Transtechnology Research Seminar Series 2019/20

Analytical Practices: A Fictional Seminar Series
Fiction, Image, Apparatus. 

In the 2018-19 seminar series the Transtechnology Research group began to think about gravity, the ultimate symbol of predictable and Newtonian causality, and attempted to slip its bounds, leaving habitual thinking behind. This year we plan to turn our attention to questions raised by the concept of analysis in our research projects. Analysis is certainly a scientific approach, but also a process of adopting, and perhaps once in a while, inventing the categories and vocabularies with which we can produce actions and discourses that allow us to intervene and create meaning around the problems that concern us. The triad of fiction, image, apparatus offer three contexts for this process.

Series Dates – Scroll down for full session abstracts.

Research Update Session;
26th September 2019

16th October 2019
Jane Hutchinson, Enchantment in the photographic studio: apparatus, images and imagination.

13th November 2019
Sarah Turton, Creative Fabulation and Transcendence.

11th December 2019
Hannah Drayson and Michael Punt, Fictions of Fictions: Early Cinema and the Necessity of Experience.

8th January 2020
Guy Edmonds, Jacqui Knight, Michael Punt. Presentations on completing the thesis.

5th February 2020
Becalelis Brodskis, Matter and Memory and Mnemonic 2: My Place in Your Space.

4th March 2020
Lucinda Guy, Radio Fictions and Media Form: Workers Playtime.

25th March 2020
Stephanie Moran, Alien Intelligences: Octopuses, AI and Machine Learning.

22nd April 2020
Laura Wellsman, AI as Artist: Artificial Artificial Intelligence.
Linan Zhang, Society as Discourse: Stories of Medical Imaginaries. 

20th May 2020
James Sweeting, Anachronism and Fact in (Historical) Fiction.

TT Business Meeting
17th June 2020


Wednesday 16th October 2019
Jane Hutchinson. Enchantment in the photographic studio: apparatus, images and imagination.

Photographic portrait studios were the places where most people in the C19th had their first encounter with the apparatus and processes of photography. This seminar will consider how the enchanting experience of having one’s photographic portrait made is ‘transmitted’ to the viewers of the photograph. To do this, the seminar will ask participants to set aside habitual thinking about the boundaries between what is real, fictional and imagined in order to analyse the fabricated elements of the studio mise-en-scene: the painted backgrounds, paper-mache props and accessories that are visible in so many C19th portrait photographs. This will allow us to consider how these items contribute to the meaning of the experience for the sitters and the viewers of the photographs and to begin to address the problem of locating the quality of enchantment.

Wednesday 13th November 2019
Sarah Turton. Blue is Soul; soul technologies and transformation through fabulation; seeing the excess novelty of blue in psychology and spirituality.

This paper examines particular subjective and transcendental experiences of blue associated with practices of ‘creative fabulation’. Deleuze and Guattari have argued that fabulation and fissure are features of novel written and artistic works. However, this paper draws attention to examples of how fabulation and fissure also appear in nonfictional works reporting spiritual and psychological practices such as meditation and active imagination (Hillman on Jung), and Jungian automatic writing practices. As part of a project to understand the instrumental function of these practices this paper will outline and examine the theory of fabulation as discussed by Henri Bergson in John Mullarkey’s synthesis of his work. Bergson argues that we create fabulations in order to make sense of what we cannot comprehend, such as the end of the individual self, the result of which being the stories associated with religion. This paper will argue that for some scholars thinking about fabulation and spiritual practices, experiences of blue or disjuncture are signs that transformation has taken place, but for others it is the actual process and features of the act of fabulation that have the effects of soul transformation. It is within an excess of novelty that a disjuncture or discontinuity is created, one that results in an experience that can be understood as transformative for the individual.

Within this framework the paper will review a number of examples of forms of excess within spiritual practices; saturation, listomanias, excess of novelty, sky symbolism and the overwhelming of the senses. In particular the discussion will focus on fabulation and its layering of metaphor through story structure and personification. This will create a framework for understanding how the practice of fabulation creates fissure, how this relates to soul transformation, and the wider questions of whether blue, as fabulation or metaphor, can stand in for soul. As indicated by the philosopher Joshua Ramey (2014), in considering the works of Deleuze and Guattari and as this concerns an analysis of fabulation in ‘non’ fiction blue literature, their commitment to ‘how language works’ and ‘the effects it has’. The ongoing question for discussion raised by this analysis is; how does blue within transcendental experience stand in for soul?

