PANEL 1: ANIMATED
Friday May 13 | 1:30-03:00pm
Jackman Humanities Institute
170 St. George Street, Toronto
Room JHB100, 1st Floor
Saint Paul University
Social Media and Heritage: Interplays of Images and Algorithms
YouTube disseminates representations of intangible cultural heritage (ICH). Images in YouTube videos forge ICH narratives of communities that counter the official ICH narratives of nation states sanctioned by UNESCO. Since 2009, UNESCO has uploaded YouTube videos of the ICH practices that nation states safeguard under UNESCO’s 2003 ICH safeguarding convention. UNESCO’s videos circulate under search headings that group them with videos uploaded by other institutions, communities and individuals. UNESCO videos combine with videos from a variety of sources that challenge official ICH narratives. This research demonstrates that the community heritage stories recounted through images challenge official heritage narratives by escaping to a certain extent the ranking performed by the algorithms of YouTube’s search engine. Visual data are invisible to search engines, which rely on metadata to classify and rank videos. Therefore, the flow of data, which brings audiences into contact with images that evades the indexing of search engines, may become part of the narratives forged by audiences as they find meaning in the juxtaposition of images and texts that can counter dominant heritage narratives. The dissemination of alternative heritage perspectives is examined through the performing art of the Mevlevi Sema (whirling dervish) ceremony of Turkey [Sema], recognized by UNESCO in 2005. Theoretical approaches to performance, heritage, social media and software are combined with historical and contemporary analysis of the Sema. This research is interconnected with actual ethnographies of heritage communities, interviews with UNESCO practitioners, virtual ethnographies of YouTube videos and analyses of search engines lists of YouTube heritage videos.
Toronto-based independent curator of contemporary art
Immaterial World: Exit Strategies
Exit is a 360˚ video installation depicting a series of animated global maps that explore the major political, economic, and environmental causes of human migration today. It was conceived by the artists and architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro following an invitation by Paul Virilio, in close collaboration with a specialized team of graphic designers, programmers, scientists, and geographers. Originally commissioned in 2008 by the Fondation Cartier for an exhibition I co-curated entitled Native Land, Stop Eject, the piece was first shown as part of this wider investigation of the rapidly transforming notion of homeland. By nature, Exit is a constantly changing work: the digital imagery is generated from data alone. I was recently involved in the process of entirely updating the original Exit, and this new version was exhibited at the Palais de Tokyo until January 2016. My talk will begin with an overview of the development of this complex project: the creative process with an expanded expert team; the choice of an immersive projection complete with strong sound design as the most appropriate media; the use of cutting edge yet invisible technology to create an enveloping, seamless image; the installation’s architectural design; the integration of Exit’s updatability into its DNA. I will subsequently discuss the questions Exit poses, closely linked to Image/Interface’s focus. How does its spatial design operate as object? How does the viewers’ physical location within this object – a map of the world – inform their connection to its mobile population, as represented by millions of pixels? What role does Exit’s technological foundation play in its didactic function to raise awareness of the current urgent migration crisis, and by extension, in its implicit call to action? And most importantly, how does this work of art, whose very content shifts as related data is updated, fit into contemporary art production and collection?
The “Meme-ification” of Science: Does IFLScience Contribute to a Participatory Visual Culture of Knowledge Production?
From civic engagement to popular music, many topics have been described by concerned commentators as undergoing a “meme-ification,” which refers to an apparent ‘dumbing down’ of whatever material is at stake. Online, shareable media content, the argument goes, tends to overly simplify information. The term ‘meme-ification’ references Internet memes, which are often defined as any digital artifact that gains a high level of popularity (Marwick, 2013). When commentators draw attention to ‘meme-ification,’ they typically identify blog posts, list and picture-based web articles, and other online content as contributing to misrepresentation, decontextualization, or oversimplification. What are the implications of translating information through these digital expressions, constructing knowledge and discourse according to a visual, ‘spreadable’ format? This presentation explores the ‘meme-ification’ of science, examining the IFLScience Facebook page and subreddit “Ask Science.” IFLScience distributes jokes, memes, and short news articles with a science or technology theme. Reddit, the self-described “front page of the Internet,” is a content aggregator and collection of web forums. On the sub-forum (‘subreddit’) “Ask Science,” users ask scientific questions and receive answers from members of the community. Through a visual analysis of memes and other content from the IFLScience page, and a content analysis of “Ask Science” discussion threads, I examine the production, reception, and engagement with the increasingly visual (and ‘spreadable’) communication of scientific knowledge. I draw on theories of intertextuality and consider previous forms of audience engagement in science communication, arguing that the often-decried ‘meme-ification’ of science contributes to a participatory visual culture of knowledge production.
