Yesterday afternoon I took my Media & Materiality students to see the The Last Newspaper exhibition at The New Museum. Co-curator Benjamin Godsill gave us a tour, packed with lots of insight into the work on display and the making of the exhibition. Several pieces — especially Hans Haacke’s News (if only they could’ve used a teletype machine rather than a dot matrix printer!), Andrea Bowers’ “Eulogies to One and Another” and Luciano Fabro’s “Pavimento” — really brought home for us the simultaneous rigidity and flexibility of the newspaper as a material form, and its shifting use and exhibition values. On the third floor, Story Corps, Latitudes, The New City Reader, and the Center for Urban Pedagogy have set up shop temporarily, putting on display the social and labor practices involved in shaping public discourse — at least that’s what I’m assuming they’re doing; I’m not sure it would be clear to everyone what CUPs LocBloc sculptures and StoryCorps’s oral histories have to do with newspapers. The Slought Foundation (whose eclectic exhibitions and programming I would occasionally integrate into my classes when I taught at Penn in the early 2000s) has distributed stations from their Perpetual Peace project throughout the museum, but their presence initially seemed even more incongruous — almost as if they’re trying to create a “philosophers’ lounge” in a loud and busy newsroom.
After wondering for a while how these myriad pieces fit together, it occurred to me that the third-floor space embodied the potential for fruitful collaborations between multiple public institutions and organizations. It seemed to be asking, what if journalism weren’t its own atomized entity — and what if, instead, it created intellectual and physical places for the spaces where its larger public mission overlaps with that of an organization like StoryCorps or CUP…or, I might add, libraries or schools? (At the same time, I wonder what “real” journalists must think of the fetishization of their “product,” the aestheticization of their labor — and its containment within a museum?)
The contents of and contributors to the newspapers seemed to exemplify what happens when you have a bunch of designers creating a newspaper in a museum: you get a newspaper with a lot of articles by designers (including quite a few of “the regulars”) about design. Reflecting on the agenda-setting theory I learned as an undergrad, I have to wonder what it means to dedicate more column-inches to architecture than to any other subject in these papers? What is it about this New City that its readers are focusing their attention on leisure and architectural yoga, whereas the publics that Robert Gober, Adrian Piper, Dash Snow, and the other artists featured in the show are addressing are more concerned with war and racial conflict and the value of human life. The juxtaposition was striking.
I haven’t been talking much about it here, but I wanted to say how much I’m enjoying both of my fall classes (labor-intensive though they are!) — and how fantastic my students’ projects are. The projects for both classes require way more than engagement with the topical course content; they also require methodological savvy, careful considerations of various modes of argumentation, application of myriad media production skills, negotiation of library and archive access and use policies, etc. I’m incredibly grateful that the students are all so conscientious and committed to their projects. It helps, too, that they’re all super-smart and fun to work with.
If you’re interested in checking out their work, you should visit the classes’ dedicated websites (Media & Materiality; Urban Media Archaeology). I’ve made regular progress posts a requirement for Urban Media Archaeology, so their research and design processes are pretty well documented. The M&M team is creating equally fantastic exhibitions on everything from cassette tapes to processes of deletion to the telegraph-to-Twitter evolution to Facebook self-portraits to erotic food advertising to e-reading to cartographic history to effects pedals. When their final projects go live, I’ll post links to everything from the class websites.
Libraries, Archives & Databases is a new graduate seminar I’m teaching in the spring. I posted the course description last week, but here it is again:
“There has been more information produced in the last 30 years than during the previous 5000.” We’ve all heard some variation on this maxim. As U.S. publishers add 250,000 printed books and close to 300,000 print-on-demand books to our libraries each year; as we find ourselves wading through over 200 million websites; as we continue to add new media – from Tweets to Apps to geo-tagged maps – to our everyday media repertoires, we continually search for new ways to navigate this ever more treacherous sea of information. Throughout human history we have relied on various institutions and politico-intellectual architectures to organize, index, preserve, make sense of, and facilitate or control access to our stores of knowledge, our assemblages of media, our collections of information. This seminar looks at the past, present, and future of the library, the archive, and the database, and considers what logics, priorities, politics, audiences, contents, aesthetics, physical forms, etc., ally and differentiate these institutions. We will examine what roles the library, archive, and the database play in democracy, in education, in everyday life, and in art. Throughout the semester we’ll examine myriad analog and digital artworks that make use of library/archival material, or take the library, archive, or database as their subject. Some classes will involve field trips and guest speakers. Students will have the option of completing at least one theoretically-informed creative/production project for the class.
