Tag Archives: context

the on-the-street political reality of CicLAvia…it’s totally nice

Some of you might know of CicLAvia, LA’s biannual celebration of bikes, feet, skateboards, roller skates, roller blades…anything non-motorized, really. We and many of the world’s cities have Bogotá, Colombia to thank for originating the Ciclovia concept of shutting down city streets to car traffic for real, street-level participation, and straight-up giddy physical engagement with our built environments. The streets are packed and yet the people are smiling.

Angelenos have CARS (Community Arts Resources) for its wildly successful adoption, as well as galvanizing multiple, much needed, bike lane designations throughout the city. If you needed proof of political buy-in, please cast your eyes upon this picture of the tracings of a photo-op. Yes, we were just in front of City Hall, and yes, that is a bike lane. Meta.

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Filed under Public Space, Quotidian

Gibbs, M. (2004). Locative Media. _Art Monthly_, 40:280.

Michael Gibbs is an Amsterdam-based artist, critic, and regular contributor to Art Monthly.

In this article about locative media, Gibbs explains the contemporary social context encouraged by mobile telephony:

“With the advent of mobile phones, space has become translocal. The boundary between public and private space is effaced as, oblivious to our surroundings, we now have private conversations in public. In fact, it no longer matters where one is, as long as one is connected” (280).

Media artists have long been drawn to the public realm because it’s genuinely site-specific — context is all. Locative media, operating on mobile software, frees artists from traditional infrastructural concerns about screens, projections, sounds, etc. More important, though, are its psychogeographic philosophical underpinnings, as well as its unprecedented (and necessarily collaborative and social) engagement with public space via “Cellspace.”

Locative media is “being vigorously pursued and promoted as the latest form of artistic intervention in public space” (280).

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Couldry, N. & McCarthy, A. (2004). Introduction: Orientations: Mapping mediaspace. In _MediaSpace: place, scale, and culture in a media age_, N. Couldry and A. McCarthy , eds. London and New York: Psychology Press.

Anna McCarthy, PhD, Northwestern University, is Professor of Cinema Studies at New York University. She is co-editor of Social Text, Ambient Technology, and The Citizen Machine. She researches television history, sponsored film, education film, history of technology, material culture, cultural policy, governmentality, trauma, biopolitics. (See other entry for Couldry’s bio.)

Couldry and McCarthy coin the term “MediaSpace” to convey how media and space are “the obverse of each other” (1). Like the built environment, MediaSpace is a social construction, dominated by power ideologies, and under the pressure of “flux, transience, and unmanageability” (3). They propose an interdisciplinary concept to capture MediaSpace’s nuances: anthropology, cultural studies, urban sociology, urban studies.

Evoking the importance of context, they remark that, at the heart of the book, is an investigation into “how media-caused entanglements of scale are variously experienced and understood in particular places” (8).

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Scott, J.C. (1998). _Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed_. New Haven: Yale University Press.

James Scott, Ph.D., Yale University, is the Sterling Professor of Political Science and Professor of Anthropology and is Director of the Agrarian Studies Program. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, has held grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Guggenheim Foundation, and has been a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Science, Science, Technology and Society Program at M.I.T., and the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. His research concerns political economy, comparative agrarian societies, theories of hegemony and resistance, peasant politics, revolution, Southeast Asia, theories of class relations and anarchism.

This book is a “case against the imperialism of high-modernist, planned social order” (6). Scott advocates that local knowledge (metis, knowledge that comes only through practical experience) is necessary for any plan’s success. In studying sedentarization, Scott found the state tries “to make a society legible” (2) for taxing, conscription, and against rebellion. Modern European statecraft’s dedication to rationalization has had major impacts on society and the environment. In some cases, these reason-led planning schemes have been major disasters, including China’s Great Leap Forward, Russian collectivization, compulsory villagization in Tanzania, Mozambique, and Ethiopia are “among the great human tragedies of the 20th century” (3). Less dramatic are the agricultural schemes and the new cities of Brasília and Chandigarh.

“Legibility is a condition of manipulation” (183).

However, when there are disasters, they require this “pernicious combination of four elements” (4):

  1. “administrative ordering of nature and society” (4)
  2. “high modernist ideology” at the state level, namely, an overweening belief in modernity, science, reason. This view is wholly uncritical of modernism and when challenged, retreats into projects of “miniaturization”
  3. an authoritarian state that uses its total power for the scheme’s implementation
  4. a “prostrate civil society that lacks the capacity to resist these [the authoritarian state’s] plans” (5)

Ironically, the tragedies of high-modernism were so in two ways. First, the modernists were profoundly arrogant and hubristic. And yet, second, their motivations were well-intentioned; they wanted to make the human condition better. Modernist experts thought they were much more informed than they really were, as well as much smarter than their truly knowledgeable and competent subjects. They consistently sought aesthetic order, and this dimension consistently wound up substituting, per Jacobs (1961) visual order for the real, social thing.

