Mapping Time

A few weeks ago I gave a guest presentation in Rory Solomon’s Time studio — a required, first-semester design studio for all Parsons freshmen. It reminded me of just how much I miss teaching freshmen: so fresh, so curious, so eager!

Rory asked me to talk about mapping time, so I pulled together a three-part presentation highlighting (1) timelines and maps with a temporal or historical dimension; (2) maps of the ephemeral; and (3) objects and places that register time’s passing.

Behold! My slides:

rnd lab
rnd lab

A Legacy of Critical Comedy: Remembering Jiun Kwon


Late last week one of my thesis advisees, Jiun Kwon, passed away suddenly and tragically. Her loss will be widely mourned — but her legacy lives on in the many lives she touched, and in the beautiful work she has produced and shared with the world.

I never had the pleasure of having Jiun in one of my classes, but over the past two years — as we worked together on her smart and timely thesis — I came to know her as a vibrant, articulate, perceptive, diligent young woman; a gifted writer and media-maker; a lover of performance and comedy; and a widely known and highly regarded champion of social justice. Her myriad passions and talents converged in her thesis, which explores the evolution of stand-up comedy, and its function as a form of social critique, in an evolving media landscape — from minstrelsy through the age of YouTube clips, podcasts, and Twitter. I’ve posted below an excerpt from her introduction.

Jiun submitted a brilliant final draft just as the fall semester began. It seems so unfair: barely a month has elapsed between this celebration-worthy achievement and her untimely demise. And while Jiun’s spectacular work was more than sufficient to fulfill the requirements of an MA thesis, she intended to keep working on the project — to keep adding case studies that explored the evolution of comedy and its potential as a tool for critical discourse about some of society’s most thorny issues.

It was truly a gift to be able to work with Jiun. In a school as large as ours (we’ve got nearly 500 graduate students) I’m often baffled to see so many unfamiliar faces walk the stage at our end-of-year commencement ceremonies: how could I have encountered so few of these people during their two+ years in the program? I hadn’t known Jiun until she sought me out in late 2013. And I’m so grateful she did. Not only have I learned a great deal from her academic work — from her sharp mind and her commitment to critical social consciousness — but I’ve also been enriched and emboldened by the strength and clarity of her convictions, and touched by her kindness.

Jiun designed her thesis on tumblr so she could display the work she was writing about; she embedded dozens of video and audio clips and still images. Because the thesis contains a significant amount of copyrighted material, she chose to keep the blog password-protected. When she submitted it, I knew it deserved a wider audience; it has so much to offer to scholars of media, comedy, social justice, and public intellectualism. So I asked her if I could share her work and publicize the password (comedy). She agreed. 

This brilliant thesis is a significant part of Jiun’s legacy. It represents a great intellectual contribution — and it embodies, through its vibrancy and clarity, Jiun’s spirit. I am particularly moved by the poignancy and timeliness of her chapter on comedian Tig Notaro’s momentous “Hello, I have cancer” set from 2012:

The resulting album, titled “Live” (as in, I live here) is ultimately a document of transgression. It is a space where the threat of literal death confronts the risk of performative abjection, a comedy performance that does not openly seek laughter, allowing tragedy to enter, and where silence nurtures connectedness. It features an audience who meets vulnerability, not with the threat of figurative death, but with a rallying support for life. It is an audience positioned in community, not in opposition. It is a singular work; material of a solitary occurrence that will never be reproduced anywhere else, yet replayed across an entire digital media landscape.

Jiun would want her work to nurture such connectedness. Hers, too, is a singular work. And it deserves to be replayed across the media landscape, in celebration of her singular, exceptional life — and in pursuit of those ties that should connect us all, not only in tragedy and remembrance, but in shared strength and conviction.

Rest in peace, Jiun. We’ll continue the work you started.

From the introduction to Jiun’s thesis:

…Previous studies of standup have primarily focused on live performance (Rutter, Timler), with standup media being examined merely as documents of live performance. But exhibition structures have shifted dramatically over time, and we are now deeply entrenched in what Lucas Hildabrand has dubbed a ‘culture of the clip’, due in large part to the move away from traditional television broadcast in favor of web-based exhibition, and the archiving of popular media in the age of YouTube. Older and contemporary works alike are disaggregated and remediated through an interconnected network that has accelerated our consumption through immediacy and access. These changes have cultivated a phenomenon of ‘non-narrative seriality’ that has reordered the relationship between live performance and the digital record, as well as between performers’ private and public personae. And in this current cultural moment, comedy is thriving. At the time of this writing, the landscape of comedy is notably vast, stretching across various platforms (television, radio, web, podcasts, live performance). Comedians are active across various social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), with audiences interacting directly with them through these tools. People share clips through these platforms as well, creating a climate where exhibition, consumption, and critique are all occurring simultaneously in a shared virtual space.

