Animating Infrastructures

Photo by Hobo Matt
Joseph DeLeon offers this report on the "Animating Infrastructures" panel at the 2017 Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference.
[Ed. note: this post is part of a series on urban-centered research presented at the 2017 meeting of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies..]

All papers on the “Animating Infrastructures” panel discussed the indeterminacy of infrastructural arrangements through the critical lens of animation. Panelists included:

Juan Llamas Rodriguez (University of California, Santa Barbara): “Two or Three Ways to Access a Narco-tunnel”
Meryem Kamil (University of Michigan): “Post-spatial, Post-colonial: Accessing Palestine in the Digital”
David Colangelo (Portland State University): “Conversations with Buildings: The Animated Infrastructure of Buildings, Bridges, and Underpasses”
Tung-Hui Hu (University of Michigan): “Freezing and Idling; or, How to Deactivate the Internet”

Animation for the panel covered computer-generated renderings of spaces, either imagined in a revolutionary utopian longing (in the case of Kamil’s paper on renderings of historical sites in Palestine), or visualized to show spaces impossible to access with cameras (in the case of Llamas’s paper on tunnels used for narco-trafficking and the prison escape of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán). These two papers by Kamil and Llamas offered an infrastructural basis for the panel, with the remaining two papers providing more conceptually rich directions for theorizing infrastructure through animation. David Colangelo discussed the animation of building surfaces as infrastructure through complex light apparatuses, such as the now everyday practice of lighting up the Empire State Building for events ranging from NFL games to national holidays. Tung-Hui Hu’s paper discussed the sleeping body and its inanimateness in the 2011 Australian film Sleeping Beauty (dir. Julia Leigh), arguing that “interpassivity” rather than interactivity can best define the construction of humans as infrastructure. Hu argued that human infrastructure is not innate but is something that can be enacted at will once organized. Hu concluded that deferral is a mode of work. Deferral may not rise to the category of resistance, but it allows one to reconcile to the timescales of crisis and precarity. I will talk through Kamil and Colangelo’s papers with some more detail.

Kamil’s presentation offered an open-ended reading of the temporality of animated infrastructures. Kamil first analyzed a series of digital tours of the al-Aqsa mosque site in al-Quds (Jerusalem) in East Palestine to show how heritage tourism is now using digital platforms to enshrine spatial legacies onto digital platforms. Kamil then looked at the Udna (We Return) project produced through the support of groups such as the Arab Association for Human Rights, the Association for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced, Baladna – Association for Arab Youth, and the Israeli NGO Zochrot. This project animates and visualizes Palestinian Return to displaced villages. Kamil’s paper argued that the geopolitical and spatial concerns in the Udna project challenge the orientalist and Zionist discourse that flattens the importance of space central to the right to Return. The animations in the Udna project include documentary film footage with overlaid architectural renderings of destroyed structures. Kamil argued that these animations have a dual temporality attesting to the history of Palestinian spaces as well as to a postulated utopian future after Return.

Colangelo’s talk centered on the animation of building surfaces, where walls become media for displaying data gathered through crowd-sourcing techniques. Colangelo argued that animation on building surfaces now prioritizes the expressivity, reactivity, and participation once prized by the Situationists. The “conversations with buildings” that such animated practices display demonstrates the extent to which global cultural values about data are embedded in infrastructure. Colangelo cites here the pervasiveness of the will to display mass acts of mourning on building surfaces (such as after the 2015 Paris terror attacks). Colangelo foregrounded urban case studies in his talk, and his approach provides consideration of urban interfaces beyond mobile media screens.
Photo by Hobo Matt

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