Media Archeology

"Dominaludus sexagentaquad" (2009) - Christopher Locke.
“Dominaludus sexagentaquad” (2009) – Christopher Locke.


The history of artwork that plunders media archaeology is both lengthy and non-existent. While artists have built on the technologies and ideas that came before them since the beginning of art history, often returning to older forms to generate new creativity, there has been surprising little historical documentation of the relatively short and rapidly changing life-span of modern media technology and the artwork that integrates it. However, rather than just acting as documentation of the history of media technology and the growth of media culture in the modern ear, media archaeology attempts to build that history, while simultaneously applying the ideas and practices of historical media to the way in which we culturally engage with current media. On his blog, prominent media archaeologist, Jussi Parikka writes, “If you ask Erkki Huhtamo or Siegfried Zielinski, you might get a different answer than from asking me. For Huhtamo, it is the recurring topoi/topics of media culture; for Zielinski, a poetic exploration of deep times and variantology; and so forth. For me, it is an exciting theoretical opening to think about material media cultures in a historical perspective. However, it expands into an experimental set of questioning about time, obsolescence, and alternative histories as well. In one way, it is about analyzing the conditions of existence of media cultural objects, processes and phenomena. It picks up on some strands of “German media theory”, but connects that to other debates in cultural theory too. I like what Bernhard Siegert has said about the early ethos of media archaeology being that of Nietzschean gay science — experimental, exploratory, radical. Perhaps in this vein, media archaeology is one answer to the need to think transdiscplinary questions of art, science, philosophy and technology” (”What is Media Archaeology?”). Although the answer is less than succinct, it does highlight some key concerns of media archaeology, namely that it is a methodology to approach knowledge around contemporary media studies, and also that as part of that methodology, it attempts to find patterns that connect various medias and the way we use them over time. These are then connected to social sciences, humanities, the arts and science in a multidisciplinary study of technology that has shaped the modern world. In terms of art practices that use media archaeology, they often draw on obsolete technologies in order to engage contemporary dialogues. In a sense, since there is very scant historical surveys that exist on media art, it is an attempt to write the multiple histories and intertwining practices that exist, unknown and unrecognized since the technology has so quickly passed from common use into supposed obsolescence.

Zoetrope. Photo credit: Jeremy Butler -
Zoetrope. Photo credit: Jeremy Butler –

In addition to writing and recognizing the ways that these technologies were used and shaped our culture, much of this practice is also an attempt to find new purposes for these technologies that are no longer used as originally designed. Sometimes this draws simply on an interest in the way that the technology operated and the quality of the medium (as seen in the flourishing practices of experimental film working with celluloid, the resurgence of vinyl recording and analogue photography). However, as pointed out by Garnet Hertz and Jussi Parrika in their award winning presentation “Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method”, the repercussions of obsolescence stretch beyond cultural loss of artifacts and materials for art-making, but also directly affects the environment. Through planned obsolescence, the life-span for technology is significantly decreased, even though most technology is still functional when it is replaced by newer products. This leads to perfectly functional technology, often containing heavy metals and other environmentally toxic materials, leaching into the ground at garbage dumps around the world (although usually in non-Western nations). Hertz and Parrika labels this phenomenon “zombie media”, referring to waste which still carries potential, both as inspiration and as a toxin. The writers recognize that artists have often called on forms of recycling and remixing to create new works from old, but distinguish their approach, saying “[m]edia archaeology has been successful in presenting itself as a methodology of lost ideas, unusual machines and re-emerging desires and discourses searching for elements that set it apart from mainstream technological excitement and hype, but not always connecting such ideas to political economy or ecology” (427). This interest in the idea of political economy is recurring in their essay, and illustrates a desire to activate the histories to draw attention to contemporary issues, rather than just using them for the sake of aesthetics or nostalgia.

