Our article *Memory Machines: Infrastructural performance as an Art Method’ was accepted for publication in Leonardo (MIT Press). in 2021. Currently we have made it available as a Pre-print in MediArxiv: –https://mediarxiv.org/z3dc7/
“In this article, through the Memory Machines performance tour conducted in the Helsinki Central Library, we analyze multi-sensory methods, including immersive performance and walking tours, as probes into cultural infrastructures. Combining discussions of media theory and artistic practice, we present infrastructural performance as an art method for creative infrastructural research.”
Open since 26 November 17.00 – Panic Breeder (2019) , a joint art installation with Jukka Hautamäki presenting a quasi-nature documentary of Artificial Intelligence – generated fantastical species as the future inhabitants of the Baltic Sea.
The installation will be on view at The Aalto AI Exhibition in Dipoli. Supported by Aaltodigi Platform & Finnish Centre for Artificial Intelligence #FCAI The exhibition is open until 15 January 2020.
“Building off a HELCOM (Helsinki Commission- Baltic Marine Environmental protection Commission) Red List , the installation uses a Generative Adversarial Network (GAN) machine learning system based on the training datasets of endangered and extinct species. The installation takes inspiration from an evolution of species theorized by Charles Darwin, and comments on the iterative and adversarial capabilities of Artificial Intelligence to probe the surreal and terrifying future of “survival of the fittest”. At the same time, while quantifying the energy consumption of machine learning that goes into such suspect desires, from among the machine-generated breeding, a singular creature is manifested in physical form. In this fictional scenario, the loss of species in the Baltic Sea is counter-balanced by the possibilities of AI-generated creatures to act as a temporary if not futile antidote to climate change panic and anxiety.”
My artistic micro-residency @bioartsociety”Unknown Flows” examined the undersea mediainfrastructure of the Baltic Sea on board the ocean-going catamaran Godzilla- a floating art research platform, operated by artist duo Andy Best and Merja Puustinen (andyandmerja.com).
The aim of this project was to experiment with Godzilla as an undersea infrastructure surveying platform for artistic production. The project used underwater mapping technologies (side-scan sonar) to map the Baltic seabed following the laying route of submarine cables. It also conducted photo documentation of cable landings. The nature of this survey was artistic infrastructural exploration, to perform hands-on of what is usually executed by large sophisticated network infrastructure providers and then to disseminate this data to the general audience through an art installation.
Under the Baltic Sea run a vast network of data, electricity cables and gas pipelines. These cables belong to EstLink (power) and Telia Carrier (data) among others that connect from Tallinn, Estonia to Helsinki, Finland. As well as, Nordstream 1 and Nordstream 2 (planned), carry gas from Russia to Germany that run under the Gulf of Finland. These infrastructures lie far under and beyond the public eye, and their flows remain unknown, although they cut through marine habitats, and might have environmental implications (see Nordstream).1 Although imagery might be available from the above corporate entities, access to these assets is usually impossible.
Keeping one’s data in the cloud entails an increasing reliance on undersea cables, and thus users are entangled in geographies that are invisible. Analyzing the undersea network as media infrastructures draws our attention to the ways that the seemingly immaterial digital flows are anchored in material coordinates and biological strata. The project is an exploration into these dilemmas.
The Circuit Breaker is a networked participated installation that critiques the culture of constant connectivity. The installation aims to provoke reflection about the social and energetic impact of our constantly connected digital lives. While harmony between man and machine, body and the network are seen as the primary aspirations of our post-industrial digital society, it has the potential for long-term discord to both natural ecologies and wider implications to local communities. Constant connectivity is not only energy-intensive but could also result in growing dissonance in society at multiple scales: from the social to the political, from resource depletion to climate change. Infrastructures that support connectivity still remain perceived generally as intangible and ethereal just like the ‘Cloud’.
By placing online behaviour through community-participated criteria of diversity, as well as an environmental agenda, the installation seeks to draw attention to the materialities and infrastructures of connectivity. As a participated artwork in a gallery, the installation aims to engage local communities, elicit critical responses and reflection on the state of the infrastructure of the Internet that dominates our daily lives. Could artistic methods question the ubiquitousness of connectivity and address related materialities and environmental impacts? Could dis-connectivity remind us of our choices? Could it persuade us to think that every ‘click’ has an energetic footprint and every break in the circuit saves a piece of the earth?
