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PhDs for Polymaths (2011)

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

Jennifer Heuson 

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

Veronica Paredes

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

Carlin Wing

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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Emergent Infrastructures: 2013-2015

A Cluster Grant-supported research project focusing on the topic of emergent infrastructures in rapidly changing urban environments. Our team is comprised of scholars and practitioners from media studies, architecture, design and technology, and history of science (Orit Halpern, Jessica Irish, Brian McGrath, Jane Pirone, Rory Solomon, me), whose intent is to reconfigure the study of infrastructures in terms of emergence and not merely emergency; to interrogate the complex interactions between “hard” and “soft” or “smart” and “stupid” infrastructures; and to reevaluate how we discern between failure and success – all considerations that condition the present and shape the future of urban space. See our project website.

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Democratizing the Archives: 2012-2014

An Innovations in Education Fund-supported initiative to link archive-related projects across The New School, and to connect them to local archival resources and professionals. With Julia Foulkes and Claire Potter (co-PIs), Laura Auricchio, Ricardo Montez, and, from the NYPL, Thomas Lannon.

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Sound@NewSchool: 2012-2013

An Innovations in Education Fund-supported initiative dedicating to linking sound-related courses, events, and projects across The New School. See Sound@Newschool. With John Roach (PI), Josephine Holzman, Julie Napolin, Jane Pirone, Ed Keller, Ran Kim, Todd Lambrix.

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Catastrophe Slam: 2009

Co-organizer, with Dr. Robert Kirkbride, of the “Catastrophe Slam,” which involved a faculty colloquium – with representatives from Parsons The New School for Design, Eugene Lang The New School for Liberal Arts, and the New School for Social Research – addressing such issues as water and food systems, global warming, and global violence;  a 24-hour design charrette, with 29 students from Parsons, Lang, and the New School for General Studies; and a one-week installation in Parsons’ Aronson Gallery (March 9-14, 2009).

Download our Program and our Final Report

WNSR Recordings

Part 1

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Project Media Space | Public Space: 2005-2006

2005 – 2006. Co-director, with Dr. Elizabeth Ellsworth, of Project Media Space | Public Space, a series of public events — panel discussions, invited speakers, an exhibition, a sound performance, etc. — and themed classes focusing on the relationships between media and public space.

Fall 2005 Events

Public & Student Events
Exhibition Call for Submissions

Spring 2006 Events

Presentation by Antenna Design
Visiting Scholar: Brian Massumi

Spring 2006 Exhibition

Exhibition Program
InWords Reading
Sonic Channels Audio Show Program

Media Space | Public Space Final Report