Creating a Media Device

What is it?

The research format Creating a Media Device focuses on developing a technological operation or media object as well as testing (see also Testing in Performance) it through practice and performance. The format is rooted in media theory and combines technological and performative experimentation. Modern and postmodern media theory teaches that instead of being tools for transporting content or supporting communication, media not only shape but create content and in fact whole modes of communication (McLuhan 1964). By appearing to merely transport the content provided, media disguise this process of creation. However, the fact that media technology forms and changes practices can also be seen as a chance for artistic experimentation (for example in the works that LIGNA has produced since 1997, such as Secret Radio, 2014) This art-based experimentation combines historical research, technological development and performative practice. The media device or tool itself transmits, translates or amplifies information as it moves from one field, context or public to another, and thereby takes an active part in the emergence of information, field and public. It is understood as the material basis for physical operations of communication, perception and cognition (Krämer/Bredekamp 2003: 18). Other than a method or procedure, the media device or tool is an entity in itself and as such part of technical history. The research set-up implies that newly developed devices create new forms of representation, interaction and experience and, therefore, insights, also regarding the intrinsic relation between knowledge, media and practice (Gethmann/Hauser 2009: 10). At the same time, the research enquires into the social field that is targeted. As the device needs to be applied to a specific situation for testing, the interrelation between device, practice and field becomes productive. Thus, a media device or tool can be connected to research questions such as: What could a political speech be like that is involved in the political process, emerging from it, instead of initiating it, directing or controlling it? (Kretzschmar, AMPLIFICATION! A Collective Invocation, 2013). Or, in an art context: How can a collection be presented and experienced as a performance? (Lorey, Museum of Moments, 2014 [Lorey 2017])

What is researched?

All known media tools can be at the centre of this format – such as, for example, PA systems or video channels (City_Neighbourhood_Videos_II [Grießbach 2017]), or digital gaming environments, but also older media such as paper. In order to develop these Media Devices further, historical research is required as well as an analysis of the field targeted with the tool. Actors in the field should be invited to participate in developing the analysis. Sylvi Kretzschmar, for example, researched the media history of public address systems as well as the anti-gentrification movement in St. Pauli in 2013, connecting with different members of that movement. She then developed a ‘Megaphone Choir’ (AMPLIFICATION! A Collective Invocation, 2013), a new technology and practice of social amplification focusing on the performativity of the megaphone. The FUNDUS THEATER/Theatre of Research analysed the history of apparatuses measuring well-being and founded the Society for the Invention of Measuring Procedures (2012). The research team from the theatre worked together with children from local schools in order to co-create measuring tools and procedures which could potentially counteract the given performances of measuring in the context of schools and education as well as their respective power relations.

In trying to develop the device in question, this research format generates knowledge about the tool and its use, but also about the field. Testing the device combines both of these aspects and puts them in a performative feedback loop, in which the device and the field of application both change. Furthermore, creating a new device offers an alternative basis to reflect on other types of media and their performativity.

The main researchers in this format are those who take part in all aspects of knowledge production: field research, historical research, technological research. Co-researchers are often technicians and actors from within the social field, who take an active part in developing and testing the new tools and practices, as well as creating content (as in Society for the Invention of Measuring Procedures). A crucial group of participants are actors such as, for example, tenants (as in AMPLIFICATION! A Collective Invocation) or senior citizens (as in Museum of Moments), whose voices, actions and stories are being transmitted, amplified, measured and collected. Another group of participants are the audiences and publics that experience the tool as performance, like the visitors of Stefanie Lorey’s collection, or fellow protestors at a political demonstration witnessing the Megaphone Choir.

Artistic means

Each media device has a history that might be related to former artistic uses, and is often actually based on historical art-based research, as for example Kretzschmar shows in her analysis of Athanasius Kircher’s research on amplification (Kretzschmar forthcoming). To start the research process, researchers need to compile a general historical corpus of given designs or inventions and an account of related technological operations and performative practices.

It is crucial to link the research to technical and technological expertise in order to actually work on the tool as an apparatus. Lorey, for example, collaborated with engineers from the technical departments of the HafenCity University in order to incorporate their knowledge of indoor navigation systems into her interactive video display.

