Critical Curating: Urban Digital Art

Modern Culture: Theoretical Topic: HMKK03204U
Graduate course

Spring 2015
Wednesdays 2-5pm
Room 21.1.49

Copenhagen University
Institute of Arts and Cultural Studies
Modern Culture

Teacher info
Tanya Søndergaard Toft, Ph.D. Fellow 

Student participants:
Zahra Al Ziheiri
Nina Cramer
Aaron Dishy
Levi Easterbrooks
Helene Gamst
Camilla Jaller
Noémie le Bouder
Pedro Filipe da Silveira
Mikkel Stig Rørbo

Notes on criticality as methodology
Notes on the curatorial statement
Exhibition planning
Guidelines to synopsis
Guidelines to paper

Urban analysis assignment – Week 6


Five Obstructions


Course overview

WEEK 1 / Introduction: What is curatorial practice with “urban digital art”?

WEEK 2 /
Rethinking curating: Urban digital art changing curatorial thought

WEEK 3 /
Rethinking curating: Curating (in) the media city

WEEK 4 /
Digital art as intervention and urban catalyst

WEEK 5 /
The digital-aesthetic image in urban space

WEEK 6 /
No class meet-up – site scouting and documentation

WEEK 7 /
Expanded Cinema and video art in urban space + artist visit

WEEK 8 /
Urban broadcasting / Urban art screens

April 1 / Easter Break

WEEK 9 /
Guest lecture + field trip to Digital Interactive Art Space, Vallensbæk

WEEK 10 /
The urban digital gallery and participation

WEEK 11 /
Media architecture / art as brandscaping + second artist visit

WEEK 12 /
Curatorial positions to urban digital art /
sum-up on symposium exam and exhibition



Critical curating


Critical Curating: Urban Digital Art

The urban has recently gained renewed attention as a conceptual, practical and phenomenological condition for digital art. Emerging in the cross section of fine art, new media, technology, architecture and urban culture, urban digital art is currently expanding the artistic field, while its role and purpose in the urban domain is a subject of vast experimentation. In this course we will conceptually and in practice question and challenge dominant exhibition schemes in the domain of urban digital art, in order to challenge our understandings of what role and meaning digital art has, and could have, in the urban context. This is, in a response to the increasing density, acceleration and politicization of visual aesthetics in the media city.

Our subject matter is initiatives with video art in public space, urban art screens, context-specific screenings, architectural projection mapping, media architecture, nuit-blanche festivals, new media connectivity projects, permanent urban digital galleries, and mobile and software art. We will look at the developments and changing discourses in this domain from a curatorial perspective, from the early initiatives with expanded cinema in the late 1960s to experimentation with broadcasting turning private situations public in the 1970s, to practices with video art in public space up through the 1990s and the urban screen movement in the 2000s, to contemporary LED media facades and installations of software art that turn entire buildings into digital galleries and media architecture.

The course is partly theoretical, partly practical. It is a module focused on the theoretical, methodological and conceptual aspects of curatorial practice with urban digital art, which students will translate into practical reality in collaboratively planning an exhibition. This will open in June 2015, with a public symposium. The conceptual and practical preparation of the exhibition will involve theoretical exercises, concrete urban analyses, formulations of curatorial statements, introduction to fundraising, PR and communications aspects, analysis of the artistic material commissioned for the exhibition, and conceptualization and production of exhibition elements.

Students will gain knowledge of the main discourses and ideas that have shaped the domain of curatorial practice with urban digital art. They will gain competences in urban and artistic analysis in relation to the domain of digital art, and in translating critical understanding of issues and tendencies in urban digital art into curatorial potential. They will get skills in conceptualizing an exhibition, in collaborating with the artistic vision, in outlining and realizing an exhibition narrative (adjust ideas to real-world restrictions), and in formulating a curatorial statement. Students will further gain experience with developing a methodology and toolbox for independently conceptualizing and producing a creative project or arts initiative, which can be applied to other projects and domains of artistic or creative cultural production. 

