOWER INTERNET Slower Internet is about more than speed. The Consortium for Slower Internet pursues projects that promote the following principles. DURATIONDURATION There is no inherent concern with information that is transmitted and distributed with great speed, but Slower Internet suggests that information be consumed at a more contemplative pace. If information is to be a central part of our lives, Slower Internet is interested in finding ways to live with it on more human time scales; news, facts, updates, etc should be absorbed slowly and given time for consideration. Systems that PRINCIPLESPRINCIPLES FORFOR SLOWERSLOWER INTERNETINTERNET 10/8/15 10:55 AMThe Consortium for Slower Internet Page 2 of 3http://slowerinternet.com/principles.html updates, etc should be absorbed slowly and given time for consideration. Systems that emphasize duration are central to a Slower Internet. DEFAMILIARIZATIONDEFAMILIARIZATION The information delivered by Fast Internet is the white bread of data: predictable, lifeless, sanitized for mass appeal. Slow Internet delivers content in unexpected formats and spaces. The practice of defamiliarization encourages users to scrutinize their role and participation in a given system. Seamless experiences are suspect. AUTONOMYAUTONOMY Fast Internet dazzles with maximum features at minimum price, but it often does so at the expense of user autonomy. Increasingly, users are encouraged to sacrifice their rights to own material they produce with a given system when services are rendered free of charge. Slower Internet respects user autonomy by giving creators control and ownership over their data. Charging reasonable fees for a service is always preferable to spying on customers and appropriating their data to serve advertisements. DIVERGENCEDIVERGENCE Computers have long been universal machines, able to perform any calculation regardless of content. A Slower Internet, however, requires that dissimilar tasks occur in a diversity of spaces on a multitude of devices. Living with information does not mean that we have to give any type of machine a monopoly over our attention. Slower Internet is a process of cultivating a garden of machines that fit localized, individual desires. The Consortium for Slower Internet Made in Minneapolis, MN http://slowerinternet.com/principles.html 28Thursday, May 12, 16 From time to time I've felt part of a digital vanguard: making CD-ROMs with the Voyager Company in the early and mid-1990s. Putting archival films online. Scanning books from our library. Feeling one step ahead of those on the other side of what was then a digital Grand Canyon. But that's changed. Digitality and privilege have been inverted. Getting the personal attention of a bureaucrat, collecting and touching artisanal objects, writing with a nice pen, these are privileged encounters. The rest of the world wrestles with touchtone menus, disrespectful algorithms and poorly designed websites. But if you have privilege, there are no stray bits in your slow food. And slow media is coming back. Some friends are building an intentional community in Mendocino County, on the northern California coast. They're installing fiber on their farm, but it moves bits slowly, and their Internet service is only up between 8 am to 5 pm. Voluntary inconvenience.
  29. 29. From Elmer Dyer Film Library looseleaf catalog books, Hollywood, spring 1970 Angry film librarian venting 29Thursday, May 12, 16 Inconvenience may be our best friend. Archival enclosure is a systemic problem and a bad inconvenience. But there are also formative inconveniences, which I like to think of as good affordances. Wrangling with inconvenience is like choosing to write by hand instead of typing or dictating. You learn more about the words you are processing. And you learn about film by touching its physical constituents. Inconvenience enables defamiliarization, which is what makes all art possible.
  30. 30. W1UX, Killingworth, Conn. 30Thursday, May 12, 16 *** [COULD OMIT] An excess of affordances could be a bad thing. Look at Bouvard and Pécuchet, lost in the 19th-century supermarket of ideas and their homebuilt laboratory filled with once-used equipment. Or their New England equivalent, the Peterkin family, really a satire on the Transcendentalists, I think, who spend the length of a story trying to get their son Solomon John the paper, ink and quills he needs for the book he so much wants to write, and when he sits down at his desk surrounded by family members he looks up and states, "But I haven't got anything to say."
  31. 31. U.S. President's Materials Policy Commission, Resources for Freedom, v. 1, 1951; excerpt from preface, probably written by Eric Hodgins 31Thursday, May 12, 16 And if we can learn from the current state of archives, it will be prompted by inconvenience. As in the histories of media, the lessons arise out of breaks in continuity, imperfect narratives and interruptions in order.
  32. 32. 32Thursday, May 12, 16 *** [COULD OMIT] And I want to end by mentioning another inconvenient topic that's lately been interesting me. Hoarding — surrounding the self with an excess of materiality — violates all principles we think of as "archival." Generally we see hoarding as pathology, but I feel that it is often an attempt at re-rooting, at halting the supersonic trajectory of modern cultures, at building a coherent and highly material nest in a windy world. Scott Herring, in his really courageous and beautifully written new book The Hoarders, tries to depathologize hoarding in a number of ways, and it is well worth reading.
  33. 33. Red-Tailed Hawk nesting, Great Highway & Taraval St., San Francisco, June 2015 33Thursday, May 12, 16 Not to simulate inconvenience, but experience it productively. Not to be digital or analog, but something of both, without the distractions of trendy futurism and nostalgic displacement. Raymond Williams talks about the coexistence of the residual and the emergent. What appears to be old is interwoven with what appears to be new. The accumulation of physical objects with historical significance is a problem, but an object-free world would be a worse problem. And while slowness and inconvenience are attractive targets for enterprising engineers, not to mention easy to gentrify, inconvenience is a great teacher. A clear-eyed view of the future will make room for the past.
  34. 34. Eugene, Oregon, 2015-07-03@footage / rick@ucsc.edu 34Thursday, May 12, 16 Thank you.

×