I strive for the mundane

In his discussion of location in relation to wirelessness, Adrian Mackenzie points out the importance of the less than interesting:

“The act of ‘locating’ or the status of being ‘locative’ can become a topic of practice. These practices include building wireless networks in particular places, finding out what wireless nodes are present in a particular place, constructing databases of wireless networks, registering Wi-Fi nodes on Web-based wireless network or ‘node’ databases, annotating access points on maps, and modifying wireless hardware […]. These practices are not necessarily artistically or creatively very interesting. In some of the cases I discuss, these practices are very mundane or explicitly commercial. However I see these mundane practices involving materials, things, and images as potentially interesting material precisely because they are deeply imbued with effort, struggle and obstruction that link logics of commercial exchange and technosocial praxis” (Mackenzie 2010: 128).

Mackenzie goes on to discuss locative Wi-Fi initiatives (art projects and commercial databases) as a way of digging further into his central problematic of what is the wireless experience. The ‘practices’ he looks at need to be ‘mundane’ in order to work and in order for Mackenzie to make use of them. They need to be mundane in order to function as a black box, a transparent object so everyday that its enfoldings are unvisible. The commercial databases need to be so seamlessly everyday that their existence through mobile Apps or as APIs to social networks becomes transparent to the user and so the locative advertising (networked advertising as Mackenzie calls it (p 132)) can function. If the practice-database was ‘interesting’, was in the foreground, it would become the object of consumer attention rather than the field on which the adverts and data mining can happen.Similarly for activist or art projects, the WiFi map or image must be made to withdraw from views so that the meta-critique or practice/intervention can come forward.

These practices are interesting to Mackenzie precisely because they are mundane. Their everydayness allows him to work towards an account of ‘wirelessness’ as opposed to just the wireless network. His interest is in accounting for the experience of ‘acting wirelessly’. It is the “disjunctive (what is not connected) and conjunctive (what is somehow connected) relations, and [how wirelessness] develops intermediate pathways or rapport between them” (p 141) that is his focus. The more mundane the practice appears, the more those pathways are apparent. Paradoxically, the more transparent, the more visible.

If the Wi-Fi database practices had been more “interesting”, more present and visible, the “acting wirelessly’ practices that they set in motion, the disjunctions and conjunctions would have been less accessible. It is the everyday mundanity of the material objects in Daniel Miller’s street{Miller 2008} that opens up the relations of materiality, subjectivity and power. The “patron saint of mediocrity” Salieri’s music is perhaps a more fruitful way into the 18th century assemblage of power, politics and patronage than that of his more interesting compatriot. It is in the mundane practices, the black boxes that the most powerful alliances and translations appear.

My “digital imag(in)ing apparatus” (practice) strives to be mundane. It is deliberately as close to the swarm of imagining devices  at work in the real world as possible. It uses off-the-shelf components: a consumer camera (a Canon S95); a consumer WiFi SD card (Eye-Fi X2 Pro); consumer Wi-Fi networks, software and hardware; public social networking services (Flickr, Phanfare, Twitpic); standard web hosting package (Solarhosting); standard web technology-based viewer (HTML, CSS, Javascript) and of course standard protocols. It is not that these components are all open source. Some are proprietary and some cost money. The point is that these components are available to anyone (sic) and indeed are used by many people who do not consider themselves using a “digital imag(in)ing apparatus”. Every day someone is constructing their apparatus as they “take a picture and share it”. It is the position of these and my apparatus as a ‘black box’, an everyday, mundane events that is important. It is this that gives the alliances with Google, Facebook, Apple and MI5 their power. It is this that sets in motions relations of surveillance, sousveillance, (Bakir 2010) and activism (Hands 2010).

If I had built an ‘interesting’ apparatus, perhaps one built around hacked code or circuit-bent hardware (Hertz and Parikka 2010), I could still have traced the workings of protocol, I could still have used RAW to counterpoint the visibility and withdrawal of jpeg and pushed jpeg until it failed to work, until its becoming as event stalled and became unvisible. The event of my practices would still have potentially opened the jpeg ‘black box’ and problematised the technosocial relations and alliances in play. What such an interesting apparatus would not have done though is brought the rest of the swarm into the practice. A central concern in my project is the way into which the jpeg protocol is enfolded in the swarm of everyday imaging practices, devices and apparatuses – mobile phone cameras and Google searches, Facebook ‘likes’ and Flickr contacts. Every imaging practice in the swarm – every iPhone imaging, every search, embedding and linking that happens is an instantiation of jpeg and an event that can open the black box. My apparatus, as just one among many, does that work. So do the other apparatuses – whether that is read as such or not. If my apparatus had been extra-ordinary or interesting it would have said that “jpeg is interesting. It is special. It is out of the ordinary”. Whereas: “jpeg is ordinary, everyday and mundane” and therein lies its power.

  • Bakir, V., 2010, Sousveillance, Media And Strategic Political Communication: Iraq, USA, UK, Continuum, New York.
  • Hands, J., 2010, A Is For Activism: Dissent, Resitance And Rebellion In A Digital Culture, Pluto, London.
  • Hertz, G. & Parikka, J., 2010, Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology Into An Art Method. Vilèm Flusser Theory Award 2010, .
  • Mackenzie, A., 2010, Wirelessness: Radical Empiricism In Network Cultures, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass..
  • Miller, D., 2008, The Comfort Of Things, Polity, Cambridge, UK; Malden, MA.