Course goals:

– Students can identify significant and problematic concepts, issues and tendencies in the genealogy of urban digital art and outline these in relation to underlying theories and methodologies in a clear, oral form

– Students can characterize relevant hypotheses relating to curatorial practice with urban digital art as a cultural phenomenon, and in relation to viewpoints in the broader domain of urbanity and aesthetics within arts and cultural studies

– Students can independently analyze and evaluate discourses in curatorial practice with urban digital art and reflect on curatorial perspectives as domains of criticality in the media city

– Students can translate methodological and theoretical reflection into curatorial potential and implement research and theory in concrete curatorial practice

Course structure

Lectures will combine theoretical discussion, field trips, guest lectures, and student assignments; among these small writing assignments, urban site analysis, a group presentation of analysis of a curatorial initiative, as well as an individually written one-page assignment in preparation of the exam synopsis; and a theoretical-curatorial statement reflective on the methodological foundation for the student’s curatorial position to an issue addressed in our exhibition.

In each class, we will build on a common theoretical framework, a toolbox of critical concepts and knowledge of case-based references, and gradually advance our analyses of, in particular, site and the urban context, visual and medial idioms, artistic premise, audience considerations, and the curatorial position, methodology and ethics. These areas of theoretical considerations will compose a pentagon for curatorial analysis and blueprint for exhibition planning.

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 13.49.20


Teaching and learning methods:
This course is research-based and experimental, as we are dealing with a new territory that is under-examined and without a developed scholarly starting point. We will be undertaking research in the sense of formulating research questions and examining our topic through problem oriented project work: Our exhibition.

Our learning methodology departs from inquiry-based learning, the idea that learning is simulated through posing and examining questions[1]. This is, in particular, with Irit Rogoff’s notion of criticality in mind as a critical research mode of inhabiting a problem rather than analyzing it, and exploring what is not yet a subject in the world: An expanded discourse and exhibition scheme for curating the moving image for public space while exploring a new mode of audience engagement [2]. Through discussions, analysis and exercises we will relate theories, examples, and discussions to the reality of curating, to our practical experience, and apply theory and research on new problems, in order to create new knowledge.

The exhibition will consist of a new commission with the Swedish artist Anders Weberg. The exhibition is supported by Nordic Culture Fund and Copenhagen University. While we will be taking off in the artistic premise of the artist’s work and practice, the form and concept of the commission will be developed in collaboration between artist, students and teacher. Stuents will be expected to commit to the production of the exhibition and also to participate in minor assignments and various practical tasks during the course in preparation for the exhibition. We will produce an exhibition website/catalog for which students are invited to contribute with a short curatorial essay.

The oral exam will be integrated with a symposium of individual student presentations based on a written synopsis of 4-5 pages (including the written assignment(s) during the semester). The synopsis should tie theory and methodology to the process and a focused perspective on the format/concept/issues of the exhibition. It should clearly contextualize the installation and its underlying theoretical and methodological considerations. Students will present for 10-15 minutes followed by 5-10 minutes with questions by the examiners. Grading will happen after the symposium. 

The examination will consider the demonstration of overview of the main theoretical body of the course, and knowledge of the main critical issues and concepts in urban digital art. The examination will also consider the thesis formation and argumentation that leads to the chosen curatorial position and methodology, how the theoretical reflections are translated into the curatorial process and installation, and in particular the student’s considerations on relationships between viewpoints. The level of critical reflection on how the project responds to significant theoretical and discursive concerns in the domain of urban digital art will be considered, including perspectives to broader related issues relevant to the domain of curatorial, arts and cultural studies.

Student workload:
Class lectures: 33 hours
Preparation: 300 hours
Exam: 84 hours
Advising: 3 hours
Total: 420 hours


[1] Our approach to inquiry-based learning is anchored in Healey, M. (2005). “Linking research and teaching: Exploring disciplinary spaces and the role of inquiry-based learning”. In R. Barnett (red.), Reshaping the university. New relations between research, scholarship and teaching. Berkshire: Open University Press: 67-78; and Keilding, T.B. (2010, upubl.) Forskningsbaseret undervisning – undervisningsbaseret forskning. Oplæg på temadag, Syddansk Universitet, 26. april 2006.