Samir Bhowmik / main concept, artwork and physical installation / Supported by Krisjanis Rijnieks / concept animation, electronics and code
CIRCUIT BREAKER / May 22 – 26, 2019
MAA-Tila Gallery, Pääskylänrinne 10, 00500 Helsinki
Opening hours / Wed – Fri 14:00-18:00 / Sat – Sun 13:00-17:00
Artist Talk 21.5. at 17:00
Vernissage 21.5. at 18:00
Infrascapes for Media Archaeographers, co-written with Dr. Jussi Parikka is now published in “Archaeographies: Aspects of Radical Media Archaeology”, Moritz Hiller and Stefan Höltgen, Eds, Berlin: Schwabe Verlag, 2019.
EXCERPT: While labs might have become one particular place for investigation of the fundus of media culture, the grey underbellies of technologies are of course not restricted to the urban spaces let alone academia where one investigates them within such an analytically refined atmosphere. Surely needless to state this, but media exist in the great outdoors and as physical architectures that increasingly are of interest to media archaeographers. The already itself long- time mediated practices of landscape paintings might have been one mile- stone in defining key Western attitudes as to what is the landscape as an object of analysis and control, but the forms of inscription – the graphein –of media exists increasingly as the true landscape forming force. One partic- ular case in point is energy – and energy infrastructures, as they both convey the enabling possibility of what counts as media (in operation, in energetic transactions, as it does in technical media culture that needs more than the cranking hand to get time into movement) and the visible forms at sites urban and non-urban. While we present a visual essay of some examples of what we call infrascapes – those infrastructural landscapes that are of interest to media studies as much to landscape architects and geographers – we want to acknowledge that even before these images, the landscape is already always inscribed in multiple materials and communication enabling tech- nologies. That is the first-order archaeography before those infrastructures enable particular university institutes to analyze the epistemological side of this infrastructure. Infrascapes are then another part of what we could collo- quially call the chicken and egg of media – it takes media to talk and analyze media.
Memory Machines, a series of performative tours opened on 11 January 2019 at Oodi Helsinki Central Library. The events are part of “The Library’s Other Intelligences” commissioned by the Finnish Cultural Institute of New York and organised by Mobius Fellowship Program. The curators of the project are Jussi Parikka (University of Southampton, Winchester School of Art, UK) and Shannon Mattern (New School, New York, US). The other Finnish artists involved in the project are Tuomas Laitinen (Swarm Chorus) and Jenna Sutela (nimiia ïzinibimi).
Memory Machines explores the infrastructure of the Helsinki Central Library. The experimental work combines dance, theatre and circus with a guided tour that moves through the concealed infrastructural sites and operations of the building. This unique journey traverses places of climate control to power management, from checkout terminals to data centers, from automation to distribution and storage. As a visual performance, the work aims to interrogate the ecology of machines and the situated interactions between humans and technology. How do the flows of data, heat, matter and energy sustain cultural memory? What intelligences and futures could be uncovered in the machines and bodies that labor within the monument of the library?
The first series of performative tours were held on Friday 11.1, Saturday 12.1. & Sunday 13.1., all sold out events . A Press event was also organised on Wednesday 9.1. In total, over 100 participants experienced the work. Participants included artists, curators, architects, designers, museum workers, and librarians from the cultural field, besides also the general audience of Oodi.