Parastoo Anoushahpour, Faraz Anoushahpour, and Ryan Ferko
Toronto-based art collective
Lost Village of Wales
Wales, ON, 1943-1956 – Harold Corlyon uses his 16mm camera to document the face of every resident in his town. This footage documents the last years of the town, before Inundation Day, July 1, 1958, a much-anticipated event that would permanently flood seven towns to build a power dam. Cornwall, ON, 1988 – Bruce Armstrong transfers Corlyon’s film to VHS tape and Fran Laflamme, herself a child in the footage, narrates the images. Lost Villages Historical Society, Cornwall, ON, 2008 – The VHS is transferred to DVD; it is titled “Wales Village Scenes” and is sold in the Lost Villages Museum gift shop for $15. – In December 2015, “Wales Village Scenes” was shown as part of an exhibition focusing on the alteration of the landscape during the Saint Lawrence Seaway Project. We created a sculptural projection apparatus using a rotating wooden cylinder to house a digital projector, placed opposite a hanging screen painted with phosphorescent (glow-in-the-dark) acrylic. As the cylinder rotates, brief fragments of video are projected onto the screen, separated by long periods of darkness. While the rotating cylinder blocks the light of the projector, the phosphorescent surface temporarily captures the last frame of the video as a still image, emitting light that slowly fades and dissolves into the darkness. In this work the image and the screen from a symbiotic relationship. The projection surface, due to its specific chemical configuration, gradually swallows the projected image, reflecting an anxiety of erasure and forgetting that is present within history’s relationship to archival materials. Through a performative lecture we will expand on the use of this apparatus and its structural and conceptual links to our yearlong site-specific research near Cornwall, Ontario, seeking to understand how a specific community attempts to preserve the memory of a collective loss.
PANEL 2: POSITIONED
Saturday May 14 | 11:30am-01:00pm
University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC)
1265 Military Trail, Toronto
Humanities Wing, Room HW305
Banks as Optical Media
Throughout the history of modern banking, light has been a problem. From management of natural light to balance the visibility and security of ledgers in 18th century to the securitization of sight lines against bank heists in the 20th, the bank has long been a site where architecture and media technology have combined with the purpose of managing light in the service of capital. This presentation will focus on a part of this history, documenting a series of transitions relating to the evolution of the interface between bankers and their clients. Three interfaces that emerged during the twentieth century will be discussed specifically: the teller window, the drive-through kiosk, and the ATM. While the introduction of these interfaces speaks to the automation of the industry, their introduction also required thorough engagement with the social, legal and technical protocols that governed the bank as mediator between individuals and capital. In this presentation, I will focus on how each of these raised a number of issues around the management of light and visibility as a problem of the interface design for banks. Each of these interfaces showed how the necessity of securing individual privacy often conflicted with liberal logics of being-in-public. The focus of my paper will be a discussion of how the attempts to resolve this conflict were made material in the design of technologies (windows, screens, etc.) as well as their placement within space as the bank’s activities moved onto streets and sidewalks. By way of conclusion, I argue that looking to banks as laboratories for different ways of deploying and using media provides important insights into the logic of the interface in the age of personalized media distribution.