Campbell, June, Campbell, June. 2018, Traveller in Space: Gender, Identity and Tibetan Buddhism, Bloomsbury Academic
Evans- Wentz, Walter. 1960, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Oxford, Oxford University Press
Hillman, James, A Blue Fire, Harper Perennial, 1991
Graham Oppy, N. N. Trakakis, Twentieth-Century Philosophy of Religion: The History of Western Philosophy of Religion, Volume 5, Mullarkey, John, ‘Chapter Three, Henri Bergson’, Roultedge, 2009
Ramey Joshua and Daniel Whistler, 2014, The Physics of Sense: Bruno, Schelling, Deleuze. In: Gilles Deleuze and Metaphysics. Lexington Books, Lexington, 87 – 109
Rinpoche, Sogyl. 1996, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, London, Rider; 2001
Whittock, Trevor, Metaphor and Film, Cambridge University Press, 1990

11th December 2019
Hannah Drayson and Michael Punt, Fictions of Fictions: Early Cinema and the Necessity of Experience.

Following on from the presentation by Michael last week and our collective reading of Edgar Morin (and indeed our reading of Martha Blassnigg’s work on Bergson) this seminar will consider the case of early cinema history as a fiction of a fiction that was revised by the primary experience of historians.  In 1978, at a now very famous conference of film archivists, the films that for 80 years had been discussed through secondary accounts in the literature were screened. It was a revelation that was, in no small way, shaped by radical revisions in the way that history was understood. The authoritarian voices of the historians were challenged by a new historicism that regarded history as a fiction that is provisional, partial and told form the present. Such a shift allowed many of the assumptions about the early film period to be stripped away to allow the material, the period, and the primary experiences of those who made, distributed, and viewed the products of early cinema to be understood in different ways. In the context of our work in Transtechnology Research the case study of early cinema historiography sets a keystone for the ways in which our research practice as artists and scholars is deployed to recover lost insight and revisit present assumptions by seeking other voices in the fictions that inform our discourses.

Dr Hannah Drayson and Prof. Michael Punt will lead this seminar with a more detailed  exposition of the fiction of the fiction of early cinema followed by a discussion of primary experience as a problem that might have its current foothold in psychology but has its origins in crucial questions that occupy artists, historians and critics as they build continuities between action and thought.

Edward Reed, (1996) The Necessity of Experience, Newhaven and London : Yale University Press.

Wednesday 5th February 2020
Becalelis Brodskis. Matter and Memory and Mnemonic: My Place in Your Space.

This presentation concerns the use of digital apparatus in participatory mapping to represent space, and users’ perceptions of the virtual. It engages with questions associated with GIS (Geographical information systems) technology, including those raised by the academic field of critical GIS that challenge how the technology is described as an objective, quantitative tool for mapping relationships to landscape. 

GIS technologies integrate multiple layers of data in to a visual interface. Within the database structures that store it, the data is usually categorised as quantitative or qualitative.  Marianna Pavlovskaya, a leading critic of GIS refutes it’s description as a quantative tool ‘While this narrative grants irrefutable scientific authority to GIS, it also silences its non-quantitative functionality’(Pavlovskaya, 2009, p.14)  .  For example it seeks to deny qualities implicated in the coding of the ‘quantative ‘ data (pg21) .She argues that these socialy constructed qualities are ‘exposed’ by research considering GIS as a qualitative tool. 

I used GIS applications to create a map, called My Space in Your Space (2018) . It documents my wandering path and relationships between my memories and matter in Lisbon. This paper responds to the analysis of 3 aspects of documentation. The representation of my wandering as a line tracing a path, and two items representing a relationship between matter and memory: a photograph of a letterbox, and an audio recording of my voice remembering. Matter and memory relate to Henri Bergson’s theories on perception (Bergson, 2011) which I drew upon to inform my analysis of the qualities inherent in the documentation. 

GIS provides a spatial representation of the interconnection of these documents facilitated by the technology of GPS (Global Positioning System) that locates a subject’s position in relation to space and time. The “objective and authoritative allure” (Shields, 2018, p.328) of GIS derives from the interface’s incorporation of GPS data. GPS was developed in the 1970’s by the USA defence department. It uses a system whose genealogy can be traced back to the philosopher Henri Descartes development of Euclidean geometry. It’s therefore not surprising that Critical GIS, a field of researchinfluenced by feminist theory and ethnography, draws parallels between GIS and the problematic Cartesian separation of mind and body.

