PhD Dissertation

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Contemporary Urban Media Art – Images of Urgency


A Curatorial Inquiry


Tanya Toft

 

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Abstract

The dissertation unfolds through an inquiry into human perceptual experience in media aesthetic conditions of our contemporary communicative existence. This aesthetic condition is approached in a process-philosophical, Bergsonian framework in the notion of aesthetics in terms of processing of sense experience.

The dissertation examines overall, from a combined academic and curatorial perspective, how urban media art – media aesthetic art forms situated in the urban context – may be considered contemporary in the understanding of art that departs from, responds to and co-exists with ‘time’ and temporal experience. This artistic orientation has developed during an epoch in which technological inventions, mediums and communicative infrastructures have become fundamental to how we understand our being, phenomena and relations in the technologically developed world. Urban media art has significantly engaged with dominant perceptual structures and mediated, ontological conditions, as these have challenged human perception in particular contemporaneities. From this initial grasp of urban media art the dissertation examines how this artistic orientation is contingent with our (technological) contemporaneity today and finds its raison d’être significantly as response to our changing media aesthetic conditions.

In inquiring into three media aesthetic tendencies today: intensity, intelligence and immersion, the dissertation examines the art’s contingent relations with our technological contemporaneity by seeking beyond the art’s ‘material.’ It considers how human perception is challenged in media aesthetic experience, the conditions of experience and urgencies entailed in media aesthetic experience and perception today, in urban contexts of highly technologically developed environments as we find in for example New York City, Hong Kong and Sao Paulo, from which the examination draws on concrete examples of art installations reflecting the author’s own curatorial portfolio.

Especially, contemporary conditions of ‘immersion’ are examined in perspective of research in virtual reality and in consideration of human experience of machinic temporalities and unconscious encountering of a-signifying signs (Felix Guattari, Mauricio Lazzarato, Mark B. N. Hansen, N. Katherine Hayles, Gilbert Simondon, Bernard Stiegler). Such conditions are problematized in terms of an ontological condition of media aesthetic spectacularization of behavior (rather than conditioned by Spectacles), which it is argued characterizes our ‘duration’ today; our condition of change in movement through time. It is argued that this condition encourages certain cultural norms of indifference, sameness and impulse (Georg Simmel, Walter Benjamin, Jonathan Crary), which denote an overall condition for how we develop and engage with media aesthetics today. Critical examples of the large-scale consequences of this immersive condition are offered in analyses of the worldly adaption of Pokémon Go, demonstrating indifference towards the exchange of data for play; and in the impulsive projections of national flags after terror attacks testifying and contributing to imbalance in the worldly distribution of sympathy. Namely, it is problematized how media aesthetic augmentation of our urban environments is increasingly designed to synchronize with an emotional dimension of our presence, through e.g. emotional messages on media architecture, ambient light installations and data visualization implemented in lighting schemes of urban design.

Toft characterizes this condition of spectacularization of behavior in terms of images we live through rather than ‘images’ we look at, in light of Henri Bergson’s philosophy of images as sense-impressions between matter and memory. She suggests that urban media art – as images of urgency situated ‘real-time’ in the urban environment and as oscillating between presence effects (forms of sense impressions) and meaning effects (messages) – may interfere with the temporal experiences we are offered in our contemporary, communicative context by means of the art’s temporal qualities, as found in modes of e.g. temporal overlay, temporal rupture, interactivity, networkedness and telepresence. Art’s images may potentially interfere with the distribution of the sensible (Jacques Rancière) considered to encompass all modes of sensibility in our contemporary communicative existence (incl. signifying, a-signifying, environmental and virtual sensibilities). The dissertation proposes that in these manners, urban media art – as forms of radical temporal art – may be considered contemporary by way of its potential interference with site-contextual, environmental-relational and future-virtual realms of distributed sensibility today, levels at which the art’s images potentially affects human perceptual experience and duration.

 

Copenhagen University
Institute of Arts and Cultural Studies

Advisor:
Professor Martin Zerlang

Assessment Comittee:
Professor Frederik Tygstrup, chair (University of Copenhagen)
Associate Professor Nanna Verhoeff (Utrecht University)
Associate Professor Ava Fatah gen. Schieck (University College London)