Scott hails Jacobs for her thoughts on diversity and local social knowledge. Evoking her and metis, he makes the following recommendations (345):

  1. “take small steps”  – move, observe, act advisedly
  2. “favor reversibility”  – if you can’t reverse the intervention, you can’t reverse its effects
  3. “plan on surprises” – design in flexibility
  4. “plan on human inventiveness” – assume people can improve on things with eventual knowledge gained

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Filed under Annotated Bibliographies, Community Development, Major Field, Planning Theory, Research Fields

Media Arts for Community Development in Planning: A Literature Review

“Art, of course, does not produce grand revolutions, but as an event that opens up a new narrative about reality it provides the conditions of possibility for a nascent political consciousness, one born from conviviality, a being-together as a coming-into-being of community: the realization of shared existence.”

Jean Fisher, on Francis Alÿs’ When Faith Moves Mountains, 2007


Today, planning’s esteem for the arts relates primarily to the latter’s capacity as economic engine. Of course, planners admire arts and culture for its notable impact on social and human capital, as well, but the majority of programs bespeak economic development’s continued primacy. I propose planning broaden its creative agenda to include media arts for community development. For one, media arts engage with each of the following crucial planning phenomena: time and space, identity, participation, and process, and uphold context as a decisive factor in all. For another, communication technologies have fast become the basic infrastructure of daily experience for millions. For many millions others, who reside on the other side of the digital divide, I consider this need and opportunity to be even more pressing.

The following literature review, comprising works from two of the last forty years’ most influential planners, and an array of media artists, art historians, computer scientists, philosophers, and sociologists, articulate the myriad benefits media arts can bring to community development in urban planning. In the first section, I introduce what I consider to be Kevin Lynch’s and Manuel Castells’ unwitting championing of media arts for community development. I then use Boris Groys’ 2011 Going Public to introduce context, time-place, identity, participation, and process through a philosophical lens before delving deeper into each of conditions. These literatures and case studies show media arts’ practices, blessings, and cautions are well taken in planning. I conclude by acknowledging there are constraints, but that the opposing benefits merit media arts’ application in community development.

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Dourish, P. (2001). _Where the Action Is: The Foundations of Embodied Interaction_. Cambridge and London: The MIT Press.

Paul Dourish, PhD Computer Science from University College London, is Professor of Informatics in the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at UC, Irvine. He also has courtesy appointments in Computer Science and Anthropology, and is co-director, with Bill Maurer, of UCI’s new partnership with Intel, the Center for Social Computing. His research is at the nexus of computer science and social science, with a particular interest in ubiquitous and mobile computing and the cultural practices surrounding new media.

“Embodied interaction is interaction with computer systems [everything, really] that occupy our world, a world of physical and social reality, and that exploit this fact in how they interact with us” (3).

This book has a four-part hypothesis. (1) Tangible computing, the notion we improve our everyday lives with direct interaction with devices of computational power, and social computing, the process of using social sciences and anthropology to enhance user/system interface, share a common base. (2) Embodiment is that common base. (3) Embodiment is not a new idea but has deep roots in phenomenology. E.g. Husserl’s lebenswelt, Heidegger’s preontological experiences, Schutz’s model of intersubjectivity, and Merleau-Ponty’s three aspects of embodiment. (4) These and related explorations of and into embodiment offer material for devising a basis for embodied interaction.

Tangible computing (either virtual reality or ubiquitous computing) designs foreground awareness: of communication, of the importance of holistic design, and that the computer and physical worlds are connected.

Social computing holds design is shaped through sociological methods and reasoning. Context has several definitions: the system’s tasks being performed, why they’re being performed, the settings of that research, etc. “The context, though, is as much social as technical” (57).

Dourish privileges place over space. Where space amounts to physical properties, literal and metaphorical, place is contextual and “refers to the way that social understandings convey an appropriate behavioral framing for an environment” (90). The upshot:

  • place is comprised by its activities, rather than its dimensions or structure
  • “place can’t be designed, only designed for” (91)
  • place relates to a specific “community of practice” (91)

Finally (well not finally — there is much more to this book than I’m writing about), I want to add Dourish’s thoughts about affordance. His office chair’s size and dimensions match his legs’, and thus affords him a comfortable seat.* But the seat would not be so comfortable for a horse or a rabbit, which “are not ‘appropriately equipped individuals” (118).

