Aztec Infographics, Saucepan Sculptures + More Art

Andrew Kuo (via Malborough)
Andrew Kuo (via Malborough)

I saw more art. Surprise!

Let’s start with the joint-Scott Reeder / Andrew Kuo “It Gets Beta” (ha!) show at Marlborough Chelsea. I quite enjoyed Kuo’s Aztec Rayogram Infographics (that’s my term — not his) — geometric abstractions as parody data visualizations. Check out the legend beneath the graph, which includes such useless variables as “It takes too much effort to argue with the successful people who think everyone else just isn’t trying” and “Exercise is hard, eating well is boring and drinking gets expensive, but pictures of cats will never fail.” Crazy!




Then on to Kevin Beasley at Casey Kaplan. For his Movement IV he attached contact mics to each key of a vintage Steinway, and hooked those mics up to a soundboard — which  means that, when the piano is played, we hear both the tone of the struck key and the sounds of bodily contact. And on the walls we find acoustic mirrors fashioned of resin and old house dresses (similar to those worn by Beasley’s grandmother) and t-shirts. These bowl-shaped sculptures are doubly resonant: both encapsulating the artist’s personal material history and catching and refracting sound waves in the gallery. These dishes thus capture echoes both of the moment, and of deep personal history.

Kevin Beasley
Kevin Beasley


Then, Joyce Kozloff’s “Social Studies” — historiographically-disruptive images and text collaged atop mid-century classroom maps — at Alliance Française.


After that, the magnificent “Making Music Modern” at MoMA, a wonderful multi-instrumental exhibition on the shared rhythms and tonalities of music and design throughout the 20th century:

Music and design—art forms that share aesthetics of rhythm, tonality, harmony, interaction, and improvisation—have long had a close affinity, perhaps never more so than during the 20th century. Radical design and technological innovations, from the LP to the iPod and from the transistor radio to the Stratocaster, have profoundly altered our sense of how music can be performed, heard, distributed, and visualized. Avant-garde designers—among them Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Lilly Reich, Saul Bass, Jørn Utzon, and Daniel Libeskind—have pushed the boundaries of their design work in tandem with the music of their time.

Making Music Modern, via domus
Making Music Modern, via domus
Josef Albers album covers (via new grass)
Josef Albers album covers (via new grass)

Then: the stupendous Subodh Gupta’s “Seven Billion Light Years” at Hauser + Wirth, which explores the monumental, even cosmic, dimensions of the mundane. As the gallery explains, “Gupta captures the everyday realities of life in India – its nearly surreal collisions between the inescapably earthy and the ineffably divine, between the current of masses and the path of private days – through works of art that address dichotomies between traditional values and the impact of globalization.” Pots and pans and utensils carry, in their scratches and dings, traces of their daily patterns of use — in cooking and eating and washing.

Subodh Gupta






Then on to Charles Atlas’s “The Waning of Justice” at Luhring Augustine, which juxtaposed various temporal scales: the glacial, the seasonal, the tidal, the solar and lunar, the microtemporal, and perceptual time.



After that was Michael Snow’s “A Group Show” at Jack Shainman, which, like Atlas’s work, played with temporality and language, but with more overt humor. The video installation That/Cela/Dat juxtaposed English, French, and Dutch texts — which periodically switched positions, taking turns on the main screen and on side monitors, in apparent “subtitle” roles — to comment on the nature of language (i.e., “this is not that”) and the very fact of the viewer’s presence, viewing. Achingly post-structuralist. And hilarious.

And then, “AND” at 601 Artspace (I’ve seen so many great shows here!), a lovely exhibition that’s all about collection, archiving, accumulation. It includes work by Olafur Eliasson, Tom Friedman, Luigi Ghirri, Idris Kahn, Louise Lawler, Christian Marclay, Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, Gabriel Orozco, and other fine folks.






