The Archive of the Trapeze


In the film Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones (2002), there is a scene where Obi-Wan Kenobi is consulting the chief librarian Jocasta Nu about the planet Kamino. They try to locate the planet through the archival records, typing the coordinates in, and one imagines the search term “Kamino” into the interface, but fail to find the planet.

Jocasta Nu: I hate to say it, but it looks like the system you’re searching for doesn’t exist.
Obi-Wan: Impossible. Perhaps the archives are incomplete.
Jocasta Nu: If an item doesn’t appear on our records, it does not exist.  

The encounter is brief, the search through the archives futile. Perhaps the brevity of the encounter serves only to reinforce the unquestionable infallibility of the archives. There was simply no need for further conversation. I’m interested in this scene not because of what it says about the archive as a dominant medium for information, history or truth, but rather the fact that even in an alternative galaxy “far, far away,” our imagination of the archive is still fundamentally imagined through texts and written records.


Writing, as Diana Taylor argues in The Archive and The Repertoire, remains a dominant system in our imagination of the archives. For Taylor, this is due largely to a cultural bias inherited from “Western epistemologies” that value the affordance that the written word provides — i.e., the ability to be detached and independent from the body of its host/source, and thus to outlive the latter (24). Compared to the “archive of supposedly enduring materials (i.e., texts, documents, buildings and bones),” the “repertoire” of embodied practice/knowledge (i.e., spoken language, dance, sports, ritual)” is thus seen as inferior because of its ephemerality and its requirements for live transmissions (Taylor 19). And in today’s myth of the digital as dematerialized ether, “the body again seems poised to disappear in a virtual space that eludes embodiment” (Taylor 16).

But Taylor writes against such a linear history of our knowledge systems, against the seductive idea that our knowledge systems are becoming more and more virtual, becoming increasingly stored in mediums that are abstracted further and further away from the body. For her, looking particularly at the performance of cultural memory across the Americas, she argues that “[e]mbodied expressions has participated and will probably continue to participate in the transmission of social knowledge, memory, identity pre- and post-writing” (16). Following Taylor’s argument, we need to examine alternative forms of knowledge systems and cultural memory in order to overcome the “preponderance of writing in Western epistemologies” — one which tends to dismiss and denigrate other cultures that do not share a strong dependence on the written word as the main language for cultural transmission.

To do this, Taylor gives us a binary of the “archive” and the “repertoire” as alternative tendencies of knowledge systems. Although this forms the basis of her subsequent arguments, she does not see the two terms of “archive” and “repertoire” as mutually exclusive, insisting that they often work together in tandem, and often alongside other systems of transmission (21). In that sense, Taylor wishes to break the monopoly that writing has on the histories of our knowledge systems, but without re-introducing any new hierarchy herself.

For the purposes of this presentation, I would like to think about Taylor’s terms — the “archive” and the “repertoire” — alongside a work by Singaporean artist Charles Lim called Stealing the Trapeze (2016). To begin, some biographical details about the artist would provide useful contexts to understand the political gestures behind the work: Charles was born into a family of Anglophiles; his parents having spent their lives as British subjects in colonial Singapore decided to name their son after Prince Charles. In his youth, Charles was sent to a boarding school in Cranleigh, England, where he would discover his aptitude for competitive sailing. Eventually Charles represented Singapore in the Olympics, but he would use the sports scholarship he earned to go to art school at Central Saint Martins in London. (He is also one half of the artist collective for which my final project is about.) Charles’s practice, in the last decade, has focused on Singapore’s estranged relationship with its waters, how the sea which determined the island-nation’s histories and fortunes has been effectively flushed out of Singapore’s national imagination, turned from a public space into restricted infrastructural zone. (See in particular the Bloomberg documentary on Charles’s practice.)

In 2016, Charles was invited to participate in a biennial set in the Irish city of Limerick. It was there where he first presented the work Stealing the Trapeze — a video installation accompanied by a poster which the artist circulated freely. In effect, the work became a means for Charles to question the written (British colonial) archive surrounding the technique of the trapeze used in modern competitive sailing.