“In other words, an affordance is a three-way relationship between the environment, the organism, and an activity. This three-way relationship is at the heart of ecological psychology, and the challenge of ecological psychology lies in just how it is centered on the notion of an organism acting in an environment: being in the world” (118).

*William H. Whyte writes about how certain public spaces afford (or don’t) people comfortable seats — and gives specific measurements — in his great The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces [1980]).

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Burnett, R. (2007). Projecting Minds. In _Media Art Histories_, O. Grau, ed. Cambridge and London: The MIT Press.

Ron Burnett, author of Culture of Vision: Images, Media, and the Imaginary (1995) and How Images Think (2005), is the President of Emily Carr University of Art and Design, and former Director of the Graduate Program in Communications at McGill University. He’s authored over 150 published articles and book chapters and was named Educator of the Wyar by the Canadian New Media Association in 2005. In 2010, the French government honored him with an Order of France: Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

“Interactivity then cannot be predicated on or predicted by the design of the game or any medium. The challenge . . . is not to make too many assumptions about the behaviors of players or viewers” (310).

Here Burnett unpacks the history of the “‘fabrication’ of audiences” (312) and proposes that photography and film factor heavily in this movement. In comparing photography and cinema, Burnett outlines several reasons media art processes and the art itself offer much to planning.

Re documentation, Jean Luc Godard often complained about photography and cinema’s close relationship and deep differences. Photography resists time, documenting single moments. Harking back to Groys, photography conveys the aesthetic, whereas cinema, poetics and the possibility for a life narrative. While the former communicates a lot of information, it cannot stand for the whole of a film.

“Projection allows audiences to visualize the effects of frames in motion” (319).

That immersive experience–and this is key–depends not just on the technological apparatuses “but also on the capacity of the user to fill in the gaps between what is there and what cannot be there” (331). Local knowledge and context matter.

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Paul, C. (2007). The Myth of Immateriality: Presenting and Preserving New Media. In _Media Art Histories_, O. Grau, ed. Cambridge and London: The MIT Press.

New media art has increased and improved the conventions and possibilities for exchange, collaboration, and presentation. While many call it “immaterial,” it isn’t necessarily so. Yes, algorithms constitute, but hardware contains those algorithms. New media art encompasses several aspects: process, time (sometimes real-time), dynamism, participation, collaboration, performance. In addition, it is “modular, variable, generative, and customizable” (253).

Those are good things. Here are some challenges (that make as much sense in planning terms as they do in Paul’s museum-specific context). New media art takes time, so visitors rarely see the full work and rarely come in at the beginning, so the narrative, assuming there is one, is non-linear. In addition, museum struggle with new media art’s prescribed interactivity.

To make it work, artists, curators, and audiences share deep involvement from the project’s initiation. The artist (planner) becomes the curator, establishing parameters, a creative context, for audience agency and sometimes “public curation.” New media art can be in the gallery, locative, online, and “has the potential to broaden our understanding of artistic practice” (272).

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Filed under Annotated Bibliographies, Media Arts, Minor Field, Research Fields

Poissant, L. (2007). The Passage from Material to Interface. In _Media Art Histories_, O. Grau, ed. Cambridge and London: The MIT Press.

Louise Poissant, PhD, philosophy, is the Dean of the Faculty of Arts at Université du Québec à Montreal. She has led the Groupe de recherche en arts médiatiques since 1989 and the Centre interuniversitaire en arts médiatiques since 2001. She researches art and biotechnologies, as well as how new technologies are used in performing arts.

“Now the renewal of art forms has materialized through a series of iconoclastic gestures, which as introduced new materials that were first borrowed from the industrial world or from everyday life and progressively from the domain of communications and technology” (229).

This search for new materials and immateriality, to Poissant, has led artists to reorganize into the following three camps. From the emergence of new materials we observe: (1)  artists committed to sharing their view of the world and related emotions, (2) those who perceive a diverse range of roles and choose from among them, and (3) those who reorganize their practice to advance the role of the spectator to status of co-creator in interactive works.

Language and speech are performances, actions. Per Ludwig Wittgenstein’s (1953) language-games, to speak extends beyond self expression, it is to act. François Armengaud’s (1985), three notions of language pragmatics occur in art: (1) the act, where speaking goes beyond representation to trans- and inter-acting; (2) the context, which can further shape the discussion; and (3) the performance, which, once completed, verifies abilities.

