Off to Ireland for “Code and the City” Workshop

via Stamen
via Stamen

I’ll be at the National University of Ireland, in County Kildare, this coming week, for the “Code and the City” workshop. I’m super-honored to have been invited to take part in a conversation with folks I admire so greatly. We begin at 10am on Wednesday 9/3 and wrap up at 5pm on Thursday 9/4.

September 3

10.00-10.30: Welcome, opening talk by Rob Kitchin

10.30-12.30: Session 1: Automation / Algorithms

“Cities in Code: How Software Repositories Express Urban Life”
Adrian Mackenzie, Sociology, Lancaster University

“Autonomy and Automation in the Coded City”
Sam Kinsley, Geography, University of Exeter

“Interfacing Urban Intelligence”
Shannon Mattern, Media Studies, New School NY

12.30-13.30: Lunch

13.30-15.30: Session 2: Abstraction and Urbanization

“Encountering the City at Hackathons”
Sophia Maalsen and Sung-Yueh Perng, National University of Ireland, Maynooth

“Disclosing Disaster? A Study of Ethics, Praxeology and Phenomenology in a Mobile World”
Monika Büscher, With Michael Liegl, Katrina Petersen, Mobilities.Lab, Lancaster University, UK

“Riot’s Ratio, on the Genealogy of Agent-Based Modeling and the Cities of Civil War”
Matthew Fuller and Graham Harwood, Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths

15.30-16.00: coffee break

16.00-18.00: Session 3: Social and Locative Media

“Digital Social Interactions in the City: Reflecting on Location-Based Social Media”
Luigina Ciolfi, Human-Centred Computing, Sheffield Hallam University

“A Window, a Message, or a Medium? Learning About Cities from Instagram”
Lev Manovich, Computer Science, The Graduate Center, City University of New York

“Feeling Place in the City: Strange Ontologies, Foursquare and Location-Based Social Media”
Leighton Evans, National University of Ireland Maynooth

“Mobility in the Actually Existing Smart City: Developing a Multilayered Model for the Mobile Computing Dispositif”
Jim Merricks White, National University of Ireland, Maynooth

September 4

9.30 tea/coffee

10.00-12.00: Session 4: Knowledge Classification and Ontology

“Cities and Context: The Codification of Small Areas through Geodemographic Classification”
Alex Singleton, Geography, University of Liverpool

“The City and the Feudal Internet: Examining Institutional Materialities”
Paul Dourish, Informatics, UC Irvine

“From Jerusalem to Kansas City: New Geopolitics and the Semantic Web”
Heather Ford and Mark Graham, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

12.00-13.00: lunch

13.00-15.00: Session 5: Governance

“From Community Access to Community Calculation: Exploring Alternative Urban Governance Through Code”
Alison Powell, Media & Communications, LSE

“Code and the Socio-Spatial Stratification of the City”
Agnieszka Leszczynski, Geography, University of Birmingham

“The Cryptographic City”
David M. Berry, Media & Communication, University of Sussex

15.00-15.30: coffee break

15.30-17.00: Session 6 – discussion/wrap up


Understanding Media Studies Monday Night Lecture Series

Understanding_MediaOne of my fall courses is our MA program’s “Understanding Media Studies” lecture course, which I’ve taught three times before, when it was conceived as an “intro to grad studies” course. The class has been reorganized for this year, with some of the practical content extracted and repositioned in an intensive pre-semester Orientation, some of the study-skills- and professionalization-oriented content transformed into a set of online guides (which I created over the summer); and the Monday night meetings reconceived as a series of guest lectures and panel discussions with alums and advanced current students. Here’s my new course description:

Understanding Media Studies is a required course for all first-semester Media Studies MA students. It consists of a week-long orientation prior to the start of the semester, and a weekly seminar series that runs over the course of the semester. The orientation week introduces MA students to the Media Studies Faculty and Staff, to The New School’s facilities and resources, and to the fundamentals of procedural literacy and building a digital portfolio for your media studies career. The School of Media Studies Monday Night Lecture Series functions not only as a communal orientation experience for the first-semester UMS cohort, but also as an intellectual and creative “hub” for the entire School. We welcome several guest presenters from the academy, industry, and a variety of creative fields that represent the breadth of what Media Studies is and can be. We also welcome several New School Media Studies alumni and advanced current students, who speak with us about issues regarding professionalization and socialization within the field. UMS students are organized into small groups that are responsible for researching the various guests and preparing questions to kick off the Q&A period following each lecture; and for creating a recap and response post that is published on the School of Media Studies’ on-line magazine. The course is offered in a hybrid on-site/on-line format to accommodate all first-semester students.