[2]  Irit Rogoff: “Smuggling: An Embodied Criticality” (2006)




Week 1 (February 4)

What is curatorial practice with “urban digital art”?
Introduction to curatorial practice with urban digital art – what is this artistic material, and how is it different? What curatorial opportunities does our postmedia condition, where media experience has become the norm for all aesthetic experience (Weibel), leave for urban digital art?

Examples: Various introductory case material from TT portfolio: Maurice Benayoun solo exhibition, Nordic Oubreak, SESI Digital Gallery Sao Paulo.

Exhibition planning: Overall introduction to collaborative exhibition project.

Graham & Cook, “Introduction” and “The Art Formerly Known as “New Media” (pp. 1-50), Rethinking Curating: Art after New Media (2009)
Peter Weibel, “The Post-Media Condition” (2006)


Week 2 (February 11)Rethinking curating: Urban digital art changing curatorial thought?

How has the becoming of curatorial thought and discourse since the 1980s shaped the landscape for curatorial practice and discourse today, and how can we approach this as curators from the distinct positions of criticism, critique and criticality? How does digital art depart from the avant-garde?

Examples: MediaLab Prado, Lummoblocks (2010); Julian Opie, Walking Along O’Connell Street

Exhibition planning: Introduction to curatorial methodology for exhibition project (criticality as methodology)

Graham & Cook, “Space and Materiality” and “Time” (pp. 51-110), Rethinking Curating, Art after New Media (2009)
Paul O’Neill, “The Curatorial Turn: From Practice to Discourse” (2007).
Irit Rogoff, “Smuggling: An Embodied Criticality” (2006)
Irit Rogoff: “From Criticism to Critique to Criticality” (2003)
Boris Groys. “On the Curatorship,” Art Power (2008)


Week 3 (February 18)

Rethinking curating: Curating (in) the media city

What is the role and potential for digital art in the urban context, and for affecting our urban “mental lives”/subjectivity? We will consider and problematize the differences between intervention and other tactics through which digital art has interfered with urban space, with perspectives to the avant-garde’s tactic of détournement. + Introduction to student assignments.

Examples: Radael Lozano-Hemmer, Vectorial Elevation (1999)

Exhibition planning:
On fundraising – resources and obligations = the practical framework (and limitations) for our exhibition; + exhibition research aspects and work load + production milestones

Assignment: Write one paragraph (5-10 lines) about criticality as a methodological/conceptual/practical starting point for our exhibition project. What potential and challenges do you see?

Scott McQuire, “Part 2: Public Space: Streets, Lights and Screens”, The Media City (2008)
Georg Simmel, “The Metropolis and Mental Life” (1903)
Andreas Broeckmann: “Public Spheres and Network Interfaces” (2004)
Situationist International: “Détournement as Negation and Prelude” (1959)


Week 4 (February 25)

Digital art as intervention and urban catalyst

LYS/LYD (pdf in Danish, you get an idea through the pictures)
Screen City Festival Stavanger
Scotiabank Nuit Blanche Toronto

Exhibition: Develop site analysis framework + preparation for artist visit next week

Miwon Kwon, “One Place Over Another: Notes on Site Specificity” (1997)
Roy Coleman, “Surveillance in the city: Primary definition and urban spatial order” (2005)
Catrien Schreuder, Pixels and Places, Video Art in Public Space (2010), pp. 22-31


Week 5 (March 4)

The digital-aesthetic image in urban space
We will consider the aesthetics and politics of ”the (digital) image” in an urban context.
Examples: TBA
Jenny Holzer, For the City (2004),

Exhibition: Intro to next week’s site scouting and documentation
Exhibition milestone: Research framework done

Nicholas Bourriaud, “Foreword,” Relational Aesthetics (1998)
Walter Benjamin: “The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction” (1936)
Lev Manovich: “The Poetics of Urban Media Surfaces” (2006)
Erkki Huhtamo: “Messages on the wall: An archeology of public media displays” (2009)


Week 6 (March 11)

No class meet-up

Exhibition: Site scouting and urban analysis
You will, individually or in small groups, scout for potential exhibition sites based on our premises for site potentiality identified the week before, and also based on our conversation with Anders Weberg. You will analyze the site according to our collaboratively developed site analysis framework, including documenting it visually and examine who owns it, what allowances are needed, consider the technical challenges, the visual potential and audience conditions in the specific location. Post to Absalon (blog space).