The project has received critical acclaim from experts in various cultural fields including FRAME Contemporary Art Finland, as well as praise from the participating audience. Read artist Eero Yli-Vakkuri’s excellent review here: https://eero.storijapan.net/docfolio/20190118-2/
The proposal examines environmental change through citizen engagement with advanced imaging technologies. Through field expeditions in the Nordic-Baltic region, the proposal seeks to assemble an intelligent archive of environmental and cultural memory. Combining theory and practice, wild habitats and media infrastructures, machine learning and archival methods, it engages memory institutions with the representation of environmental change. What are the ecological entanglements of media technologies with memory and representation? How does one represent environmental change? Could an excavation of visual practices along with an awareness of the political economy of media inform a methodology for the representation of cultural and environmental memory? How could the technologies of deep seeing, machine learning and analysis, in other words, depth’s technical capacities be re-oriented towards opening up new ways of environmental thinking? How does this affect society’s knowledge of entangled geographies and comprehension of environmental change? The proposal aims to synthesize learning outcomes from literature, participatory field studies and archive co-construction into working principles for media, cultural and environmental research. These principles will lead to a multi-disciplinary social, cultural and digital framework and may offer novel methods and resources towards environmental awareness for society.
POLARITY / The Infrastructure of Memory
Art Installation by Samir Bhowmik + Performance by Markus König & Christoph Trojok
Ruine der Franziskaner Klosterkirche – Berlin Exhibition: May – August 2019
The art installation builds upon the existing infrastructure of electrical objects placed on a wall in the crypt of the Klosterkirche. Currently, the existing wall contains electrical power devices (contained in glass boxes or vitrines) that manage and monitor the flow, distribution, and break of electricity. Similarly, new vitrines are placed alongside these with electronic devices and screens that manage and monitor a virtual re-construction of the church. These not only depict the internal architecture, wireframes and algorithms of the church (on a loop), but also calculate the real-time energy use of those digital actions. The entire installation is then framed by a golden carved frame. By this, the artwork transforms a mundane infrastructure into an anachronistic artistic object. It juxtaposes high voltages with low voltages, electrics with electronics as serving towards the fostering of cultural memory. While the electrical infrastructure supports the macro-tasks of lighting, power supply and pumps, the electronic infrastructure supports the micro-tasks of digital media. Nevertheless both their energy consumptions (on separate meters) are placed in parallel as a provocation to the audience to contemplate about energy use to maintain the infrastructure of memory.
by Markus König & Christoph Trojok
The art installation will be accompanied by a performance by Christoph Trojok and Markus König. They will use a LIDAR (Light detection and Ranging) scanning equipment to scan the Klosterkirche premises, the data of which will be transmitted to the installation. Screens within the installation will depict the internal architecture, wireframes and algorithms of the scanning processes and also calculate the real-time energy use of those digital actions.
Samir Bhowmik with 00100 ENSEMBLE, Memory Machines, 2019
Samir Bhowmik has partnered with 00100 ENSEMBLE to produce Memory Machines, a performative art project that explores the infrastructure of the Oodi Library. The work combines dance, theatre and circus with a guided tour that moves through the concealed infrastructural sites and operations of the building. This unique journey traverses places of climate control to power management, from checkout terminals to data centers, from automation to distribution and storage. As a visual performance, the work aims to interrogate the ecology of machines and the situated interactions between humans and technology. How do the flows of data, heat, matter and energy sustain cultural memory? What intelligences and futures can we uncover in the machines and bodies that labor within the monument of the library?
“MOBIUS fellows Jussi Parikka (University of Southampton, Winchester School of Art, UK) and Shannon Mattern (The New School, US) have commissioned Finnish artists and designers Samir Bhowmik, Tuomas Aleksander Laitinen, and Jenna Sutela to create works that examine the new intelligences our evolving knowledge institutions accommodate. Installed in the new Central Library in January 2019, these projects will reveal the alternative, sometimes alien logics of neural nets, give voice to machinic and otherworldly languages, and make visible the material and informational infrastructures that allow intelligence to circulate. The artists are known for their work that engages with AI, biological intelligence, digital culture, and infrastructures and energies of modern societies, and they represent some of the most interesting forms of current technological art practices.”
THE BATTERY IS THE MESSAGE: MEDIA ARCHAEOLOGY AS AN ENERGY ART PRACTICE
When media start to explode in your hands, it deserves a description. When it causes airplane evacuations, general panic and hysteria, it warrants an examination. When it quietly dies in your pocket before the end of an eight hour work day just like the other two billion smartphones, it deserves an explanation. It is reasonable to believe that a ‘Thermal Runaway’ event is far more spectacular than a quiet smartphone death. Leakages take place, fire and toxic chemicals are involved, possibly leading to personal bodily injury. It can be traumatic. Thermal Runaway is today one of the prime modes of battery failure. Chemical reactions within raise its internal temperature, and if not dissipated, the temperature keeps rising that will further accelerate the reactions causing even more heat to be produced, eventually resulting in an explosion. Especially a Lithum-ion cell above a certain temperature, its internal chemical reactions out of control, will explode.
