Material Ecologies of Media and Their Histories

All are invited to the following event:

Material Ecologies of Media and Their Histories 

22-23 June 2023, Senate House, London, Room 104 

Organised by Olga Goriunova, David Young, JP Kelly, Nick Hall and Hugh Hammond 

Supported by the Department of Media Arts; Centre for the History of Television Culture and Production; School of Performing and Digital Arts, Royal Holloway University of London 

 All welcome, no registration required 

This two-day event focuses on the material constitution of media, from television and film to networks and computation. The ecological impact of (digital) media is immense. It is estimated that by 2030, computation-related activities will account to up to 25% of global carbon emissions. Media devices are built with metals and minerals that sustain violent conflicts; rewards for labour that produces and maintains networked computation are distributed unequally impoverishing the Global South; and the infrastructures of global media prioritise energy-intensive activity. This event critically examines contemporary cultures of media production and carefully explores some of the alternative models, including radical practices of maintenance and renewal, archival strategies and historical assemblages in their relation to memory, care and heritage. 


22 June 

10.00-13.00 with a refreshments break 

Panel 1. Permacomputing and the Technopolitics of Sustainability  

The destructive effects of the tech industry are well documented, ranging from the increasingly aggressive extraction of rare earth metals and the exploitative labour practices employed by hardware manufacturers, to the wasteful premature obsolescence of digital devices and the globalised infrastructures of electronic waste. This panel aims to respond to these critical concerns by examining how creative media degree programmes, which rely precisely on these highly resource intensive devices, can be taught both critically and sustainably. Specifically, the panel will explore the practical and philosophical implications of ‘permacomputing’—that is, an array of practices and strategies that seek to make better use of the computing hardware we already have rather than accept the cycles of consumption encouraged by big tech corporations. In doing so, the panel will discuss how permacomputing can combine urgent theoretical and practical questions concerning the technopolitics of sustainability, and open up novel (and reframe existing) possibilities to renegotiate how we design, use, and maintain our computers. 

David Young (Royal Holloway, University of London) 

Marloes de Valk (London Southbank) 

Aymeric Mansoux (University of Rotterdam) 

Tim Cowlishaw (BAU, College of Art and Design Barcelona) 

13.00-14.00 Lunch break 

14.00-17.00 with a refreshments break 

Workshop, led by Nick Hall 

Britain’s network of television masts and transmitters has a long heritage, and their ongoing maintenance is a continuous concern for the hundreds of engineers employed to work on them. However, masts and transmitters have been largely absent from histories of television. TV shows and their stars have been studied in depth and detail, and there have been substantial enquiries into production centres and the industrial organisation of the industry. The distribution of television as a commodity (on home video formats like VHS and DVD, and on-demand platforms like Netflix) has similarly been studied. However, transmission – the crucial intermediate step between television production and reception – has been overlooked, because all of the work and all of the technology is located far from the domestic space. 

The Alexandra Park and Palace Charitable Trust recently acquired a five-metre-tall section of a prototype television transmitter mast built by EMI in the 1930s. Rescued from storage in a car park on the site of the old EMI factory at Hayes, the mast section is now on public display in the East Hall of Alexandra Palace. The display brings to ground level a piece of television infrastructure usually inaccessible to the public. The focus for the panel is to explore how this history can be brought to life in imaginative ways using new tools such as augmented reality and virtual reality, integrating archive television in order to engage new audiences in the material history of television, and to raise questions about the future of traditional television broadcasting in a digital future. 

Nick Hall (Royal Holloway, University of London) 

Kirsten Forrest (Alexandra Palace) 

John Wyver (Westminster) 

Jamie Medhurst (Aberystwyth University) 

23 June 

10.00-11.20 with a refreshments break  

Panel: Im/material histories of the television interface 

This roundtable will feature a discussion on the preservation of television interfaces, with a specific focus on public service video-on-demand platforms. The discussion will focus on the challenges involved in preserving these interfaces and the broader cultural significance of doing so. 

As video-on-demand interfaces become increasingly prevalent, there is a growing need to preserve them for future generations. Public service interfaces in particular, which provide access to a wide range of culturally significant content, require careful consideration and preservation. This roundtable will explore questions such as: What are the key challenges facing the preservation of video-on-demand interfaces? What are the implications of failing to preserve these interfaces for future generations? How can we ensure that these interfaces are preserved in a way that is accessible and meaningful to future audiences? 

JP Kelly (Royal Holloway, University of London) 

Jannick Kirk Sørensen (Aalborg University, Denmark) 

Julie Münter Lassen (Aarhus University, Denmark) 

11.20-12.30 Practical Workshop, led by JP Kelly 

Doing VOD/Interface Analysis 

12.30-14.00 Lunch and Closing remarks 

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