Semester Recap + Final Projects


In our Media + Materiality seminar this semester we started off by learning about our foil: theories of immateriality. We looked at work from physics, mathematics and economics to architecture, art history and media studies. We then looked at theories addressing the persistence of materiality despite predictions of its demise; we read some Bill Brown, Katherine Hayles, Vilém Flusser, and Rosalind Krauss. After that, we spent a few weeks exploring various theories of, and approaches to studying, materiality, including material culture studies, the social lives of things, “thing theory,” actor-network theory, object-oriented philosophy, Bennett’s “vibrant matter,” infrastructure studies, and media archaeology.

Because the students’ task for the semester was to design exhibitions of media objects or systems, we took some time early in the semester to read about the distinctive challenges of on-site and online exhibition design, and to meet with experts in the field: my colleague and Whitney curator Christiane Paul, and Tim Ventimiglia, Sr. Associate at exhibition design firm Ralph Appelbaum Associates. In late March, we used Thomas Edison’s various material practices and developments — and their exhibition — as a case study, and we took a field trip to the Thomas Edison National Historical Park. We also set aside a few weeks for “plug-in” lessons that we designed on the fly, to respond to students’ interests: at their request, we dedicated one lesson to handwriting, another to evolving material forms of the book, and a third week to the Internet of Things. As the semester drew to a close, we set aside two weeks to focus on students’ projects: we held a pecha kucha, where students presented their works-in-progress, one week, and a tech lab the other. And our final two weeks were dedicated to presentations of final projects, which I’ll summarize here in no particular order:

O.a-M.’s “Media + Chemical Basis” examines the chemistry — all the way down to the the Carbon and Silicon and Iron atoms — that comprise our most commonly used media, both analog and digital.

A.B. wonders what we might learn by studying the objects on people’s desktops, both physical and virtual.

A.S., an accomplished digital strategist, explores historical transformations in the materiality of money. Her exhibited objects all live on Pinterest, while the substantive discussion resides on the exhibition blog.

J.L., a professional journalist in Colombia, created the “The Material Journalist,” which examines how changes in journalists’ reporting tools and the material forms of their news outlets have altered the ways news is reported, produced, and disseminated.

A.K.’s “Thing Power of the Pawned Object” explores the material culture of five New York-based pawnshops through the words of their brokers and the biographies of objects in their inventories.

D.L. studies how downtown New York of the 80s gave rise to materially-specific filmmaking practices — specifically No Wave Cinema (password: “nowavelong”).

J.R. invited contributors to submit meaningful objects and “discuss their provenance and significance.” She hopes that by “unpacking the complex social relationships between objects, their possessors, and the circumstances of their possession,” “This Old Thing” will “reveal something about the intersections of materiality, embodiment, memory and self-identity across space and time.”

J.S., in “Reading Words, Screening Text,” looks at the changing forms of books and reading, and the politics of digitization.

M.F.’s “Restart Slideshow” follows the “Birth, Life, Death, Autopsy, and Afterlife of the slide projector.”

In “Nomad of Noise,” A.V. examines the material bases of “glitch,” offers a typology of glitch aesthetics, and identifies a few of “glitch’s” historical precedents.

In “Weave as Metaphor,” V.P. explores parallels between tactile, textural forms of communication — weaving, quilts, quipu, etc. — and computer code.

M.O. created “Digital Shot Celluloid Thought” to examine the relationships between digital and celluloid technology in filmmaking.

T.G.’s “GeoType” maps connections between typography and place.

E.K.’s “Blue Filtered Light” offers nine channels that examine the television as an object; various channels look at the history of tv, static, digital distortion, test patterns, etc.

A.M.’s “Afterlife” looks at e-waste and the afterlife of our technological gadgets.

L.S. created an “anti-archive” to “materially document the contradictions and hypocrisies of Big Government’s take on the OWS Movement.”

And L.G. created “Some Direxion,” a digital zine that explores the cut-and-paste aesthetic of punk zines and magazines.

The Final Pitch

Don Shows You How to do Pathos. Mad Men ´The Carousel´ from Emilio on Vimeo.

We’re presenting our final projects on May 7 and May 14. Each presentation should last no longer than ten minutes, including time for comments and questions. I’d encourage you to aim to talk for five or six minutes, and save the remaining time for feedback. Your presentation can take any form — but at the very least you should walk us through (parts of) your online project and discuss its conceptual/theoretical foundation and the rationale behind some of your major design decisions.

Aim to be as “plug and play” as possible: bring your work on a flash drive or make sure it’s easily downloadable from the web; we want to avoid spending time on tech set-up.

May 7: Louis, Amelia, Victor, Liam, Tony, Alex, Ariana, Edmund
May 14: Jennifer S., Omar, Deb, Angelica, Mary, Mike, Jimena, Andrew, Jen R.

You’re welcome to bring food and drink to share!

