“There has been more information produced in the last 30 years than during the previous 5000.”
We’ve all heard some variation on this maxim. As we find ourselves wading through a billion websites; as publishers supply over two million books to the world’s libraries each year; as we continue to add new media – from apps to geo-tagged maps – to our everyday media repertoires, we continually search for new ways to navigate this ever more treacherous sea of information. Meanwhile, our analog audio-visual archives are deteriorating, and our ever-volatile digital media and data sets present their own preservation challenges. Throughout human history we have relied on various institutions and politico-intellectual architectures to organize, index, preserve, make sense of, and facilitate or control access to our stores of knowledge, our assemblages of media, our collections of information. This seminar looks at the past, present, and future of our archives, libraries, and data repositories, and considers what logics, politics, audiences, contents, aesthetics, physical forms, etc., define them. We will examine what roles these collections play in a variety of contexts: in democracy, in education, in science, in socio-cultural heritage, in everyday life, and in art. Throughout the semester we’ll examine myriad analog and digital artworks that make use of archival/library material, or take the archive, library, or data repository as their subject. Some classes will involve field trips and guest speakers. Students will have the option of completing a substantial traditional research project, or a research-based, theoretically-informed creative/production project for the class.
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. Course requirements include: individual map critiques; lab exercises; and individual research-based, critical-creative “atlases” composed of at least five maps in a variety of formats.
Workshop at the School for Poetic Computation’s Summer 2018 Code Societies Session
with Jonas Voigt [who took all the photos posted here]
We sort things into piles, put things onto shelves, build folders on desktops, and check boxes on forms that identify (or approximate) our gender, race, and, citizenship. Such sorting not only helps to reduce clutter; it also, often, determines what counts, imposes an implied valuation, and informs access to opportunity. In these two sessions of “Code Societies,” we’ll examine how the construction of classification systems, ontologies, data models, and knowledge graphs serves to translate between worldviews, ways of knowing, ideologies, and modes of governance. In some cases, we might say that these organizational systems, encoded in computational form, code particular societies into being. How might we develop aspirational ontologies that help us to imagine more just, inclusive, peaceful societies?
This course explores the design of research methodologies for the systematic study of media in all its manifestations: as texts, objects, commodities, imaginaries, systems, environments, and so forth. We’ll also consider how media technologies can function as research tools, how media-making can serve as a research method, and how we can creatively employ media to share our research. Because media systems are complex and lend themselves to study from various perspectives, it’s important for media researchers to be able to deploy a range of techniques, and especially to combine techniques, in ways that allow for meaningful, clear, critical, and creative research. We’ll thus inventory a variety of approaches, including qualitative, quantitative, historical, critical, and design methods, as well as approaches drawn from other disciplines and practices. And we’ll see that every stage of the research process – from framing questions to choosing methods for the execution and dissemination of our work – is “designed,” and that research design shapes the meaning, reach, impact, politics, and ethics of our work. The course will include seminar discussions and workshops, guest speakers, and a field trip, enabling us to examine various methods in action. Students will complete several short assignments that lead up to the creation of a proposal for a larger research project, perhaps a thesis, in any of a variety of formats – from a traditional paper to a documentary film to an exhibition.
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.
Over the past couple years I’ve taught a few graduate classes that incorporate ideas from the Digital Humanities and emphasize “multimodal scholarship,” and I’ve been conducting research on praxis-based PhD programs. It’s for these reasons, I assume, that the planning committee for our graduate students’ Critical Themes in Media Studies conference asked me earlier this year to organize an opening-night panel on multimodal doctoral work and praxis-based PhDs. So, for the past couple months I’ve contacted graduate directors and colleagues at various local institutions to ask if any of their students are completing non-traditional (i.e., multimedia, performance-based, practice-based, etc.) dissertations on media studies-related topics. Their recommendations have helped me to pull together an impressive panel of three inspired young artist-scholars. Next Friday evening, April 15, at 5:30pm, before Clay Shirky’s opening keynote, we’ll be gathering in the Teresa Lang Center, on the 2nd floor at 55 W 13th Street, to talk about “The Multimodal Dissertation.” Come join us.
