Julia Christensen, “Tapes from Pearson’s Basement, 2014” from the series Hard Copy (2014), digital photograph, dimensions variable (image courtesy the artist)

How many times have you upgraded your phone, laptop, or iPad in the past five years? Chances are you’ve done so at least once. Such upgrades can make us feel trendy — and less frustrated by suddenly slow devices that keeps begging for more updates. But how do all these cycles of new technology impact our daily lives? This is the driving question in Julia Christensen’s forthcoming book, Upgrade Available, published by Dancing Foxes Press.

Upgrade Available by Julia Christensen, published by Dancing Foxes Press

Christensen, an artist and writer, has been studying the concept of “upgrade culture” for nearly a decade. Her approach has been multidisciplinary, as she’s worked with scientists, academics, artists, and activists to investigate the appalling proliferation of e-waste and consider the potential solutions to technological obsolescence.

She began her project by looking at the objects we accumulate in our homes, like VHS tapes, floppy disks, outdated batteries, and USB flash drives. But in 2017, when Christensen started her fellowship at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) Art + Technology Lab, she shifted her attention to “institutional operations,” including the obsolete technology “physically embedded in LACMA’s buildings.” The fellowship also led her to an unexpected collaboration with NASA scientists, who must consider how spaceships can remain relevant to Earth when traveling for dozens of years in space.

Julia Christensen, “Patch cables, Mustafabad Market (Delhi, India), 2015” from the series Technology Time (2011–ongoing), digital photograph, dimensions variable (image courtesy the artist)

If, like me, you are eager to learn more, you’ll have the opportunity to join a Zoom conversation with the artist this Wednesday, April 22 at 4pm (PST) / 7pm (EST) — fittingly, on Earth Day. Christensen will be joined by Rhizome curator and editor Aria Dean and LACMA archivist Jessica Gambling. The talk will feature plenty of visuals and participants will have the chance to ask questions at the end.

This spring, ArtCenter and LACMA’s Art + Technology Lab were supposed to host an exhibition of the various art projects that have emerged from Christensen’s research. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the exhibition has been postponed, though the artworks will be shared online later this month. I’m particularly curious about one series in which she used discarded iPhones to create animations of “retired” constellations: stars that are no longer studied because we can’t see them due to light pollution. Check the Upgrade Available website for updates about the exhibition.

When: Wednesday, April 22, 4pm–5pm (PST) / 7pm–8pm (EST)
Where: Zoom (RSVP here)

More info at Zoom 

Elisa Wouk Almino is a senior editor at Hyperallergic. She is based in Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.