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Jonas Fritsch and I are going to hit the road to Buffalo for the Media Cities 4 conference, May 3-5, 2013.

Here is our abstract:

Beyond the Network: Urban Media Ecologies and Experiential Fields

The growing proliferation of urban interactive technologies into our everyday lives demands a move from an initial fascination for the technologies in themselves to their actual experiential impact and how they ‘…affect the ways in which we use and understand walls, windows, doors, sidewalks, streets, intersections, parks, markets, and playgrounds.’ (Greenfield and Shepard, 2007). Increasingly, this cannot be done by focusing on singular devices, subjects or places. One way of approaching this heterogeneous plurality of elements has been prominent in the diverse analysis of networks. The problem, however, is the continued conception of entities or nodes as foundational building blocks of such networks and how they are connected or experienced.

In a recent resurgence of William James’ radical empiricism Adrian Mackenzie proposes an approach toward wireless technologies not as merely facilitating networked experiences of a particular kind but as constitutive of relational practices blurring boundaries between confined entities such as architecture, human bodies or technological devices. According to Mackenzie, wirelessness ‘… designates an experience trending toward entanglements with things, objects,  gadgets, infrastructures, and services, and imbued with indistinct sensations and practices of network-associated change” (2010, 5). These entanglements are in particular evident when dealing with e.g. media architecture or mobile technologies in urban or public space.

While building on the conceptual outline of wirelessness foregrounding experience, we propose the concept of experiential fields emphasizing the emergent and affective quality of experience. Experiential fields address experience as an ecological and relational process, focusing on the conditions of emergence of urban interactive environments. We are concerned with ways of facilitating experiential situations pointing at urban media-ecological processes and investigating how to work with them creatively beyond confined spaces, bodies or technologies.

Through an analysis of two urban interactive installations, Frequency and Volume (2003) and Ekkomaten (2012), we bring to the fore a range of challenges and questions concerned with accounting for the workings of media ecologies and experiential fields. Both works deal with sound activating and activated through its urban context. Frequency and Volume by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer is an interactive art installation amplifying radio frequencies through bodily engagement with the exhibition space, foregrounding awareness for electromagnetic fields. Ekkomaten is a gigantic listening machine that lets people explore echoes from the past tied to a particular site in the city through their interaction with it. Either work constitutes a media ecology activating an experiential field which modulates the potential for action in the city through an affectively engaging mobilization of  emergent forces.

Investigating relations between media and the urban along the constitutive lines of experiential fields allows us to reconsider what we usually separate into discrete entities such as the body, the urban or the political. Shifting the focus on media in urban contexts from an infrastructural or informational discourse toward urban media ecologies as processes of immediation opens new potentials for considering mediatic encounters and the situations they facilitate in experiential terms beyond the network.

And the conference schedule.

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I have been experimenting with the newly installed exhibition apparatus (dispositive) Palaver developed by artist Eran Schaerf and Professor Florian Dombois and installed by the Y-Institute at Berne University of the Arts. The occasion for the experiment was enabled through HKB’s open house (Oct. 2010)  and the desire to develop strategies for the use of alternative exhibition models with a wider public.

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In a nutshell: Palaver is an assemblage of a wall, two screens and two cameras. A space can be divided by a mobile wall, one screen is attached to each side of this wall and each side is equipped with a mobile camera. The idea is to exhibit an artwork or a performance or anything on one side and project it to the other side where the audience is. Through such an arrangement the audience as well as the object/performance are put into a mediated relationship. With the help of the camera, the screens and the separation a process of negotiation and estranged, mediated contact is facilitated. A palaver in its original meaning is the week-long political negotiations in a public space in African native cultures. The idea for such an exhibition apparatus is the change in roles and time that might accompany the experience of art. In other words, the role of the spectator, the work its reception and the way to think and talk about it discursively might be transformed through such a renewed assemblage. The palaver centers the art object but at the same time mutually positions spectators, art critics, art historians artists and curators on a plane of negotiation. Instead of unfolding each ofthese participants into his/her discipline and mode of reflexion, Palaver aims at an intense engagement with the object, modes of representation, ways of speaking and sensing, the refomualtion of space and the role of speaking in formal and informal ways.