NOTE: The thoughts in the following article came about during the Community Power Bank(CPB) workshops at Pixelache Helsinki in 2015–16.The project recycled Lithium 18650 batteries with community participation and re- purposed them to build power banks for handheld media devices. The workshops were conducted at the Museum of Photography and at the OSCE (Open Source Circular Economy) Days in Helsinki, Finland. All acknowledgements are due to the participants and colleagues in this project. For more information see: http://samirbhowmik.cc/2016/06/22/community-power-bank-recycling-lithium-ion-battery-workshops-2016/
I led three artist workshops this autumn 2018 in Annantalo (25.8.), Vuotalo (8.9.) and Kulttuutikeskus Caisa (22.9.) with local community and newly arrived asylum seekers in Finland.
The topic was the “Happiest Country in the World”. Participants were engaged in the discussion of the materiality of happiness as a result of migration. Poetry, sketching and writing their thoughts onto paper were the results of the three workshops. These are planned to be compiled into a single volume for dissemination in end-2018.
“On May 31, 2018, at 7pm, MOBIUS Fellowship Program of the Finnish Cultural Institute in New York will partner with PUBLICS, the Helsinki curatorial agency and event space, to put the artists and curators in conversation about their collaboration. Working with PUBLICS’ own on-site library, we will consider how knowledge institutions and infrastructures will have to adapt to accommodate new computational forms of intelligence while still upholding their obligations to their various human publics. The event will examine the many “AIs” of the library and contemporary culture: artificial intelligence, architectural intelligence, animal intelligence and artistic intelligence.”
I also presented the Community Power Bank (CPB) workshops at Pixelache Helsinki in 2015–16.The project recycled Lithium 18650 batteries with community participation and re- purposed them to build power banks for handheld media devices. The workshops were conducted at the Museum of Photography and at the OSCE (Open Source Circular Economy) Days in Helsinki, Finland.
The lecture kickstarted the BioSignals project, a series of site-specific sound art, narrations and nature-based data streams by human and non-human cultural producers during Summer-Autumn 2018, culminating with a contribution to the next Pixelache Helsinki Festival in Spring 2019. The artistic content of the project will focus on creative and actual interpretations of biosemiotics, energy as media and communication. Biosemiotics is an increasingly influential paradigm of thinking which brings together biology and communication, signs and signals of life in its myriad forms. In particular it offers conceptual tools to consider communications and environmental meaning-making from a non-human perspective, including plant and lichens, animal, bacterial, elemental interactors, via tactile, aural and signal-based biochemical means. The BioSignals project is part of Pixelache Helsinki’s Parasite Radio process, in collaboration with Korppiradio, and financially supported by Nordisk Kulturkontakt Art and Culture programme.
I presented a Lecture-Workshop at the University of the Arts – Department of Printmaking with the artist duo IC-98: Patrik Söderlund and Visa Suonpää. The lecture explored the political economy of portable energy storage, ie. batteries. In the following workshop we broke open laptop battery packs, to uncover lithium batteries which were then tested for re-use.
The lecture-workshop was part of IC-98’s course: “Post-Fossil Life and Post-Apocalypotic Art”
The Finnish Cultural Foundation awarded me a grant for post-doctoral research on February 27, 2017. [Renewed for until 2019] The title of the research is: ‘The Materialities of Digital Memory‘; Old Title: ‘The Museum is the Message: An Archaeology of Power, Media and Materiality of Digital Heritage’.