It can also be argued that the transdisciplinary loop between the technological development, the use of the tool in performative practice and the feedback from actors has to be organised and facilitated using artistic expertise. Hence, the research set-up requires artistic experience in using media devices innovatively within the context of artworks and artistic experience in facilitating participatory performance events. Artists/researchers lead a process in which the device is tuned, restructured, and designed according to aesthetical and practical challenges. This can happen through a series (see also Laboratory Series) of prototypes or through many different uses that each shape the device just a little. Does the device support performative practice as it was intended? Does it produce something else? How does the perception of the media content differ between audiences on the one hand and participants on the other hand? Using the device for various audiences or participants or social fields can strengthen the knowledge and robustness of the device and its impact.

Potentials, problems and outcomes

Once the device is developed and tested in performance (see Testing in Performance), it can become a tool to be transported into a variety of other fields for further observation and evaluation. Often, the performative practice that has been developed in relation to the tool will travel from one context to another. As the device might be linked to an individual artistic position, further uses or alternative devices developed by other artists can be compared, contextualising the research within art history and performance studies. Lorey, for example, developed a research design to investigate performative collections (see also Performative Collections). A collection of memories contributed by senior citizens and presented with a new interactive technology for video installations is her own example of the genre in question that is then confronted with other examples by different artists (Lorey 2017). This positions the format also within “research for art” (Borgdorf 2007), as the device can be seen as a new tool for further artistic production not only by the researcher, but by other artists as well.

In this format the question how the research process and its outcomes should be documented is often partially answered through the tools and practices themselves, which necessarily include certain procedures of recording, formatting and archiving.

The creation and performative testing of media devices is not a new invention, but a found practice: It seems that this specific kind of participatory art-based research has existed throughout the history of media toolmaking and design in various ways, often bringing together artists, technicians, designers and publics in innovative constellations (Peters 2011: 79, and 83).

Sebastian Matthias, Kathrin Wildner, Sibylle Peters


response by Sylvi Kretzschmar

response by Dorothea Grießbach


Borgdorff, Henk (2007): “The debate on research in the arts”, in: Dutch Journal of Music Theory 12/1, pp. 1–17.

Gethmann, Daniel /Hauser, Susanne (2009): “Einleitung”, in: Gethmann, Daniel /Hauser, Susanne (eds): Kulturtechnik Entwerfen. Praktiken, Konzepte und Medien in Architektur und Design Science. Bielefeld: transcript, pp. 9–16.

Grießbach, Dorothea (2017): “Mein Channel – meine Chance? Jugendliche You-Tube Akteure und ihre Videopraktiken aus einem lokalen Hamburger Kontext”, in: Holfelder, Ute/Schönberger, Klaus (Hg.): Bewegtbilder und Alltagskultur(en.) Klagenfurter Beiträge zur Visuellen Kultur. Band 6. Köln: Herbert von Halem Verlag, pp. 250–262.

Krämer, Sybille/ Bredekamp, Horst (2003) “Kultur, Technik, Kulturtechnik: Wider die Diskursivierung der Kultur”, in: Krämer, Sybille/Bredekamp, Horst (eds): Bild, Schrift, Zahl. München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, pp. 11–23.

Kretzschmar, Sylvi (Forthcoming): Unpublished PhD thesis.

Lorey, Stefanie (2014): “Performative Sammlungen. Sammeln und Ordnen als künstlerische  Verfahrensweise – eine Begriffsbestimmung”, in: Burri, Regula V./Evert, Kerstin/Peters, Sibylle/Pilkington, Esther/Ziemer, Gesa (eds): Versammlung und Teilhabe: Urbane Öffentlichkeiten und performative Künste. Bielefeld: transcript, pp. 97–112.

Lorey, Stefanie (2017) Performative Sammlungen. Eine Begriffsbestimmung. PhD thesis. HafenCity University.

Marshall McLuhan (1964): Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: McGraw-Hill Education.

Peters, Sibylle (2011): Der Vortrag als Performance. Bielefeld: transcript.

Works / Projects

Grießbach, Dorothea, City_Neigborhood_Videos, 2013, Hamburg.

LIGNA, Secret Radio, 2014, Sofia (Bulgaria). or for full body of work,

Lorey, Stefanie, Museum of Moments, 2014, Hamburg.

Kretzschmar, Sylvi, AMPLIFICATION! A Collective Invocation, 2013, Hamburg.

Theatre of Research, Society for the Invention of Measuring Procedures, 2012, Hamburg.