And here’s our line-up for the semester:

AUGUST 25: Semester Plan + Student Involvement

SEPTEMBER 1: No Class: Labor Day

SEPTEMBER 8: Orientation to Research Resources + Visits w/ Representatives from the Libraries and University Learning Center

SEPTEMBER 15: Mary Flanagan, Artist, Writer, Game Designer + Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor in Digital Humanities @ Dartmouth College: “Changing the World Through Values at Play

All games express and embody human values, providing a compelling arena in which we play out beliefs and ideas. “Big ideas” such as justice, equity, honesty, and cooperation—as well as other kinds of ideas, including violence, exploitation, and greed—may emerge in games whether designers intend them or not. In this talk, Mary Flanagan presents Values at Play, a theoretical and practical framework for identifying socially recognized moral and political values in digital games. After developing a theoretical foundation for this approach, Flanagan will provide detailed examinations of selected games, demonstrating the many ways in which values are embedded in them. Flanagan will also discuss the Values at Play heuristic, a systematic approach for incorporating values into the game design process. Can better games enable a robust self and society?

Mary Flanagan has achieved international acclaim for novel interdisciplinary work that weaves a studio art practice into humanities scholarship and scientific inquiry. Not content to work solely in the gallery space, she invades commercial game design, pop culture, and academia with provocative ideas about authorship, politics, and aesthetics. Her artwork ranges from game based systems to computer viruses, embodied interfaces to interactive poems. These works are exhibited internationally at galleries including the Tate Britain, the Telfair Museum, and ZKM Germany. Flanagan’s hybrid practice was recently showcased in The Atlantic,and her engagement as a “public intellectual” pushed her to publish recent pieces in USA TodayThe Huffington PostThe San Francisco ChronicleInside Higher Education, and more. Flanagan has served on the faculty of the Salzburg Global Seminar & the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy Academic Consortium on Games for Impact. She holds the honorary title at Dartmouth College of the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor in Digital Humanities.  Her most recent book, co-authored with Helen Nissenbaum, is Values at Play in Digital Games (2014) with MIT Press.

SEPTEMBER 22: Discussion of Methods + Creative Methods Panel

  • Deepthi Welaratna, Media Studies ‘10; Social Systems Designer; Founder of Thicket: A Laboratory for Creative Problem Solvers
  • Ben Mendelsohn, Media Studies ‘11; Ph.D. Student in Media, Culture and Communication at NYU
  • Laura Scherling, Media Studies ‘14; Doctoral Student @ Teachers College, Columbia University; Designer, The New School
  • Brian Bulfer, Doctoral Student @ Teachers College, Columbia University
  • Adrian Hopkins, Media Studies ‘11; Director of Strategy @ Bureau Blank

SEPTEMBER 29: Student/Alumni Panel re: “Publicizing Your Work”

  • Participants TBA

OCTOBER 6: Caitlin Burns, Transmedia Producer: “Lessons from the Story Business

We’re no longer working in the Film Industry, the TV Industry or the Video Game Industry, the world of entertainment has comailnverged and there is one clear through line: story. As a Transmedia Producer, Caitlin Burns has spent a decade producing intellectual properties whose stories flow across platforms. Each experience type faces unique challenges to production and together thrilling new opportunities emerge as technology and creativity combine. These are some lessons for projects large and small drawn from Studio Projects and Console Games, Digital Experiences and Live Theatre. There have never been more opportunities to reach audiences with narrative work… What does a success story look like?