Then, in keeping with the temporality and collection themes: my colleague Ernesto Klar’s “Invisible Disparities” at Postmasters documents his three-year journey to collect dust from around the world. As the gallery explains,

He began by selecting locations – forty of them – where a plurality of histories, times, and potentialities physically co-exist within their man-made infrastructural elements. Locations range from well-known to unfamiliar historical sites, from ancient sites to contemporary past sites. The West Bank, Rwanda, Hiroshima, Hollywood, Athens, Rio de Janeiro, Beijing, Warsaw, Petra, Moscow, Dhaka, Havana, Sydney, and Ho Chi Minh City are among them. Klar traveled to each location to collect, store, and archive its dust. These processes are methodically documented on video, where the artist is seen always wearing the same uniform and using a portable duster to vacuum the dust. This performative action, the actual vacuuming of dust, represents for the artist a centrifugal gesture that instigates, both literally and metaphorically, the convergence of disparate temporal, historical, and material relationships. After having collected dust at all sites, the artist created a sculpture by mixing together and then fusing the dust under intense heat. Klar refers to the resulting sculptural work as one anthropic rock, or a man-made rock, in which invisible disparities join one another and transmute into new matter. Separately, Klar has created an artist book that archives individual dust samples for every site in hermetically sealed glass vials. All forty videos, anthropic rock and the book will be on view.

Ernesto Klar
Ernesto Klar
Vials of dust + index
The One Anthropic Rock
The One Anthropic Rock

And finally, while visiting Montreal for a conference, my friend Brendan Kredell and I visited the Canadian Centre for Architecture — which I haven’t visited since I was a Visiting Scholar there in 2012! — for their gorgeously designed “Rooms You May Have Missed” exhibition, which echoes many of the themes central to Gupta’s work at Hauser + Wirth.

Rooms You May Have Missed reclaims the significance of inhabitation and is for that reason a collection of domestic spaces—entry porticos, kitchens, bedrooms, closets, dining rooms, courtyards, gardens, vestibules, living rooms, offices, dens and washrooms—as reinvented in the work of two very different architects: Umberto Riva in Milan and Bijoy Jain in Mumbai. Common to their practices is a genuine concern for the details that support living in and our common rituals of waking, bathing, eating, entertaining and sleeping.

I just loved all the unfinished walnut throughout the CCA’s galleries.






New Interview on Sound Archives + Media Archaeology in Amodern
Christian Marclay’s cassette tape cyanotype

The young-and-impressive online journal Amodern has just released its new special issue on “The Poetry Series,” featuring articles on literary archives, archival organizational structures, transcoding, “paraphonotextuality,” the poetry-reading-as-medium, computational literary analysis, oral history, communal soundscapes, and other fascinating things — all put into context with a wonderful response by Marjorie Perloff. Among the articles is a conversation between Christine Mitchell and me about sound archives and media archaeology. It was fun.


“Furnishing the Cloud” Exhibition


For the past year-and-a-half I’ve been collaborating with my friends and colleagues Orit Halpern and Brian McGrath (and, much earlier in the process, with Jane Pirone, Jessica Irish, and Rory Solomon) on a grant-supported exploration of “emergent infrastructures.” We decided that, rather than submitting our final report in the form of a traditional report — or organizing a traditional who’s who symposium — we’d create a new “knowledge infrastructure” for thinking about knowledge infrastructures. Hence “Furnishing the Cloud“: the exhibition!



We welcomed architect and exhibition/furniture designer Kim Ackert into our group last fall to help us begin devising concrete plans for this highly immaterial concept. And this spring Kim’s furniture design class — to which I contributed on several occasions (they used my “Intellectual Furnishings” work as one of their foundational texts) — was charged with rethinking the ergonomics and architectures necessitated by our digital media devices. They created, using CNC routers and other computational fabrication technology, full-scale cardboard prototypes of their mobile-reading seating, charging stations, data shelving, etc.



IMG_7873The rudimentary materiality of these pieces– skilled, if rough, construction using seemingly-primitive materials — stood in stark contrast to the sleek gallery surfaces: Kim and Jordana Goot, an amazingly talented architecture/lighting design student and installation designer, wrapped the room in white vinyl; shielded the front window, which looks out onto 5th Avenue, in a gossamer scrim; and played with the lighting in an attempt to make gallery visitors feel as if they were walking amongst the clouds.