University of Toronto Scarborough
A Wall Speaks, a Door Shakes, a Floor Trembles
What if you could use your voice to move the room you are standing in? Brandon LaBelle states that vibration extends “the environmental soundscape deeper towards the physical material plane, to link the body into an expanded field of resonating energy.” Sound’s ephemeral materiality is typically reproduced through speakers made of cones and magnetic coils. Sound generated through surface resonating technology, where the magnetic coil activates a surface instead of air, means sound is heard but it is now also haptic and tactile vibrations absorbed through the body. When the principal researchers of Recounting Huronia invited Christof Migone and I to conceive of a participatory, sited sound work in the Huronia Regional Centre, sounds that were both air and vibrational seemed appropriate. Huronia Regional Centre was one of the largest institutions mandated to provide residential care for people with intellectual disabilities and importantly, Recounting Huronia’s research team was made up of both academic researchers and members of the survivor community who had experienced institutionalization. A central goal of the project was to, according to Kate Rossiter, “assist adults with intellectual disabilities who have survived institutionalization tell their stories.” An unsanctioned mobile sound amplifying cart as the nerve center for an array of speakers spread over five rooms captured and amplified many stories, testimonials–sound reproduction technology transformed the architecture into an instrument where the walls were made to speak, doors shook and the floor trembled.
University of Toronto Mississauga
The Truth About Facts: Projecting Images of Precarity
In China, progress is often synonymous with a particular vision of urban development. An evidence of this is the prevalence of urban billboards and hoardings that promise an utopian future with spectacular skyscrapers and happy citizens. Yet, this desire of having a harmonic and dreamlike future collides constantly with the conditions of precarity that have become a common sight in China and elsewhere. In the city of Guangzhou, the precarity of life is epitomized in the surreal landscape of Xiancun, an urban village inside the Central Business District. As a legacy of socialist collectivization of rural lands, urban villages are collectively owned enclaves engulfed and progressively erased by the hyper-expansion of China’s megacities. Caught up in the politics of urban renewal, the urban slum encountered here is left in a suspended state of destruction. Blending documentary and conceptual photographic practices, this project uses light box displays to advertise the unreal estate of Xiancun’s dystopic present, exposing the foreclosed future of the urban poor, especially migrant workers. By casting light literally on the city’s spatial ruptures, these images suggest that in societies where state-sanctioned facts are inseparable from spectacle, conspicuously constructed fictional images may in the end come closer to the truth.
University of Toronto St. George
Material Spaces: Spatial Performativity in Augmented Reality Art
My paper will engage with the spatial practice of Augmented Reality (AR) art in light of Post-minimalist art. Focusing on works by the Post-minimalist artist James Turrell (b. 1943), I will underline pivotal characteristics of Post-minimalist spatial practice such as the formation of immersive space, interactivity, spatial materiality and temporality. I will do so in order to show how these characteristics are transformed and used by AR art. Considering these aspects in relation to both AR art and Post-minimalism will serve to characterize the device-dependent space that emerges through this technology. The connection between AR art and Post-minimalism has been briefly outlined before by scholars. By examining AR artworks in light of works by Turrell, I will argue that current theories of augmented space leave out its space-centric quality. I will further claim that the emphasis on this significant yet neglected aspect of the augmented space reveals the constructed and limited understanding of physical space, and demonstrates how the concept of space is expanded and altered by AR art. I will show that AR technology turns space into a substance, thus underlining its materiality. By openly and actively dealing with the space the work of art occupies, activating it and loading it with historical, social, and political meanings, AR art creates a visible and materially present space. Combining virtual objects with actual reality in real-time discovers new spatial performativity. AR art is simply about space: it stretches the boundaries of physical space to function as its material, content, and form. Through this examination of AR art, my paper will raise questions about the relationship of actual space and contemporary digital culture.
