Talks/The Extensions of Many 2 Introduction

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An unedited version of the introductory talk to the second seminar in the series The Extensions of Many: Seminars on Media Aesthetics organised by the Bergen Center for Electronic Arts (BEK) and Monoskop and held at Hordaland kunstsenter in Bergen, 18 March 2015. (Part 1).

In the introduction to the first session we had been focusing on the ontology of the subject of aesthetic experience and problematised the singularity of the figure of man as its sole agent. We have shown that the primacy of Kantian subjectivity deeply embedded in the humanities have been dismantled in recent decades along several [research] trajectories including posthumanities, materialist media theory, and radical empiricism. There is a ground for rethinking aesthetics with many perspectives and many sensorial registers of which a perceiving-thinking human subject constituted as an entity above others is one example among many.

Let us now briefly proceed to the question of medium and mediality. We need a ground for allowing all the variety of subjects of aesthetic experience as suggested earlier. And a vocabulary to discuss aesthetics in which there is a space for phenomena such as the agency of video and the agency of documents, both of which will be discussed tonight.

Keeping in mind the importance of the concept of relation which appears to be the smallest unit of analysis for all three methodological approaches of resigning from the positions of anthropocentrism mentioned earlier I will indicate several aspects of mediality which might be helpful to consider.

Geometry of medium. Medium as relation and agent. Representation.

The etymological roots of the term medium can be traced even prior to the Latin medius. The ancient Greek mesos can be translated as 'middle' ('midst'), either as a location in space or interval of time. The middle is delimited by temporal or spatial positioning of two or more objects/elements, while at the same time it determines their roles and pulls in other objects to a mutual relationship. The middle turns objects into ends of the relation. So for instance, if we take the points A and B in space, the act of determining a position inbetween them, ie. their centre, implies a line of which the two are ends. Or, an uttered sound implies a speaker and a hearer. The middle is not only a passive element, a thing, but it also acts, it is an agent of a relation, it does have agency. This ambiguous nature of the medium of a given and giver much later began to be called representation.

The medium in its relational and active function is then an interval between two or more objects, whose position is determined by them but at the same time turns them into ends of such established relation. The ambiguity of its status of being given (by relation between objects) and giving (status of objects as ends of relation) produces its representational function.

Materiality of medium. Medium as carrier.

At least since the 17th century we can identify another aspect of the medium as "the nature of surrounding environment", when Francis Bacon listed "mediums of sounds" as "air; soft and pourous bodies; also water; [while] hard bodies refuse not altogether to be mediums of sounds [as well]." Here, air, water and other environments become media because of their capacity to carry sound. We can generalise the nature of environment-carriers to basically any material which has a capacity to be in "the middle", whether it is wood, stone, paper, glass, human body, but also vacuum, wire, minerals and everything else, including all their mixtures such as book, opera stage, TV set, optical cable and software. Specific [material] properties of the environment define conditions and possibilities of its functioning as a carrier of the relation.

Poetics and aesthetics of medium.

Besides topology and materiality of the medium we can identify yet another aspect of such relation between ends, and namely the way they experience the relation. This experience is conditioned by the differentiation between the carrier and the carried, between an environment and a thing, between a channel and a signal, between a medium and a message.

The poetic and aesthetic experience has been so far studied in the domains of literary theory, theory of drama, art theory, film theory, and others, when research has been carried primarily along various materialities of media, which give way to their specific workings of abstract forms.

They gave us various theories showing us that it is the ambiguity of the formal and material, or in other words the poetic orientation towards the medium itself, which opens up broader space for aesthetic experience. There is a lot to build upon and now the challenge seems to be of developing ways to generalise poetics and aesthetics beyond disciplinary traditions.

Dušan Barok

Written 18 March 2015 in Bergen.