Assignment: Wiki update – you will each define five of the concepts/issues/ideas we have written down by definition (e.g. both theoretical definition and use definition), reference (who theorizes this – the theoretical definition?), and perhaps link to an example.


Week 7 (March 18)
Expanded Cinema and video art in urban space + artist visit
We will look at expanded cinema and video art in public space and consider the visual idioms that have guided artistic and curatorial practice in this realm, deriving from film, advertisement, ‘the third visual idiom’ of the moving image in public space, and also strategies of hypermediality.
Mid-way evaluation

Jeffrey Shaw, Corpocinema (1967)
Doug Aitken, Sleepwalkers, MoMA (2007),
Urban screens, and

Exhibition: Discuss exhibition sites + artist visit

Assignment: Student presentations I (everybody present their urban analysis, 5 min)

Graham & Cook, “Introduction to Rethinking Curating” and “On Interpretation, On Display, On Audience”, Rethinking Curating: Art after New Media (2009), pp. 145-188
Steven McIntyre, “Theoretical Perspectives on Expanded Cinema and the “Cruel” Performance Practice of Dirk de Bruin” (2008)
Catrien Schreuder, Pixels and Places, Video Art in Public Space (2010), pp. 5-21 + 45-93 + 117-134


Week 8 (March 25)
(Expanded cinema continued) + ‘ways of seeing’
We will continue our conversation on expanded cinema and bring our focus to the role, use and motivations behind the projected moving image in public space and the phenomena of the urban art screen.

Oskar Fischinger, Spirals (1926)
Dashrath Patel, projection for India Pavilion at the Montreal World’s Fair (1967)
Brett Kashmere and Astria Suparak, Bill’s Hat (1967)
Stan VanDerBreek, Movie Drome (1963-1965)
Robert Whitman, Prune Flat (1965)
Aldo Tambellini, Black Zero (1965). Shown at the artist’s Black Gate Electromedia Theatre in New York.
ONCE Group, Unmarked Interchange (1965)
Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground, Exploding Plastic Inevitable (1966-1967)
Theo Botschuijver and Jeffrey Shaw, Corpocinema (1967)
Imi Knoebe, Projection X (1972)
Jenny Holzer, For the City (2005)
Marijke van Warmerdam, Douche (1995)
Bea de Visser, Bubbls (2002), projected at the Pathécinema , Rotterdam
Hester Scheurwater, Nachtverlangen (1997)
Chris Doyle, Leap (2000)
Tony Oursler, The Influence Machine (2000)
Guerille projection under the Brooklyn Bridge by Occupy Wall Street activists (2012)
Vibeke Jensen, Night Watch (2008)
Mar Canet and Varvara Guljajeva, Binocular (2013) and +
Marcos Zotes, CCTV/Creative Control (2011)
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Body Movies (2001)
Krzysztof Wodiczko, The Tijuana Projection (2001)
Chris O’Shea, Hands fro Above (2009)
Forever 21 Digital Billboard, Times Square (2010)
Superflex, Modern Times Forever (2011)
Urbanscreen, Lighting the Sails (2012)
Doug Aitken, Sleepwalkers (2007)

Paul Martin Lester: “Urban Screens: the beginning of a universal visual culture (2006)
Nicholas Bourriaud, “Screen Relations”, Relational Aesthetics (1998)
Martin Jay: “Scopic Regime of Modernity” (1988)


April 1
No class, Easter break


Week 9 (April 8)
Urban artistic broadcasting, the urban digital gallery and participation
Exam information + pentagon as analysis model.

Dan Graham, Present Continuous Past(s) (1974)
Dara Birnbaum & Sherrie Rabinowitz, Hole in Space (1980),
The 59th Minute,
International Urban Screens Association,
‪Ad Council, Diversity & Inclusion – Love Has No Labels (2015)                            
Art in the Anchorage, Creative Time,
DIAS Kunsthal,
Midnight Moment,
SESI Digital Gallery Sao Paulo, +

Exhibition: Define obstructions for Weberg and discuss his obstruction for us.
Exhibition milestone:
 Research framework set + your tasks defined.