Abstract: The study aims to address the ecological impact of digital heritage on cultural memory. It seeks to understand the wider context of memory institutions such as museums and archives, their user communities and the memory they foster as based in media infrastructures, energy and material resources. Despite much research on the themes of media ecologies, eco-critical media and digital heritage, scholars have not yet fully explored when, why and how did memory institutions turn so ‘mediatic’, so dependent on computational hardware and processes that are currently sustained by rare earth minerals and fossil fuels. Not many studies have been conducted on the energetic entanglement of media with memory and representation. How do increasing entanglements of computational memory, embodied energy of media infrastructures and the memory embedded in digital collections together form a complex and composite memory? What is the environmental burden of such digital memory and how it affects user communities? By excavating the configuration of the memory institution, its computing dependencies, energy use in digitization, representation and collections, the study will analyze the emerging ecological impacts and how those impacts in turn shape cultural memory. Finally, the study’s goal is to develop critical models through community engagement, participative systems and open media infrastructures for incorporating ecological media into institutions of memory and cultural heritage.
The public defense of my doctoral dissertation: “Deep Time of the Museum / The Materiality of Media Infrastructures” was held on Friday December 2, 2016,12.00 at the Aalto Media Factory Auditorium, Hämeentie 135A, 00560 Helsinki. The dissertation includes case studies and projects done at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, Gallen-Kallela Museum and Hakaniemi Market Square.
Custos: Professor Lily Diáz, Aalto University Department of Media.
Dr. Garnet Hertz
Dr. Jussi Parikka
Deep Time of the Museum / The Materiality of Media Infrastructures
What is the environmental burden carried by museums? What is the material and energetic footprint of digital heritage? How can the cultural assets of memory institutions be sustained in an age of increasing black-boxed media technologies, obsolescence and toxic waste? The dissertation aims to address these challenges through a multi-disciplinary and materialist approach toward museums, media and cultural heritage. By an extensive excavation of the museum as a media infrastructure, the study seeks to understand the materiality of digital heritage as based in the growing entanglements of media devices, energy and material resources. Two experimental design interventions within and beyond the museum walls are presented that explore novel ecological media infrastructures and operative methods. Finally, a design framework is synthesized that provides guidelines for museums and their user communities toward shaping an ecological institution.
In an age of increasing media devices, infrastructure and energy needs, how can we develop community-shared power systems? How could artistic production benefit from energy independence and also address environmental concerns? Our aim is to build a community power bank (electrical energy storage) by recycling fuel cells, building portable battery packs for community and artistic use. The initial workshops are an introduction to our community-participated energy project and includes a hands-on introduction to recycling Lithium-ion 18650 cells from consumer battery packs. Participants are guided to safely dismantle batteries, test, identify and recover functional cells. They learn how to design various cell arrangements to create variable voltage power batteries. Finally, they are assisted to build and maintain recycled USB power banks.
Two workshops have already been held in June 2016:
My PhD research project was awarded a Kone Foundation Grant on 9 December 2014. “Powering the Shareable Museum” explores a participatory and sustainable framework for open access and sharing of artifacts and narratives between museums and their user communities. It examines current mechanisms utilized by museums for synchronizing digital and cloud assets with online audiences and museum spaces to encourage participation. It investigates how social sharing and open access to digital collections affects energy-use and audience engagement. By implementation and analyses of various museum-installation projects and museum-energy studies undertaken between 2012-15, this project-driven thesis attempts to synthesize the learning outcomes into working principles for museums. The principles constitute a multidisciplinary social, digital and spatial framework and may help structure creative and collaborative processes in museums that could be sustainable.
“Powering the Cooper Hewitt” project will investigate a sustainable framework for the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. It will explore a participatory relationship between design collections, color search, user- communities and energy use of the museum. It will examine the links between energy & social metrics of museum’s user communities, analyzes carbon footprints and behavior of accessing digital artifacts by community from the museum’s collections. Finally, it aims to implement a participatory museum installation wherein the museum’s saved energy fosters a collection of its community’s design objects and energy stories matched to the museum’s own cloud collections.
When I met Seb Chan, the Director of Digital & Emerging Media of the Smithsonian Cooper- Hewitt Labs, National Design Museum, New York, on the sidelines of MuseumNext Amsterdam in May 2013, we talked about how to make collections more visible to museum visitors and engage the community. How we could transform the digital repository into a tangible being, how to place the museum building on the internet and make it participatory. How to weave issues of energy and sustainability into the daily practices of a museum. After some research and consultation with artist colleagues, curator friends and computer programmers, I started thinking of how one would explore a participatory relationship between online digital collections, color search, user-communities and energy use of the museum. This is a research in process and the outcomes are open ended.
