This essay offers a survey of historical practices at the intersection of media arts and urbanism, as well as discuss a series of my own collaborative projects. I describe these works as “urban database documentaries.” At its core, the urban database documentary is a mode of cultural practice that attempts to represent a city through a narrative comprising multiple perspectives and has the ability to be re-configured conceptually or literally by the viewer/participant.
Brian House and I discuss our studio/seminar “Critical Urban Media Arts” at Columbia. We focus upon the conceptual background of the course and the pedagogical methods they developed, including Periplurban, a new platform for urban media research.
A Genealogy of the Discursive Intersections of Media, Archaeology, Digital Humanities and the City
Over the past decades, a significant new discourse has emerged within the fields of media history and theory known as “archaeology of media.” Friedrich Kittler, Sigfried Zielinski, and others have challenged traditional methods of media research with the aim of unsettling teleological arguments of technological history and progress. I argue for a media archaeology of place, a new approach that focuses upon excavating the mediated image and sound of specific places.
Excavating Theories, Practices, Aesthetics and Politics of the Contemporary Past
Through close readings of archaeologist Michael Shanks’s theory of deep mapping, William Least Heat‐Moon’s book PrairyErth (a deep map), and Jacques Rancière’s The Politics of Aesthetics, I zig zag across the practices of sixteenth‐century antiquarians, a 750‐square‐mile Kansas county that 3,031 residents called home in 1991, and the specific distribution of sensibilities that these projects engender. The aim is to uncover a mode of critically engaging the commonplace, often‐looked characteristics of our contemporary landscape.
Traveling through Mikhail’s Kaufman’s City Symphony Moscow
I am interested in expanding the discursive, aesthetic, geographical, and social history of the city symphony, aiming to uncover the details of its shifting conceptions and formal mutations over time and place. As a first step, this paper explores the dynamics of urban representation in Mikhail Kaufman’s Moscow (1927), a lesser-known documentary produced in the Soviet Union.
Janet Cardiff’s Her Long Black Hair as a Walk Between Acoustic, Temporal and Ontological Spaces
An understanding of Cardiff’s work can be furthered by contextualizing her aesthetic strategies and affects within the historical discourse on camouflage and “transparency” in the spatial and visual arts. Like the avant-garde artists of the early 20th century who created sensations of simultaneously overlapping times, perspectives, and spaces, Cardiff uses the manipulation of figure-ground and the sensorium to draw out and sustain the contradictions between fact and fiction in our everyday lives.
Experiencing ABCDF: The Graphic Dictionary of Mexico City as a Work of Movement Performed by the Act of Walking
ABCDF: Graphic Dictionary of Mexico City, a project produced in 2001, encompasses a 1502 page book, an interactive CD-Rom and a public museum exhibition. The project illustrates a unique approach to representing the city that re-invents the dictionary, not as a vehicle for establishing a pretense of total knowledge, but instead as an “open work” that is “performed” through an embodied and active spectatorial subjectivity enacted through walking in the city.
Sound, Space and the Multiple Senses of an Urban Documentary Imagination
An analysis of Walter Ruttmann’s Weekend in the context of the discourse of documentary arts, sensorial experience, and urban representation. I am most interested in Ruttmann’s attempt to represent the urban experience in a purely sonic form through documentary recordings.
The Situationists hoped to escape the numbing spectacle of modern life through practices usch as the dérive, a playful but attentive drifting through urban space. New technologies have provided the opportunity for some exciting experiments in contemporary psychogeography. What follows is a selection of such projects, all of which were featured in the interdisciplinary urban arts festival Loving Berlin – Woche der Berlin-Liebhaber
Few spaces embody Berlin’s in-between character as strongly as the Mauerpark. Located along the former stretch of the Wall, the park is a long strip of land that sits in the North of the city, between the former Western district of Wedding and the formerly Eastern districts of Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg. Everyday life in the Mauerpark operates between the poles of historical burden and historical ignorance, between overbearing memory and total amnesia.
Today, the Goitszche, once called “the dirtiest corner in Europe” by the magazine Der Spiegel, is a model for comprehensive, dialogue-based regional planning and development that focuses upon strengthening the distinct character of local places, fostering intercity cooperation and sensitivity to ecology, and promoting interdisciplinary and international communication. The former mine has been flooded to create a new landscape of lakes, recultivated vegetation and art projects intended to regenerate the identity of the area in the minds of potential residents and visitors.