Caitlin Burns is a Transmedia Producer and Content Strategist based in New York City.  She is an elected member of the Producer’s Guild of America’s New Media Council Board of Delegates and is a Co-Chair of the PGA Women’s Impact Network. Her work includes narrative and multiplatform strategies for notables such as: Pirates of the Caribbean,Fairies, and Tron Legacy for Disney, James Cameron’s Avatar for 20th Century Fox, Halo for Microsoft, Happiness Factory for The Coca-Cola Company, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for Nickelodeon and Transformers for Hasbro. She has also worked with Sony, Showtime, Pepperidge Farm, Scholastic, Tribeca New Media Fund, FEMSA, Wieden+Kennedy, Reebok and Stratasys. Her independent production, McCarren Park, launched at the Tribeca Film Institute Interactive Day and screened at the New York Film Festival: Convergence.

OCTOBER 13: Susa Pop, Managing Director, Public Art Lab, Berlin: “Urban Screens as Community Platforms

Susa Pop is an urban media curator and producer based in Berlin. In 2003 she founded Public Art Lab (PAL) as a network of experts from the fields of urban planning, new media arts and IT. Susa Pop is interested in creative city-making through urban media art projects that catalyze communication processes in the public space. She initiated most of the PAL projects like the Connecting Cities Network (2012-16), Media Facades Festivals Berlin 2008 and Europe 2010, Mobile Studios (2006) and Mobile Museums (2004). She also speaks worldwide at conferences and workshops and is a lecturer at several universities like University of Potsdam and Leuphana University /  Institute of Urban and Cultural Area Research. In 2012 Susa Pop co-edited and published the book Urban Media Cultures.

OCTOBER 20: Mary Wareham and Jody Williams, with Peter Asaro: “Media Advocacy for Humanitarian Disarmament: From Landmines to Killer Robots

Chaired by Dr. Peter Asaro, this panel discussion by Nobel Peace Laureate Ms. Jody Williams and Mary Wareham of Human Rights Watch will look at the evolving nature of media outreach and advocacy for humanitarian disarmament. Williams and Wareham have collaborated together over the past twenty years on initiatives to ban antipersonnel landmines and cluster munitions. They are co-founders of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots (, a global coalition of non-governmental organizations that is seeking a preemptive ban on weapons that would select and attack targets without meaningful human control. The panelists will consider how media has reacted to and covered the challenges posed by autonomous weapons and call for a ban as well as the similarities and differences to media outreach and advocacy for campaigning against landmines and cluster munitions. They will discuss how the Internet and social media have changed the landscape, and also how new media has changed the campaign’s approaches to mainstream media and journalists.

Jody Williams, Nobel Peace Laureate

@JodyWilliams97@NobelWomen @StopRapeCmpgn

The Nobel Women’s Initiative is a co-founder of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots and Jody Williams serves as a spokesperson for the global coalition.

In 1997, Jody Williams became the tenth woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for her role as the founding coordinator (1991-1998) of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), co-recipient of the Peace Prize. Jody served as a chief strategist and spokesperson for the campaign in the crucial “Ottawa Process” period that saw an unprecedented diplomatic effort involving governments as well as NGOs, UN agencies, and the International Committee of the Red Cross work to adopt the Mine Ban Treaty in record time.

Williams established the Nobel Women’s Initiative in 2006 together with five of her sister Nobel Peace laureates to work for a democratic world free of violence against women and all of humanity. In 2012, the Nobel Women’s Initiative and other NGOs formed the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict.

Mary Wareham, Human Rights Watch arms division advocacy director

@marywareham @hrw @bankillerrobots

Human Rights Watch is a co-founder of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots and Mary Wareham serves as the coalition’s global coordinator.

Mary Wareham is advocacy director of the Arms Division, where she leads Human Rights Watch’s advocacy against particularly problematic weapons that pose a significant threat to civilians. She was centrally involved in the efforts to secure the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions and 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. On behalf of Human Rights Watch, Wareham was responsible for helping to establish and coordinate the Landmine Monitor research initiative by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which verifies compliance and implementation of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty.

