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Thursday, May 12 • 11:15am - 11:30am
New Materialism Meets Fabrication: A Methodology for Media History

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This talk outlines a methodology for combining media studies with rapid prototyping and computer numerical control (CNC) techniques premised on remaking technologies that no longer function, no longer exist, or may have only existed as illustrations, fictions, or one-offs. Called “prototyping the past,” the methodology understands technologies as entanglements of culture, materials, and design, and it explains how and why technologies matter by approaching them as both representations and agents of history. Informed by Anne Balsamo's notion of hermeneutic reverse engineering (2011), it refuses to take historical materials at face value. It situates media history in a particular thing and the contradictory interpretations that thing affords. It also relies upon trial-and-error negotiation across modes of 2-D and 3-D production, creating media that function simultaneously as evidence and arguments for interpreting the past. Yet most important, prototyping the past does more than re-contextualize media history in the present. It integrates that history into the social, cultural, and ethical trajectories of design. To demonstrate the methodology, we detail how the “Kits for Cultural History” project at the University of Victoria prototypes absences in the historical record and prompts audiences to examine the conditions of that record. We then dedicate our attention to one Kit in particular: the “Early Wearables Kit,” which remakes an 1867 electro-mobile jewelry piece from Paris. After briefly interpreting the Early Wearables Kit from three different perspectives, we offer eight ways to understand prototyping and media history together, with a new materialist emphasis on how prototyping the past stresses the contingent relations between matter and meaning (Barad 2007). Ultimately, we show how new materialism may inform otherwise uncritical approaches to rapid prototyping, including popular techniques common across so-called "maker cultures." (For example material, see the attached PDF, which includes photographs of early wearable prototypes, a visualization of the design cycle for the Kits, and historical illustrations of the wearables.)


Thursday May 12, 2016 11:15am - 11:30am
COOR 186 975 S Myrtle Ave Arizona State University Tempe, AZ 85281
  • Session Location COOR 186

Attendees (23)