PANEL 3: AUTOMATED
Saturday May 14 | 02:00-03:30
University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC)
1265 Military Trail, Toronto
Humanities Wing, Room HW305
University of Toronto St. George
Compulsion and Control: Interface Strategies in Online Pornography
This talk examines the strategic interface designs of online pornography websites that pull viewers into a trance-like “flow” that requires no complex cognition. Viewers constantly shift to new images, creating a process of browsing in which pleasure derives from the habitual and repetitious delay and deferral of satisfaction. Within this flow, viewers are absorbed in the process of browsing online, blurring the distinction between human and machine. However, in contrast to mechanistic understandings of design, which focus on feedback loops that minimize frustration and maximize satisfaction and efficiency, the design of pornographic video streaming sites is often labyrinthine, rambling and chaotic, creating an environment for wandering, browsing, and meandering. Such an approach to design recognizes a probabilistic interaction with interface and reveals interface as a cultural value system that finds expression in the graphical organization of information.
University of Toronto Scarborough
“I just want to talk to you with your camera”: Mobile Phones, Witnessing, and Terror
The focus of this presentation is the role of eyewitness imagery produced on mobile phones during lone-wolf terror attacks and their usage in the news media. The 2013 public daytime murder and attempted beheading of British Army Soldier, Fusilier Lee Rigby in Woolwich London became a media event through an assemblage of technical and cultural performances – disparate parts that unfolded in real time, and formed the aftermath of a horrific violent spectacle. This case study helps clarify the mediations that occur in the immediate aftermath of such an attack and investigates exploitation of the very ubiquity of mobile cameras alongside the particular conventions of crisis news reporting as a terror tactic.
Toronto-based art collective
What Shall We Dream When Everything Becomes Visible?
“There are eyes everywhere. No blind spot left. What shall we dream of when everything becomes visible? We’ll dream of being blind.”― Paul Virilio.
Mechanized apparatuses produce millions of images everyday, we do not see them and they do not see us. But their detritus filters through offering us glimpses of particles that we arrange and rearrange according to faster and more laden modes of perception. With an all seeing eye, frames of life become subject to perceptual blindness. Who is that? Why are they huddled? What are they moving? Who are they with? The eye scans back and forth, monitoring while we sleep and greets us again when we awake. These particles of refracted light is life at its end. Our present age of drone reconnaissance and warfare has emerged in concert with a state of pervasive surveillance in societies worldwide. In Drone Wedding, Public Studio (Elle Flanders and Tamira Sawatzky) explore the perceptual implications of automated imagery generated by drone technology. On July 1, 2013, Public Studio recorded a wedding in Toronto, by means of a drone and four surveillance cameras. The artists then compiled the collected footage into an eight-channel video. The use of high-tech image capture evokes the military-industrial complex, in which drones have become ubiquitous devices for violent interventions, while also highlighting drone imagery’s embedded place in our visual lexicon. Drone Wedding reflects the Public Studio’s ongoing interest in the way sophisticated recording devices can generate instability, uncertainty, and a sense of immediate danger.
Wilfrid Laurier University
Interpretation, Intervention and Visual Evidence: the Photo Finish in Sport
This paper contributes to the developing literature on visual culture and sport through an analysis of the photo finish. Athletics, horse racing, sailing, swimming and skiing are some of the many sports that employ the camera in ways that either replace or augment the human eye. While the immediate purpose of these images is to aid in determining the placing of athletes, their use has significant and lasting material and cultural impacts far beyond this juridical function. The paper focuses on case-studies of three sporting contests: the 100m butterfly at the 2008 Beijing Olympics; the womens 100m race at the 2012 US Olympic Trials; and the womens downhill at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The case-studies are used to foreground two main issues. First, the seemingly automated process of the photo finish is actually the result of complex interactions between humans, machines, and the live environment. In this way the production, interpretation and presentation of timing and imaging evidence bring together the epistemic virtues of mechanical objectivity and trained judgment as defined by Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison. Second, photo finish technologies present an interesting paradox: the cameras and timing systems used are able to record data at levels that far exceed what can be guaranteed in the measurement of the live environment (in the form of the pool, track or mountain). Race results measured to the thousandth, ten thousandth or even millionth of a second are falsely presented as accurate indicators of athlete performance. The paper seizes on this disconnect to position the photo finish as a unique cultural artifact that encompasses cultural attitudes towards objectivity, visual evidence and the capabilities of human and machine vision.