Wareham directed and produced an award-winning feature-length documentary film on landmines entitled “Disarm” (2006). She worked as a researcher for the New Zealand parliament from 1995 to 1996 after receiving bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science from Victoria University of Wellington.

OCTOBER 27: Benjamen Walker, Host, Public Radio Exchange’s Theory of Everything: “A Resounding Theory of Everything”

Benjamen Walker has made radio for NPR, WNYC, WFMU, and the BBC. Currently he produces and hosts The Theory of Everything, part of the Radiotopia network from the public radio exchange.

NOVEMBER 3: Jill Godmilow, Independent Filmmaker, Emeritus Faculty @ University of Notre Dame: “Staying Out of the Torture Room: The Post-Realist Documentary

Since 1966 Jill Godmilow has been producing and directing non-fiction and narrative films including the Academy Award nominated Antonia: A Portrait Of The Woman (1974); Far from Poland, (1984) the post-realist documentary feature about the rise of the Polish Solidarity movement; Waiting for the Moon (1987), a feminist/modernist fictional feature about the lives of the literary couple Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein (1st prize, Sundance Film Festival); Roy Cohn/Jack Smith (1995), a cinematic translation of a theater piece by performance artist Ron Vawter; What Farocki Taught, a replica and interrogation of a short film by German filmmaker Harun Farocki about the production of Napalm B during the Vietnam war, and most recently, a 6 hour, DVD archive, Lear ’87 Archive (Condensed) about the work of the renown New York City theatrical collective, Mabou Mines, at work  on a fully gender-reversed production of Shakespeare’s “King Lear”. Among others, she has received fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations. In 2003, Antonia: A Portrait of The Woman was added to the prestigious National Film Registry at the Library of Congress.

NOVEMBER 10: Andrew Uroskie, Associate Professor of Modern Art History and Criticism, SUNY Stony Brook: Selma Last Year (1966): Site-Specificity and the Origins of Expanded Cinema”

This talk will consider “Selma Last Year,” a largely forgotten multimedia installation that took place during the Winter of 1966 as part of the New York Film Festival’s fleeting interest in Expanded Cinema. A collaboration between the street theater producer Ken Dewey, Magnum photojournalist Bruce Davidson, and Minimalist composer Terry Riley, this groundbreaking media installation juxtaposed large scale projected images, an immersive audio collage, small scale photographic prints, 16mm documentary film, and a delayed video feedback loop to create a series of intentionally disjunctive environments. During the Festival’s Expanded Cinema Symposium, Annette Michelson would explicitly dismiss Dewey’s work as a “revival of the old dream of synesthesia”— insisting upon a Modernist conception of medium-specificity as the only legitimate grounds for aesthetic radicalism. While the success of the “Structural Film” in the years immediately following might be taken as evidence for Michelson’s position, I contend that Dewey’s prescient concern for what would come to be known as “site-specificity” would prove the more enduring model for critical media aesthetics in the decades to come.

Andrew V. Uroskie is Associate Professor of Modern & Contemporary Art, and Director of the Doctoral Program in Modern Art History, Criticism and Theory at Stony Brook University in New York. Broadly speaking, his work explores how durational media have helped to reframe traditional models of aesthetic production, exhibition, spectatorship, and objecthood. He has published in numerous journals and anthologies in the US, England, Italy, Spain, and Brazil, both in English and in translation. His first book, “Between the Black Box and the White Cube: Expanded Cinema and Postwar Art,” was recently published by the University of Chicago Press.

NOVEMBER 17: Student/Alumni Panel “Career Trajectories,” co-sponsored by Career Success Link

  • Participants TBA 

NOVEMBER 24: No Class — Thanksgiving Week

DECEMBER 1 (World AIDS Day): Anne Balsamo, Dean, School of Media Studies: “Digital Experiences for the AIDS Memorial Quilt”

Blurb to come


Lines and Nodes: Media, Infrastructure and Aesthetics: 9/19 – 21


I’m very excited to share the press release for the upcoming symposium and lecture series “Lines and Nodes: Media, Infrastructure, and Aesthetics.” I’ve been delighted to serve on the planning committee alongside some fantastic colleagues and students from NYU and SUNY Stony Brook. Please come!



