Code, Craft & Catalogues: Arts in the Libraries: 2019

On March 9, 2019, I partnered with the Metropolitan New York Library Council and the Finnish Cultural Institute in New York to host a half-day symposium on arts in the libraries. [Photos by Aidan Grant + Neta Bomani]:

What role do the arts and design play in today’s libraries? Our major public institutions frequently commission high-profile public art, some libraries feature dedicated exhibition space, and artists and designers have long drawn inspiration from archival and library collections. Yet today, as we access and create knowledge through an expanding array of designed platforms and interfaces, infrastructures and algorithms, aesthetic operations are integral to the core services that libraries provide. We see a growing number of library- and archive-based artists’ residencies and exhibitions, and expanding interest in more sustained collaborations across the library and art worlds. In this symposium we gather librarians, artists, designers, and representatives from allied fields to examine recent examples of library-centered creative practice, discuss the mutual benefits of such collaborations, and propose new models for growing and sustaining these partnerships.

Live-documentation provided by Neta Bomani & Cybernetics Library.

Presenters included: Greta Byrum, Toisha Tucker, Salome Asega, Anni Vartola, Laura Norris, Jussi Parikka, Ilari Laamanen, Trent MillerJer ThorpBurak Arikan, Kameelah Janan Rasheed

Event program



Design by Johanna Lundberg:


Privacy in Public: A Distributed Exhibition: 2018-2019

An exhibition distributed across nine NYC branch libraries from December 2018 through February 2019, organized in partnership with the Metropolitan New York Library Council; the Brooklyn, New York, and Queens Public Libraries; and the Mayor’s Office for the Chief Technology Officer. You can find the guidebook, designed by Ingrid Burrington, here.

Slides by Davis Erin Anderson

Digital safety and online privacy are treated as individual concerns and burdens: we are told to practice digital hygiene, manage our passwords and clear our search histories, monitor our credit, use encryption, and be wary of links in suspicious emails.

Yet the transformative power of data and digital technologies extends across the private into public realms. Our mere presence in public spaces often serves as tacit consent for state and corporate entities to extract data from our bodies and devices, and unsafe online behavior by a single person can put an entire organization at risk.

What happens when we consider our privacy, security, and safety as shared and public concerns? How do the stakes and the remedies change if we address digital privacy as communities, instead of as individuals?

Libraries and library staff members have long been on the front lines of these issues, providing information about digital resources and offering inclusive spaces for digital interaction. Now, New York City’s librarians are leading a public campaign to promote digital privacy.

Metropolitan New York Library Council and the Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer have joined forces with New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library, and Queens Library to create curricula, tools, and strategies that library staff can use to help patrons understand and mitigate digital risks — from state and corporate surveillance, to targeted ads and propaganda, to scams and data breaches.

The collective has partnered with The New School’s Greta Byrum (co-director of the Digital Equity Laboratory) and Shannon Mattern (Professor of Media Studies) to elevate a conversation about digital privacy in New York City’s communities directly, through their local branch libraries. Nine library branches will host a distributed exhibition of site-specific artworks exploring issues related to digital risk and privacy. Artists American Artist, Salome Asega, Tega Brain, Ingrid Burrington, Taeyoon Choi, Annabel Daou, Alejandra Delfin, Sam Lavigne, Mimi Onuoha, and Toisha Tucker will create works that speak to their local contexts.

Their artwork will reach out to communities who are often marginalized in technology development and disproportionately at risk of harm from predatory or surveillant systems. The artists’ work offers tools and strategies for technological self-determination. Exhibition visitors can log their journey across all nine branches via a customized “guidebook,” which will serve as an intentional “data trail” tracking their engagement with and responses to each artwork.

Project Partners

Participating Branch Managers & Artist Liaisons:

Lauren Comito, Mill Basin Library
Chancey Fleet, Heiskell Library
Nelson Lu, Queens Central Library
Alexa Orr, Leonard Library
Negla Parris, Flatbush Library
Mirian Rivera-Shapiro, Gravesend Library
Jill Rothstein, Heiskell Library
Tienya Smith, Long Island City Library
Chun (Michael) Tam, Ryder Library
Marc Waldron, Bushwick Library
Tisha Williams, Ryder Library

Participating Artists:

American Artist
Salome Asega
Tega Brain
Ingrid Burrington
Taeyoon Choi
Annabel Daou
Alejandra Delfin
Sam Lavigne
Mimi Onuoha
Toisha Tucker

Exhibit Curators

Greta Byrum, Digital Equity Lab, The New School
Shannon Mattern, The New School

Exhibit Project Managers

Davis Erin Anderson, METRO Library Council
Nate Hill, METRO Library Council

NYC Digital Safety Advisory Council

Nick Buron, Queens Library
Manuel Figueroa, Queens Library
David Giles, Brooklyn Public Library
Samantha Grassle, NYC Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer
Jeffrey Lambert, Queens Library
William Marden, The New York Public Library
Megan McDermott, Mozilla Foundation
Sophie McGrath, The New York Public Library
Melissa Morrone, Brooklyn Public Library
Joahnnes Neuer, The New York Public Library
Luke Swarthout, The New York Public Library
Bonnie Tijerina, Data & Society


The Library’s Other Intelligences: MOBIUS Fellowship with the Finnish Cultural Institute NY: 2017-2019

The Helsinki Central Library Oodi and the MOBIUS Fellowship Program of the Finnish Cultural Institute New York hosted The Library’s Other Intelligences, a project of commissioned artworks and a series of events, anticipating and celebrating the opening of the new Helsinki Central Library in early 2019.