Multimodal scholarship, writes USC’s Tara McPherson (2009), deploys “new experiential, emotional, and even tactile aspects of argument and expression” in order to “open up fresh avenues of inquiry and research.” How might we in Media Studies transform the media technologies that have traditionally been our research subjects, into researchtools, and thereby “open up fresh avenues” of creative scholarship? This panel examines how these new modes of scholarly practice are informing doctoral education. Our three panelists discuss how they’re infusing media-making into their dissertations, and how they’re navigating the still largely uncharted terrain of multimodal scholarship.
The Sound of America: Sound, Sensation, Sentiment, and Knowledge in American West Tourism
Links between the American West and American identity, memory, and history are well documented. America constructs its uniqueness through the land and people west of the Mississippi. American West tourism is a crucial form of this construction.
Traveling west has become a ritual of citizenship, a pilgrimage to the birthplace of a mythical America. This is the America of cowboys and Indians, of gold mines and train robberies, of wild horses and still wilder people. It is an America of the past, performed in the present, informing the future. While scholars have devoted much energy to unpacking the significance of Wild West mythologies, two important areas remain underdeveloped: tourism and sound. My work engages both as key to the production and circulation of the “Wild” American West and its meanings. Tourist experiences of the American West play a pivotal role in knowledge of American history and identity. Yet, such experiences are neither natural, nor benign. They are mediated, historical, and political. They are actual and imagined. They are also sensual. It is the power of the sensual, living tourist encounter I hope to uncover by engaging its sonic contours. The sound of the American West, as a national soundscape, reveals much about how America is known, remembered, and imagined. It also hints at the future forms of American politics, at home and abroad.
Marquee Survivals: Racialized Urbanism in Cinema’s Recycled Spaces
Marquee Survivals is an interactive, digital dissertation that explores contemporary conceptions of the repurposed movie theater. Across the United States, twentieth-century movie theaters have been converted into a variety of different establishments, including churches, swap meets, clothing and electronics stores. This project unravels how discussions surrounding these former movie houses racialize the spatial and historical perceptions of American popular media. In unpacking nostalgia’s place in touring the extant structures of film exhibition, Marquee Survivals highlights the roles race, ethnicity, and nation play in constructing the cultural narrative of cinema’s decline in the American downtown.
Incorporating methodologies from diverse academic disciplines, Marquee Survivals is also a networked digital dissertation that complicates dominant understandings of cinema’s early exhibition spaces by connecting them to present-day media consumption. Working toward an alternative media historiography of the repurposed movie theater, Marquee Survivals marries film theory and history, cultural studies, and digital media production. This presentation will feature documentation of Marquee Survival’s design processes and struggles. What are the challenges of building a distributed dissertation project that has equal investment in achieving rigorous scholarship and an affective user experience?
Hitting Walls (v.XVII): Some Strategies, Several Projections
Hitting Walls uses the sport of squash to address colonial histories, globalization and the potential for serious play within overdetermined structures. The project exists as a series of iterations made in a variety of media including large format photography, appropriated webgrabs, video, sculpture, performance, participatory activities and academic lectures. The most recent completed iteration took the form of a lecture and workshop on ball-making methods at Machine Project in Los Angeles this past January.
I expect my dissertation to exist as one more iterative element of this larger project. My broad goal is to use my dissertation as an opportunity to experiment with and make a claim for hybrid formats of intellectual work. As this is my first year in a doctoral program, it does not seem particularly helpful to pretend that I already know what form my dissertation will take. I cannot even, at this stage, claim with absolute confidence that it will make sense to me four years from now to consider the project to be part of Hitting Walls. I do expect a large amount of the work to be written but I also intend for there to be play within that writing, as well as essential elements, visual, aural or otherwise, which will work with the written components.
I would like to take the opportunity of this panel to briefly share a few of the Hitting Walls projects and to discuss various ways to experiment with academic, as well as other, forms. I would then like to open up a conversation that I am just beginning to have within my own department about how a dissertation is, can and should be defined. Right now it seems like a matter of shaping some good questions, setting them loose, and seeing how they ricochet.