This symposium and screening series will bring together artists and scholars to examine the mediated and aesthetic dimensions of extraction and infrastructure. In the last decade, we have seen an explosion of artistic and scholarly interest in resource extraction, its cultural geographies, and the infrastructures that support it. We convene this event to interrogate the relationships between the representations of such dynamics and the larger forces that they condense: globalization, transmission, digitization, territorialization, labor migration, displacement, sustainability, security.

We aim to facilitate an idea-exchange between scholars and media artists whose practices critically assess the function, meaning and representation of lines, nodes and grids that undergird the energy, resource and information-dependent global economy, from oil pipelines to mining pits, and from undersea fiber optic cables to digital archives. What are the juridical, economic, bio-political and aesthetic dimensions of this accelerating age of extraction and consumption? How are these connections materialized in mediated works?

Scholars from a range of disciplines are invited, including: Media Studies, Architecture and Design and Geography. We also solicit media makers whose work operates in documentary, experimental and art contexts. The symposium’s keynote presenter will be Swiss filmmaker/researcher Ursula Biemann, who has for the past twenty years produced a respected body of essay films that interrogate global relations under the impact of the accelerated mobility of people, resources and information.

Find the full symposium schedule here.


From Friday, September 19, through Sunday, September 21, Anthology Film Archives presents Lines and Nodes: Media, Infrastructure, and Aesthetics, a 17-film series exploring how contemporary filmmakers and artists are examining the diverse human-made infrastructures that shape almost every aspect of modern life, including: fiber optic systems, CCTV networks, petroleum corridors, border security zones and public transport.

With films from eight countries, the series makes adventurous propositions regarding the contemporary global economy, how the Earth’s human era – the anthropocene – has transformed the planet and how filmmakers and artists are making sense of the larger forces involved: security, digitalization, migration and labor. Lines and Nodes is curated by: Chi-hui Yang, Brooke Belisle, Leo Goldsmith, Ben Mendelsohn, Sukhdev Sandhu, Nicole Starosielski.

The series offers a collection of documentary, essay, animation and experimental films and videos, created from the 1950s to present. D.A. Pennebaker’s classic short film Daybreak Express (1953) follows the path of New York City’s now-defunct Third Avenue elevated subway train. Bernardo Bertolucci’s commissioned documentary The Path of Oil (1964)—rarely-screened and recently restored—traces the route of crude oil as it is shipped from Iran to Europe. The Land of Wandering Souls (1999), by Oscar- nominated filmmaker Rithy Panh (The Missing Picture), exposes the back-breaking labor involved in laying Cambodia’s first fiber optic lines. Each of these films suggests news ways of examining patterns of global exchange in one’s own surroundings.

Opening Lines and Nodes is an evening with Swiss essay filmmaker Ursula Biemann, who for the past twenty years has interrogated global relations amid the accelerated mobility of people, resources and information. Through meticulous studies of oil geographies, irregular human migration zones and regions of environmental crisis, Biemann offers a powerful cinematic template for investigating the unpleasant challenges of 21st century capitalism. Biemann will present four films, including her latest, FOREST LAW, an inquiry into the Ecuadorian Amazon, and the legal status of the tropical forest itself and its relationship to indigenous communities.

Three thematic programs of short films — “Lines,” “Circulations,” and “Water” — also feature works by Len Lye, Pat O’Neill, Peter Bo Rappmund, Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnenc, CAMP, Adam Diller, Sarah Christman, Ralph Keene, Hunter Snyder, and Bouchra Khalili.

Find the full screening schedule here, or on Anthology’s website.

Lines and Nodes is presented in conjunction with a one-day symposium hosted by NYU’s Department of Media, Culture and Communications, which will, on September 19, convene artists and scholars to examine the mediated and aesthetic dimensions of extraction and infrastructure. The seriesis supported in part by grants from the New York University Arts Council, NYU Department of English, the Asian/Pacific/AmericanInstitute at NYU, NYU Department of Social and Cultural Analysis, and NYU Metropolitan Studies Program with additional support from the NYU Department of Media, Culture and Communications.

