If Materialism Is Not The Solution Then What Was The Problem?

That’s the title of my response to Harman’s article Materialism is Not the Solution: On Matter, Form and Mimesis – which was just recently published in the Nordic Journal of Aesthetics No. 47. This was a re-written version of a response I gave for the Aarhus Institute of Advanced studies last October.

With the very kind permission of Jacob Lund (the editor) he has allowed both essays to be hosted by AUC Egypt as one PDF, which can be accessed HERE. If, for some reason, your network can’t access the AUC page (which has happened for some people), I’ve uploaded it on my academia.edu page HERE.

I should also say, having read the entire issue in print, that the whole issue is something rather special. See below for the contents: including essays by Stiegler, Hanson and Goriunova.



An October update (or why I’m such an useless blogger) + Harman Q&A

Right. Ok. So, sorry: – sorry for not doing anything on here for two months. A blog operates like one’s garden, and currently it’s out of control (like my own garden in fact). I am de-weeding, mowing, re-composting and abusing metaphors as we speak, or as you read.

This summer has essentially been 30% writing, 40% work and the rest, decorating. Honestly, I’m not sure I’ve ever decorated so much in my life – I don’t even know why.

I’m very close to completing two book projects at the moment, which I don’t want to reveal just yet: but one is my bread and butter, the other is experimental. Alongside the thesis, these have consumed me – so I can’t imagine returning to blogging proper just yet (not that I was ever good at doing it anyway). If I do, it’ll probably be GTAV related, I’m absolutely sure of it.


But updates abound – October sees me returning to Aarhus for two events. I’ll be presenting some of my thesis research for the ‘post-digital research’ conference and workshop between 7th and 9th October, relating to the artistic call of transmediale 2014’s “AfterGlow” trope.

Alongside that, I will be the respondent for Graham Harman’s talk ‘Materialism is Not the Solution’ at the Department of Aesthetics and Communication (also at Aarhus). Should be a lot of fun, as Graham and I have a lot of shared views on aesthetics – so it should be a productive morning.

After that I’m in Falmouth University for the 18th October, giving a paper on OOO and performance art for the Object Oriented Ecologies of Performance Panel at the Performing Objects Conference (not that I’m familiar with any theory on performance art, as such, only my computational take on such a matter.) It’s being organised by João Florêncio, and is apparently just before Tim Morton’s keynote. Blurb below.

The Performance of Algorithmic Objects: Endurance, Determination, and Automata

Presenter: Robert Jackson (Lancaster University)


This paper will take a sideways look at Eva and Franco Mattes’ Synthetic Performances series. The series is comprised of the artists’ self-created avatars reenacting works from the Western canon of performance art within the online environment of Second Life. Namely, I will look at the structure of the series not from the discursive method of avatar performance and cognitive virtual identity, but from the performance of algorithmic objects and the exhibition space itself. This is especially pertinent for the collective exhibition “The Pigs of Today are the Hams of Tomorrow.” Here, the artists not only screened the live online reenactment on a large screen but were also performing the work, in front of computational apparatuses for many hours. The crucial element of doing so is, I claim, not to visually mimic human agency beyond one’s body in a virtual space, but one of intensely mimicking non-human algorithmic agency in a real space.

The underlying importance of the work, lies not in the sensory mimicry of human agency within automated worlds, but, if anything, in the opposite intention: the mimicry of mundanity, endurance, determination and automata; four central disciplinary tropes, not only found in the expressive gestures of Abramovic’s human acts of performative endurance, but also within the finite, deterministic, structure of algorithmic objects executing unpredictably within computational domains. Any such link can only be typical of an insight from Object Oriented Ontology—the aesthetic practice of which attempts to understand the agency of such non-human entities.

BWPWAP and that.

Unfortunately due to other commitments and finances (again) I couldn’t attend Transmediale this year. I caught little pieces and titbits from the online streaming, but I’ve been working for most of this week.

But the DARC guys at Aarhus have been busy again producing another peer reviewed newspaper (the third one now I think) – Geoff and I have a shortened 300 word piece in there, shortened from our paper last year – its called Coding Undecidability. There are plenty of amazing pieces in there based on this years Transmediale theme (Back When Pluto Was A Planet – if you wondering) so take a look. Theres also a short snippet of Fuller and Goffey’s Evil Media in there, which are lot of people are talking about right now.

You can download the PDF HERE (warning its about 30 MB).

Participatory Materialities – a great workshop

Here’s some photos (and from Aarhus generally) from the two days. It was a fantastic workshop and a properly engaging one too. I think we all appreciated informally discussing the topic involved without having the pressure to develop 20 formal papers. The problem with the latter mode of production is almost like a “blogging in real-life” kind of thing – interesting people talking past one another. This was pushing each other to investigate concepts and ideas. The paper I wrote HERE was for a separate talk-event.