I just completed my second round of Maps as Media, a graduate studio in which we examine the history, politics, aesthetics, and methods of maps — and of mapping as a mediated methodology. Among the semester’s highlights:
And because our students came from a range of programs — Media Studies, Environmental Policy and Sustainability, Theories of Urban Practice, Design and Urban Ecologies, Design + Technology, Architecture, and Media Management — they brought with them an exciting mix of interests, disciplinary knowledges, and methodologies. This was a remarkably engaged and generous group; they all consistently shared their advice and expertise to improve one another’s projects. And we all benefitted from the able assistance of Fernando Canteli De Castro, who helped us navigate through the world of data sets and mapping software.
Once again, I was impressed by the range and quality of students’ projects:
Interested in mapping from the perspective of artificial intelligence, Alex speculated on how an AI in a post-human age might use cartography to “analyze humanity through its wreckage.”
Anna’s atlas contained a variety of maps that “illustrate the role that welfare policy ‘reform’ played in the economic and sociospatial transformation of Los Sures (or “Southside”, Williamsburg)” — specifically, the changing character, form, and demography of the neighborhood.
Christopher, who once worked for a luxury watchmaking company, was interested in strategies for mapping time — from micro-temporalities and our individual quirks of temporal perception, to cosmological and geological timeframes.
Francisco created a set of audio-visual compilations to map sound in the subway — ideally to encourage deeper consideration of how noise impacts both transit workers’ and commuters’ mental and physical health.
Han, a game developer, created a series of prototype games designed to help children develop various spatial skills, from “mental rotation” to map reading to 2D-to-3D translation.
Heming wanted to understand the complexity of street life in New York’s Chinatown. In one project, she catalogued nearly 1000 Chinese-language street-level signs around and beyond the “official” borders of Chinatown, demonstrating that the neighborhood’s linguistic reach exceeds its political boundaries.
Inés created a physical map — with embedded audio players and an augmented reality layer featuring site-specific mini-documentaries — that demonstrated how public sports fields in the five boroughs function as sites of community-building, particularly among ethnic populations.
Jakob’s gorgeous atlas explored “the legacy and ongoing impact that urban renewal polices” — beginning with the 1949 Housing Act — “are having on the geography and social landscape of New York City.”
Jiyeon wondered how we might more compellingly and meaningfully map personal data yielded through “quantified self” technologies. Inspired by Lev Manovich, Daniel Goddemeyer, Moritz Stefaner, and Dominikus Baur’s On Broadway project, she geo-located and color-coded her Instagram photos and translated her daily movements about the city into colors and forms that she then rendered as textiles and jewelry.
Kate contrasted various “authoritative” modes of mapping East Williamsburg — e.g., via borders, zoning, the designation of official landmarks, etc. — with approaches to participatory mapping that reveal alternative conceptions of those same three variables.
Environmental educator and sustainability policy analyst Tara sought to map New Yorkers’ proximity and access to, and their affective relationships with, “wilderness.”
Zin, an architect, studied existing transit patterns in her home with of Yangon, Myanmar, and proposed new routes that would connect to the city’s areas of development, link its greenspaces, and incentivize residents from all socioeconomic classes to make more frequent use of public transit.
We’ve wrapped up the inaugural semester of my “Maps as Media” course, a reincarnation of my old “Urban Media Archaeology” studio (minus the explicit focus on urban infrastructure and the collaborative effort to build our own open-source mapping platform). We began the semester by looking at new challenges and opportunities in map-making, and framing those “new” ideas in relation to the history of cartography. Then we investigated what it would mean to study maps as media, and we considered various tools and frameworks for critical cartographic analysis. After that, we discussed cartographic epistemologies and the significance of borders, gaps, and blind spots. We talked about cognitive mapping, critical cartography and counter-mapping, indigenous mapping and alternative spatial ontologies. Then we explored various digital mapping platforms — from arcGIS to Mapbox to CartoDB — and considered the techno-cartographic gaze and satellite imagery, then contrasted and supplemented these data-driven methods with approaches to multimodal, “deep,” sensory, and affective mapping. We closed out the semester by examining the mapping arts — visual, sound, and performing artists who engage with maps — and the temporality of maps.
We enjoyed a great mix of participants from Media Studies, Parsons’ Urban Ecologies program, and NSSR’s Liberal Studies. Over the course of the semester, the students were charged with creating “atlases” of maps pertaining to any spaces, times or topics of interest. I was really happy to see that many students chose to use their maps to pilot-test ideas for their thesis projects and to explore “back drawer” areas of creative and intellectual interest.