Tickets for film screening series are available for purchase at Anthology Film Archives.

Review copies of many films are available – please contact Chi-hui Yang:


Reclaimed Hardware

Fixing a door in the woodshop
Fixing a door in the woodshop

I grew up in a hardware store. Well, actually, I grew up in a house that my dad built using materials from the family-owned hardware store. My room in that house had a wall full of windows that that overlooked a farm and the wooded hills flanking it. Immediately outside those west-facing windows was a Japanese Maple — my favorite tree — and every night at sunset, the setting sun’s glow filled my room with orange, casting shadows of those dancing Maple leaves on my closet doors. My own private magic lantern show.

I loved my room.

That hardware store had its own charms, too, its own aesthetic pleasures. It was where my dad spent most of his time, which meant that my mom and brother and I spent a good deal of our time there, too. But the store’s biography begins before us. My grandfather ran a copper manufacturing company for much of his adult life, but when his three boys were grown, he and a partner bought a hardware store that sat on a sliver of a site along Spring Creek, on Potter Street, in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. By 1976 my grandfather had become sole-owner, and four years later the store, Triangle Building Supplies, moved to a bigger site, in a more central location near the high school (and, significantly for my brother Nathan and me, right next door to Pizza Hut!). The new site offered enough space to add the machinery necessary for a construction business. My dad, Rex (known affectionately as “Triangle-saurus Rex” — get it?!), eventually became president, his younger brother headed up the construction business, and his older brother, an architectural engineer, was in charge of design.




When Nathan came of age he worked in the lumber yard. I was often recruited to feather-dust the cans of paint, sort screws and nails and washers into their appropriate bins, organize the paint chips, and affix price stickers — using an insanely awesome price gun — to packets of seeds and sandpaper. It struck me very early on that this was a place of men and boots and pick-up trucks and dust — and, at the same time, sublime order. Everything had its place. And those things encompassed every possible form and variation: wires and cables, pipes and elbows, flat-head and Phillips head screws, roofing nails and finishing nails — all in innumerable yet nearly imperceptible variations in length and diameter. When I was on shelf-stocking duty, I had to match the objects I was holding in my hand — and the barcode on the box that we pulled off the truck — to the diagram and barcode on the bins to make sure I was placing everything where it belonged.



Growing up in this environment impressed upon me that everything can be made — by us, by regular people.  It helped me appreciate how our world hangs together: how buildings stand up, how electricity gets to the power outlets behind my bed, how water gets to our kitchen sink, how vegetables grow in our garden. That store provided the material and the tools that gave rise to nearly everything in my childhood home (it certainly helped that my dad was skilled in pretty much all trades, and a fantastic cabinetmaker) — and most of the furniture I have in my apartment here in Brooklyn. The store also cultivated my interest in the aesthetics of organization, although I never would have used such a phrase in my feather-duster days.




And now, after over four decades of providing employment to hundreds of loyal employees, of Christmas parties and corny advertisements (which Nathan and I loved mocking) on the local radio station, of supplying materials for the construction of thousands of local homes and businesses, of sponsoring sports teams and donating supplies to needy families and actively engaging in the community, the three Mattern boys are selling the store. It’s the end of an era. And the change is bittersweet.

I’ve seen the toll that small business ownership — particularly in the shadow of Lowe’s and Home Depot, both of which came to town, with their obnoxiously big shopping carts and parking lots, over a decade ago — has had on my dad and his brothers. Plus, years of having to deal with customers’ — often friends’ and colleagues’ — unpaid bills and shoplifting, along with fluctuating construction markets and lumber prices and zoning codes, take their toll. And then you have the occasional customer who decides to sue after trying to take a drink from a pressure-washer (there really should’ve been a warning label!).

The new owners are a vibrant young family, who we all hope will have fresh ideas for re-establishing the hardware store — long a fixture in America’s small towns — as an integral part of our local social and physical infrastructure: an organic, locally-sourced, grass-fed, GMO-free alternative to the big boxes. I wish the new folks all the luck in the world. That store means an awful lot to me. I want desperately for it to keep generating the dust of productivity — to keep serving all the local skilled trades-people, to keep empowering everyday people to make things, to keep serving as a symbolic hub for a small town — for decades to come.







