Media Archaeology as Platform: An Interview with Jussi Parikka

In May, the Media History Research Center hosted a weeklong seminar on Media Archaeology co-taught by Professors Darren Wershler (Concordia University), Lori Emerson (University of Colorado at Boulder) and Jussi Parikka (Winchester School of Art) who are collectively working on a book on labs and lab culture.

The course began with an introduction to Media Archaeology. Starting with Kittler’s work on Discourse Networks, we worked through German Media Theory’s approach to technical media as a way to think through the entanglements of labour, maintenances and infrastructures. As the week continued, we tried to address how labs afford specific encounters with technical media, and how we can develop methodologies to rethink these objects and the subjects they produce. To that end, students worked on projects in dialogue with daily seminars. Two teams of students built Raspberry Pi arcade cabinets with help from Anne-Louise Davidson, while other students worked with the Depot‘s collection of retro-gaming hardware.

These projects enacted the problems we run into when we try and historicize, interpret, and collect media. They were instrumental in thinking through the lab as performance space.

After a seminar on the problems of navigating institutional infrastructures, I talked with Jussi Parikka about the platforms and infrastructures at play in his own scholarly practice.

After his book on computer viruses, Digital Contagions, Parikka was left with a heterogeneous archive: composed of “three and a half inch floppy disks, but the bulk of that research is photocopies of archival materials like cartoons, newspapers.” It’s easy to see how an interest in media archaeology can emerge out of the infrastructural breaks that a long-term research catalog articulates. Maintaining such a long-term research catalog is a media archaeological project in itself.

I asked Professor Parikka how his research practices have changed since then. “I’m not as systematic as other people,” he responded, “[My process] has to be so intuitive that I don’t have to spend time on it.” Parikka favors research practices that reduce the friction of writing, rewriting and annotating. Though he was hesitant to adopt it at first, he now uses cloud-based Evernote in his writing practice. “The cloud is great for stuff that you might not need but you might want to write an article on it.”

Similarly, he generates arguments by trying to “get the broad sweep of an argument without editing. [It’s] a way of articulating all the possible avenues without getting stuck in the details.”

I think Media Archaeology’s platform functions in a similar way. As Parikka told me, “[It’s] not about enforcing a restriction of what counts as Media Archaeology; it’s set of cultural techniques”. Parikka’s methodology evokes a recurring theme of the course: how can a scholar avoid reproducing the logic of their object of study?

For Parikka, Media Archaeology is a creative intervention into this problem. By subverting the logic of an object, there is a moment of subjectification that opens up the possibility for the new to emerge. Following a genealogy of thinkers from Heidegger to Deleuze to Latour, Parikka says: “Once things fail, then you start to see their complexity”.

This is the Media Archaeological move: to un-blackbox; to tinker and glitch; to use postdigital practices as methods of creative rupture. The infrastructural breaks that these methods expose can open up new questions about production and reception. This evokes the figure that Parikka adapts from Erkki Huhtamo’s artist-archaeologist, the t(h)inkerer:

“an archaeological circuit bender and hacker, [who creates] a link between media archaeology and the political agenda of contemporary media production.” (Zombie Media)

Back in Winchester, Professor Parikka will collaborate with their computer and web sciences departments through the AMT research group, where he hopes to expand the Media Archaeology platform. His goal: to make more with collective resources.

This work speaks to another theme of the course: how the infrastructures that make scholarly work possible includes and excludes people. How can labs work through the affective costs of participation; or, as student Jeffrey Moro put it: What (or who) gets to be infrastructure?