Essentially, the comedy audience is the media audience.

At the same time, we are also entrenched in a vital political and social movement, at every intersection of race, gender, and sexuality, that is utilizing these same media tools to mobilize and disseminate a message of radical change. The formation of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, as a response to sustained violence toward black and brown communities at the hands of the police, has centered discussions of racism with an urgency we have not seen in many decades. Sexism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, ageism, and other forms of discrimination are also at the forefront of our public discourse. These developments, both in access and reception, have only amplified the influence of comedic expression and its role in our social landscape. In a recent piece for The Atlantic, Megan Garber argues that “comedians have taken on the role of public intellectuals,” whose “most important function is to stimulate debates among the rest of us.” And so, it is unsurprising that these tools have also prompted a politicized audience to respond with more than just laughter. We are living in a media ecosystem of critical analysis that no longer points in just one direction, and no longer limited to a few select voices. There have been many instances of pushback from audiences, critics, and other comics, as we acclimate to this new paradigm, with plenty of comics bemoaning what they perceive as a return to ‘political correctness’. Ardent defense of free speech in the face of what is known as ‘outrage culture’ is at odds with the notion that comedy should evolve with its audience. But, despite its reputation for excess, this paradigm has arguably facilitated more inclusion within comedy, by pushing in from the margins, and allowing more diverse perspectives to enter into our cultural discourse. It has also amplified comedy’s reach, through alternative distribution and audience engagement. Consequently, it is more imperative than ever that, when we stop to examine a comedian’s work, we ask:

Who is creating for whom?

This should be a central question of any cultural dissection of comedy. This is not to say that we are required to hypothesize about a comedian’s motives and intentions when crafting a joke. But we must be aware of who is speaking, who is listening, and how the work is being delivered (time, place, and format). Through cumulative analysis, we discover that the media of standup comedy and its relationship with this new media audience, far exceeds the reach of a single piece of joke work or comedic performance, and has cultivated an enhanced form of engagement from its audience that transcends the expectations set in a live comedy space.

This section takes a look at some of the current discourse on the media of comedy, which includes commentary on political correctness, free speech, race and gender.

One of the biggest challenges in comedy is how to talk about race.  In order to address some of the larger questions of representation, we must examine and contextualized the role of media and entertainment in race comedy and its social impact. And so this first of three sections on race, focuses on comedian Richard Pryor, his comedic narrative in the context of his own personal history, and the role of the media documentation of his work.

The following section draws on three separate clips that spotlight the anxiety of anger as expressed through black comedians and distilled through the white media.

The fourth case study attempts to unpack the complexity of one of Chris Rock’s most famous and controversial pieces from his first comedy special, and the inherent conflict of creating visible race comedy.

The following chapter focuses on Louis C.K. I discuss his role in the canon of standup, and his position as a bridge between generations, through his embrace of new forms of exhibition.

And finally the last* chapter on Tig Notaro’s performance at Largo in 2012, through which she publicly declared that she had been diagnosed with cancer, is a deconstruction of performance through its mediatization, both as an audio document, and viral subject.

* The scope of this project currently does not lend itself to a comprehensive history of standup comedy or in-depth inclusion of race/feminist theory, but it is my intention to continue to grow this space to include many more case studies to inspire further critical analysis on the intersectional study of comedy and media.


Indexical Landscapes Symposium @ Art Center College of Design, October 29

Aerial Photo Calibration Targets, via the Center for Land Use Interpretation
Aerial Photo Calibration Targets, via CLUI 

I was delighted to have been invited to serve this semester as a visiting critic in the fantastic Media Design Practices program at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, CA. I’ll be leading a six-part “Critical Frameworks” writing workshop on “indexical writing” — and hosting events during my two on-site visits, in late October and mid-November. I’m particularly excited about the “Indexical Landscapes” symposium I’ve organized for October 29 (I’m giving a solo lecture on this same theme at ArtCenter on Thursday, November 19). You can find info here, here, and here.

Indexical Landscapes

Thursday, October 29, 6 to 9pm
The Wind Tunnel Graduate Center for Critical Practice,
950 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena, CA 91105
[via MDP ArtCenter]

Our streets stream data from embedded sensors, our metropoles splinter into districts defined by delivery logistics or crime data, while our contested zones yield their secrets to drone surveillance. Our cities and metropolitan regions are code-spaces, algorithmic landscapes, with layers of data and informational networks laid atop, and often spilling over, their traditional geographic boundaries. “Now, There: Scenes from the Post-Geographic City,” a concurrent exhibition in Art Center for Design’s gallery, will feature projects that explore these new forms and practices of digital urbanity. Yet even without their datified dressings, our landscapes have long been shaped using techniques and technologies that render them “intelligent” and intelligible – either to we humans who inhabit them, or to the various tools we use to cultivate, navigate, and operationalize them. So many of our landscapes – from factory farms and container ports, to libraries and factories, to airwaves and railways and codifed urban “zones” – materialize, and even render perceptible, the logics behind their own organization, management, and use. This panel discussion examines myriad such “indexical landscapes,” those spaces shaped to refer to their own organized content and operative logics.