Displaying Display, Envisioning Vision

National Museum of Natural History
It’s been a week of constructed views. I started off last week in Washington D.C., where I gave one of the opening plenary lectures at the Library on Congress’s Digital Preservation conference and spoke quite a bit about the constructed — and de-constructed — aesthetics of preservation. And of course L’Enfant’s plan for D.C. itself, full of monuments and grand buildings, emphasized (or, rather, forced) majestic views. The museums along the mall, too — many of which I hadn’t visited since I was a kid — offered a variety of case studies in the rhetorics of display.

Natural History Museum
A rotund parting shot in the Natural History Museum’s rotunda
Library of Congress
Library of Congress
Library of Congress Reading Room Rotunda
Library of Congress Reading Room


A little Lichtenstein forced perspective in the National Gallery sculpture garden
A little Lichtenstein forced perspective in the National Gallery sculpture garden

A brief aside: shortly before heading south, I enjoyed some lovely sunsets from my roof.


And when I got back to NY, I checked out “Another Look at Detroit,” a show, conjoining the Marianne Boesky and Marlborough Chelsea galleries, that examines the city’s past and present as a creative center. I love, love, loved how the show was staged — with so many fabulous formal, textual, and temporal juxtapositions. The presentation implied how place-based movements and geographic “scenes” take shape, with many lietmotifs resonating across art forms. Political economic and cultural contexts, climate, topography, industry, even signature urban and architectural forms, etc., can conspire to give rise to geographically-informed aesthetics, across all media. [Update: August 5: see the Hyperallergic review, which addresses the exhibitions’ whiteness and “lite” politics.]

Detroit @ Boesky



I remember Scott Reeder's pasta paintings from Lisa Cooley!
I remember Scott Reeder’s pasta paintings from Lisa Cooley!
Marlborough Entrance: James Lee Byar's The One Page Book
Marlborough Entrance: James Lee Byar’s The One Page Book
Detroit @ Marlborough
Detroit @ Marlborough
Lotsa Cranbrook representation

Then, continuing in the “self-conscious display,” or “rhetorics of presentation,” theme, I visited Matthew Higgs’s “Displayed” at Anton Kern. As Ken Johnson wrote in the Times,

When you exhibit a work of art, there are two things going on. There’s the object and there’s the presentational apparatus, which might be a frame, a pedestal, a shelf or a vitrine. Also involved are the gallery architecture, the structure of the exhibiting institution and, in the broadest terms, the art world social system. Usually, viewers are supposed to focus on the object and take for granted the apparatus.

At Kern, Higgs, director of White Columns gallery, has highlighted those apparatae by, well, displaying works that are representative of what he calls “displayism”: they “explore the methodologies — both formal and psychological — of display and presentation. Borrowing from the languages of architecture, the museum, interior design, retail, and advertising among other disciplines, the works in Displayed variously consider our shifting relationships with (but of course!) — and attachments to — objects and the circumstances in which we encounter them: whether it be the gallery, the store, the street, the home, etc.” (These  themes were also palpable in Kristen Morgin’s “The Super Can Man and Other Illustrated Classics” and Dominique Gonzales-Foerster’s “euquinimod & costumes,” which I saw and wrote about a couple months ago.)

Displayed @ Kern
Displayed @ Kern
Even "accidental" architectural features, like fenestration and lighting, shape the rhetorics and affects of display
Even “accidental” architectural features, like fenestration and lighting, shape the rhetorics and affects of display

Displayed @ Kern


Loved Marina Pinsky's Gaussian Blur I
Loved Marina Pinsky’s Gaussian Blur I
...And Moyra Davey's Newsstand photos
…And Moyra Davey’s Newsstand photos


Then, uptown to Gallerie Perrotin’s Kate Ericson & Mel Ziegler show, which features the pair’s community-based artwork from the 80s and 90s, up through Ericson’s death in 1995. This show totally captivated me — and not only because of the regularly ordered displays: the racks of jars and rows of tools. Seen en masse, the work’s understated politics becomes clear: here’s an attempt to distill and order, through basic elements — color, water, food, language — the identity of a community, of a place.