Meanwhile, Orit’s spring history class investigated various affective, political, cultural, temporal shifts that the cloud has stirred up: parasites, precarity, a drive toward preemption, restlessness, spectrality. They developed online research dossiers for our FurnishingTheCloud project website, and some students from my fall Archives/Libraries/Databases class refined their own projects for the exhibition website, too: Laura Sanchez developed her “Rethinking Libraries for the Information Age,” a summary of and response to the 2014 Architectural League of NY / Center for an Urban Future branch library design study, in which both Laura and I participated. And Eishin Yoshida expanded her “My Little Library,” an exploration of the books and other media resources that cycle in and out of our lives, and how they take on new personal meaning — and enter into new relationships with one another — as our projects develop and our attentions shift.

The FurnishingTheCloud website also features dossiers from the furniture design students, who display precedent studies, chronicle the evolution of their designs, share renderings of the pieces (hypothetically) in use. They’ll be developing their designs — transforming these prototypes into finished pieces — over the course of the semester.



Each project — both the material furnishings in the gallery and the virtual projects that helped to contextualize the exhibited objects — received its own QR code. And all of those codes were displayed in a grid on the lobby wall outside the gallery. We mirrored the wall perpendicular to the rows of codes, hoping that the reflected codes would create a sense of infinite regress, data overload — much like Boulee’s library.

My original idea was to transform this lobby wall into a material manifestation of data overload — and a literal palimpsest of past, present, and future conceptualizations of the cloud. I envisioned Constable and Turner and Van Gogh clouds mixed in with various renderings of “trees of knowledge,” layered atop photos of data centers, mosaicked with neural nets and database architectures, and with the QR codes pinned on top. That didn’t happen.

Boullée, Deuxieme projet pour la Bibliothèque du Roi
Boullée, Deuxieme projet pour la Bibliothèque du Roi

The show took place in The New School’s Aronson Gallery from March 9 through March 22. Here’s the wall text I wrote:

Much of our common stock of knowledge — from the inscriptions of early civilizations, the classic texts of the ancient world, the manuscripts of the Middle Ages, and the maps and scientific treatises of the Renaissance, to the tweets and open data sets of today — now resides in The Cloud. That Cloud seems to have no boundaries, no place; it floats above us, bringing its intellectual riches to those of us who are connected to it, wherever we might be. Yet The Cloud isn’t nearly as ubiquitous as the weather. Its accessibility is limited by protocols and cables, and its “content” has to be shaped, formalized through various interfaces, in order for us to perceive and process it. 

Furnishing the Cloud considers both how we have historically imagined the architectures and containers of our common stock of knowledge — the universal library, the endless bookshelf, the collective brain  — and proposes new conceptual and physical infrastructures, as well as a new ergonomics, for storing, accessing, and processing the contents of the cloud. 

Exhibition Designers: Kimberly Ackert, with assistance from Jordana Maisie Goot
Curators: Kimberly Ackert, Orit Halpern, Shannon Mattern, and Brian McGrath
Web Development:Daniel Udell
Curatorial Assistant: Nadia Christidi
Students from Kimberly Ackert’s Furniture, Detail and Space course: Dhafar Al-Edani, Mariam Alshamali, Tanyaporn Anantrungroj, Derick Brown, Felipe Colin, Kristina Cowger, Jo Garst, Jennifer Hindelang, Jacqueline Leung, Pei Ying Lin, Valter Lindgren, Mochi Lui, Matilda Maansdotter, Emmanuela Martini, Simon Schulz, Whitney Shanks, Raquel Sonobe
Web Projects: Zachary Franciose, Laura Sanchez, Eishin Yoshida
Students from Orit Halpern’s Making Sense: Methods in the Study of Media, Attention, and Infrastructure course: Nicholas Cavaioli, Raquel DeAnda, Joseph Goldsmith, Angelica Huggins, Ian Keith, Kate McEntee, Awis Nari Mranani, Erika Nyame-Nseke, Kevin Swann, Shea Sweeney, Daniel Udell, Michal Unterberg, Kyla Wasserman

Parsons’ Insights wrote about the show here. My own school, as usual, didn’t really seem to notice. Oh, man — did I just say that?