"ReFunct Media" - Recyclism aka Benjamin Gaulon (; Image found: Open Here festival -
“ReFunct Media” – Recyclism aka Benjamin Gaulon (; Image found: Open Here festival –

Key Features
Key features of this type of work include the reuse of whole or partial technologies that are part of, as Hertz and Parriki put it, a “trailing edge” of everyday and obsolete media (426). Although they focus primarily on the material objects (as their interests emphasize ecological implications), often media archaeological works might draw on historical concepts and roots of technology, situated within a more contemporary technology (for instance the early Quicktime cinema artworks by Zoe Beloff and Lev Manovich).

"Little Movies" (1994) - Lev Manovich. Photo credit: Rhizome -
“Little Movies” (1994) – Lev Manovich. Photo credit: Rhizome –

Other features of media-archeological artworks are that like other forms of media art like Software, Glitch, Generative, and VR, they tend to be multidisciplinary, drawing from audio art, visual art, cinema, performance, installation and more. In fact, often artworks that draw on media archaeology may rest in one or more of the above categories as well, such as Manovich’s “Little Movies” which are both media-archeological and software art, or Paul De Marinis’ audio, interactive media archaeological installations.

Finally, many of the works draw on a DIY aesthetic, working against the corporatization of new technologies through planned obsolescence and design which prevents user modification or even understanding of how the products operate. It is somewhat anti-establishment in this sense, and even when it is not political, this aesthetic draws on a culture of hobbyism, modifications and hand-making.

Protospace Hackerspace (Calgary); Photo credit:,_a_Hackerspace.jpg
Protospace Hackerspace (Calgary); Photo credit:,_a_Hackerspace.jpg

The key features of media archaeological work are primarily influenced by the history of DIY practices. Hertz and Parriki discuss the role of circuit bending as an obvious precursor to manipulating older technologies to new purposes, noting the importance of post World War II electronic culture, 1970’s electronic amateurism and other hobbyist activities. All of these activities allowed non-expert practitioners to open up hardware and go through a process of self-discovering the internal workings of the technology. One could argue that these movements likely led to the current “hacker” and “maker” cultures, where technophiles make modifications to new and old technologies, and build their own versions of high tech artifacts. It connects to consumer modifications in order to assert personalization onto generic and ubiquitous technology, and also to “hacking” as a political expression.

Steampunk Iphone Case - Fabian Rastorfer. Photo credit: Fabrazz -
Steampunk Iphone Case – Fabian Rastorfer. Photo credit: Fabrazz –

In addition, it is also important to recognize the role of collage an other assemblage movements, which took ordinary objects and fragments of images, re-arranged and re-contextualized them to create new meaning. The influence of these aesthetic assemblages is seen in a lot of less-conceptual art, which draws on the aesthetics of media archaeology, and also on the history of recycled and environmental art which takes old objects and transforms them into something new through sculpture and collage.
Finally, in terms of aesthetics, it is difficult to consider artwork that draws on obsolete technology without acknowledging the cultural and aesthetic movement of steampunk, which romanticizes a synthesis of 19th century technology and science fiction narratives.

Significant Practitioners
Elisabeth Schimana –
Gebhard Sengmüller –
Paul DeMarinis –
Perry Hobermann –
Vuk Cosic –
Christopher Ottinger –
Luke Savisky –
Potter Belmar Labs –
Lovid –
Scott Amos –
Caitlind Brown –
Amanda Dawn Christie –
Jackson 2Bears –
Nam June Paik –
Reed Ghazala –
Paul DeMarinis –
Institute for Algorhythmics –
Garnet Hertz –
Zoe Beloff –
Jennifer Gabrys –
Jodie Mack –
Gabor Osz –
The Trashcam Project –
Erika Iris Simmons –
Nick Gentry –
Chu Enoki –
Jean Shin –
Naomi Kashiwagi –
Tacita Dean -
Zach Gage –
Richard Mosse -
Willie Bester –
Joseph-Grancis Sumegne –
Abu-Bakarr Mansaray –
Graham Harwood & Matsuko Yokokoji –
James Wallbank –
Benjamin Gaulon (aka Recylism) –