In the existing accounts of modern competitive sailing, the trapeze is often attributed as an invention of Sir Peter Scott. As far as official histories go: the trapeze was dreamt up in the summer of 1938, and first performed by Sir Peter Scott and John Winter in a winning competition that very year. There are plenty of written records to support Sir Peter Scott’s claims to have invented the trapeze in 1938, particularly since Scott was a prominent member of the British society and a polymath (i.e., natural historian, painter, naval officer, sportsman) who wrote and published frequently. In other words, the written archive of the trapeze as a modern sailing technique had been well-established, largely through Scott. Charles was intimated with this history when he encountered, in his boarding school’s library, a book featuring Scott’s account. A book that he would then steal, in his youth, back home to Singapore.

Fast forward to 2016, Stealing the Trapeze contests this official history of the trapeze as a modern invention. Instead, Charles looks to the maritime histories of Southeast Asia, and he finds a possible antecedent of the trapeze in the traditional technique of “tembang” used in kolek boat-racing still practiced today. This traditional technique of using body weights as ballast and to steer a racing kolek boat predates the 1938 invention of the trapeze; and the word “tembang” is derived colloquially from the Malay word “timbang” which means to weigh or to seek balance. Charles would go on to do his own archival research and find a 1902 article in The Journal of the Royal Society of Art (a British journal) detailing descriptions of kolek racers using the tembang.

In response, Charles produced a poster as part of Stealing the Trapeze: a poster that aimed to correct the archive of the trapeze with another earlier article written and informed by colonial ethnography. So rather than Sir Peter Scott inventing the trapeze in the summer of 1938, as the history of modern competitive sailing records it, this technique of using body weights as ballast is proposed to go back to at least 1902 when British colonial ethnographers reported on the maritime arts of the Malay archipelago.

Yet, I want to suggest that the correction of the archive complicates the artist’s position as a postcolonial subject who, though is definitely interested in calling out an appropriation by the British Empire, nonetheless corrects that colonial archive from within. In that moment, does the artist’s reliance on colonial records and documents pay further compliments to the work done by colonial scholars and thus also to the integrity of the British archive at large?

My own personal answer to that question is a resolute “yes,” but there is something more and something perhaps redeeming in the video component of Stealing the Trapeze which complicates this issue further:

Returning to Diana Taylor’s notion of the repertoire, the video documents the ongoing tradition of kolek racing and the use of the tembang (this precursor to the trapeze), alongside competitive sailors practising the modern technique of the trapeze. All this seems to suggest that, despite not having written down records about this tradition or technique by the Malay peoples themselves, this repertoire of the tembang continues to be transmitted through generations after generations who continue to partake in the tradition of kolek racing using the tembang. Despite the state’s ongoing efforts to reterritorialize the common space of the waters as restricted infrastructural zones, this tradition has somehow managed to keep itself alive, and has even adapted to new modern materials — seen most visibly in the bright neon of the kolek’s sail. The dead-time of the written archive (represented by the poster) is thus juxtaposed with the live, moving images of the repertoire. Traditions and repertoires move; they change with time, and perhaps this gives them vitality and longevity.

Finally, as a way of conclusion, I wish to draw attention to the different relationships that the kolek racers and modern sailing teams have to the natural environment, in particular the waters. While the modern sailing duo is decked out in waterproof suits that insulate them from the natural elements, it is compelling to see how direct and tactile a relationship that the kolek racers have with the waters, especially when they are performing the tembang and going close to the surface of the waters. They touch, rather than avoid, the waters. They become soaked to their skins. The water here is not a romantic sublime, nor is it an object distanced from the human body; it is a medium that hosts and thus environs a repertoire of embodied knowledge.

(feature image: screen-grab from Charles Lim, Stealing the Trapeze, 2016)


17.(SEPT) [By WeistSiréPC]™

A little late to the party, but there’s a really interesting project at the Queens Museum based on the el paquete media distribution network in Cuba. For the exhibit in Queens Museum, you’ll be able to access and surf (but also copy a selection of) a whole year’s archive of el paquete content curated by the artists – Julia Weist and Nestor Siré. (P.S. if you’re at the museum, don’t miss Patty Chang’s wonderful The Wondering Lake show too.)