“Spatial Organization of Media” @ SCMS

The information "Filter Room" @ No.11 Group Operations Room at RAF Uxbridge
The information “Filter Room” @ No.11 Group Operations Room at RAF Uxbridge

Tomorrow I’ll be joining with Craig Robertson from Northeastern University, author of a fantastic book on the history of the passport; and Matthew Kirschenbaum from the University of Maryland, author of the much-celebrated Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination, for a discussion of “the spatial organization of media” at the annual Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference in Montreal. Lynn Spigel was planning to join us as a respondent, but she was suddenly unable to attend. Craig will be sharing some material from his forthcoming book on the history of the filing cabinet (yay!) , and Matt will be talking about sand tables — a “furnishing” used for military strategizing (again, yay!). I’ll paste below their abstracts, and then I’ll share the intro to my presentation, which draws pretty heavily from the “Intellectual Furnishings” piece I posted last November, which was itself a preview of research I plan to dig into next year.



Craig Robertson / The Emergence of the Filing Cabinet: The Spatial and Temporal Storage of Modern Information/Craig Robertson

This paper uses the early 20th century emergence of the filing cabinet in offices to think about storage as the articulation of temporal and spatial practices – and therefore to explore the argument that storage is not the passive opposite of active transmission. To consider the filing cabinet as a storage technology is to examine the ways in which drawers, folders, and tabs were articulated through alpha-numerical sequences to organize space with the intention of managing time, or more precisely to “save” time: in the sense of reducing the time it took clerks to file and also to save time in the sense of preserving paper documents.

The filing cabinet signals an important development in information storage because it facilitated the storage of documents in anticipation of future use. That is, in a filing cabinet, storage is approached as a problem of retrieval, offering the novel solution of storing paper on its edge. Prior to the filing cabinet most offices approached storage as a problem of preservation through a logic of stockpiling. In some cases this resulted in actual piles of paper documents, more frequently it was paper bound in books with little attempt at indexing.

While the simplistic opposition of transmission (active) and storage (passive) within media theory has been successfully challenged in recent years (especially in media archaeology) this paper argues that what is still needed is a more nuanced understanding of storage as an active process. This paper also foregrounds that (outside of the history of digitization and computer processing) it is necessary to understand information storage not as passive, but as a technical solution that is as integral to the organization and processing of information as recording and transmission.


Matthew Kirschenbaum / Sand—-Tables

This paper explores the medial history and speculative politics of the sand table, a purpose-built furnishing supporting a bounded, malleable, scalable space sculpted in sand and historically used for modeling military or civic operations in three dimensions. Though sand tables have their origins in the ancient world they had achieved prominence by the late seventeenth century, more or less coterminous with the rise of relief maps, the science of military fortification as pioneered by Vauban, and the close order drills of “clockwork” field formations formulated by Maurice of Nassau. Georg Leopold von Reisswitz, inventor of the modern wargame or “Kriegsspiel,” built the first implementation of his game on a sand table in Prussia in the early 19th century. An early 20th century American military textbook assumes the sand table as a given in instructing cadets, and enumerates its virtues: that it affords an aerial, “birds-eye” perspective; that it is easily made from common materials; that it is malleable and reconfigurable, capable of reproducing any desired terrain at any scale with greater flexibility and fidelity than static relief maps; and that the resolution of the representations may be as coarse or as “real” as desired.

Given their material silicon base, sand tables perhaps emerge as a heretofore unexamined component in narratives of interactive medial spaces, with clear associations to maps, modeling, miniatures, and wargaming. More specifically, we can locate them in a trajectory of surfaces, screens, and projections that include the wartime plotting tables of the RAF’s Fighter Command (which tracked the incoming German raids in real-time during the Blitz), the SAGE air defense system (where controllers vectored interceptors toward threats using a light pen), and the kind of “big board” digital cartographical displays commonplace in both Cold War films like War Games as well as contemporary “War on Terror” imagery (24, Homeland, et al.) Drawing on elements of media archaeology, military science, and object oriented ontology, this paper thus works towards introducing and situating the sand table within a genealogy of such speculative, projective surfaces. Moreover, as we will see, more than merely passive reflections of an external reality, the sand table can assume its own representational primacy, as in, for example, the work of Brian Conley, whose 2008 media installation Miniature War in Iraq . . . And Now Afghanistan! uses a massive stand table for its installed base. The paper concludes that the sand table is equally relevant to both a history of projective surfaces and the origins of tactile, touch-sensitive media whose contemporary apotheosis is the touch-screen.