There are six conductor interface categories in media arts; each one contributes to the conversion of viewer into participant. They have five functions, “alternatively extendible, revealing, rehabilitating, filtering, or the agent of synthetic integration” (240). Sensors receive and perceive data for the spectator-artwork interactivity. Recorders use binary data and allow for manipulations, sampling, etc. “Recording becomes a transferable memory, an extension of a faculty” (237). Actuators are robotics that give installations some capacity to interact autonomously with their environments. Transmitters close space and obviate time in telematic arts, such that the artworks themselves are located elsewhere. Diffusers are the projection devices from all eras (“magic lantern to interactive high-definition television” [239]). Finally, integrators, “automaton to cyborg” (239), simulate the living.

Poissant concludes that interactive programs unable to do what they can/ought must announce their shortcomings to the user at the fore. For planning, this responsibility to the user is well-taken.

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Kluszczyński, R.W. (2007). From Film to Interactive Art: Transformations in Media Arts. In _Media Art Histories_, O. Grau, ed. Cambridge and London: The MIT Press.

Ryszard W. Kluszczyński, PhD, is Head of the Electronic Media Department and Professor of cultural media studies at Lodz University. He also teaches theory of art and media art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Lodz, and media art at the Academy of Fine Art in Poznan. He publishes on the problematics of the information society, theory of media and communication, cyberculture, and multimedia arts.

“Interactivity in art, understood as a dialogue of sorts, communications between the initiator and the artifact, occurring in real time and mutually influential, is becoming one of the essential features of contemporary culture” (p. 216).

Observing the influx of digital technologies into traditional cinema, Kluszczyński proposes two potential forms of cinema: one where telematics are used to uphold and enhance existing processes, and another obviating convention in favor of interactive cinema. So far, digital communications’ impact/s on cinema have  four concrete dimensions: (1) the “unreality effect” (p. 210) of electronic, digital simulations; (2) the distribution of film along multiple technologies; (3) interactive computer technologies that evoke distancing, Brechtian practices; and (4) Internet-enabled participation (e.g. MMOG).

Kluszczyński joins many of the summer’s authors in reminding us that photographic and digital images are different. The former represents its informative reality; the latter, meanwhile, is totally free of parameters. This distinction does not signal the end of film, but virtual reality does allow for “immersivity and telemacity” (213), and so we see film’s technological proliferation.

Each technology has its own ontology. Television is about transmission, cinema about reading, and video, digital media’s closest progenitor, is about intimacy. Video’s liberation is its potential for interaction. Video’s “proto-interactivity” (216) hints at the deeper interactive potentials in computer art. This technological transformation, however, has revealed cyberculture’s two polar tendencies. There are those who want to use interactive art within in the canon of the modern aesthetic paradigm of representation, expression, and the preeminence of the artist. The resultant interactive art is not about communication but rather the intermediary relationship with the software’s creators. At the other end of the spectrum there are artists who believe the work transcends conventional paradigms, and bears with it a necessary rejection of representation. The artist here is a designer of contexts the viewer then shapes.

Following Derrida  (1967, 1974), Kluszczynski proposes interactive art tendencies (echoing Couchot, 2007!). In the first, the authorial hand not only makes something “art” but injects it with predetermined meanings, thus dampening opportunities for interactivity. The second tendency frees work from being derivative since it is in the “primary position” (219), emphasis is on structure, therefore “the work of art requires a different type of reception–an ‘active interpretation,’ resembling a game, promoting a transformative activity toward ‘nonfinality,’ ‘nonultimacy'” (ibid).

Interactive art is the ultimate example of the “deconstructive, postmodernist, cybercultural understanding of an artwork and of artistic communication” (220). It is not an a work at all, but open to every individual’s personal interaction and context, enmeshed in a complex, multivalent network of communication processes” (223).

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Broeckmann, A. (2007). Image, Process, Performance, Machine: Aspects of an Aesthetics of the Machine. In _Media Art Histories_, O. Grau, ed. Cambridge and London: The MIT Press.

Andreas Broeckmann is the Artistic Director of transmediale–festival for art and digital culture berlin. He studied art history, sociology, and media studies, and in his university courses, curatorial projects, and lectures, he discusses media art, digital culture, and an aesthetics of the machinic.

Broeckmann introduces these aesthetic categories of image, execution, performance, process, and machinic to show that digital art isn’t its own thing, not another aesthetic category, but situated within art history and practice. A digital art interface is unique in that it reminds us continuously of its constitution–it is ephemeral, barely material.