Significant Researchers
Machiko Kusahara –
Lisa Gitelman –
Wanda Strauven –
Lori Emerson –
Tomas Elsaesser –
Sean Cubitt –
Jennifer Gabrys –
Gabriel Mennotti –
Ben Fino-Radin –
Jussi Parikka –
Wolfgang Ernst –
Timothy Druckery –
Friedrich Kittler –
Siegfried Zielinski –
Oliver Grau –
Edward A Shanken –

Important Exhibitions
Media Archeology Festival. Aurora Picture Show. Huston. <;.
Excavating the Future – An Archeology and Future of Moving Pictures Symposium –
An Archaelogy of Imaginary Media – dossierid=10123&articleid=88410
Network Archaeology Conference –
Forum on the Geneaology of MediaThinking –

Only Connect Festival of Sound: Machine Dreams – 2013-machine-dreams
Media Archeology & Technological Debris –
Media Archeologies Institute Lecture Series –
Mono No Aware Festival –

Important Texts
Huhtamo, Erkki and Jussi Parikka, eds. Media Archeology. Berkeley: U. Of California P., 2011. Print.
Ishizuka, Karen I. And Patricia Zimmermann. Mining the Home Movie: Excavations in Histories and Memories. Berkeley: U. Of California P., 2007. Print.
“Media Archaeology”. Monoskop: Wiki for art, culture and media technology. Multiplace. N.p., 19 October, 2013. Web. <;.
Kluitenberg, Eric. ed. Book of Imaginary Media: excavating the dream of the ultimate communication medium. Rotterdam: nai010, 2007. Print.
Irrgang, Daniel and Clemens Jahn. Vol 1 – Forum zur Genealogie des MedienDenkens (Geneology of MediaThinking). Berlin: Verlag der Universität der Künste Berlin,2013.
Ernst, Wolfgang. Digital Memory and the Archive. Ed. Jussi Parikka. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 2012. Print.
Ernst, Wolfgag. “Arsenals of Memory”. MediaMatic Magazine 8.1, N.d., N.p. Web. <;.
Huhtamo, Erkki. “Ressurecting the Technological Past: An Introduction to the Archeology of Media Art”. Intercommunication 14 (1995). N.p. Web. <;.
Zielinski, Siegfried, Gloria Custance, Timothy Druckrey. Deep Time of the Media: Toward an Archaeology of Hearing and Seeing by Technical Means. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006. Print.
James Lyons, John Plunkett. Multimedia Histories: From Magic Lanterns to Internet. Exter: U of Exeter P., 2007. Print.
Erkki Huhtamo, Jussi Parikka. eds. Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications, and Implications. Berkeley: U of California P., 2011. Print.
Jussi Parikka. What is Media Archaeology?. Cambridge: Polity, 2012. Print.
Hertz, Garnet and Jussi Parikka. “Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method”. Leonardo 45.5 (2012). 424-430. Web. 12 November 2013. <;.
Reiser, Martin and Andrea Zapp eds. New Screen Media: Cinema/Art/Narrative. London: BFI, 2002. Print.
Grau, Oliver. MediaArtHistories. Cambridge: MIT P., 2010. Print.

Important Centres/ Organizations
Media Archeology Lab -
Institut für Medienarchäologie –
Medienarchäologischer Fundus –
Worm –
Media Archeologies Institute –
Hackerspaces Wiki –
Interaccess Electronic Media Arts Centre –
ZKM – Institute for Obsolete Technology
Dorkbot –
Eyebeam –

Works Cited
Parikka, Jussi. “What is Media Archaeology? – out now”. Machinology: Machines, noise, and some media archaeology by Jussi Parikka. Jussi Parikka. 8 May 2012. N.p. Web. 13 November 2013. <;.
Hertz, Garnet and Jussi Parikka. “Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method”. Leonardo 45.5 (2012). 424-430. Web. 12 November 2013. <;.


3 thoughts on “Media Archeology

    1. Oh awesome! Thanks for pointing that out. I will fix it right away. Sorry I didn’t have the original credit in there and thanks for reading!

  1. Hey Benjamin, I’ve updated the credit and added you to the list of practitioners. I can’t believe I didn’t come across you in my glitch research. I’m looking forward to going through you website a bit. Cheers, Melanie

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