Videos from the Non-Human Turn Conference

Several of you have expressed interest in object-oriented ontology, actor-network theory, post-human theory, and related theoretical models that ascribe agency to non-human actors. Right now there’s a conference, “The Non-Human Turn,” taking place at the Center for 21st Century Studies @ University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, that will likely be of interest to you. It includes a few folks we’ve read or referenced this semester. Most, if not all, of the keynotes are available on UStream. Below is Jane Bennett (remember “vibrant matter?”); see also Brian Massumi, Erin Manning, Richard Grusin, Tim Morton, (and on 5/5) Mark Hansen, Ian Bogost, Wendy Chun…

Video streaming by Ustream

Comparative Modernisms, Medialities, Modernities Conference @ NYU, May 4-5

…ncluding a Saturday afternoon panel that’s likely of particular interest to us:

2:00 – 3:45
New Media and Literary Theory
Lydia Liu (Columbia University)
McKenzie Wark (New School)
Timothy C. Campbell (Cornell University)
chair: Emily Apter (New York University)

Has literary theory lost touch with the evolving technology of writing in new media that is rapidly transforming our social life? This panel will reevaluate the goals and tasks of literary theory and raise some fundamental issues about their relevance to today’s world. The panelists will consider, for example, in what ways the unfolding of digital media might make the conditions of its own critique legible or illegible, and to what extent the limits of our understanding are imposed by our writing machines and the minds that have invented such machines.

For more info: Modern Language Initiative

Exhibition Review: GEO GOO

JODI is an art collective between two net artists based in the Netherlands: Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans. Since the mid-1990s JODI have been a part of the movement. They have explored, created and de-constructed: computer/video games, computer softwares, and the interfaces of web browsers with its commands, codes and errors. In her book The Glitch Moment(um), theorist and visualist Rosa Menkman mentions JODI as challenging “the ideological aspects of proprietary design by misrepresenting existing relationships between specific media functionalities and the aesthetic experiences normally associated with them.”[1]

Their 2008 web project entitled GEO GOO ( uses and bends the Google Maps and Google Earth interface. Using what is already in the interface of these two services, JODI hacked maps and the earth view to mathematically show us the earth (and the moon at certain times). Users of Google Maps will recognize the iconic symbols: the red line that gives direction, the place marker along with other icons, and the different views of the map.


The website has three drop down menus for the user to explore with each option under the menu given a code titled. The first section entitled “geo” explores Google Maps through a map of the earth using a red line. Starting with the top option “x” a horizontal red line passes through the Equator. The next option “y” a vertical red line passes through the Prime Meridian. The following couple of options uses Cartesian coordinates to produce red lines. geo goes through the map in an archaic view. The world is presented flat and the options are programmed to display a red line being created.

The second section entitled “goo” explores Google Maps more randomly using the icons such as the place marker and transportation found in Google Maps. This section zooms in to the map to different locations on Earth and the Moon. The icons randomly create abstract geometric shapes and designs on the map for more or less in 30 seconds and then it transport the user to another location creating different shapes and designs. The one I love the most is r005-0001 where the place marker icon jumble together until there is no more space, in space. It is as if the place marker is counting all the stars and planets in the universe. The options under “goo” is mostly programmed to give a random icon and always creates the same design, but a few are programmed to be the same icon no matter how many times you choose that option (such as r005-0001 and mpi2r which only uses the place marker icon).

The last section is entitled “.” which uses both Google Earth and Google Street View in a macro scale. The first few options, the user has to install Google Earth in order to view the piece. The cities included with the “ge/” option all showcase a traffic circle/roundabout and connects to the next closest traffic circle. Similar to the goo section where the icons created a geometric shape, with the ge/ option, the map zooms from an earth view into a traffic circle in a particular city, zooms out to connect to another traffic circle within the same city and continues until all traffic circles have been accounted for.

GEO GOO goes from a macro scale to a micro scale through the different drop down menu. This work looks at the behavioral patterns of Google Maps and creates a new dimension of viewing maps and experiencing them. Imagine using JODI’s programmed directions for new psychogeographic experience, a new awareness to our surroundings.

Documentation of GEO GOO was included at iMAL, Center for Digital Cultures and Technologies in Brussels, Belgium. This 2008 exhibit entitled GEO GOO (Info Park) presented as a three channel installation with sound and a small scale model of Parc de Bruxelles. The three channel are each from the drop down menu from the website. There’s a youtube video that shows the space of the exhibit, and as well photos of the exhibit found on flickr. Although I doubt JODI created the small scale model of Parc de Bruxelles, in a recent event at Electronic Arts Intermix, Jodi mentioned not minding documentations of their work for exhibition purposes. I think the small scale model takes is not needed to document the web presence for an actual presence. Christiane Paul mentions in “Net art exists within a (virtual) public space, it does not necessarily need a museum to be presented to the public and seems to be particularly difficult to ‘connect’ to the public space of a gallery.”[2] The small scale model and the sound installation seems to be added to give the virtual space a physical museum friendly space.

