How Electrons Remember by Laura U. Marks


In the article ‘How Electrons Remember’ (1999) about digital image technology, Laura U. Marks demonstrates, with reference to quantum physicist David Bohm, how the smallest particles that make up a digital image (electrons and photons) have memory. Marks draws the conclusion that we must recognize digital technology as a sort of non-organic life – a concept she lends from Manuel DeLanda, which signifies all inactive material as for example crystal, stone or metal, all materials that displays self-organizing behaviour.

If one would look at the last work mentioned in lesson 6, CellF by Guy Ben-Ary (2015), trough the lense of Laura U. Marks. The focus becomes not just the signals from the braincells, but the gaze is directed 180 degress of the communication path back to the multi-electrode array and and how that might affect the interpreted music?

Inspired by this article, I made an installation by the name, Genesis of A Pixel, A Tragedy in Three Acts (2015). The project investigates if we should recognize digital technology as a life-form and whether we are able to empathize with digital imagery. Playing on the greek tragedy, a drama that is defined by human suffering, invoking catharsis and pleasure in the audience, this work is set up in three acts, on each a pedistal.

1. act : Slavery of electrons
Materials: marble, logic board, battery, power cords, electrons
First act investigates the electron. In digital electronics millions of electrons are directed through network systems, and are constantly forced in certain directions via ‘semi-conductors’.

2. act: Photons explode on the computer screen and die a luminous death
Materials: extension cord, screen medium, microscope, clamps, photons
Second act looks closer at photons. When a photon is directed at a computer screen it explodes and die a luminous death on our retina.

3. act: The pixel is dancing ‘bee waggle dance’ in a hologram
Materials: wood, acrylic, iPhone, vinyl, gif
Third act looks at nonhuman forms of language: when bees have discovered food, they return to the beehive and with a particular dance, they commu- nicate the instructions to other bees of how to localize this food. In the last act of the tragedy, we see a small, dancing pixel imitate the dance of the bee floating above the screen in a hologram.

More images here

All in all this article has affected my artistic practise to the degree where I am now applying for a ph.d n order to devote the next three years to investigating animist readings of digital technology like Genesis of a pixel. Perhaps the next investigation at hand is how we should understand and relate to the digital if it is to be considered a life form. Such as, can we no longer consider digital technology an objective medium, but perhaps an interpretative medium instead?

Laura U. Marks, Touch – Sensuous Theory adn Multisensory Media (2002) University of Minnesota Press



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3 Comments on "How Electrons Remember by Laura U. Marks"

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Kim Haagen Mathiesen

The notion on whether or not we are able to empathize with digital imagery, is intriguing. What was the result of the project then, was viewers able to empathize, were you?

Leon Human
Hi Honey. Thanks for these fascinating reflections, and good luck with your project. I especially like your framing of the “Genesis of a Pixel’ within the Greek tragedy context, so hallowed and human. I’ve also been interested in a resurgence in philosophical animism, even in more orderliy neo-Kantians like Christine Korsgaard at Harvard who, in her “Fellow Creatures: Kantian Ethics and Our Duties to Animals”, thinks that the interests that humans have as animal beings might lead to views such as you look at. What is to prevent the same attitude to machines, she asks, the ‘outer reaches of normative… Read more »