Upgrade Available by Julia Christensen

Published in 2020
Edited by Karen Kelly and Barbara Schroeder. Text by Julia Christensen. Conversations with Ravi Agarwal, Cory Arcangel, Lori Emerson, Jessica Gambling, Rick Prelinger, Bobbye Tigerman, and Laura Welcher
Design by Filiep Tacq
168 pages, 56 color images, softcover with flaps, 7 ¾ x 9 ½ inches
ISBN-13: 978-1-7336889-2-5


This volume documents an ongoing investigation by artist Julia Christensen into how our relentless “upgrade culture”—the perceived notion that we need to constantly upgrade our electronics to remain relevant—fundamentally impacts our experience of time. In a personal narrative interspersed with related interdisciplinary artwork and conversations with experts from different fields (other artists, archivists, and academics), Christensen takes readers along a path from the international e-waste industry to institutional archives, eventually leading her to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). At JPL, Christensen began a dialogue with a group of exo-planetary scientists, engineers, and machine learning experts to develop long-lived space mission concepts that include an update of the Voyager spacecrafts’ 1977 “Golden Record,” to be embedded on a hypothetical future interstellar spacecraft. In taking on this challenge, Christensen—a female pioneer redefining the intersection of art, technology, and outer space—must envision an artwork for an evolving, autonomously upgrading spaceship headed toward a potentially habitable planet in another star system. Her years-long investigation into upgrade culture leads to design concepts that potentially transcend technological obsolescence altogether.

Praise and Press

Artist Julia Christensen’s concept of “upgrade culture” — the belief that new digital technologies need constantly to replace old ones — offers a big-picture perspective on questions of replaceability in both art and life. Her excellent artist book from Dancing Foxes Press, Upgrade Available, as well as an eponymous online exhibition at ArtCenter College of Design, explore the material consequences of upgrade culture’s consumerist logic. Christensen’s project is the synthesis of nearly a decade of applied artistic research, encompassing visits to e-waste processing plants in India, a residency in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Art+Technology Lab, an ongoing collaboration with scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), and a self-inventory of her private archive of family images and videos.

How audiences absorb the results of such a heterogeneous project depends in no small part on its method and medium of presentation. . . . The book . . . showcases the project in its full depth and breadth. It includes images, thematically organized essays by, and conversations with Christensen (her conversation about e-waste with Indian artist Ravi Agarwal is particularly eye-opening). It would be hard to overstate how consistently Dancing Foxes Press develops this type of ambitious art project into an appealing, context-rich book; its catalogue, now almost a decade old, sets a high standard for what an artist book can be and do.

It’s fitting that Upgrade Available works well as a book, considering its misgivings about technological obsolescence. It works so well in part because Christensen is an insightful writer—with a penchant for neologistic concepts such as “upgrade culture,” “technology time,” and “institution time”—and in part because the dynamics of presence and absence, distance and proximity, are crucial to Upgrade Available’s as-yet-unbuilt capstone project, Tree of Life (2019–ongoing).

—Louis Bury, Hyperallergic

Upgrade Available is an extraordinary exploration of technology, time, and nature. Julia Christensen offers a terrifying and enlightening exposition of our relationship to material. She shows how we can transcend our culture of obsolescence and reach out to wrap other species in a matured sense of time. The book sparkles with insight and unexpected connections.

David George Haskell, professor of biology and author of The Songs of Trees and The Forest Unseen


Julia Christensen’s book and body of work exemplify why we should look to artists for novel perspectives and responses to complex social phenomena: for the discipline-transcending, research-based, delightfully nonlinear, and ultimately transformative interventions and solutions.

Jae Rhim Lee, TED Senior Fellow and Founder and CEO of Coeio, Inc.


Christensen’s writing and conversations illustrate the complex, fascinating, and often fraught relationship of technology to different time scales, where outdated artifacts both contain our personal memories and litter outer space. Her attitude toward time is as humane as it is useful, allowing us to imagine planning for something other than our own obsolescence.

Jenny Odell, artist, educator, and author of How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy


Julia Christensen’s work shows us how the strange refuse of past futures characterizes out landscapes, societies, and even our own imaginations.

Trevor Paglen, artist


A brilliant, beautiful, terrifying, timely, surprising, delightful book. It illuminates our e-world (living and dead), waking us to our place on this ever-burdened planet. If only all of us were as inquisitive and mindful as Julia Christensen regarding our daily relationship to technology. Christensen explores profound questions about space and time alongside our material visions for the future, our detritus left behind. Upgrade Available is deeply impressive.

Paige Williams, New Yorker staff writer and author of The Dinosaur Artist


We are in a moment of reckoning: now or never, we must face the mountains of trash we produce each year, the persistent myth of its recyclability, and what to do about it. In an account that is both personal and sweeping, Julia Christensen turns her artistic and academic focus upon the global traffic of “e-waste,” the outmoded electronic consumer goods that we are compelled to continually discard then upgrade to stay connected. Part travelogue and part media archaeology, Upgrade Available meditates on the ways in which the logic of the upgrade has reshaped our relationships to time and to the planet. Bringing together artists, technologists, curators, and activists in a series of conversations and essays, Christensen begins an urgent investigation of the future of preservation on a grand scale: in an era of disposability, how can might we save anything, including humanity and the earth itself?

— Kris Paulsen, associate professor, History of Art, The Ohio State University, and author of Here/There: Telepresence, Touch, and Art at the Interface

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