Bergson, in the introduction to Matter and Memory (2011) acknowledges that his theories are ‘frankly dualistic’(p.vii) and could be seen to maintain the Cartesian divide between mind and body. However, as  Bergson suggests, I use his theories to ‘overcome’(p.vii) Cartesian divisions  drawing parallels with how critiques of GIS discuss if and how the GIS interface can incorporate both qualitative and quantitative relationships to landscape. 

This paper will demonstrate how the “objective” data of GPS are transformed by GIS, into a line. And how this framing infers certain qualitative qualities. Conversely my analysis questions whether the related documents, the photograph and audio recording, have any of the inherent qualities, of matter and memory that I intended them to represent? Perhaps all three examples of quantitative and qualitative data are simply mnemonic devices for a fiction, or fact, of my virtual place mapped to a quantitative notion of space.

Ahmed, S. (2006) Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others. Durham and London: Duke University Press. 
Bergson, H. (2011) Matter and Memory. Mansfield Centre USA: Martino Publishing. 
Pavlovskaya, M. (2009) ‘Non-Quantitative GIS’.[in Cope, M. and Elwood, S. (pages 13-38) Qualitative GIS: A Mixed Methods Approach. London: SAGE Publications Ltd. 13-38. Available at: 
Shields, R. (2018) ‘Bergson’s GIS: Experience, Time and Memory in Geographical Information Systems’. Media Theory,  (1), pp. 316-332.

Wednesday 4th March 2020,
Lucinda Guy. Radio Fictions and Media Form: Workers Playtime.

This presentation discusses current examples of the use of automation in radio broadcast. The discussion will describe and compare two opposing ideas of automation; the first is repetitive and mechanical, the second unpredictable and meandering. By treating these as a pair of useful fictions, this seminar will explore how they can be used to analyse existing radio formats, both in terms of the systems that drive them and the effects of those systems. As an example of the first fiction, I will discuss ‘Absolute Breakfast’ a commercial format that uses an innovative approach to music scheduling. In Absolute Breakfast we see the proposed automation of listeners (predominantly workers), and the automation of the presenter within the studio, both of which we could understand to be systems designed to structure behaviour and activity as part of the world of automated work. The second example is Knut Aufermann’s ‘Changing of the Guard’ an automated radio art intervention that uses a small number of simple rules to open up complex possibilities. Analysis of the two case studies proposes a diametric opposition between the number of rules in a system and the complexity of its outcomes and offer a way to explore the affordances of radio automation technologies and what defines them. 

25th March 2020
Stephanie Moran. Nonhuman Diegetic Worlds: the Visual Perception of Animals as Described in Richard H. Horne’s The Poor Artist, or Seven Eye-sights and One Object: Science in Fable (1850).

This paper analyses the construction of coherent and vibrant nonhuman diegetic worlds in the early “science-fiction” novel The Poor Artist, or Seven Eye-sights and One Object: “Science in Fable” (1850), by Richard H. Horne. In this, it examines the credibility of self-contained narrative worlds. It attempts to understand the novel’s context and the convergence of imaginary and material worlds of poetry, art and science it presents. The paper analyses ways in which disparate concepts and species ‘characters’ are presented to produce a credible diegetic reality. It does this through a close reading of this text, and some detective work around it that attempts to surface some of the assumptions underlying the discourse world of the novel – the world created on the basis of perceived common ground knowledge between the author and reader (Stockwell, 2012) – and to shed some further light on this through a contemporary nineteenth century text of poetic criticism that reviews it (A Little Earnest Book upon a Great Old Subject: With the Story of the Poet-Lover, by William Wilson, collected 1851). In doing so, this paper aims to develop a framework for a thesis about nonhuman diegetic worlds.

Wednesday 20th May 2020.
James Sweeting. The Illusion of Evolutionary Change in Videogame Form.

This seminar will posit that the presence of nostalgia in the videogame’s medium can also act as a conjuring act to mask the extent to which the form of videogames has altered during the past few decades. The seminarwill argue that nostalgia provides a fiction, which when uncovered, reveals that the videogame apparatus remains broadly similar today as it did in the past resulting in similar output. To do so, this seminar will be building upon Theodor Adorno’s distinction of Form and Content  via Fredric Jameson’s understanding of the terms – to help distinguish the elements of the videogame form and the extent to which the medium has transitioned from one of revolution to evolution. 

To demonstrate these elements and to provide anchor points for discussion, a case study approach will be utilised. Two videogames (and their predecessors) will be examined which highlight the extent to which Adorno’s distinction between form and content can be used to identify the extent to which console-based videogames have evolved during the past three decades, rather than displaying a revolutionary change. The aim is to identify that videogames have subsequently adopted a path of evolution instead of revolution to aid its continued relevance and to maintain “producer” control across the industry. 

