Welcome to the fifth issue of the International Journal of Creative Media Research. This Special Issue, titled Digital Ecologies: Fiction Machines, has emerged from the symposium of the same name that took place at Bath Spa University in July 2019 and was organised by Charlie Tweed. The symposium featured keynotes from Professor Simon O’Sullivan (Goldsmiths) and Dr. Tony D. Sampson (UEL), alongside a diverse range of responses from artists and researchers using fictional methods within their work.
In the symposium, we considered how our vision of the earth and of each other is increasingly filtered through the operations of a complex assemblage of networked computational writing machines. These machines exist at the centre of our world and our daily experience. As a result, the planet itself is increasingly becoming computational and humans now exist within complex informational spaces that produce affects, simulate, analyse and respond to user and environmental data. Within these conditions, fiction and reality become increasingly blurred; machine and human voice, difficult to distinguish.
Fiction machines allow for the generation of complex webs of fabulation which exist in a plethora of contexts from corporate identities to labyrinthine brand stories, to political propaganda and the operations of the derivatives market.
Furthermore our understanding of the ecological is itself increasingly filtered through multiple layers of networked technologies, sensors, algorithms and data visualisations. Along these lines, Jennifer Gabrys discusses the notion of ‘planetary scale computerisation’ and how this leads to the generation of ‘new living conditions, subjectivities, and imaginaries’. (Gabrys, 2016)
Within this context, new fictional strategies within creative practice emerge as important weapons for critique, intervention, speculation and change. As Simon O’Sullivan notes: fiction can be used not as a matter of ‘make believe but rather in a Ranciere sense of forging the real to better approximate historical and contemporary experience’. (O’Sullivan, 2016: 6)
In the symposium we asked how fictional methods can be used to rethink and renegotiate our relationship with current and future technologies; how such methods can be used from activist and political perspectives; how they can address and critique post-truth conditions; how they can reveal forgotten histories and non-human perspectives; and how they can be used to speculate on, and design, new futures.
In this Special Issue, this exploration is continued and evolved by a range of responses that include some contributors to the original symposium and others who responded to the further call for papers. It is edited by Charlie Tweed (Bath Spa University), Tony D Sampson (UEL) and Andy Weir (Arts University Bournemouth); all of whom participated in the original symposium.
The issue showcases a diverse range of critical approaches that make use of particular fictional strategies in the conception and deployment of their practice based research.
These varying strategies include Maud Craigie’s discussion of her film Indications of Guilt, pt.1 (2020), which combines staged and documentary methods to explore how interrogation can function as a process for creating fiction, whilst ostensibly seeking to establish truth. Also Ada Hao’s use of a fictional Instagram persona to interrogate the affinity between identity and embodied spectatorship.
Meanwhile, John Cussans discusses his work Sketch 2 for a Time-Slip, an artistic research project exploring the discourse of decolonization in British Columbia from ethnographic, Indigenous and science fictional perspectives. Ami Clarke discusses a number of her recent artworks including her exhibition The Underlying (2019). Clarke traces some of the complexities, multi-temporalities and scales that coalesce around new and old power relations. These come from, and are revealed by, the technologies associated with the interdependent ecologies of social media, finance, and the environment.
Anna Engelhardt explores fiction from the perspective of deepfake technologies, considering their limitations, and how she makes use of them within her practice-based research. Meanwhile Harry Meadows discusses his video work Twisting Metal with Earth. Meadows considers how weather stations can be useful beyond their function, acting instead as an aesthetic interface with the hyperobjects of big data and global climate. Richard Carter unravels his use of drones as tools for generating poetry, and discusses the use of sensory technologies for creative, and notional ends, rather than a source of purely specular representations.
Focusing in on alternative forms of machine, Jeffrey Kruth and Allison Schifani propose the construction of a fiction machine to work against multinational data centre provider Equinix’s neoliberal logics of disavowal and displacement. Whilst Mikey Georgeson considers his use of the fiction machine as a method for speculating about an aesthetic ontology, where making and making-up are the central mode of becoming.
Finally, to close this Special Issue Garfield Benjamin turns his attention to design fiction, approaching issues of technological futures, environmental collapse and human agency, to develop a combined speculative media method, fusing design, fiction and ethics.