New Materialism on Display

It’s hard to believe that it was only five short months ago that this project was still taking shape. And now it’s finally materialized — virtually, that is. This semester my Media & Materiality students, informed by the notion that exhibition can be a form of scholarly practice, created online “exhibitions” examining “media as material objects, as things, as symbolically charged artifacts, as physical supports for communication” (from the course description).

Here they are [I won’t identify the students by name, although some have chosen to identify themselves in their projects]:

We have two great Facebook projects: “Friends Forever,” which explores how virtual relationships have transformed our notions of friendship, and “Iamb Nobedee,” a fictional profile that not only repurposes profile conventions in examining how the Facebook template constructs identity, but also proposes a typology of profile self-portraits (visible only to Iamb Nobedee’s friends, unfortunately) in an attempt to explore how the physical self is transmitted, or translated, virtually. [This project is no longer live, unfortunately; all that remains is the screenshot, below.]


We have several excellent music- and sound-related projects, too. “Cassettes: Endgames of Obsolescence,” in the form of an exhibition-as-cassette-tape, explores the work of several artists — Hal McGee, G. Lucas Crane, Christian Marclay — who continue to use the tape format in their practice. We also have the foundation of what promises to be an ever-growing online encyclopedia of “Modular Audio Effects” pedals, which have altered the material basis of sound production [sadly, this project is no longer live].


Then there’s “Hip Hop Started Out in the Park,” a site that tells the story of hip hop’s origin in the South Bronx through the photos of (and original interviews with) Joe Conzo, “the man who took hip hop’s baby pictures“; this project draws a connection between the music and the physical landscape of its birthplace. The final piece in the “sound” series is “Soundscape of the Diaspora,” which examines, through photocollages and field recordings along 4th Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn, the echoes of immigrants’ homelands, as they mix with the sounds of their workplaces.

We then have our spectacular print series. “From Books to Bytes” explores new reading habits in the age of e-books; this project will support the efforts of Colombian not-for-profit Fundación La Fuente. The charming “Technotexts”  [case-sensitive password: Technotexts] tests, through the form of a choose-your-own-adventure story, N. Katherine Hayles’ assertion that “the physical form of the literary artifact” affects how its words mean and how readers experience the text (from Writing Machines).


“Magazines and Materiality” addresses the representation of fashion and female bodies in magazines as the publication form evolves. Meanwhile, “On a Wire” explores continuities in communication across evolving formats by asking what Twitter and the telegraph have in common.


Additional projects examine the evolving material forms of other textual media. The visually rich “Mapping Our Worlds” (see also the corresponding blog) looks at the history of maps and their representation of material experience. And then “Gastroporn” examines various attempts to capture sensory and erotic experience in food marketing.


We might by now be overwhelmed by ever-multiplying media formats and an ever-expanding history of material media. Perhaps we need to consider what’s worth forgetting. How to Delete explores, through the form of a “how-to” website, “the various material surfaces, tools, and processes involved in record deletion across a spectrum of media” — from wax tablets to World of Warcraft to pencils (be sure to check out the accompanying blog).

From How to Delete


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