PhD Dissertation




Contemporary Urban Media Art – Images of Urgency

A Curatorial Inquiry

Tanya Toft



The dissertation unfolds through an inquiry into human perceptual experience in media aesthetic conditions of our contemporary communicative existence; aesthetics approached in a process-philosophical, Bergsonian framework in the notion of processing of sense experience. It examines 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 our technologically developed world. Urban media art has significantly engaged with dominant perceptual structures and mediated, ontological conditions challenging human perception in particular contemporaneities. From this initial perspective on the 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 examination goes beyond the art’s ‘material’ in light of how human perception is challenged in media aesthetic experience into the conditions of experience and urgencies entailed in media aesthetic experience and perception today in urban contexts of highly technologically developed environments. Especially in conditions of ‘immersion’ 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). This situation is 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. This condition encourages certain cultural norms of indifference, sameness and impulse (Georg Simmel, Walter Benjamin, Jonathan Crary) that denote an overall condition for how we develop and engage with media aesthetics today – with critical examples of large-scale consequences in 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. I characterize 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. I suggest that urban media art – as images of urgency situated ‘real-time’ in the urban environment and oscillating between presence and meaning effects – may potentially interfere with the temporal experiences we are offered in our contemporary communicative context. That is, interfere with the distribution of the sensible (Jacques Rancière) considered to encompass all modes of sensibilities in our contemporary communicative existence (incl. signifying, a-signifying, environmental, virtual) – and especially by means of the art’s temporal qualities. As a form of radical temporal art, urban media art potentially interferes with site-contextual, environmental-relational and future-virtual realms of distributed sensibility today.


Copenhagen University
Institute of Arts and Cultural Studies

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)