A Media Archaeology of Ingenious Designs

Jussi Parikka (Finland), Ayhan Ayteş (Turkey)

Studio-X Istanbul


“What if… advanced media machines [were] born as part of Muslim culture? … What if the age of programmable machines and advanced technologies could be said to have started in the ‘Arab-Islamic Renaissance’ of 800-1200? … Automata mirror and deflect, distort and circulate as machines of imaginary and real extensions of the supposedly human. They also question how human practices can be automated in the uncanny lives of technological artefacts. Automata are machines that situate questions of the human and its others as part of a deep-time media archaeology of robots and automata, and alternative geographies of design culture. Ask what the human is, and you also implicitly ask: what is not human, what is just about human, and what is barely human.” –JP, AA


A Media Archaeology of Ingenious Designs looks at the automata and astrolabes developed within the Arabic-Islamic culture of 9th to 13th century as early precedents of today’s programmable machines. Automata, mechanical machines that perform a set of predetermined functions, raise questions about what the human is or isn’t. This exhibit is centered around two reconstructions of automata from Ismail Al-Jazarī’s Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Devices: the so-called Elephant Clock and a Water Serving Automaton.