Through political change, people keep making art – whether overtly political or not, finding some home in the landscapes that shift around them. We now find ourselves able to map the work and ideas of artists across space and time, to a greater extent than ever before.

Amidst international obsession on Berlin, for instance, it’s worth seeing a quantifiable picture of change. A project from Severine Marguin maps just how many of those project spaces for performance and art have appeared, vanished, and been replaced over the past decades, before and after reunification. You’ll find a proliferation of spaces that seems to continue to accelerate – and also a number of spaces in East Berlin, particularly by the 80s.

Berliner Projekträume seit 1970

But such plots of space are worth considering well beyond the (delightfully) over-saturated world of the German capital. This graph could easily be a microcosm of a changing artistic globe.

I’ve just landed from one digital media event in Moscow (its international Circle of Lights fest), arriving back in the European Union, in Krakow, for p a t c h: audio_visual_lab.

Part of what makes travel vital is the fact that place and history still matter. History has hardly come to a halt. Russia and the EU are wrangling in a new economic cold war over former Soviet republics, discussions about privacy and censorship and identity (and what they mean in an online age) heat up from the Kremlin to the USA, and the kinds of media art once confined to limited avant-garde communities or ivory tower laboratories now spread with viral fury. I find almost everywhere I go, I find people who know people I know from the other side of the world.

And history and future seem to merge in real ways. I grew up in a world terrified of mutual nuclear destruction, now finding myself discovering first-hand the legacy of artists on the other side of walls, physical and political and otherwise. Forgotten and discarded histories are being meticulously recovered, the electronics of pioneering art machines literally re-assembled and returned to working order.

Calling this “media archaeology” hardly seems to cover what’s going on. The view of history shifts when seen through the modern filter – doubly so when you’re talking technology.

This is easily the topic for a lengthier editorial, but to kick off the discussion, it’s worth viewing how “archeological” technologies are shaping other developments.

In space exploration, revisiting the achievements of the 60s is becoming absolute necessity. Not only is the US space program riding Soyuz rockets and using supply vehicles and capsules to come and go from the International Space Station — it’s even rebuilding its old rockets.

A superb read, in terms of this question of old technologies in new lights:
How NASA brought the monstrous F-1 “moon rocket” engine back to life [Ars Electronica]

Notably, it’s not that the plans for the original rocket were lost. Rather, the iterative, hand-built units tell stories the documents can’t. And digital modeling can allow new understanding of the genius of those machines that the engineers at the time couldn’t grasp. The result is a kind of combined, multiplied intelligence of past and present.

Here’s the result:

And even this seemingly-distant example connects directly to topics we visit regularly on CDM. The digital modeling process uses structured light scanning – the same 3D technique used by artists like Kyle McDonald. And yes, that means the same technique you can read about on Instructables, courtesy Kyle. Here, a 3D house specializing in industrial product modeling did the work, but artistic and industrial communities are still connected.

In other words, it turns out this stuff is rocket science. Side note: this continues to go well:

Dynetics reporting “outstanding” progress on F-1B rocket engine

The orange plume of that rocket seems a beautiful image for what potential lies in media art. The Theremin Center in Moscow and researcher Andrey Smirnov are piecing together Russian audiovisual inventions; more on that soon (and Andrey’s work is also coming to Berlin for CTM Festival next year). The Standuino project is bringing back the work of Standa Filip and introducing us to Czech tech.

With this added ignition, and a better appreciation for how current practice relates to the old, we could all get to greater heights.

I’m curious to hear more about what readers think about media archeology, on the technology side, and the changing room for space against political change, on the venue side. There’s obviously more to say.

And maybe see you in one of these cities soon.

  • xzuma

    Excellent writeup. Here’s more info on the US use of the outdated Soviet rocket engines: Also, having worked with Andrey Smirnov (who, BTW, recently authored a book SOUND in Z. Experiments in Sound and Electronic Music in Early 20th Century Russia), I am happy to see his name becoming more well known outside of Russia.