Garnet Hertz and Jussi Parikka’s ‘Zombie Media‘ project proposes media archaeology as an art practice, merging two of this writer’s obsessions: zombies and technological obsolescence (recently refreshed from watching an endless line of on CRT TVs emerge on the suburban streets of East Melbourne awaiting the annual council pickup).
Hertz and Parikka look to the life after death of old new media, both its reuse and its refusal to go away. They consider ‘Zombie Media’ as the living dead of media history, where the discarded waste of old new media that is of inspirational value to artists but also the real death of nature due to its ongoing toxicity.
The project has five main points:
1. Opposition to dead media. Media never dies, it decays and rots, and is reformed and remixed but always “stays as a residue in the soil”.
2. Opposition to planned obsolescence, which is an “unsupportable death drive” in the political media consumption and media ecology of the circulation of desires.
3. Depunctualisation of media, by promoting the open hacking and understanding of ‘black box’ systems.
4. Media archaeology as artistic methodology – the remixing of technology from textual material to material methodology
5. Reuse is an important dynamic of contemporary culture, an open and remix culture should be extended to physical artifacts.
Points 1., 2., and 4. are crucial to the revolutionary significance of points 3. and 5., and points to an everyday practice that goes beyond the reuse of obsolescent technologies in visual art and music production.
The term ‘black boxing’ refers the methods used to obscure the inner workings of information and communication technologies. Black boxing is often layered and a result of an interaction of multiple black boxes hidden before the user in their devices that enforce the incomprehensibility of technologies. Yet no black box is perfect, and this is where Hertz and Parrikka are let down somewhat by the focus on the “scientific gaze on the circuits of technology”. They do indicate the importance of following the circuits of technology beyond the immediate technical ones, but the overall focus in the project presentation is on hardware: “media archaeology is material, monumental’ and the expression of the technology and not its historical narrative. This approach needs to expand to survey of circuits to account for ‘soft’ technologies that govern the hardware; the production of code that has just as much significance on the life after death of new media technologies, and impact on ecologies of use and nature as the mineral politics and disposable designs of the hardware engineers.
Soft technologies, include software but also refer to the legal technologies like federal laws and intellectual property (including patents, trade secrets and copyrights) that are are necromantic: they enforce one type of enlivened death – the movement of new media to old refuse, but also stop the individual from resurrecting old new media to serve as a zombie beyond the confines of the obsolescence cycle. Digital Rights Management (DRM) software and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s anti-circumvention provisions are just are reprehensible as non-rechargeable batteries, built-in defects, and cases that won’t allow the user to crack them open and tinker with what is inside. Zombie media is a bifurcated zombie – the horror of its toxicity as a living environmental death but also the promise of its life after death – and the everyday consumer needs to be empowered as the Voodoo Master over their undead slaves.
Remix and reuse should be more than art practice, hardware hacking and the reusing and reintroducing dead media into new cycles of life, new constructions and new iterations in the everyday should be the goal of the Zombie Media project – one that takes it’s lead from art practice, but integrated in the everyday practices of the home, school, the office and the street.