They did fantastic work. Here it is:
Joanna, who’s deeply involved in local politics in Jersey City, used maps to explore the city’s development and the various socioeconomic and cultural shifts that that development has generated. She also offers a look at the role of public art — specifically, murals — in marking and masking various sites of transition.
Kartik studied spatial politics in Sri Lanka — particularly its post-war urban configurations, and the country’s role as an important site of global investment and geopolitical negotiations. Among his many-layered maps are a “discourse map” of the myriad sources collectively determining what Sri Lanka is as a national imaginary; and a deep map documenting the razing and reconstruction of the Jaffna library, an central symbolic and political figure in recent uprisings.
Laura offered a gorgeous tree atlas. She prototyped a street-tree navigation app, charted the various objects and forces — apartment appeal, shade, carbon dioxide, energy costs, etc. — that are impacted by trees; and created a haptic, mobile “video map,” a tree typology map, and a photo series documenting leaves in their geographic contexts.
Livia followed a trail of people’s “favorite places” in New York. At each site, she documents — through audio, video, contemporary and historical photography, and hand-written notes — its distinctive characteristics. And before leaving, she finds someone to nominate his or her favorite place, thus leading Livia on to the next stop in her journey.
Nelesi mapped the body and examined bodies as cartographic metaphors. She experiments with means of mapping traces of the body’s presence in our environment; catalogues body-centric metaphors for orienting ourselves in the world; and offers a map of New York refashioned as a body with organs and a catalogue of the body as a landscape of parts, each representing a different temporality — of life, death, regeneration.
Rachael mapped our relationships with trash by documenting the trash generated by one person, and one family, over the course of a day or a week; by mapping our imagined landscapes of disposal; by tracing the lifespan of a plastic bag; and by materializing — in the form of a bureau — how we often “preserve” our e-waste in the deep recesses of our desk drawers, simply because we don’t know how to responsibly dispose of it!
Shibani mapped population displacement and neighborhood relocation in Mumbai. She used CartoDB to map flows of resettlement and relocation, and to relate those flows to nearby environmental concerns, including toxic industries and sites of infrastructural concentration. She then employed ethnographic research, participatory mapping, and illustration to map residents’ perceptions of their homes at the neighborhood and household scale. And she employed provocative methods and materials — a pin-hole viewer, yarn, etc. — to capture the various phenomenological and affective dimensions of “sense of place” that are often absent in traditional “development” cartography.
Witold offered a brilliant atlas of “libidinal cartographies.” He builds upon psychogeographic methodologies; I’ll allow him to explain:
The libidinal cartographer… has some shiny new tools in her kit, on account of half a century of theoretical work and technological advances. The experiential solipsism that the psychogeographers sought and failed to overcome has since been addressed by, among others, the work of Deleuze and Guattari. They allow the libidinal cartographer to move away from models of the discrete liberal subject and to substitute a vision of the subject plugged into the city as an assemblage or social machine, which continually produces and reproduces itself through circuits of desire and distributions of intensities. Approaching the city as this kind of communications infrastructure does not exactly salvage experiential intersubjectivity, but it allows the psychogeographer to embrace difference while continuing to look for opportunities to decode, deterritorialize, and destratify space on the molecular level. These operations may then modify the flows of (libidinal) intensities within the assemblage, perhaps opening up new lines of flight — that is to say, freeing places to be more than locales for capitalist modes of desiring-production. This post-structuralist re-framing, I propose, thus leaves intact the basic aim of psychogeography, while dispelling the problem of intersubjectivity that led the Situationists to abandon the project.
He offers a sketch-map of a libidinal landscape and documented of an electrophysiological experiment to map affective engagement with various sites along a walking route. Has atlas also contains a topographic sculpture of the city-as-body and a game-space map of Coney Island as a libidinal zone.
And finally, Zanny used maps to explore spatiopolitics in Ecuador — from the continental scale, down to the scale of an individual market in Quito, the site of her fieldwork. Each page of her atlas employs the same four scales of analysis, across four different subjectivities: citizens, explorers, “official” political actors, and tourists.