Emily Bills, Participating Adjunct Professor and Coordinator, Urban Studies Program, Woodbury University:
“The Telephone Builds Los Angeles”

Jesse LeCavalier, Assistant Professor, School of Architecture, New Jersey Institute of Technology:
“Landscapes of Fulfillment”

Mark Vallianatos, Policy Director, Urban & Environmental Policy Institute, Occidental College:
“Coding & re:coding Los Angeles”

Lorie Velarde, Geographic Information Systems Analyst, Irvine Police Department:
“Using Geography to Find Criminals”

Jason Weems, Associate Professor of American Art and Visual Culture, University of California, Riverside:
“The City, A Slaughterhouse View”

Richard Wheeler, Adjunct faculty, Graduate Media Design Practices: Field, ArtCenter College of Design:
Viewing the Landscape Through Data”

with Tim Durfee, Professor, Graduate Media Design Practices Program, ArtCenter College of Design, on the Now, There: Scenes from the Post-Geographic City exhibition, co-curated with Mimi Zeiger 


Walmart Logistics, via FCDC
Walmart Logistics, via FCDC

Emily Bills received her PhD in the history of architecture and urban planning from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. Her work on telephone infrastructure and Los Angeles received a Graham Foundation Carty Manny Award. She’s also received fellowship and grant support from the Smithsonian, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Huntington Library, and the Society of Architectural Historians. Recent curatorial projects include Pedro E. Guerrero: Photographs of Modern Life, Catherine Opie: In & Around L.A., and Héléne Binet: Fragments of Light. She is currently working on a book about Marvin Rand. Emily is Coordinator of the Urban Studies Program in the College of Transdisciplinarity at Woodbury University.

Jesse LeCavalier is an award-winning designer, writer, and educator. His book, The Rule of Logistics: Walmart and the Architecture of Fulfillment, is forthcoming from the University of Minnesota Press in 2016. In 2015, he was the recipient of the New Faculty Teaching Award from the Association of the Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA). He was the 2010–11 Sanders Fellow at the University of Michigan and a Poiesis Fellow at the Institute for Public Knowledge at NYU. His research has been supported by the Graham Foundation, the New York State Council for the Arts, and the BMW Foundation. LeCavalier’s work has appeared in CabinetPublic CultureArt PapersMonuJAE, and Architectural Design.

Mark Vallianatos is Policy Director of the Urban & Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College, where he works on and teaches about land use, transportation, streets and food policies.  Mark is interested in the history and potential of policy to reflect and to shape ‘how we should live.’ He serves on zoning advisory committee to the re:code LA process and is researching the policy history of two Southern California icons: food trucks and detached, single family houses.

Lorie Velarde is a GIS Analyst with the Irvine Police Department in Irvine, California and an instructor in the spatial analysis of crime.  During her 29-year law enforcement career, she has designed and implemented a department-wide geographic information system (GIS), instructed over 30 law enforcement courses, and published in the area of geographic profiling.  She holds a Master of Science degree in Criminology, a Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Ecology, a California State Multiple Subject Teaching Credential, and California Department of Justice Certification in Crime and Intelligence Analysis.  Lorie has received several awards for her work, including the prestigious International Association of Chiefs of Police/ChoicePoint Award for Criminal Investigative Excellence and 2011 Southern California Crime and Intelligence Analyst Association’s Crime Analyst of the Year.

Jason Weems is Associate Professor of American art and visual culture at the University of California, Riverside. He is the author of Barnstorming the Prairies: Aerial Vision and Modernity in Rural America, 1920-1940 (University of Minnesota Press, 2015) and is currently working on the intersection of art and archaeology in the Americas. He is also curator of the 2015 exhibition “Interrogating Manzanar: Photography, Justice and the Japanese American Internment.” He recently has held fellowships from the Hellman Foundation, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Air and Space Museum, the Terra Foundation, ACLS, and the Universities of California and Michigan.

Richard Wheeler is an artist. He investigates locations, tools, methods, and cultures of observing, representing, and interacting with the world around us.

Chicago Stockyards, via Wikimedia
Chicago Stockyards, via Wikimedia
via Mark Vallianatos
via Mark Vallianatos