Me / Intellectual Furnishings: Media Storage Devices as Epistemic Structures

In lieu of an abstract — you can get the gist of the paper here — I’ll post the introduction to my talk:

I’ll begin with an autobiographical preface: [2] I grew up in a home with an ever-present dusting of sawdust, which perfumed our air with its magnificent smell. [3] The workshop in the back yard meant that I had the privilege of living with custom-made furniture: [4] these are bookshelves my cabinetmaker father and I made together. I also have desks and filing cabinets and reading stands made to my specifications. [5] I’ve come to understand, in retrospect, that that workshop, with its precarious balance of mess and organization, [6] played a key role in inspiring my fascinating with the aesthetics of organization and storage. [7] As a child, and still today, I found and find great intellectual stimulation – and beauty – in sorting the Phillips head from the flat-head screwdrivers, the roofing nails from the finishing nails, and putting them in their appropriate cabinets and bins.

[8] Those fascinations transferred to another of my childhood homes: the hardware store that my dad owned with his two brothers – which, after 40 years, including a decade fighting Home Depot and Lowe’s, they sold last August. [9] The store and the workshop together generated an appreciation [10] for how the design of one’s intimate environment – the spaces in closest proximity to our bodies – has tremendous affective and intellectual implications. [11] And that environment seems like a logical next step (step – get it?!) – and next scale – for my research. Hence, the preliminary work I’ll be sharing today, on Intellectual Furnishings.

[12] Most of my work for the past decade-and-a-half has been about media and space – at the urban, infrastructural, and architectural scale. A few of my past projects have examined the interior design of media spaces, and some have even focused on individual furnishings:

  • [13] My book on libraries mentioned service desks and bookshelves
  • [14/15] Phillips Exeter Library: bookstacks, carrels, Harkness Table
  • [16] Woodberry Poetry Room: vitrines, screens, record players
  • [17/18] Bureaucratic and intellectual structures for filing

[19] My next project – which I’ll begin in earnest on a fellowship next year – will reside at the bureaucratic scale – the scale of the bureau, the cabinet, the shelf: the scale of furniture.

I’ll start work on this project next year. [20] Today, I’ll share my basic framework and an examination of one “species” of furnishings: the bookstack…


Wikipedia + Feminist Epistemology


This past weekend I was invited to play a small part in the Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon at Babycastles, a video game/art gallery that should be in Bushwick or Ridgewood, but is on 14th Street in Manhattan instead. A similar event took place at the Museum of Modern Art the previous day, on International Women’s Day — but the Babycastles’ “node” (one of many around the world) was intended to capture a different segment of the art world: a techie-er, fringey-er segment. The Art+Feminism campaign aims both to improve female coverage on Wikipedia, and to encourage female participation in Wikipedia, where, we are told, only 10% of all contributors are female.

I was supposed to stop by the gallery early in the afternoon — for a little “edit interlude” presentation — to talk about female librarians and archivists. I took some time over the preceding week to read up on the A+F campaign and lady librarians, and I decided to do some background research on feminist historiography, too. Unfortunately, the timing just didn’t work out on the day of the event. The event organizers and editors weren’t ready for me when I showed up at my scheduled time — and when I was preparing to return a couple hours later, they were in a groove; my interruption would’ve halted the momentum.

400Thus, I didn’t get to share the presentation I prepared, which sucked (… and which, in retrospect, seems rather ironic to me — given that one of the great concerns about Wikipedia and other forms of digital volunteerism is the potential devaluation of intellectual labor). So, I’ll share here what I would’ve shared with the editors, had all gone according to plan. I had only bullet points for the talk — I was planning to extemporize — but for the purposes of this post I’ll flesh out that shorthand into complete sentences [N.B. I delivered an updated version of this talk at the Wikimedia NYC meet-up at Babycastles on April 29; you can read that talk here]:

Yesterday’s event at MoMA resulted in the expansion of a number of biographies — Lucy Lippard’s, Janet Cardiff’s, Hella Jongerius’s — and the creation of new ones: LaToya Ruby Frazier’s, Toshiko Mori’s, Camille Henrot’s. But here were are today, in a radically different kind of space. Consider the relationship between these two institutions — MoMA and Babycastles — and how the institutional (and architectural and cultural and ideological…) differences might differentiate the work that goes on in these related-but-separate events.

