The Desire of the Medium

This book is the elaboration of a dissertation on the affective capacities of media and their collaborative function with the artist. It originated from a series of ideas and propositions that aspired to counter some orthodox modes of thinking within the field of media theory and design philosophy. The quest was based on an extensive series of educational programmes which have been developed that partly dealt with the supposition that the role of and interplay between media can best be measured on the basis of their affective capacities (iso-affectiveness) rather than on their ontological setting. In our view, it is more important to focus on what media do rather than on what they are. To achieve this requires a thorough appreciation of the equality of each medium in the spectrum of media typologies, which is not always the easiest thing to accomplish.The ‘voice of the medium’ is key in this process, and therefore it is time to ask again: ‘What is the desire of the medium?’ This question, however, has no conclusive answer. Instead, the question itself becomes a rhetorical and recursive starting point for addressing an interplay in which both human and nonhuman actors contribute to the creation of something new that is different from the sum of its parts.

230 pages, photography in colour, 17 x 24 cm, paperback, English

Why is there a mouse on the cover ? 

In order to explore something as intangible as ‘the desire of the medium’, I needed to construct some type of device to register any trace of its existence or movements. As I previously argued, it would be very hard to undisputedly claim to know anything about the desire of the medium, given that we are neither able to communicate directly with the subject nor establish any terms of measurement. In order to detect any of these traces, we need to focus on tendencies rather than on individual cases (population thinking). What is needed is some type of radar or sonar capable of detecting traces of the desire of the medium without singling out any specific case. To embody this abstract notion, I’ll draw upon a lecture delivered by Nat Chard at the Plenitude & Emptiness international symposium, during which he showed a stereoscopic image in which a shift of camera-angle had caused an object to ‘disappear’ but its shadow to remain.[i] This residual form perfectly exemplifies the concept I describe below: the bodiless shadow. This abstract effect introduces the concept of the Grey Mouse: a mouse-grey element that appears light against a dark background and dark against a lighter background. This element acquires its visual properties in relation to its setting without losing any of its capacities. It may seem ironic to introduce a metaphor at such a strategic point, having just made an extensive plea against thinking in terms of representation. However, although the mouse may be a metaphor, its affects certainly are not.[ii] What it produces in this relationship can be detected as a shadow of its being, yet without it having a body to produce that shadow. Therefore my Grey Mouse can be seen as a placeholder for the desire of the medium, even if it is never replaced by an actual definition. For regardless of whether or not I find a proper and conclusive definition, the effects of the interplay between the mouse and its background are very real (exteriority of relations).

[i] Nat Chard, ‘Drawing Uncertainty’: lecture presented at Plenitude and Emptiness: Symposium on Architectural Research by Design, Edinburgh, 4-6 October 2013.

[ii] Moreover, the mouse has been interpreted as one of the three embodiments of Satan, alongside the goat and the dragon! My mouse however, has no representational value whatsoever.