MOBIUS fellows Jussi Parikka (University of Southampton, Winchester School of Art, UK) and Shannon Mattern (The New School, US) commissioned Finnish artists and designers Samir Bhowmik, Tuomas Aleksander Laitinen, and Jenna Sutela to create works that examine the new intelligences our evolving knowledge institutions accommodate. Installed in the new Central Library in January 2019, these projects revealed the alien logics of neural nets, gave voice to machinic and otherworldly languages, and made visible the material and informational infrastructures that allow intelligence to circulate.

Our exhibition opened on January 11, 2019, and we hosted a symposium featuring the artists’ work on January 12. Visitors to the library were invited to engage with the works — and with the new building — by attending live performances, embarking on expeditions, and reimagining how we will read, listen, and learn in a new techno-cultural future.

Tuomas A. Laitinen: Swarm Chorus from FCINY on Vimeo.

Jenna Sutela: nimiia ïzinibimi from FCINY on Vimeo.

Samir Bhowmik & 00100 ENSEMBLE: Memory Machines from FCINY on Vimeo.

In the year leading up to the exhibition, we also hosted two public events in concert with PUBLICS, an event space and gallery in Helsinki:

Images by Laura Boxberg and Ilari Laaminen


Smart Cities? Impossible, Political + Measuring Objects: 2017

We hosted SMART CITIES? Impossible Objects, Political Objects, and Measuring Objects with Storefront for Art and Architecture on April 23. Three panels of scholars, designers, planners, and artists people explored new terms, new indices, and new tools for urban intelligence.

Here you’ll find photos of the event, here’s the program, and below you’ll find video documentation of the three panels. Here’s who came:


  • Jorge Otero-Pailos, artist, architect, preservationist, Professor and Director of Historic Preservation, Columbia
  • Jürgen Hermann Mayer, architect and artist
  • Lydia Matthews, curator, writer; Professor of Visual Culture, The New School
  • David Smiley, architect, architectural historian, chair of CUP’s board of directors
  • Luke Swarthout, Director of Adult Education Services, NYPL, with a background in education policy
  • Vyjayanthi Rao, anthropologist, Director, Terreform






Understanding Media Studies Lecture Series: 2017

I organized the New School’s School of Media Studies’ Monday Night Lecture Series

March 6: Documentary and Difference

Genevieve Yue is an assistant professor of culture and media at Eugene Lang College, and co-editor of Discourse: Journal for Theoretical Studies in Media and Culture. Her writing has appeared in October, Grey Room, Film Comment, and Film Quarterly. She is currently completing a book on feminism, materiality, and film theory.

Ephraim Asili is an African American Artist, Filmmaker, and Deejay. One of the points of focus in Asili’s work is the African Diaspora as a cultural force. His work often weaves together the near and the far as a way of revealing linkages across history and geography. Thus far Asili’s work has been filmed in locations including  Ghana, Brazil, Jamaica, and Ethiopia as well as in Philadelphia, Harlem, and Detroit. His films have screened in festivals and venues all over the world, including the New York Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, Ann Arbor Film Festival, San Francisco International Film Festival, Milano Film Festival, Trinidad and Tobago International Film Festival, MOMA PS1, LAMOCA, and The Boston Museum of Fine Art.

March 27: Power Plays With Data

Zara Rahman is a researcher, writer, and linguist who is interested in the intersection of power, culture and technology. She has travelled and worked in over twenty-five countries in the field of information accessibility and data use among civil society. She was the first employee at OpenOil, looking into open data in the extractive industries, then worked for Open Knowledge, working with School of Data on data literacy for journalists and civil society. Now, she is a fellow at Data & Society Research Institute in New York City, and Research Lead at The Engine Room where she leads their Responsible Data Program, looking into the practical and ethical challenges around using data in social change and activism.

Mimi Onuoha is a Brooklyn-based artist and researcher using code and writing to explore the process, results, and implications of data collection. Recently she has been in residence at Data & Society Research Institute and the Royal College of Art. Onuoha has spoken at and exhibited at events internationally, and in 2014 was selected to be in the inaugural class of Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellows. Currently she teaches at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program and is a Research Resident at Eyebeam, where she is programmatically and interpersonally investigating data collection, missing datasets, and strategies for intervention and response.

April 17: Media and Thermodynamics

Tega Brain is an artist making eccentric engineering, work that intersects art, ecology & engineering. Eccentric engineering reimagines technologies to address their scope and politics, with a focus on externalities and unintended consequences. She has exhibited at Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, the Science Gallery Dublin, Eyebeam in New York City and the Australian Centre for Design, Sydney. Tega is a fellow at Data & Society NYC and is an Assistant Professor of New Media at SUNY Purchase.

