- Across & Beyond: A Transmediale Reader on Post-Digital Practices, Concepts, and Institutions ed. by Ryan Bishop et al.
edited by Ryan Bishop, Kristoffer Gansing, Jussi Parikka and Elvia Wilk. Sternberg Press, Berlin, Germany, 2017. 352 pp., illus. Paper. ISBN: 978-3956792892.
Across & Beyond is a collection of theoretical articles and artistic projects that stem from the transmediale festival in relation, mainly, to the topic of the postdigital, as the title suggests, but that exceed the topic and the activities of the festival itself.
The ensemble of articles is a relevant contribution to the current discussions unfolding in the blurry terrains of media theory and postdigital practices. In their Introduction, the editors define the postdigital, together with post-Internet, as terms that "are associated with an artistic engagement with technology that is not necessarily preoccupied with the digital as such, but with life after and in the digital, working across old and new, digital and analog" (p. 11). In fact, in the book are several different concepts of what the postdigital suggests; at the same time, there can be identified a series of recurring topics, among them: time and nonlinearity, the use of language for creating reality and/or its perception, materiality, infrastructures, the posthuman, and Claire Bishop's by now infamously famous "digital divide" .
The contributions are organized along three main axes: Imaginaries, Interventions and Ecologies. Through a media archaeological and genealogical methodology, the works in the Imaginaries section tackle questions such as "what are media, when are media, and how they mediate the production of reality? What is the relationship between speculation and design? Can alternative realities really be conjured into being—or is imagination itself a product of cultural, historical, and medialogical context?" (p. 26). "Collective, political, and activist uses of technology are foregrounded" in Interventions (p. 148), a section under which is discussed the relevance of interventionist creative practices. Then the Ecologies section groups a series of contributions that address the ecologies of infrastructure, examining "the ethics of how media materialize and interact—with each other, with humans and nonhumans" (p. 250).
In the Imaginaries section, Dieter Daniels summarizes the history of "what has come to be labelled media art" (p. 48), starting from its (apparent) crisis in the previous decade to ask how to define media art today. In parallel, he analyzes the processes of institutionalization (1960s/'70s) and of the growing connection between media art and media theory (1980s). Having quoted Bishop's digital divide argument in the first page of the article to dismiss its grounding, the author, however, returns to the topic of "a cultural separation between 'high art' and media innovation" (p. 57) at the end, rightly wishing for an integration between media art research institutions and art history to be able to develop a comprehensive cultural theory able to address the complexity of the field from different angles.
Instead of considering the imaginary in the context of psychological or sociological frameworks as a sort of tool to model reality, Jussi Parikka proposes to follow Michel Foucault and to consider the imaginary as a technique (p. 76). In this way, the author is able to explain how the laboratory takes over the studio in the contemporary imaginary as a located space of knowledge creation. [End Page 203] The question he poses is: "How do we engage in practices of speculation in media and design labs, which are contemporary places of recreation, imagination, technological practice and activism?" (p. 77). Thus the two main axes explored in relation to the lab in the article are time and space: the lab considered as a situated place of research, and a speculative dimension that is a characteristic of the lab practice, that of inventing the past (p. 78). Parikka proposes to consider the lab as an alternative location of the imaginary to switch speculative practices from the future to the past (p. 81). The idea of a speculative past has undeniable power, linked as it is with a politics of time within postdigital culture (p. 78).
Florian Cramer's article addresses how the separation between art and technology came...