Claire Bishop, “Participation and Spectacle: Where are we now?” (2011)
Jacques Rancière: “The Emancipated Spectator”, Artforum, March 2007, pp. 271-280
Graham & Cook, “Participative Systems”, Rethinking Curating: Art after New Media (2009), pp. 111-144


Week 10 (April 15)
(Urban digital gallery continued) – Field trip to Digital Interactive Art Space in Vallensbæk + guest lecture
This week we will meet in class and then go together to visit DIAS in Vallensbæk. Our schedule is to finish at DIAS at 5pm (approx. 45 min transport from the university).

Exhibition milestone: Exhibition site is decided.

Assignment preparation: Photo/video-document and analyze an installation at DIAS with our pentagon (to be presented in class on April 15/following week). If you cannot come, choose another art installation in Copenhagen.

Graham & Cook, “Curating in an Art Museum” and “Other Modes of Curating”, Rethinking Curating: Art after New Media (2009), pp. 189-245


Week 11 (April 22)
On the curatorial essay + student presentations I + class visit.

Exhibition: On audience engagement + line up research format and scope for following weeks.

Assignments: (Deadline: April 22)
Student presentations group 1 on DIAS installations (individual – ten min., formal).
2) PR research – before class, please identify at least five media outlets relevant for our exhibition (online, blogs, where people read). We will collect these in class and lay out a PR strategy for our exhibition.
3) Wiki update –You will each define five of the concepts/issues/ideas we have dealt with since last wiki update assignment (e.g. both theoretical definition and use definition), reference (who theorizes this – the theoretical definition?), and perhaps link to an example.

Familiarize yourself with the format of the curatorial statement through:
Creative Time, curatorial statement for the Kara Walker-exhibition:
Paola Antonelli, essay for Talk to Me, MoMA (2011):
Tanya Toft, essay for Digital Afterimage, SESI Digital Gallery Sao Paulo (2014):

Extra meet-up week 11:
On PR and communication. Discuss exhibition design and how do we want to present/archive our project online. For inspiration, visit:


Week 12 (April 29)

Curatorial positions to urban digital art /
sum-up on symposium exam and exhibition

Exhibition: Discuss exhibition design (print etc.)
Website production
Press material production
Exhibition milestone:
Exhibition concept and title decided. 

Graham & Cook, “Conclusions”, Rethinking Curating: Art after New Media (2009), pp. 281-306

Recommended – read interviews with urban media curators at
Trevor Davies, Director of Copenhagen International Theatre
Steve Dietz, New Media Curator and Founder of Urban Lights
Sherry Dobbin, Director of Public Art, Times Square Alliance
Magdalena Malm, Former Director of Mobile Art Production
Susa Pop, Founder of Public Art Lab and Director of Connecting Cities
Mirjam Struppek, Director of Urban Screens
Nato Thompson, Chief Curator at Creative Time
Nina Colosi, The Streaming Museum


Week 13 (May 6)

No official class – week of advising, exhibition planning

Exhibition milestone:
Text editing + online posting
Documentation planned
Press release done, PR sent out
(Website launch)

Volunteer assignment (Friday, May 10): Hand in your one-page curatorial reflection (you should address one critical aspect / focus of the exhibition. – If you send it by this deadline I will be able to provide feedback before your synopsis/paper exam deadlines)

Associate Professor Shannon Mattern’s conference tips:

No literature.


May 18: Synopsis and curriculum for your oral exams submitted on Absalon.
May 26-June 2: Paper exam week.


Exhibition: expected opening June 3, 2015

Symposium (oral exam): expected June 12, 2015 


After course: exhibition & post production (documentation collect, organize and upload), collect and organize press.




”Which is the right kind of curatorial practice? Since curatorial practice can never entirely conceal itself, the main objective of curating must be to visualize itself, by making its practice explicitly visible.”

Boris Groys, Art Power, p. 45