Our “digital culture [is] a social environment, field of action and interaction, in which meanings, pleasures, and desires and increasingly dependent on their construction or transmission and thus on their translation by digital devices. The necessary technical abstraction that the contents have to go through is becoming a cultural condition, which has effects far beyond the actual mechanism of extrapolated signal switching” (194).

In the image category, we understand media art gives us broader parameters than strictly visual. Now we have opportunities to examine images’ temporal structures, not just the narratives but the actual programmatic infrastructures, as well.

In execution, we see that computer software is a cultural artifact. Cultural theorist Michael Fuller distinguishes among types of “software art”: “critical software” refers to existing software programs, “social software” to social dimensions, and “speculative software” to the boundaries, to what can be considered software. Execution projects examine the change, the process. Those images with spatiotemporal bases require “processional approach[es], Bertrauchtung as an act of realization, of execution, which is itself the very moment of the aesthetic experience” (199).

With performance, the “domain of ‘live art’ . . . . the non-participatory live presentation of body movements, images, and sounds” (199), we see the witness the outcome of an execution. Situationism, Fluxus, intermedia and later computers all evoke performance through the use of scripts.

Process differs from performance in that it’s “the notion of process-based yet not fully programmed sequences of events that build on one another in a non-teleological manner” (201). “Processuality in art is closely tied to the existence of communication tools” (201) and the aesthetics of process-based art crucially implies this context–it cannot be other than relational” (202, emphasis mine).

Finally, the machinic category refers to how this art is produced, through any assemblages of apparatuses, be they mechanical or biological. Here the art’s existence is contingent upon mechanical forces outside of human control and beyond our subjective determination.

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Daniel, S. (2011). Collaborative Systems: Redefining Public Art. In _Context Providers_, M. Lovejoy, C. Paul, and V. Vesna, eds. Bristol and Chicago: intellect.

Social justice advocate-artist, Sharon Daniel creates and utilizes information and communication technologies. She is a Professor of Film and Digital Media and Chair of the Digital Arts and New Media MFA Program at the University of California, Santa Cruz where she teaches digital media theory and practice. She produces “new media documentaries,” online archives and interfaces that make available the stories of the underserved across social, cultural, and economic lines.

Context provision is a political public art practice. In it, artists avoid representation and instead provide tools for the articulation of self.

“Theorizing and storytelling, together, constitute an intervention and a refusal to accept reality as it is right now. Borders are crossed in this intervention–when, through both speaking and hearing, we become and disappear” (83).

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Lovejoy, M. (2011). Defining Conditions for Digital Arts: Social Function, Authorship, and Audience. In _Context Providers_, M. Lovejoy, C. Paul, and V. Vesna, eds. Bristol and Chicago: intellect. Bristol and Chicago: intellect.

Data is now infinitely manipulable and limitless. “Interactivity,” then, just as “interdisciplinary” are practically meaningless terms since digital technologies actually change the mode of interactivity altogether. The open system implies agency; following Duchamp, the production of work extends beyond formalism into “larger  political, social, and spiritual values” (22).

However, there are constraints. The digital divide applies in terms of access, language, and cultural contexts, the last intersecting/reflecting with technological pace, commercial interests and affecting how an artists finds her voice. Institutionally, “media artists regard their art as a form of knowledge” (26) — and I daresay Castells (1989) would agree — and their hybrid, collaborative nature questions larger institutions and their practices.

In new media technologies, there are three narrative modes: (1) transcriptive (multiple layering for loops and reassembling of paths), recombinary (algorithm-controlled permutation strategies that shape the meaning of artistic works), and distributed (enabled by telematics).  Also three are the number of groups of cultural producers using digital media: those using it to create traditional work, those using/producing/distributing in full, and those collaborating with other modes (e.g. video, performance) to make interdisciplinary works.

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Groys, B. (2010). _Going Public_. Berlin: Sternberg Press.

Boris Groys, PhD in Philosophy from the University of Müenster, is Global Distinguished Professor of Russian and Slavic Studies at NYU. Previously he was Professor of Aesthetics, Art History, and Media Theory at the Center for Art and Media Technology in Karlsruhe. He is a philosopher, essayist, art critic, media theorist, and internationally recognized late-Soviet postmodern art and literature, and Russian avante-garde expert. He coined the term “Moscow conceptualism,” introduced Western audiences to Russian postmodernist writers, and curated and organized several international art exhibitions and conferences. Continue reading

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