I think it’s important to point out that this is not a research skills class. I’m not going to teach people how to use a library or build a database. Instead, we’re going to talk about the politics and aesthetics and ethics of organizing information…or media…or data…or knowledge — these four terms are not interchangeable, and we’re going to talk about that, too — through these different intellectual architectures. And given my interests, we’ll of course talk about some physical architectures.
As usual, I’ll be working on the syllabus through the winter break, but I thought I’d share some of my initial plans, for students who might be considering the class and for people who might want to offer recommendations.
The tentative reading list includes: Matthew Battles, Library: An Unquiet History (WW Norton 2004); Roy Boyne, “Classification” Theory, Culture & Society 23:2-3 (2006); Joke Brouwer & Arjen Mulder, Information Is Alive (V2_NAi 2003); John Seely Brown & Paul Duguid, The Social Life of Information (Harvard Business Press, 2000); Vannevar Bush, “As We May Think” The Atlantic (July 1945); Lionel Casson, Libraries in the Ancient World (Yale 2001); Roger Chartier, “Libraries Without Walls” Representations 42 (Spring 1993); Sean Cubitt, “Library” Theory, Culture & Society 23:2-3 (2006); Robert Darnton, “The Library in the New Age” New York Review of Books (June 2008); Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression (University of Chicago 1996); Okwui Enwezor, Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art (Steidl/ICP, 2008); Mike Featherstone, “Archive” Theory, Culture & Society 23:2-3 (2006); Hal Foster, “An Archival Impulse” October 110 (Fall 2004); Michel Foucault, Archaeology of Knowledge, Trans. Smith (Harper & Row 1972); Daniel Heller-Roazen, “Tradition’s Destruction: On the Library of Alexandria” October 100 (Spring 2002); Gideon Lewis-Kraus, “A World in Three Aisles” [on the Prelinger Library] Harper’s (May 2007); Library Bureau, A Handbook of Library and Office Fittings and Supplies (Library Bureau 1891); Alberto Manguel, The Library at Night (Knopf, 2006); Lev Manovich, “Database as a Genre of New Media” AI & Society 14:2 (May 2000): 176-83; D. T. Max, “Final Destination” New Yorker (June 2007); Charles Merewether, Ed., The Archive: Documents in Contemporary Art (MIT Press 2006); Henry Petroski, The Book on the Bookshelf (Vintage 2000); Daniel Punday, “Ebooks, Libraries, and Feelies” Electronic Book Review (February 2010); Ingrid Schaffner & Matthias Winzen, Eds., Deep Storage: Collecting, Storing, and Archiving in Art (Prestel 1998); Sven Spieker, The Big Archive: Art from Bureaucracy (MIT Press 2009); Diana Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (Duke 2003); Eugene Thacker, “Database/Body: Bioinformatics, Biopolitics, and Totally Connected Media Systems” Switch 5:3; Couze Venn, “The Collection” Theory, Culture & Society 23:2-3 (2006); Victoria Vesna, Database Aesthetics: Art in the Age of Information Overflow (University of Minnesota Press, 2007); Anthony Vidler, “Books in Space: Tradition and Transparency in the Bibliotheque de France” Representations 42 (Spring 1993); and maybe some of my own stuff. I’ll have to sort through these library links, archive links, and classification links, too.
I really wanted to like Geoffrey Bowker & Susan Leigh Star’s Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences (MIT Press, 1999), but I just don’t think it’s going to work out.