The Media Convergence Research Centre at Bath Spa University is proud to host the first in a new series of Signal Effects symposiums, titled Digital Ecologies and the Anthropocene, which took place on Friday April 28th 2017.

Media Convergence Research Centre, Commons (CM119)
Newton Park Campus
Bath Spa University
Newton St Loe, Bath BA2 9BN 

One-Day Symposium: Friday April 28th 2017 09:30 - 18.00 

Keynote speakers:

  • Dr Ele Carpenter, Goldsmiths College, London, associate curator of Arts Catalyst
    and editor of the Nuclear Culture Source Book
  • Professor Charlie Gere, The Lancaster Institute of Contemporary Arts, Lancaster University

Other speakers included:

  • Professor Owain Jones, Environmental Humanities, Bath Spa University
  • Philip Hüpkes, University of Vechta, Germany
  • Dr Joshua McNamara, University of Melbourne
  • Dr Mike Hannis, Bath Spa University
  • Jeff Scheible, Kings College, London
  • Ramon Bloomberg, Goldsmiths College, University of London
  • Teresa Carlesimo, Queens University
  • Chris Bailey, Plymouth College of Art
  • Matthew Lovett, University of Gloucestershire
  • Charlie Tweed, Bath Spa University
  • Alison Harper, Bath Spa University

Film screenings and performances included:

  • Joey Holder, OPHIUX (2016)
  • Dr. Oliver Case,  Dr. Bradley Garrett and Dr. Adam Fish, System Earth Cable - Einstock Mountain (2017)
  • Peter Bo Rappmund, Topophilia (2015)
  • Andy Weir, The Plureal Deal (2016)
  • Lucy Pawlak, WE EAT THE EARTH THE EARTH EATS US (2016)
  • Nathan Hughes, OBJECT (2016)
  • Sasha Litvintseva: Asbestos (performance) (2016) 

The symposium included a dynamic range of theoretical and practice based responses from researchers, artists, filmmakers, writers and theorists.

In August 2016 the International Geological Congress said that a new geological epoch known as the Anthropocene needs to be declared due to the fact that the human impact on the earth is now so profound. Timothy Morton uses the term hyperobjects to discuss some of the characteristics of the anthropocene and why it is often invisible to the human: he notes that hyperobjects are ‘so massively distributed in time, space and dimensionality’ that they defy our perception, let alone our comprehension, therefore the condition of the anthropocene is easily ignored. Among the examples Morton gives are climate change and radioactive plutonium. ‘In one sense [hyperobjects] are abstractions,’ he notes, ‘in another they are ferociously, catastrophically real.’

Another of these hyperobjects relates to the human relationship with machines and we can trace their impact on the earth back to the invention of the steam engine in 1781 by James Watt and its deposits of carbon on the earth’s crust.

Today’s contemporary technologies appear to be different and are crucial to enabling human life and culture to function as well as realising the production and distribution processes of capital. They also provide us with useful tools for visualising processes such as climate change and tracking the earth’s own movements and seismic activity.

However the notion of these technologies being ‘clean’ or ‘virtual’ is soon unraveled by tracing their material realities which are made up of complex meshes of human and non-human moving parts. Today’s machines are heavily enabled by the extraction of raw materials, the use of fossil fuels and the production of material waste at sites such as Guiyu, China which has been called ‘the electronic graveyard of the world’.

In her book Digital Rubbish Jennifer Gabrys notes that the electronic extends from technologies to markets and to modes of waste, decay and disintegration, articulating the relation between the signal and the thing and how they are bound into a shared material process.

The history of the internet and today’s pervasive media technologies is also closely tied to the study of the earth and an observation of the ecological. It emerges from the development of military and nuclear technologies, the conception of cybernetics and the design of self-governing computer systems with built in feedback loops. These machines and systems end up as actors within a complex mesh of networks, hyperobjects, production processes, waste disposal and notions of deep time.

In terms of responses to these conditions Christophe Bonneuil describes the ‘shock of the Anthropocene’ as a space for generating new political arguments, new modes of behaviour, new narratives, new languages and new creative forms and this symposium is focused on bringing some of these emerging discourses to the surface across theory and practice.

Themes included:

  • The Anthropocene and forms of waste
  • Digital ecologies, hyperobjects and new materialities
  • Deep time and new temporalities
  • Creative strategies and responses

Keynote speaker biographies:

Ele Carpenter is a curator. Her Nuclear Culture curatorial research project is a partnership between Arts Catalyst and Goldsmiths University of London, where she is Senior Lecturer in MFA Curating and convenor of the Nuclear Culture Research Group. The Nuclear Culture project involves field trips, commissioning new work and curating film screenings, roundtable discussions and exhibitions including: Perpetual Uncertainty Bildmuseet, Sweden (2016-17); Material Nuclear Culture KARST Gallery, Plymouth (2016); Actinium, S-Air, Sapporo (2014). Carpenter is editor of The Nuclear Culture Source Book published by Black Dog Publishing in partnership with Bildmuseet and Arts Catalyst.

Charlie Gere is Professor of Media Theory and History in the Lancaster Institute for Contemporary Arts, Lancaster University. He is the author of Digital Culture (2002), Art, Time and Technology (2006), Non-relational Aesthetics, with Michael Corris (2009), and Community without Community in Digital Culture (2012), as well as co-editor of White Heat Cold Technology (2009), Art Practice in a Digital Culture (2010), and Unnatural Theology: Religion, Art, and Media after the Death of God (Bloomsbury, forthcoming), as well as many papers on questions of technology, media and art. His current project is tentatively entitled I Hate the Lake District, and is a kind of anti-travel book. In 2007 he co-curated Feedback, a major exhibition on art responsive to instructions, input, or its environment, in Gijon, Northern Spain, and was co-curator of FutureEverybody, the 2012FutureEverything exhibition, in Manchester.

For more information about this symposium please contact: Charlie Tweed (c.tweed@bathspa.ac.uk).

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