This will not be arguing that an individual dominant form exists – as under the definition of form from Adorno would insinuate that there is a singular genre defining the medium – but rather a collective form that encapsulates the medium which still resembles many elements of the medium over the past few decades. The introduction of “nostalgia style” will be used here to provide a possible explanation as to why elements from the past of videogames have resurfaced and how this has differed to the notion of “independent style” found in non-mainstream videogames, as identified by Jesper Juul.

Nostalgia will be argued to be the adopted industry solution to alter the perception of the previously dominant depiction of the medium. One that revived itself as something toy-like whilst simultaneously mimicking attributes of other consumer home electronics such as the VCR before favouring a “high-technology” message during the 1990s. The seminar will not be arguing that videogames have failed to change at all during the past few decades, but that substantial change has become increasingly infrequent over the past decade within mainstream videogames, specifically the form.

Roberts, A. (2000) Fredric Jameson (Routledge Critical Thinkers). London: Routledge.

Wednesday 22nd April 2020.

In this month’s seminar presentations Linan Zhang and Laura Welsman will be approaching two dominant theories as fictions, and testing the contemporary currency of their theoretical models. 

Linan Zhang. The social value within medical knowledge of international face mask usage in COVID-19: a study via Michel Foucault.

This seminar explores the connection between the subject, discourse, knowledge, and power. The seminar utilizes parts of Foucault’s celebrated work and applies his arguments on the current disputable medical knowledge of wearing face masks as an effective means of containing COVID-19.

To Foucault, human beings are made subjects by discourse, knowledge, and power. In comparison to the brutal, physical, and destructive punishments in the pre-modern era, modern disciplinary power is a ‘gentler’ mean of total control that is apparent in institutions beyond prisons, such as schools and hospitals. This form of power operates on the body to create productive ‘docile bodies’. However, the docility involves the body possesses a certain degree of agency that varies depending on the power, and capable of self-forming according to possessed knowledge. For Foucault, power and knowledge are two inseparable concepts; they are joined by discourse, and the execution of disciplinary power is apparent in the form of knowledge because the power gives rise to a corpus of knowledge, and knowledge reinforces power. Therefore, knowledge is not the scientific truth itself, nor the representation of sole truth; instead, it is a way to interpret the truth within the social values framework under the influence of the modern power relation.

Since this modern form of power operates primarily on the body, it involves clinical practices in relation to disease. For Foucault, the body is a subject of manipulation to discourse, knowledge, and disciplinary power in the modern society; conversely, it is also a carrier of social values that are embedded inside the knowledge. The seminar examines how this helps us understand the ‘wearing face masks’ as a bodily response to medical knowledge, and argues that the differences between the knowledge that people hold about its effectiveness are caused by social values rather than scientific facts about face masks themselves, by distinguishing the scientific element and the social element of such knowledge.

Sublime onto-aesthetics: quantum qualities of art across media.
Laura Welsman.

New digital media and emergent technologies are changing the landscape of contemporary arts practice. Contemporary art galleries, festivals and investment grade markets demonstrate an appetite for novelty above all else, favouring spectacle over artifice. Why then are certain paintings, such as those by Turner and Rothko, considered timeless masterpieces, while the contemporary “artscape” entails a high turnover of both artists and their works?

This presentation will seek to both define and qualify what the ‘timeless’ characteristics of these established artworks might be. It therefore asks what this ‘timeless’ characteristic of these artworks might be, and how these qualities are materialised by artists whilst engaged in their processes. Numerous attempts have been made to describe this quality of art. Methodologies ranging from investigations into the sublime, divine proportion, and physiological responses to colour, have been implemented in an effort to understand what exactly it is that art “does”. The fundamental difficulty in defining art is its inherent engagement with ineffability. Defying attempts to demystify its power – the poetics of art’s function are only observable via their affects on other bodies; an esoteric condition hereby defined as, the quantum quality of art. 

The concept of the sublime has been utilised since the 1st century in order to analyse and ascribe a set of values to artworks. In this seminar I will explore the sublime’s potential as a theoretical model for discussing contemporary art and how, if at all, such a model might translate to an understanding of new media. Whose interests are served by determining which artworks possess sublime qualities? Why is it that certain classical artists consistently resurface in a study of contemporary art and appear to withstand a non-canonical discourse?