For the project 17.(SEPT) [By WeistSiréPC]™, American artist and 2016-2017 Queens Museum-Jerome Fellow Julia Weist collaborates with Cuban artist Nestor Siré to analyze creative social strategies in Cuba that have developed in place of internet connectivity. The most significant of these phenomenon, El Paquete Semanal or “the weekly package,” is a 1 terabyte digital media collection, aggregated weekly and circulated across the country via in-person file sharing.

Since 2015, Siré has been curating art into El Paquete through a project called !!!Sección A R T E (!!!A R T Section), a series of folders updated monthly with original artist projects. The folder follows the rules of the Paquete: it can be no more than 5GB, and must contain no pornography and no political issues. In early 2016, Siré invited Weist to contribute an artwork, the beginning of an ambitious partnership. Over the subsequent year, the pair met with Paquete distributors or matrices in every province in Cuba. In these talks they gained an understanding of current trends and processes on a national and local level, including who and what was popular. Weist and Siré also came to know the depth and intricacy of the Paquete networks, including the extent of its economic impact; the Paquete also includes a form of media that has been largely absent in the country for the last half-century, amidst a political regime of aspirational socialism: advertising.

For !!!Sección A R T E, Weist envisioned a conceptual and political insertion, an original video featuring quotidian internet browsing that captures the aesthetic and habitual norms of contemporary internet culture. To conform to the strict “no politics” regulations of the Paquete, Weist and Siré sought out celebrities to star in the piece, including the actor Mark Ruffalo, well-known to American audiences for both his wide-ranging roles and his political activism, and in Cuba for starring as the Hulk. Beyond capturing the attention of Paquete consumers with an iconic blockbuster film star, the choice to feature celebrities rendered the content chiefly pop cultural and thereby acceptable for inclusion. The circulation of the artwork throughout Cuba is also explored in the exhibition: how the project was promoted by the creators of the Paquete, the edits that accompanied its national distribution, and the response from the Paquete audience.

The centerpiece of 17.(SEPT) [By WeistSiréPC]™ is a 64 terabyte server containing 52 weeks of El Paquete Semanal from August 2016 to August 2017. It is the only formalized archive of the Paquete and its construction and deployment was designed around the legal and logistical restrictions of the changing US-Cuba relations over the last year. Weist and Siré contacted every copyright holder represented in the Paquete from the week of August 8, 2016, in an attempt to legalize its contents. Where possible they secured the rights to distribute the same material circulating in Cuba to Queens Museum visitors, free of charge.

Weaving in and out of contrasting political, geographic, economic, cultural, and technological circuits, 17.(SEPT) [By WeistSiréPC]™ represents a complex examination of the invisible and visible forces that shape our contemporary cultural perspectives.


Image: Julia Weist with Nestor Siré, Still from Holguin (BABALAWO), 2016. Digital video, 00:49 minutes, sound. Included in ARCA, 2016–2017. Mixed media installation. Courtesy the artists

Image Atlas

I found John Tagg’s piece on photography and filing cabinets to be a really great nudge to rethink the history of photography — particularly how it was instrumental (but perhaps also itself instrumentalized) for the “archiving apparatus” (Tagg 33) which must now include platforms such as Google, etc. Photography’s role in the production of certain knowledges — especially that of ethnographic discourse further facilitated by the networks of colonial empires — is certainly within Tagg’s discussion; there are countless other scholars who write about this, or the association between photography (as light-writing) and that of the Enlightenment’s emphasis on illumination, transparency, and the light of reason. But what I really found helpful in Tagg’s piece is the unhinging of photography’s centrality, and to situate photography within a broader apparatus which included the technology of filing systems.

Under the long shadows of the archiving apparatus, and reflecting on search engines today coming up with more and more powerful reverse-image searches, I wonder if photography is increasingly pressed to the service of the archive. *Side-note: I love the Image Atlas project by Taryn Simon and the late Aaron Schwarz, which politicizes search engines and their geographical biases when it comes to image search results.

