BioSignals: Samir Bhowmik: The Battery is the Message

New media technologies are dependent on energy and material resources. Especially for mobile and handheld devices, batteries today constitute the primary backbone of portable energy storage and supply. Despite over decades of research, they remain assemblages of messy chemicals, hazardous, black-boxed and subject to thermal runaways. This talk excavates the battery as a key component of media technologies, that not by itself can be considered media for dataflows, but without which media cannot operate nor exist. How is the battery’s obsolescence tied to modern media and its throwaway origins? Why and how hardware design came to conceal it and how software today merely provides a surface tweak? From mining to manufacturing to toxic landfills, what are the materialities of the battery’s contemporary life-cycle in the so-called circular economy? By a thorough excavation, Samir Bhowmik contends that a historical and technological understanding of portable energy storage is critical to shaping an environmentally-ethical future of new media. 

Bhowmik will also present the Community Power Bank (CPB) workshops at Pixelache Helsinki in 2015–16.The project recycled Lithium 18650 batteries with community participation and re- purposed them to build power banks for handheld media devices. The workshops were conducted at the Museum of Photography and at the OSCE (Open Source Circular Economy) Days in Helsinki, Finland.

The lecture will be streamed live via Korppiradio together with radio programme related to the talk's theme.

Keywords: communication, battery, energy, lithium, obsolescence, portable computing, e-waste, environment, mining 

Artist Bio: Samir Bhowmik (b. 1975) is an artist, architect and researcher. He is currently engaged in art installations in Helsinki and Berlin along with post-doctoral research at the Institute for Musicology and Media Studies, Humboldt University-Berlin. Samir graduated as a Doctor of Arts in New Media from the Media Lab of Aalto University, Finland. His artistic and research practice focuses on media infrastructures, ecological media and digital memory. He is supported by the Finnish Cultural Foundation since 2017.

The lecture kickstarts the BioSignals project, a series of site-specific sound art, narrations and nature-based data streams by human and non-human cultural producers during Summer-Autumn 2018, culminating with a contribution to the next Pixelache Helsinki Festival in Spring 2019. The artistic content of the project will focus on creative and actual interpretations of biosemiotics, energy as media and communication. Biosemiotics is an increasingly influential paradigm of thinking which brings together biology and communication, signs and signals of life in its myriad forms. In particular it offers conceptual tools to consider communications and environmental meaning-making from a non-human perspective, including plant and lichens, animal, bacterial, elemental interactors, via tactile, aural and signal-based biochemical means. The BioSignals project is part of Pixelache Helsinki's Parasite Radio process, in collaboration with Korppiradio, and financially supported by Nordisk Kulturkontakt Art and Culture programme.