Soren and Olav’s strategy was great. As you can see from the pictures, we had to develop posters and speak casually about what we were interested in. Everyone else had sticky notes, and wrote down their own thoughts and stuck them up accordingly. It led to boxing off some of the key issues together and more focused conversation, in particular what kinds of materialism are we talking about when we discuss material? Marxist social production?, object material?, material as resistance?, final reality material? Not all of them can be combined as that would contradict the purpose of discussing material. So to was participation in an art context problematic (not least because I often think it creates poor anti-antagonistic art – however there are exceptions).

I met some great people, particularly Saul Albert and Thor Magnusson, both of whom I’m sure I’ll be working with / collaborating in the future.

Aarhus University in June 4th/5th

Yeah I’ll be there… No link as such, but it’s for a workshop entitled Participatory Materialities. I’ll be talking about undecidability actually in software.

It’s nice to think that I’ll be spending the Queen’s Jubilee, talking about issues which are fundamentally against the Queen’s Jubliee. Heres the blurb.

“The continual development of a networked pervasive computing culture raises important questions about mediation, materiality and participation that integrate aesthetic, design- and HCI concerns. It becomes evident, that questions around how we perceive software interfaces and how they in turn structure our participation is not just a question of functionality but also of perception, understanding, creativity and the potential for participation. The compatibility and incompatibility of interfaces is not just an important functional question but also a cultural and political discussion and these dimensions are furthermore interrelated. This workshop will aim at developing a cross-disciplinary language for addressing such issues in contemporary computing culture.

Complex mediation structures in new and evolving fields of IT-use, liquefy the distinction between tool and material. Tools turn into materials, and objects of interest become instrumental mediators in the process of developing innovative use of software and in reshaping software itself. By changing perspective from triadic subject-instrument-object mediation to complex meditational structures, an analytical sensitivity for the evolving material qualities of software in use is opened.

This materiality may be addressed at many levels: as the tangible materiality of software established through physical interaction devices and through simulated materiality of the graphical user interface, or as a mouldable materiality of software with changeable and reconfigurable functionality, or as materialized when somebody uses the software, when it is interpreted and interacted with – from the low level of code and algorithms, over the interface, its metaphors and interaction, to the domain specific products resulting from use. The processes and products of software become sensuous form with aesthetic meaning. Metaphor may be the historic master trope of the direct manipulation interface, while other tropes, such as metonymy, may better accommodate appropriation and participation in the broader sense of cultural and aesthetic engagement beyond the pre-planned.

The concept of participation in IT-development was coined in the early trade union cooperation projects of the seventies and eighties, when focus was on co-determination in technological change at the workplace. By broadening the scope to include cultural and aesthetic perspectives, the concept of participation can be re-actualized.

While, historically the focus of design methods and intervention was on co-determination, theoretical and empirical work pointed out that use qualities are constituted in use, and that un-anticipated use occur in most situations of IT use. Subsequently, that led to work on tailoring and end-user programming, and to a theoretical interest for appropriation. Still we seem to miss frameworks for understanding and designing technical substrates accommodating fluid appropriation, extending into the collectively mouldable. Thus, in enabling participation beyond the strategic level of work arrangements, and beyond the level of DIY concepts like the Dynabook, we suggest that ideas of digital materiality, based on complex mediation and alternative tropes, could be a fruitful starting point.

Materiality and participation could be addressed in a wide range of fields and applications, extending beyond the workplace, including electronic music composition, live coding, remix, mash-up, locative media, urban computing and networks where it is difficult or politically charged to define the participants, the goals and the limits of the systems.

On this background, we would like to discuss the relations between materiality, appropriation, and participation.

Keywords for contributions includes: software creativity, materiality, appropriation, participation, instrumentality, representation, code, artefacts, tools, infrastructures, software reception, interactivity, cultural computing, open soft/hardware”

Byens Digitale Liv

It’s a weird moment. I came home from work to find this on the floor (well not this, but the package it was in).

It contains the very first physical manifestation of text, co-authored with Geoff Cox. I don’t care if its in Danish and I can’t read it – it’s a good moment to see something you’ve worked on actually in something.

The ‘World of the News’.

It’s peer reviewed leftist newspaper time again, courtesy of DARC at Aarhus. HERE’s the blurb and PDF.

I can’t convey how staggeringly brilliant this project is – we talk about the capabilities of blogging in academia and instant access, but this conveys instant information in different, perhaps more immediate way through the ground roots of paper distribution.