Though digressing a little from the class’s focus on archives/archiving, but keeping the line of inquiry on photography, and for those who might be interested in rethinking the definition/history/origin of photography, Joanna Zylinska has a wonderful lecture “Photography After Extinction”. It links photography and geology together, and as such forms also an interesting link back to the 1977 Original Sun Pictures exhibition mentioned in Anna-Sophie Springer’s article.

Following up from this week’s wonderful discussions about artists and projects along the aesthetics of the “archival” (thanks to Loribeth, Maris, Ding and Julianne!), I wanted also to share with the class on a Singapore-based artist collective known as (2001-2005). Given that there are some artists and people deeply involved/interested in art, and that there was a mention of Rhizome’s Net Art Anthology, I thought it would be nice to introduce an artist collective from (my) home that had been working on the geopolitics of the internet’s physical infrastructures, a decade before we’ve seen a proliferation of so-called “post-internet art” or the likes of artists such as Trevor Paglen, Tyler Coburn, and Nina Canell dealing with similar issues. In fact, Rhizome included an entry focusing on’s project alpha 3.4 (2002) commissioned for Documenta XI:

Yet, the collective remains pretty much on the margins of net art’s history as “outsiders” (word is, they were unknowns at Documenta, invited in a last-minute attempt to have some representation from Southeast Asia); but also strangely un-discussed within Singapore’s own art history as well. That the artists came out of a formative performance art period in Singapore also meant that they favored an ephemerality to their alpha projects; hence not much documentation of their work remains today – further complicating their non-inclusion in the archives of art history.

Lastly, I guess I’m sharing this as I’m hoping to research further on’s body of work for my final project.

The Coupling of Otlet and Google

From our readings, it did seem as though Paul Otlet was a kind of a tragic hero who was well ahead of his time, but ultimately shunned by his own government. I wondered if this is an aspect that intrigued and inspired Google to take Otlet into the folds of their history: Google as this idea that was not just well ahead of its own time, but also one that shouldn’t be curtailed or limited by the presumably narrow visions of national governments.

That there was exactly one whole century between Otlet and La Fontaine’s dream in 1895 to index and classify the world’s information and Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s initiative to start Google in 1995 seems to have given Google significant leverage: a whole century worth of a great history of (transnational) informational management.

That Otlet predates Vannevar Bush also makes historical sense for Google to position itself in relation to Otlet rather than Bush. But I also can’t help but wonder if the fact that Otlet wasn’t American also helped Google project itself as an idea/machine/company whose vision and history goes beyond its American origins, thereby enabling Google to position itself as certainly a trans-American, if not altogether transnational, entity. A strategic coupling that would perhaps give Google better access and entry to not just cultural institutions in Europe, but potentially also to the rest of the world.

[Of course Vannevar Bush’s direct involvement in the building of the atomic bombs in World War II made his postwar essay on the need to consolidate all information for the purposes of a peaceful, programmable future all the more ironic. Incorporating Bush into Google’s history and lineage would have been a ticking time bomb.]


Libraries in the age of search engines and information retrieval

Aby Warburg’s “law of the good neighbor” really stresses on the relations between books, so much so that arranging books in their appropriate spaces no longer becomes a mere simple case of categorizing their content/subject-matter, but the lines of potential connections and associations between a constellation of books. I feel like it is this potential of charting (perhaps hitherto unnoticed) connections between books/things that similarly drives the Prelinger Library. Particularly, both Rick and Megan Prelinger spoke of the need to sustain a browsing experience in the library that should not be reduced to a simple query-based search and information retrieval.

The latter seems instead to be increasingly the mode of the library experience: query-based search and information retrieval. Watching the Cold Storage video, I can’t help but feel that while the need for consolidated offsite storage facilities does have its logistical conveniences (and may afford librarians more time to do their cultural programming), if libraries continue adding more and more materials to their collection, they are really going to end up having to depend on these offsite storage facilities. When that happens, I worry if this may also end up sealing the fate of the library experience as purely a process of information retrieval. If that should happen, would the library then be reduced essentially to a platform and search engine?