Nicole Starosielski is Assistant Professor in the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University. She is author of The Undersea Network (2015), which charts the development of transoceanic cable systems, beginning with the nineteenth century telegraph network and extending to today’s fiber-optic infrastructure. She is also co-editor of Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructure (2015), Sustainable Media: Critical Approaches to Media and Environment (2016), and the “Elements” book series at Duke University Press. Her current project, Media Hot and Cold, traces the relationship between media technologies, embodied perception, and thermal conditions.

April 24: Expanding Soundscape: Experiments in Field Recording

Kevin T. Allen is a filmmaker and sound artist who makes ethnographically imbued “sound-films” in Vietnam, Sri Lanka, India, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, the Wild West, and the migrant farm worker community of Immokalee, Florida. Recent research leads him to find culture not exclusively in human forms, but also inherent within physical landscapes and material objects. His work is featured internationally at museums and festivals and is funded through the Jerome Foundation. He is a part-time assistant professor of sound and filmmaking at The New School.

Maile Colbert is an intermedia artist and educator with a concentration on sound and video. She holds a BFA in The Studio for Interrelated Media from Massachusetts College of Art, an MFA in Integrated Media/Film and Video from the California Institute of the Arts, and is currently a Research Fellow towards a PhD in the Estudos Artísticos program in the College of Social and Human Sciences at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa. She has had multiple screenings and exhibits, and has performed and screened widely in Japan, Europe, Mexico, and the States.

May 1: Everyday Forms of Innovation: Africa Contemporary

Sean Jacobs is on the international affairs faculty of The New School. A native of Cape Town, South Africa, he studied there, at Northwestern University and the University of London. He has held fellowships at The New School, Harvard University and NYU. His writings on African politics, reality television, the internet and soccer, have appeared in/on The New York Times, Jacobin, The Guardian, Volkskrant and Chimurenga Chronic.

Clapperton Mavhunga is an associate professor of science, technology, and society at MIT. His professional interests lie in the history, theory, and practice of science, technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship in the international context, with a focus on Africa. He is the author of Transient Workspaces: Technologies of Everyday Innovation in Zimbabwe (MIT Press, 2014), and has just finished editing a volume entitled What Do Science, Technology, and Innovation Mean from Africa? which explores STI in Africa from an archaeological, historical, philosophical, anthropological, STS, engineering, development, and policymaking perspective. Mavhunga’s second monograph—on tsetse fly as a site of African knowledge production—is finally finished after extensive further research and is expected late 2017 or early 2018.


Indexical Landscapes: 2015

I’ve curated a symposium for the Media Design Practices Program at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA.

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 

I also led a six-week “Critical Practices” master class, “Sorting Things Out,” which focused on approaches to “indexical writing.”


Re/Lab: 2014-2016

Re/Lab is a New School-wide research collective premised on the idea that students of media think and engage more creatively when they deeply understand the material history of their subject. We (Kate Eichhorn, Melissa Friedling (our intrepid leader), Amir Husak, Dale MacDonald, Rosalie McManis, Barry Salmon, Colin Stearns, and me) aim to make visible what the processes of “upgrading” and the blind pursuit of “innovation” often obscure. We’re creating a digital collection of “object biographies” of old-school media technologies unearthed in The New School’s labs, classrooms, and offices. We’re also organizing a series of workshops and retreats, and linking media-archaeologically-informed classes across the divisions — and we’ll eventually complement the new “media archaeology” focus area in the Media Studies MA program. Here’s our website.


Furnishing the Cloud: 2015

I partnered with my fellow Emergent Infrastructures research group collaborators Brian McGrath, Orit Halpern, and architect Kim Ackert, along with Radhika Subramaniam and the staff from the Sheila Johnson Design Center, to organize a March 2015 exhibition on the future of knowledge institutions, to be hosted in The New School’s Aronson Gallery. “Furnishing the Cloud” ran from March 9 through 22. I documented and reflected on the project here.

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.

The 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.

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?


Graduate Institute of Design, Ethnography + Social Thought: 2014-2015

I was a Faculty Fellow in this new Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-funded, New School for Social Research-based graduate research institute, dedicated to advancing transdisciplinary research and practice at the intersections of design and ethnography. I presented my work on “Intellectual Furnishings” on November 7, 2014. See the project website.


Understanding Media Studies Speaker Series: 2014-2015

I organized the 2014-15 Monday night lecture series for the School of Media Studies. Our guests included Mary Flanagan, Caitlin Burns, Susa Popp, Mary Wareham, Jody Williams, Peter Asaro, Benjamen Walker, Jill Godmilow, Deirdre Boyle, Andrew Uroskie, Anne Balsamo, Garnet Hertz, Dragan Espenschied, Ben Vershbow, Jeanne Liotta, Brian Larkin, Joe Inzerillo, Laura Kurgan, Chi-hui Yang, Melissa Gregg, Stephanie Boluk, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, James Paradis, and Nick Montfort. You can find more information here.