Below, on the ground: A Long Line: “22 antique toy dump trucks carry a load of fractured marble pieces sandblasted with texts from used history books.”




Above: The Authentic Colors of Historic Philadelphia: “Displayed on an antique wooden bench, these ten jars contain different paints and are each sandblasted with its corresponding official color name. The colors were chosen from a paint chart that consists of 31 colors, all matched and certified to have been used on the interiors and exteriors of public and private buildings in colonial Philadelphia.” And relatedly…

Below: Dark on That Whiteness, 1998: “These 173 jars are filled with paint, each color matching the exterior walls of a federal building or monument surrounding the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The installation maps out the neighborhood, with each jar installed according to the corresponding building’s location. The jars are sandblasted with the commercial name of each color from the paint manufacturer. The title of the piece is a quotation from the nineteenth-century sculptor Horatio Greenough, which describes the dark red color of the stone used for the Smithsonian Institution building….”

And more from D.C, below: Where the Water Goes: “The water int these jars was collected from three sites in the Washington, D.C. area. On the left, the water was collected from the Upper Potomac River, north of the aqueduct that supplies the city with water. The nine center jars contain water from each of the nine sinks in the public restrooms of the United States Supreme Court. On the right, the jar is filled with water from the Lower Potomac River, downriver from the city’s primary wastewater treatment facility.”



Finally, Ericson and Ziegler’s interest in color and identity followed me downtown, to MoMA, where I saw Christopher Williams’s “The Production Line of Happiness” (a line drawn from Godard, with all kinds of obvious allusion to Marxism and myth). Here, color is tied to brand — in this case, the brand-name materials (Kodak, Fuji, Pantone, etc.) integral to manufacturing idealized images. Just as Higgs’s exhibition highlighted the integrated apparatuses(ae) of “displayism,” Williams’s work and the show’s exhibition design operate in tandem to make manifest the various apparatae of image-making, image display, and perception — we see the guts of cameras, the guts of galleries’ temporary walls, light meters, color correction gradients, coolers of film — and how those technical systems (all described exhaustively in lengthy captions, none of which, notably, are presented on the walls, but are instead made available in the text-heavy, clinical exhibition guide) work together to produce meticulously “constructed images” that define our (consumer) ideals, that determine for us what constitutes “happiness.”

Sure sure sure: institutional critique, blah blah blah. But institutional critique on so many simultaneous rhetorical and material and technological registers seems freshly challenging.

As Villem Flusser states in his “Photo Production” lecture, reproduced in the exhibition catalog:

[I]mages are potent models. If one calls models of experience ‘art,’ models of knowledge ‘science,’ and models of evaluation ‘ethics’ or ‘politics,’ it becomes evident that photographing in the true sense is much more than an artistic endeavor. It is a fully human endeavor, where art, science, and ethics cannot be distinguished from one another.



The “true photographer,” he continues, aims to “inform” others while acknowledging the “automatic reproducibility” of his tools. He “is committed against automation,” “engaged in a struggle against apparatus function.” (It’s not irrelevant that both Williams’s father and grandfather worked in movie special effects, as Schjeldahl notes in his New Yorker review).

[The true photographer’s] aim is to force the apparatus to somehow invert its program like a glove, and have it produce that which is unexpected from the point of view of the program. Thus was we have here is the attempt to face the fact that the apparatuses we have produced tend to escape our control, tend to become autonomous of human decision. I believe that this is the context in which we must see the photographer’s commitment: to oppose the stupidity of the automatic disinformation with the human intention to produce, to distribute, and to stock new information, and thus overcome death and become somehow immortal.

Williams makes vision visible. He displays photography’s apparatae of automation, highlights the museum’s discourses of presentation, and denaturalizes the means by which consumer culture and capitalism “produce” spectacles of happiness.



Smudgy vitrines and humidity monitors: technologies of display
Smudgy vitrines and humidity monitors: technologies of display
Bifurcated walls + bifurcated cameras
Bifurcated walls + bifurcated cameras