This proposal is for an art installation project to visualize the digital collections of the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum New York in context of its energy use, user-community and color search. It is the final exposition of a year-long project: MEMI (Museum Energy Model Interface) that explores a participatory relationship between art collections, color search, user-communities and energy use of the museum. The MEMI project in itself explores a digital search and monitoring methodology that not only strives to be a tool to access collections, but also records and analyses ICT-based processes of the online Collections Wall of the National Design Museum. It explores the links between energy & social metrics of museum’s user communities, analyzes carbon footprints and behavior of accessing digital artifacts by community from the museum’s collections. The “Color is History” Art installation will try to gather and combine the museum’s art collections, its energy use data, its user-community participation analytics, color tagging of individual artifacts and their respective narratives. It will stream continuous displays of color, artifacts, narratives and energy on the Museum floor (see System Diagram). The art installation will be fed content through a public online interface based on a Django web application framework & programmed in Python language. This interface/web application will access the open API (application programming interface) of the Museum’s digital collections. The physical installation itself will constitute of programmed LED displays, Arduino microprocessors and on-site computers. The saved energy use of the museum combined with online participation by its users will be channelled through the local energy provider to power the installation.
Ida Aalberg, Albert Edelfelt, Karl Fazer – Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s phone book from the 1920s is full of familiar names. See who’s in it, and join in the making of Gallen-Kallela’s Virtual Phone Book on the Theme Day February 9th at Gallen-Kallela Museum!
Aalto University’s Media Lab in collaboration with Gallen-Kallela Museum are building an open access digital archive based on Gallen-Kallela’s contacts in his original phone book. The archive will hold information in the form of micro-histories, connected to Gallen-Kallela and his network of friends, colleagues and acquaintances. This includes photos, texts and quotes from the museum’s archives – as well as pictures, postcards, memories and stories that the visitors of the Theme Day are invited to bring in.
The “Light is History” project in November 2012 involved a participatory Museum installation that served as a research object in a public square in the Nordic city of Helsinki. It investigated community participation, energy use, and new media approaches in the public display of energy artifacts from contemporary Nordic material culture. Participating families were requested to inform of their energy consumption and publish their daily energy use for one week onto the project web portal. This data was used to determine the brightness of the individual therapy lamps and to light the artifact displays of the installation for over one week. This research exercise demonstrated that community members were willing to anonymously display information of their personal artifacts and its use in the public place and share their energy use information for the common wellbeing. New media technologies and participatory action was able to bridge the private to the public spaces, the individual to the collective, and exhibit the community’s material culture and energy patterns. The project also established that a shared and collaborative installation space that mimics a museum can be created outside the museum walls that is open-sourced, sustainable, and participatory. The project received funding from Aalto Media Factory at Aalto University and was co-organized in the context of Pixelache / Pixelversity’s Talking (Trash) Lab Lecture Series.
The installation was on view at Hakaniementori from 25.1 to 1.12, from 17 to 19 daily.
Trashlab monthly events, at Media Factory as part of Pixelversity 2012 programme (Pixelache Helsinki), aimed to explore experimental art-design-technology practice between hacker and maker cultures, in the context of re/up-cycling and the increased availability of new fabrication tools.
Trashlab’s objective is to build up a community of people (artists, designers, hackers, makers, re/up-cyclers, activists) inside and outside Aalto context, who are concerned with material and electronic waste in contemporary society, and tackle this problem with creative and tangential approaches.
A lecture series called ‘Talking Trash(lab) was organised to complement, which invited local, regional and European guests to speak on related topics, as a presentation on Friday early evening before each Trashlab workshop in Pixelversity 2012 calendar. In addition, ‘Light is History’ project was followed as case-example throughout the year for the overlaps fostered by Trashlab.
A GPS based video animation installation that charts the tram movements of Helsinki in real time and generates color patterns using heat signatures in the surrounding air, a process similar to the aurora borealis seen in the north of Finland.