GEOGOO (Info Park)

Karen Archey’s recent article in Rhizome on JODI’s current exhibition “Street Digital”  at the Museum of Moving Image called the video documentation of the website “aestheticized, for example, expounds not on how we use or interact with such technology, but merely creates a pretty picture with its characteristic qualities.”[3] I found this statement problematic for several reasons. The obvious first reason is that this is a documentation, users are encouraged to play with different scenarios in and playing is a type of interaction. I do agree that GEO GOO does showcase pretty images, but there’s more to the surface.  This deconstruction of the interface show users the possibilities of viewing maps differently and perhaps viewing their surroundings differently. Aestheticizing an interface can help users understand that there’s more behind what we see on the computer screen. Users are encouraged to actively reflect upon the interfaces they use, how it can be transformed and later how they can transform it.

[1] Menkman, Rosa. The Glitch Moment(um). Amsterdam: Network Notebooks, 2011. p. 38.

[2] Paul, Christiane. “Flexible Contexts, Democratic Filtering and Computer-Aided Curating: Models for Online Curatorial Practice.” p. 93

[3] Archey, Karen. “JODI: Street Digital” Rhizome. (April 2012)

Exhibition Review: Open Books Exhibition and Publication

I have been searching long and hard for an exhibition about books (since this is what my final project is about).  It is actually a difficult subject to find an exhibition on since unlike a painting, sculpture, or photograph, the essence of a book seems to change once you turn it into an object to contemplate in an exhibit.  The materiality of the physical object is brought to the forefront, though perhaps at the expense of the text where the meaning of a book is traditionally placed.

This is why I found the exhibit Open Books: Exhibition and Publication so interesting.  The curators of the program, Sophie DeMay and Charlotte Cheetham along with artists Fay Nicolson and Oliver Smith,  write:

How do you exhibit it [a book]? Exploring the use of the book as the exhibited material, in the ‘public’ space, rather than in a more private sphere, implies a shift, a transformation of its content. If books are being exhibited as objects, then, necessarily, one must wonder about their first purpose: to be read. How do you show and experience them within that particular context?

The Open Books exhibit straddles the line between displaying books as objects while still placing an emphasis on the importance of the text. The blog about the exhibit can be found here:

Don’t be scared because the first page is all in French.  The exhibit has traveled and it was apparently last held somewhere in France.  Older blog pages are in English.  The exhibit was first displayed at the Royal College of Art in London from Feb. 21-27, 2011.  The structure of the exhibit is a little complicated and best explained by the following diagram:

In short: there is an exhibition wall of books (all of which have books as their subject matter). Visitors to the exhibit were asked to browse any book on the wall and mark one page and then return the book to the wall.  All the pages that were marked in a day were photocopied and then bound into a new book which was then also placed on the exhibit wall.  In essence, a new book with content aggregated from all that days visitors was created and added to the exhibit each day.

Here is a photo of the exhibit wall at the Royal College of Art:



 Here is a photo from the French version of the exhibition:


 Here are photos of people attending the exhibit:

And more:

This exhibit is successful in bringing the private act of reading into the public space. I love the photographs (above) of the visitors engaged with both the texts and each other. Books are not “dead objects,” the curators write, but are living objects.  This exhibit manages to both display books as material objects and retain that life.  It finds a way to share the experience of reading with others. 

I think this kind of sharing is similar to the kind of sharing that happens in newtorked environments like Facebook, Tumblr, or Pinterest, where people can blog or post about what interests them.  In the Open Books exhibit, the books that are created each day can be seen as that days “posts” of content that strike each visitor.  This exhibit also reflects the modern trend towards “self-curation.” The visitors to the Open Books exhibit act as curators by choosing which pages will go into the daily publication.

That said, there are some limitations to the exhibit. The rationale for marking a page was left to the discretion of the visitors.  I think it would have been more interesting if the reason for choosing a page was clear.  Perhaps visitors could have been asked to mark a page that highlighted for them the value of a book as a physical object? I also think that limiting the subject matter of the exhibit to books about books was a little too self-reflexive. That narrow focus hardly captures the full experience of reading and if we are to see the exhibition as a chance to allow people to share and\or self-curate their own interests then it does not make sense to have the option of books to read be so limited in focus.  

It is an interesting experiment, though.  In a final bit of self-reflexiveness, a book was created at the end of the exhibition which included essays related to the exhibition as well as the pages people marked during the run of the show. The exhibition catalog has become a staple of the modern day museum show as an object people can take home as a physical reminder of the experience.  The Open Books Exhibition book takes it a step further by allowing the visitor to control some of the content that ends up in the final exhibition catalog.


 All images for this review came from the Open Books Tumblr: