“We no longer have a linear time, in the sense of the past being followed by the present and then the future. It’s rather the other way around: the future happens before the present, time arrives from the future.”
Armen Avanessian

It is from the extemporal zone that technofossils speaks.
Decentering the category of human and rooted in critiquing material culture practices, technofossils is a multi-sited speculative ethnographic assemblage, that brings media objects together under the performative guise of an archival collection. Implicating questions of permanence and ephemerality across temporalities, it devises an experimental future-looking approach to visual anthropology that encourages a “palaeontology of the present” (Bubandt, 2017: 135).

Towards visual methodologies of Investigative Aesthetics (Fuller and Weizman, 2021) and inspired by theoretical frameworks of Parikka’s Geology of Media (2015) technofossils explores the complex layerings that constitute knowledge of media production under the technological conditions of the anthropocene. Following an “assemblage of practices” (Antczak and Beaudry, 2019) that aim to depart from theoretical constraints of human/thing co-dependence, towards an ethical aesthetic of co-production, I collaborate in correspondence with (Ingold, 2011) visuals generated by digital softwares, using these to guide my curating the collection through intuitive “grouping” and “associating” (Antczak and Beaudry, 2019).

The term Technofossil — derived from technosphere, describes “human-made artifacts that can become part of Earth’s far-future geology” (Zalasiewicz, 2018) that “intermesh human and natural histories” (Alaimo, 2016). Technofossils takes an expansive stance on the definition, acknowledging the interconnected “vibrant materialities” (Bennet, 2010) of posthuman ecologies (see Braidotti, 2018) and posits the digital media in the collection as future technofossils themselves.

Much of the source files are from my personal archives, reactivating a body of work developed during a residency in Hong Kong in 2018. Here, I stayed on Peng Chau, an island to the west - 1km² and accessible only by foot or bicycle. This small fishing island is haunted by ghosts of its industrial past and uncertain futures. On the south side of Peng Chau stand abandoned buildings of the Sing Lei Hap Gei Kiln factory, which generated lime by burning locally gathered oyster shells, clam shells and coral (Wikipedia) for use in construction and paper manufacturing. Waste from such activities settles into soil and sand — invertebrate phylum mollusca, ancestors of the alchemised bodies that fuel our world as oil. A cyclical motion of material transformation.

The South China Sea (from where we are speaking) is a crowded site of local and international crossings, monstrous freight liners dwarf inter-island ferries, who in turn wave aside fishermen in their wake. In the distance, city smog shrouds sky scrapers in an enduring gentle dusk. The concrete swathed shoreline of the island, (a ‘restorative’ strategy against land degradation executed in 2003) is vulnerable to rising sea levels, polystyrene tides, air pollutants and water contamination. It is here on Peng Chau that I found my first piece of plastiglomerate, a “fusion of natural and manufactured materials”, that “binds together sand, shells, pebbles, basalt, coral and wood, or seeps into the cavities of larger rocks to form a rock-plastic hybrid” (Nuwer, 2014). Smooth and soft in my hand was something symbolic of the “increasing impossibility of distinguishing human from nonhuman forces” (Bubandt, 2017) — a material articulation of the anthropocene.

Back on the rugged shores of Polurrian beach, Cornwall UK, I am scanning the shoreline for treasures. On the border between land and sea, I search the intertidal zone. My pockets already laden with stones and dried seaweed, I notice a small mass that stands out against the regular forewash debris of plant, plastic, stone, and wood. Holding this knotted matter in my hand, dissecting its ingredients - seaweeds, floss, twine, fluff, sand etc, I tap into its presence. Because “objects exist as static entities whereas things occur - they are dynamic and vibrant…if objects are nouns then things are verbs” (Antczak and Beaudry, 2019: 90), I relate to it as an unbound cluster — a vibrant materialism (Bennet, 2010), and as such I ask, what is this thing doing? What processes is it enacting, speaking from, and entering into? “Thinking across the division of the local, the global, and the planetary register when it comes to the ocean “(Hoogland, 2021: 5) although abstracted and uprooted by currents and flows, the entanglement performs a hyper-locality of its own, gathering up materialities, and folding the global into the local (Massey, 2001). Found in the liminality of the shoreline, this phenomena is “specific and local as well as general and ubiquitous.” (Kirby, 2008: 222) — in material defiance against the colonial stance of “seeing everything from nowhere” (Haraway, in Liboiron, 2021: 52). Indeed, the work takes an anthropological turn towards the blue humanities, which centre the waters on earth as the primary site of cultural history (Mentz, 2015). Here we can think with the hydrofeminisms of Astrida Neimanis who invites us to think of life in connection as and to bodies of water (2017).

Westermann (2022) claims that “Technofossils are aesthetically configured scaling devices: they allow people to slide up and down temporal scales and meditate on the long-term future via the still recognisable “archaeological” state of things”. Scaling also geographies, the entanglement in my hand exists against temporalities. Owing to its components it enacts a kind of permanency masked by fragility of form. Technofossils speaks to this by contributing to questions of materiality and the digital afterlife of things by translating and transforming objects through photographic processes such as video, lidar photogrammetry and rendering. It questions the nature of presence in digital media. Through making I discover its fragility. For example, the section — cleaning the model — manipulates the object in 3D space with ease, removing faces and vertices with the click of the mouse and press of a button.
Bourriaud’s articulation of the exform (2016) — emerging from the waste of human activity, may help us to situate the ontological and epistemological challenges presented by such new materialities. According to Bourriaud, the exform “constitutes an authentically organic link between the aesthetic and the political” that reveals “distinctions between the productive and unproductive, product and waste, and the included and excluded” (Baurriaud, 2016: 1). Technofossils contributes to questions of locating material recognisability, through visual cues and editing styles that emulate the illusory geographical and temporal collapse that globalisation engenders, and as such we can view the work as a set of open visual field notes along this line of enquiry.

Technofossils attempts to dissuade against the aestheticisation and fetishisation of the novelty of new materialities as novelty tends to conceptually isolate and objectify, positioning us as distant, and limiting meaning-making possibilities. I do this through long shots that meditate on the undulations of the media collection as it unfolds, and in combination with the mesmeric tones of Robert Turman’s 1981 piece ‘Flux', we are held in a position of contemplative lingering. Encouraging an object-oriented-ontology (see Harman, 2018) that respects the agential realism and inaccessibility of the object, we sit with the withdrawn and unknowable — between material and political registers, between knowing and experiencing (Parikka, 2015).

Reflecting on the discipline of anthropology and its productions — the field notes, the material culture, the academic output and the power engendered by institutionally recognised knowledge, we can observe how anthropology’s colonial roots persist. Although the discipline has matured in line with theoretical developments (eg. linguistic, reflexive, ontological and sensory turns) and made significant efforts to address historical complicity in imperial violence by committing to decolonisation, these stubborn legacies continue to colour present day practices. The site of the archive proves vital in revealing this.

Anthropology has long had preoccupations with the politics of representation, with many scholars writing against foundational habits of academic predecessors (see Clifford, Trinh T. Minh-Ha, Rouch, MacDougall, Ginsburg etc). However, one of anthropology’s major contributions, the ethnographic museum, persists. A small node in a wide cast asymmetrical power geometry, the museum and associated archives traditionally operated as technologies of oppression, reinforcing hierarchical social strata. The “scientific method” (Garstki, 2016: 734) of photographing artefacts is just one of its lasting examples. The ruler carves space in the drawer, the accession number captures, the glass case exploits.

At the turn of the 20th century, ethnographic museums played a crucial role in delivering Darwinian encoded object lessons (Geismar, 2018) to the public through glass fronted displays. The diorama, famously interrogated by Franz Boas, attempts to re-present artefacts in situ, often surrounded or used by mannequins in indigenous dress. Although Boas engaged critically with the coherent cell (Etienne, 2021) of the diorama, claiming authenticity and integrity, these displays nonetheless flatten and reduce dynamic lives of humans and nonhumans to “mere artefacts” (Gell, 1996: 15) which, through decontextualisation, are isolated from interconnected webs of relations. It is important to note here that dioramas are commonly used today to “stage human knowledge of the world” not only in ethnographic museums, but ubiquitously as the “presentation form par excellence” ( across the department of natural history.