The MoMA edit-a-thon, we might assume, involved the insertion of myriad “notable” feminist artists, curators, art historians, etc., into Wikipedia. The Babycastles’ crew, I imagine — and I’m probably generalizing obnoxiously; forgive me — is probably thinking about the kinds of art that MoMA has been seriously thinking about as art only relatively recently: video games, net art, and other techno-aesthetic projects. Another potential advantage, or distinction, of the Babycastles crowd is a widespread recognition that “art” — or, more broadly, the aesthetic — doesn’t reside merely at the level of the perceptible: the work that hangs on a wall or plays on a monitor and gets a wall label. Art’s also in the code; it’s in the servers and conduits; it’s in the preservation strategies and archives. It’s in the myriad intertwined infrastructures that make digital art – and, really, all art – possible.

Another group of folks with a similar sensibility includes librarians and archivists and preservationists – all of whom have made key contributions to the art world, and to media and technological history, but who are often regarded as, or “reduced” to, the organizers, the sorters, the tidy-ers, the care-takers. But this care-taking, this organization-making, is intellectual and aesthetic and political work. Notable work.

Consider two women – both of whom happen to have their own Wikipedia entries already (and both of whom we discuss every year in my Archives/Libraries/Databases class):

First, Megan Prelinger, one half of the Prelinger Archive and Library duo, whose collaborative work reinforces the informational and historical value of quotidian artifacts and ephemera and “occasional” publications. She and her partner, Rick, mine history’s discard pile. They also advocate for alternative means of organizing information: their library in San Francisco is organized according to scales of exploration, from the local to the intergalactic — from San Francisco to Outer Space.

Second, Suzanne Briet, a French librarian who lived from 1894 to 1989, who encouraged us to consider what constitutes, and what counts as, a document. She advocated for the valuation of “grey literature,” correspondence, the information in phone calls — even animals. She suggested that even an antelope could be a “document” in a zoo, where it is made an object of study, where it’s “taxonomized” and used as evidence of something. She also noted that documents are products of culture — what counts as a document is determined in part by its cultural context, as in the case of our antelope — and that culture plays a key role in our understanding of how we interpret documents. Her insights pertain to our mission here: we’re turning female artists into subjects worthy of documentation, and creating a culture where those documents are validated and valued.

tumblr_nkl8ryWglm1r6ssrvo1_1280While I do agree that it’s critically important that females and artists — and, of course, female artists — are well represented both among the contributors to Wikipedia and the subjects of its entries, I think it’s just as (if not more?) significant to think about what it means to be a Wikipedia “subject.” And about what, and how, Wikipedia itself means. I’m asking here about feminist historiography and epistemology.

Let’s consider some of these questions:

How does Wikipedia structure knowledge? What does it suggest is worth knowing? Who is a “notable” figure worthy of inclusion? To be considered for inclusion, a figure might have had a “significant” exhibition. Says who? Or she might have “originated” a “significant new technique.” Again, who gets to decide?

What kinds of histories does Wikipedia promote? (A biographically-focused one, judging by the historiographic methods we’re employing here.) How does the site’s architecture structure how we think about – and write – history? And given our interest in art, let’s think, too, about the site’s aesthetics: what role do Wikipedia’s aesthetics play in the shaping of knowledge?

How do we reconcile Wikipedia insistence on a “neutral point of view” with feminists’ acknowledgment of knowledge as “situated” and embodied?

Could would potentially intervene instead on a structural or an aesthetic level, to make Wikipedia reflect a more feminist epistemology or historiography? Could Wikipedia embody some alternative to the “Great Man Theory” of how the world works? [Edit, 3/11: Trevor Owens directed me to Roy Rosenzweig’s fantastic “Can History Be Open Source?: Wikipedia and the Future of the Past” article, from The Journal of American History in 2006 — so prescient!] How might we think of infusing a little feminist sensibility through means that go beyond creating new entries for “forgotten” or “ignored” female figures (which is itself, of course, a valuable enterprise)? What if we instead wrote women – and feminist values – into Wikipedia’s existing macro-narratives? What if we thought about the site’s technical architecture and protocols — the link, the citation, and other writing conventions — as processes, or acts, that could be “feminized”? And what would that even mean?

Today you’re editing existing entries for female artists, and writing new artists into Wiki-history. That’s fabulous. But let’s think also about how that history is shaped, and what politics our Wiki-historiography embodies. What’s feminist about that?



