Media Art and Urban Screens: Locating Points and Routes of Comparison and Practice

Photo by Republic of Korea
Joseph DeLeon continues his reporting on the proceedings of the 2017 Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference with this recap of a panel discussion on media art in the city.
[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. Readers interested in this particular topic would do well to visit the roundtable for this month’s issue, which explores some of the same area and features one of the same panelists.]

Despite being the final panel on the Sunday of SCMS, the media art and urban screens panel drew a strong crowd. Panel chair Stephanie DeBoer revealed before the panel started that the papers revolved around the implicit claim for a comparative method in understanding urban screens.

Nanna Verhoeff (Utrecht University) “Urban Media Art as Creative Archeology for the Emergent Present”

Kristy H.A. Kang (Nanyang Technological University) “The Practice of Cultural Heritage through Urban Media Art in Singapore”

Holly Willis (University of Southern California) “The City and the Cinema: Screened Urbanism”

Stephanie DeBoer (Indiana University) “On Infrastructural Tactics for Urban Screens”

Respondent: Heidi Rae Cooley (University of South Carolina)

Underlining the site-specific histories and practices that constitute a given place, DeBoer centered the panel on a notion of location in its relational manifestation. The panel provided a survey of art installations and large-scale urban art interventions that comment on the condition of mediation through a multiplicity of urban and digital screens. For example, Holly Willis of the University of Southern California presented on the multiple ways that we can understand urban media interfaces as a cross-hatching or layering of modes of knowing contemporary computational culture. Stephanie DeBoer drew attention to the infrastructural tactics of artists working with urban screens, emphasizing the need to see urban screens as infrastructure.

Nanna Verhoeff started the panel by continuing her focus on urban interfaces. Such interfaces are urban screens that make visible otherwise invisible data. Verhoeff terms the proliferation of interfaces as a locative and emergent archive of interactions within urban space. Verhoeff’s particular focus on media art is through art’s triangulation of data, city, and subject. Verhoeff demonstrated how some art projects are important for problematizing notions of open access to digital projects and urban infrastructures in general. Verhoeff locates a performativity in the projects she explores, for such works visualize the act of visualization. Verhoeff ended her presentation by showing how artworks such as “In the Air, Tonight” at Ryerson University translate socioeconomic categories and varied experiences of space into affective or emotional registers. The performative cartographies that result from these projects both construct a mapping of individuals’ encounters in urban space as well as a scripting of actions that are possible in such spaces.

Kristy Kang presented on the cultural politics of media art in Singapore. Kang tracked the career of one artist, Samantha Lo (stylized as SKL0). Lo went from being arrested for her art interventions into Singapore’s urban space to being commissioned by the Singaporean government to create media installations. Kang underlined how Lo’s artistic interventions trouble people’s expectations about media interfaces in urban spaces. Lo’s Champion Colloquial project plays with expectations on correct forms of English, incorporating Singlish (a colloquial dialect pulling from Malay, English, Tamil, among other languages) on stickers that replace informational areas of crosswalk buttons on city streets. Kang’s presentation helped to trouble a singular definition of urban interfaces, broadening the panel’s scope to include Lo’s static visualizations of the contemporary digital affect of lag and waiting.

Photo by Republic of Korea

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