Reading: In the Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method

Hertz G., Parikka J. 2012, In the Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an
Art Method, LEONARDO, Vol. 45, No. 5, pp. 424–430.

This text is an investigation into media culture, temporalities of media objects and planned obsolescence in the midst of ecological crisis and electronic waste. The authors approach the topic under the umbrella of media archaeology and aim to extend this historiographically oriented field of media theory into a methodology for contemporary artistic practice. Hence, media archaeology becomes not only a method for excavation of repressed and forgotten media discourses, but extends itself into an artistic method close to Do-It-Yourself (DIY) culture, circuit bending, hardware hacking and other hacktivist exercises that are closely related to the political economy of information technology. The concept of dead media is discussed as “zombie media”—dead media revitalized, brought back to use, reworked.

In this article Hertz and Parikka introduces the term zombie media as “media that is not only out of use, but resurrected to new uses, contexts and adaptations”. Even if the article is mostly concerned with circuit bending of consumer electronics it gives insights to think about our 22 hard-drives. The article describes how obsolete electronics are reused in new constructions in which “materials and ideas become zombies that carry with them histories but are also reminders of the non-human temporalities involved in technical media”. Gadgets and electronics are bought on flee markets or found while dumpster diving and repurposed in art works. Yet todays gadgets increasingly collect data of their prior owners. A blackbox that is broken (see figure 2 in the article) and abandoned will contain data of its prior owner. And if we continue the metaphor of the dead this data might be seen as a ghost that is now sealed in the gadget(hard drive) and can not be retrieved without expensive expert help. If this gadget was synchronised with other electronics or retrievable from the ever saving cloud the data is saved elsewhere and one might not make the effort to reanimate the machine thing just to delete traces of one self. Another scenario are all those old phones that sill function, but are somewhere in a shoebox now. During the spring cleaning it is for sure easy to drop them in recycling as dead shells while deleting personal contacts from it, would require to find the right charging cables which is of course lost. Though, as Hertz and Parikka argue, dead media is not always really dead:

Although arguments concerning death-of-media may be useful as a tactic to oppose dialog that only focuses on the newness of media, we believe that media never dies: it decays, rots, reforms, remixes, and gets historicized, reinterpreted and collected (see Fig. 5). It either stays in the soil as residue and in the air as concrete dead media, or is reappropriated through artistic, tinkering methodologies.

With the perspective of the hardware returning to be used in art pieces, likewise there is the chance that the media in the meaning of data resurfaces in the hands of artist or others. A haunting thought…

The Dead Media Lab (Garnet Hertz 2009) is also worth visiting. Here electronic waste finds the artist and dead media comes alive.