New Places Column on Dashboards + Urban Command Centers

mattern-1-dashboard-1020x703My latest column for Places was published yesterday. Rob Kitchin — who had nice things to say about my earlier column, “Interfacing Urban Intelligence” — kindly invited me to write about “urban dashboards” for Understanding Spatial Media, a forthcoming collection he’s editing with Tracey P. Lauriault and Matthew W. Wilson. I was grateful that Rob and his colleagues allowed me to publish a longer version of that piece in Places — before it appears in the book. “Mission Control: A History of the Urban Dashboards” traces the history of the data dashboard back through the Bloomberg terminal, the control room, the airplane cockpit, the car dashboard, and other optical mechanisms that afford a macro-scale view of urban operations. My amazing research assistant Steve Taylor dug up a lot of tremendously useful historical texts on car design, cockpit design, and the evolution of related fields of engineering — so I owe him a great debt of gratitude.


Maps as Media: New Fall 2015 Studio


After five years of joy and (technical) frustration, I’ve decided to retire my old “Urban Media Archaeology” class. Given how much time and energy I dedicated to this course over the years, I’m grateful to have achieved a satisfying sense of closure: next week the University of Minnesota Press will ship my Deep Mapping the Media City, a little book that essentially outlines the theoretical and historical frameworks and methods of UMA.

Yet I can’t simply abandon the map. So, this coming fall, I’ll introduce a new hybrid theory-practice studio course: Maps as Media. Here’s my tentative course description:

Maps reveal, delineate, verify, orient, navigate, anticipate, historicize, conceal, persuade, and, on occasion, even lie. From the earliest maps in cave paintings and on clay tablets, to the predictive climate visualizations and crime maps and mobile cartographic apps of today and tomorrow, maps have offered far more than an objective representation of a stable reality. In this hybrid theory-practice studio we’ll examine the past, present, and future – across myriad geographic and cultural contexts – of our techniques and technologies for mapping space and time. In the process, we’ll address various critical frameworks for analyzing the rhetorics, poetics, politics, and epistemologies of spatial and temporal maps. Throughout the semester we’ll also experiment with a variety of critical mapping tools and methods, from techniques of critical cartography to sensory mapping to time-lining, using both analog and digital approaches. Tentative course requirements include: individual map critiques; individual final critical-creative projects in a format of each student’s choosing; and small-group projects completed in collaboration with NYPL Labs and the NYPL Map Division, in support of their work on the Knight Foundation-funded Space/Time Directory.

I welcome overtures from potential guest speakers, hosts of field trips and/or other cartographic excursions, and especially creative, tech-savvy, GIS-fluent teaching assistants!

via Gene Keyes; Cahill-Keyes Maps
via Gene Keyes; Cahill-Keyes Maps

My New Book, Deep Mapping the Media City, Is Out!

DeepMappingI’ve published a little book, Deep Mapping the Media City, with the University of Minnesota Press’s Forerunners series. It’s now available for purchase in print and as an ebook.

Going beyond current scholarship on the “media city” and the “smart city,” Shannon Mattern argues that our global cities have been mediated and intelligent for millennia. Deep Mapping the Media City advocates for urban media archaeology, a multisensory approach to investigating the material history of networked cities. Mattern explores the material assemblages and infrastructures that have shaped the media city by taking archaeology literally—using techniques like excavation and mapping to discover the modern city’s roots in time.

The book(let) represents a preliminary attempt to tie together research — on the “deep history” of the media city — that I’ve been doing for the past 15 years, and that I’ve been exploring in my “Media and Architecture” and “Urban Media Archaeology” classes since 2003. Forerunners is Minnesota’s short-form “thought-in-process” series:

Written between fresh ideas and finished books, Forerunners draws on scholarly work initiated in blog space, social media, conference plenaries, and articles. We think of it as gray literature publishing: where intense thinking, change, and speculation happen in scholarship.

This particular text originally took form as my keynote lecture for the 2013 “Media City” symposium at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies; and it draws on material I published in my “Ear to the Wire: Listening to Historic Urban Infrastructures” article, which appeared in Amodern in 2013; and my “Deep Time of Media Infrastructure” chapter, forthcoming in Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski’s Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures in May 2015. This Forerunner is intended to foreshadow (and to motivate me to finish!!) my longer book on Urban Media Archaeology.