Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Memory machines: Notes from Wolfgang Ernst's Digital Memory and the Archive

Man With A Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929)
Is technology the essence of historicism? In Digital Memory and the Archive (2013) Wolfgang Ernst describes “memory machines” as the heart of a rupture between the parallel lines of history and memory, between quasi-objective history and subjective memory discourse.  Memory machines are the apparatuses used for collecting, recording and storing memory.  How do technological inventions change the way humans remember and imagine the past? How is technology used to give authority to certain memories?   

The authority of the historical archive depends on the illusion of unmediated representation, the perception of a “cold gaze” of machines and the technologies of "neutral" recording devices.  An upsurge in these innovations came about in the 19th century.  For example, as the camera eye records light mechanically, subjective vision is displaced and history becomes a function of optical technologies.  The ability to record through technologies such as the phonograph, the printing press, the telegraph and the radio was defined by Martin Heidegger as the essence of historicism itself (46).  Wolfgang Ernst strives to show that the archive is a technologically mediated historical spectacle driven by transformations in the human ability to record and imagine the past.

Imagining other cities through panoramic vision: 
1813 Schinkel Blick auf den Mont Blanc anagoria. 
The panoramic representations of cities from a distance (exemplified in the architecture and urbanism of Schinkel and Mies van der Rohe and other contemporary designers like Enric Miralles and Tagliabau)

Panorama, Diorama, Photography: The inventor and proprietor of the diorama (1822) was Louis Jacque Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851), formerly a decorator, manufacturer of mirrors, painter of panoramas, and designer and painter of theatrical stage illusions. Daguerre would later co-invent the daguerreotype, the first widely used method of photography. 

...Long-time exposure (with its recent aesthetic reentry into media art)44 was the archaeological primal scene of the new medium, as evident from Daguerre’s early photographic records seen in the Boulevard du Temple in Paris (1838). Although highly defined by the precision of visually rendered details, these photographs look uncanny because they lack the presence of human figures. In his report to the New York Observer, (failed) painter and inventor of coded electronic telegraphy Samuel B. Morse, who happened to be staying in Paris at the time, noted that moving objects and beings were not fixed by photography. The boulevard, usually filled with a lively crowd of pedestrians and vehicles, looks completely empty, with the notable exception of a stilled individual who is having his boots cleaned.45

What can be recorded?: Anton Giulio Bragaglia Fotodinamismo Futurista.  Through longer exposures, the photographic  image allows for the recording of human movement.  The camera renders insights that would have otherwise been inaccessible to humans.

Documentary film: The perceived "cold gaze" of "Man with a Camera" (1929) illustrates a change in the perception of film as "document".  The documentary film offers an quasi unmediated record of human activity, images and movement.  Dziga Vertov — born David Abelevich Kaufman — was an early pioneer in documentary film-making during the late 1920s. He belonged to a movement of filmmakers known as the kinoks, kino-oki (kino-eyes). Vertov, along with other kino artists declared it their mission to abolish all non-documentary styles of film-making.

Additional notes:
**See Stephan Bann's work: "Stephen Bann's work has been influential in focusing scholarly attention toward connections between the history of art and visual culture. The Clothing of Clio (1984), The Inventions of History (1990) and Romanticism and the Rise of History (1995) are concerned in particular with the deepening consciousness of history particular to the 19th century. The examples that Bann takes are explained by him not from a reductive art historical perspective, but through acknowledgement of such examples' location in a broader, metahistorical network. Visual sources, sometimes even unlikely or fragmentary ones, are valued by the author as still points of reference: "a visual example provides a support for the exegesis that the reader (spectator) can follow in a directly participatory way. Its very self-contained nature (as opposed to an extract from a text) enables it to generate cross-references as well as to provide a field for practical analysis" (Romanticism and the Rise of History)."
See Mirzoeff's Visual Culture Reader: https://analepsis.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/104915217-mirzoeff-nicholas-ed-the-visual-culture-reader.pdf
and Ernst's Digital Memory and the Archive http://melhogan.com/website/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Ernst-Wolfgang-Digital-Memory-and-the-Archive.pdf

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