Essentialised and preserved against the “terrors of time” (Palaasma, 2012) we can question what happens to the “haptic temporalities” (campt, 2017) held within these material bodies and how they are expressed despite temporal suspension in the “static repository of history” (Battaglia, Clarke and Siegenthaler, 2020) that is the archive. After all, the “body is an archive” (ibid).

Today, traces of colonial collecting practices and modes of representations haunt the digital archive (Odumosu, 2021). Technofossils aims to subvert museum practices by not only appropriating and deploying specific visual grammars of the archive (Campt, 2017) but also by questioning what makes something worth archiving. Tools of the museum gaze (Bennet, 2005) — the diorama, the photograph, and the ruler — turn to my own personal collection, and as such we can ask what makes a cultural artefact — or indeed artefact, cultural. Things that “dwell within the interface between human and nature” (Kirby, 2008) are centred and arranged, and it is here that I make a claim for the cruciality of archiving situated subjectivities - a claim embodied by the entanglement, in turn telling the story of the anthropocene locally, and ultimately asking “how does matter come to matter?” (Barad, 2003)
Technofossils aims to explore this. Speculating on the possible life journey of this entanglement through an imagined set of memories, I lend my archive to telling its story.

Challenging the traditional distinction that artefacts are made, organisms grow, Ingold asserts that making and growing are intertwined processes that shape each other, owing divergence or separation to a nature / culture dualism (Ingold, 2013). In this same way, technofossils grew out of the “intra-active” (Barad, 2007) web of relations across my personal collections, archives, memories, embodied experiences, and encounters with text, technology, the organic, the digital and the synthetic. A kind of narrative, a speculative cultural phantasy of digital methods and media assembled around the entanglement. The work makes a gestural motion towards currents and tidal fluctuations in its assemblage of parts — through camera movements, use of lens, video effects, and sound. Tapping into the entanglement's “quiet frequencies of possibility” (Campt, 2017) made space for me to work intuitively with associations in a playful and experimental way, a sort of “wayfaring” (Ingold, 2011) allowing the agency of the artefact to guide my practice. Traversing contour lines across plugin generated (Neat Video) image noise profiles to ocean cartographies, the surface of the water to the husk of a cuttlefish, visual patterns provide stepping stones which sketch lines between sections, generating a coherent and sense-able collection that in correspondence with the sound, moves between the artificial and the organic.

A clear example of this is the use of two ai images generated by Photoshop Beta. Like most ai generated content, they exist at the unsettled boundaries of the uncanny — familiar yet unknown. I imagine these images to be the outcome of an exploratory collusion between the ai engine and myself. I placed the source image, and by expanding its borders asked photoshop to generatively expand to fill the newly acquired canvas space.

In collaboration with the technologies available to me, technofossils takes a practice led approach, with experimentation and “thinking through making” (Ingold, 2013) as vital methodologies. I work with the naturally occurring nuances of a variety of digital strategies in a way that adapts an archaeological positioning to excavating media and practice, tools and software. As such, I question the uses and limitations that high/low technologies present through the production of emergent possibilities of meaning-making, worlding, and what this can offer to [visual] anthropological practice.

“The anthropocene, after all, invites us to imagine a world in which an alien geologist from the future detects in the strata of the ground evidence of the presence of humans long-after we have gone extinct.” (Bubandt, 2017: 135)

As we move between points of view of myself and my digital companions, across scales and temporalities, technofossils speaks to the Posthuman / Postnatural aesthetic of a speculative and precarious world. Contributing to a growing field of interdisciplinary enquiry (eg. Tsing) it moves towards a quantum anthropology concerned with entanglements and dis/appearances, foregrounding materiality and matter as “an active participant in the world’s becoming” (Barad, 2007).
For me, visual anthropology should not tell, nor explain, but prioritise the generation of further questioning. As such, I discover that the archive doesn’t necessitate a static repository of affect, but can be effervescent, vibrational, and open.

In the spirit of contributing to the digital commons, both the model of the diorama and the entanglement are available (untextured) to view and download for free on


Entanglement model:


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