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What I have been trying in this particular occasion of experimentation was to undermine the conception of the object or the subject by becoming a non-subject and a non-object. The creature that lives at the interstice of non-subject and non-object is McGhille (see post below). McGhillie is neither a thing nor a person. McGhillie rather melts with its environment to liberate the one inhabiting the suit to become pure (in)difference and therefore not being accountable by vision or speech. McGhillie is perceivable but one cannot know it nor can one interact with it. I aimed at rendering McGhillie’s movements the least possible anthropomorphic. McGhillie was supposed to become a pure presence therefore demonstrating its disappearance. The visitors on the other side were estranged and curious. I aimed at a long duration not allowing for any interaction but forcing the audience to turn onto itself and initiate any kind of intercourse. The situation was at times uncomfortable due to its indeterminacy and at times charged with excitement when something happened. At one point I was compelled to end the performative situation but didn’t preclude how to go about it. The people in the room were already at the margins of the wall separating the spaces. The screens mediating the situation became fairly obsolete, live experience seemed to be more attractive. Hence, McGhillie was bemoaning the annihilation of the mediation by a screen and longed for its re-installation. Finally approaching the door to leave the room in a crouching way, a participant had blocked it to not allow for any escape. This provocation to leave the state of non-subject-object forced me to imagine what it means to be kept in a cell, to be considered outside of the general discourse and therefore being regarded as free to be subjugated. The liberating and almost powerful feeling of a Becoming-McGhillie shifted towards a Becoming-Animal with all its negative attributes in relation to the human master and the animal-slave. Finally forcing the door open, still being follwed by the crowd I managed to leave the situation and to allow McGhillie to become free for a future becoming.

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In sum, I can say that the attempt to undermine the dispositive of Palaver only partly worked. One of the main concerns that remain after the experience is the question of how a situation can be generated where one can feel the potential forces towards negotiation. In other words, is the apparatus as it is right now providing the right port of entry into a self-generative process of negotiation. In other words, are the enabling constraints given to allow the object/subject to speak in its own right or is Palaver just another discursive tool that hovers on the surface of representation and language.

levels of nothingness - rafael lozano-hemmer

This is a short review on Lozano-Hemmer’s and Brian Massumi’s (in collaboration with Isabella Rossellini) work in progress “Levels of Nothingness” shown at the Guggenheim New York:

The Guggenheim’s Works in Progress series issuing its 25th anniversary this year, invited Lozano-Hemmer to present one of his works in progress. Levels of Nothingness is a synaesthetic performance of written, oral and visual dimensions. In collaboration with the actress Isabella Rossellini and the philosopher Brian Massumi Lozano-Hemmer and his team developed a voice-tracking system that responds to words in the form of lighting events. Attempting to create a relational model between the dimensions of thought in motion and audio-visual experiences the performance consisted of a 30 minute reading of philosophical quotes revolving around colour and perception clustered in conceptual blocks such as “emergence,” “singularity,” “body” or “transition.” Massumi’s philosophical influence in his work on colour and perception has been complemented by Rossellini’s beautiful voice and the “light dance” of more than 50 rock-and-roll concert lights.

The sensation that such an event generates is difficult to circumscribe in a classical manner such as light performance or interactive performance. What actually happened was a relational field of perception throughout the entire room. The perception of the visitor became amodal in its mode. In other words, one was immersed in light, a screen to read the quote that was aurally transmitted by Rossellini’s voice and enclosed in a slightly hazy room with the background noise of the lights moving and other bodies trying to capture the light at the ceiling. The human perception became amodal while the machine perception had its full attention focused on the voice and flow of words in their sonorities. The performance system for interaction became the perceiving entity as we (traditionally) expect the human sensory-motor system to work whereas the human perception was forced to reveal the amodality that perception is based on - synaesthesia as the point of entry for any perception to become noticeable and not as a strange abnormality of some particular individuals. Those who know the work of Massumi will realize that “Levels of Nothingness” might be one of the first attempts to make the synaesthetic amodality of perception apparent in a conscious and not only a pure experience. The collective modes of the event taking form cross many fields of expertise and experience that might be best described by the notion of mutual intensity for “a perception to come” - an intensive field of percepts offering themselves for experience to merge into presence without ever becoming immobile. On might regard the experiences generated in the event as an extensive continuum of collective intensive practices that has been extended for the first time to allow a wider audience to become part of the event. Thanks!

Hopefully, a longer interview with Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and Brian Massumi will be published in one of the following issues of Inflexions - A Journal for Research-Creation.