Off topic, but there’s also a great podcast from Radiolab on the logistics of Amazon and other Internet retail systems. I highly recommend it!

Xu Bing’s Dragonfly Eyes (2017); US Premiere at NYFF55

A feature film made essentially with (found) surveillance footage in China collected and uploaded onto the cloud, Xu Bing’s Dragonfly Eyes (2017) will have its US premiere at the New York Film Festival in October. Working through 10,000 hours of surveillance footages publicly accessible online, the artist and his assistants edited the excerpts into a 81-minute feature. A trailer of the film is available on YouTube.

I had the amazing chance to preview excerpts from the film during Xu Bing’s visit to Parsons as part of the Parsons Fine Arts Visiting Artists Series. Xu talked about the sheer ease of publicly accessing an entire database/archive of surveillance footages in China, how the proliferation of surveillance cameras has essentially turned the world into a studio set, and (rather than simply regurgitating the typical image of an Orwellian police state in China) what he thought about the emergence of a “post-surveillance” China where people are themselves reclaiming and using the surveillance tools and infrastructures to produce their own footages.


Sunday, October 8, 2017, 9.30PM
Monday, October 9, 2017, 8.45PM

55th New York Film Festival 2017
The Film Society of Lincoln Center
70 Lincoln Center Plaza
New York, NY 10023

Some Thoughts on The Morgan

I hope I’m not being too cynical, but I really did feel rather depressed and a little suffocated by the opulence of The Morgan’s Library.

While I am deeply appreciative of the Morgan family opening up its collection to the public, I can’t shake off the knowledge that the library and Pierpont Morgan’s collection seems to have been primarily initiated and motivated by a need to demonstrate one’s cultural pedigree and taste. It stares back at me in the never-ending wallpaper of paintings, tapestry, and books. If nature abhors a vacuum, Morgan’s walls seem to abhor any gap. And the wallpaper of paintings, tapestry, and books end up looking like they are just as foundational to the building as the bricks themselves.

If we think further about its history as a private collection, I can’t help but think about it along the terms of access in two layers: First, Morgan sought to purchase what was deemed as the very best examples of high culture in Europe and to consolidate it in his private home, in order to domesticate/internalize it in a way that both displays Morgan’s cultural pedigree but also exhibits what his spending power allows him to access/consume; the second being that one would have to be of some social standing in order to be even invited into Morgan’s private collection. Such that by the time the Morgan was opened to the public in 1928, it seems to have participated in what Tony Bennett terms as “exhibitionary complex,” with the general public performing essentially as witnesses to a display of power and cultural capital.

Though opened to the public, the original architecture and interiors of the library nonetheless reveals a certain closeting of power. And I left wondering if the new 2006 glass extension was indeed an architectural attempt to render the institution and its collection a little more “transparent” and “open.” But of course, I don’t wish to discount the work done by The Morgan through its cultural programming; and I am very glad to know that its collection remains open to the public’s viewing and curiosity, even if its library functions effectively as a closed stack. All in all, we’re better for its being made into a public space. And The Morgan, if anything else, is a great reminder that not all libraries (and archives?) necessarily function or are built on the foundational belief of democratizing knowledge.

Processing Post | Archaeologies of the Archive

There’s a scene in Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones where Obi Wan is consulting Jocasta Nu, resident archivist of the Jedi Temple:

Jocasta Nu: Let me do a gravitational scan … There are some inconsistencies here. Maybe the planet you are looking for was destroyed.

Obi-Wan: Wouldn’t that be on record?

Jocasta Nu: It ought to be. Unless it was very recent. I hate to say it, but it looks like the system you’re searching for doesn’t exist.

Obi-Wan: That’s impossible. Perhaps the archives are incomplete.

Jocasta Nu: The archives are comprehensive and totally secure, my young Jedi. One thing you may be absolutely sure of – if an item does not appear in our records, it doesn’t exist.


Marlene Manoff’s article is a helpful point of entry into Jacque Derrida’s Archive Fever, especially if, like me, you haven’t read a single page of Derrida in more than five years! Manoff summarizes Derrida’s core arguments neatly into two main points: (1) the archive does not exist simply after the events of the history as this neutral repository of the past, but is rather itself a medium that determines and makes possible what is archivable in the first place as our retrievable past; the past then does not exist for Derrida a priori and independent of the archive writ large; (2) the Freudian binary opposition Derrida hinges on for his argument – that of the pleasures of the archival impulse to collect and preserve the past for the potentialities of the future, and that of the death drive which seeks to destroy archives in order to return to the quiet and stasis of forgetfulness or amnesia. (Manoff 11-12)

But what is crucial in Derrida’s text, and missing in Manoff’s summary, is Derrida’s overturning of the binary between the archival impulse to collect and the death drive of forgetting.If conventional wisdom tends to believe that archives are the “bastions in the war on entropy” (Tim Maly, “Dark Archives”), this privileging of the archive bears further scrutiny for Derrida: “There would indeed be no archive desire without the radical finitude, without the possibility of a forgetfulness which does not limit itself to repression.” (19) In other words, Derrida seems to be suggesting a parasitic co-dependence and co-implication between the archival impulse and that of forgetfulness. Derrida’s text, if anything else, serves as a reminder not to fall into a feverish over-investment of the archive at the expense of glossing over others (e.g. the possibility of forgetfulness) that are the crucial support structures (both physical or otherwise) of our archives.

In many ways, Derrida’s re-reading and reconfiguration of Freud’s terms here onto a (media?) theory of the archive is an interesting context to consider. Namely, Derrida seems to want to broaden and complicate the “archive”/canon of Freud’s literature, to wrestle Freud’s legacy away from the exclusive control of those who seek to franchise it (i.e. so-called Freudians) and to bring the startling insights of Freud into unchartered territories. Hence also Derrida’s use of presumably unorthodox and un-archived documents from Freud’s legacy (e.g. Jakob Freud’s correspondence with his son about the latter’s book and of the latter’s circumcision). To borrow Tim Maly and Donald Rumsfeld’s terms, we might say that Derrida was unearthing from the dark the “unknown knowns” of the Freud Archive.

While I agree with some of the charges against Derrida’s theory of the archive, such as the need to also consider the literature and experience of professional archivists on the ground, I do not think of Derrida’s theory and professional literature as mutually exclusive. Yes, it is true that perhaps had Derrida actually have some hands-on experience and practice as a professional archivist, he might have had very different thoughts on the archive. But that seems to also miss Derrida’s subtle point about the archive as well – which is already evident in the first page of his opening note. By beginning with the etymology of the word “archive,” Derrida is cheekily making the point that etymology is itself also archival in nature, by tracking the semantic histories and provenance of a particular word. By beginning his text which is supposedly about archives with etymology, Derrida is deliberately questioning the notion of what constitutes an archive, broadening the archive of the archive, and thereby asking us to consider the pitfalls of professionalization. Just as it may be that the professional Freudians would have a particular archive of Freud’s work and legacy in their agenda, professional literature on the archives may also be blinded by its own archive of the archive.

I hope all this makes sense, despite the repetitions. I want to end by saying I am not necessarily a fan of Derrida, nor a defender of his text too. And I do sense that Derrida’s text has much to learn from the insights of the literature written by professional archivists. (I myself look forward to the field trip and to further insights from the professional archivists!) But perhaps Derrida’s text is nonetheless a helpful reminder that the archive is not something that should be the sole property of anyone in particular, not even the professionals. If that happens, then all discourse of the archive will simply be “known unknowns” hidden behind the policed barrier of professionalization. The archive of the archive needs, as Derrida might suggest, to be publicly accessible, used and possibly even reconfigured by others. The locking down of archival discourse would thereby only destroy the archival possibilities of the archive. Personally, I would file Derrida’s text as a modest contribution to enrich the archive of the archive.

Process Post | Infrastructural Entanglements

I’ll admit first off that I am struggling to connect the various readings together. While I know they all fall within this week’s engagement with the infrastructures of our knowledge ecologies, I haven’t quite figured out for myself where the lines threading through all four readings are (Hess and Ostrom, Star, Bratton, Edwards et al.); but maybe this doesn’t really matter for now because the readings are meant to give a broad description for things to come, rather than a unified continuity. To describe this in formal terms, maybe it’s meant to be a loose (but growing) database rather than a thick line of inquiry.

Though looking at the readings once more, it does seem to me that whether we are talking about commons, knowledge commons, infrastructures, planetary-scale computing and the resultant “stack,” all these terms presuppose an ecological field where the relations between humans, objects, actors located within this field are organised/shaped/informed/mediated. 

But if possible, I’d like to respond, piecemeal, to some of the readings – mainly through Susan Leigh Star’s “The Ethnography of Infrastructure” and Benjamin Bratton’s “The Black Stack”. 

Curiously, Star’s article, by helpfully setting out what are the defining characteristics of infrastructures, seems to me to be also performing the “infrastructural” itself. That is, by standardizing and defining what are infrastructures, Star’s article builds a kind of base platform that mediates future discussions about infrastructures. In other words, an infrastructure for the future studies of infrastructure to come. Not that dissimilar to the call made by Paul N. Edwards and co. in their report (see page 9) to standardize formats and names in order for knowledge to be built or consolidated seamlessly. There is, in this sense perhaps, something to be said about the aesthetics of Star’s article on infrastructures; though I have not quite figured that out in detail! Maybe someday…    

Another curious moment in Star’s work comes up as a strange paradox about studying infrastructures. That is, when studying infrastructures, the question seems to be: what does one foreground as “ground” to be studied as “figure”? Sorry if this sounds a lot like I’m quibbling and this might all be a pointless question to belabor: but do infrastructures thereby lose their status as infrastructures the moment they are identified and studied as such? If that which is by definition invisible is suddenly drawn into exposure, does that visibility actually renders it problematic? 

A secondary thought: I wondered if this emerging field of infrastructure studies – something that John Peter Durhams calls “infrastructuralism” – is itself a by-product of the age of hypervisibility, surveillance, and capture (something which the conversation between Hito Steyerl and Laura Poitras discusses) …   

Lastly, a short point about Benjamin Bratton’s theory(fiction) of the Stack: I’m slightly confused by his use of “accidental” to describe the megastructure of the Stack. Here, I’m reminded of Paul Virilio’s famous statement that when you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck. Each new technology or invention also brings with it its shadowy future of an unanticipated and unitended catastrophe or accident. And I suppose this extends to infrastructures as well. So in Bratton’s theory, is the Stack then an accidental catastrophe of planetary-scale computing?

If we come back to Star’s point that every infrastructure is embedded with some kind of bias or value assumptions, then does the Stack (as a kind of super-infrastructure?) represents a thick aggregation of hegemonies? Where is the center of it all then? Describing the Stack as accidental seems to place it within the domains of an unintended effect or consequence. But I’m really not sure if Bratton goes on to elaborate on this further, nor does he truly substantiates this in detail.

What I do appreciate about Bratton’s text is the metaphor of the stack. If the metaphor of a commons or ecological field tends to produce a horizontality (particularly with the terrain of the field), Bratton’s Stack introduces a verticality to complicate all this: layers and layers of protocols and algorithms written under and/or over one other. For Bratton, it seems, we need to redesign our cognitive mapping of the world’s political geographies; geopolitics can no longer be reduced to a flattened map based simply on Mercator projection, and neither can state sovereignty be represented simply as closed loop geometries of control since there is an entire infrastructure (or is it a super-infrastructure?) of planetary-scale computing complicating all this.

Edit: After today’s class discussions, I wanted also to share an article about the emergence of “fog” computing as a replacement/supplement to cloud computing:
Maybe we could discuss also the metaphor of the “fog” as it is used here.     

+++ References

Geraldine Kang, Untitled (MacRitchie Reservoir, Singapore), 2016. Photograph.

John Durham Peters, The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2015), 30-38.

Paul Virilio, Politics of the Very Worst (New York: Semiotext(e), 1999), 89.