Work-in-progress dissertation draft

This dissertation theorizes the genre of the urban database documentary, a mode of media art practice that uses structural systems to uncover new perspectives on the lived experience of place. While particularly prominent in recent decades, I argue that the genre of the urban database documentary emerges at the turn of the 20th century in response to the rise of the metropolis and the widespread adoption of new media technologies such as photography, cinema, and radio. The urban database documentary emerges as a symptomatic response to the period’s new cultural conditions, meeting a need to create order from vast quantities of information and re-frame perception of daily experience. This was a time when the modern city engendered significant disorientation in its inhabitants, dramatically expanding horizontally and vertically. The rampant pace of technological development also spawned feelings of dehumanization and the loss of connection to embodied experience. In the midst of all this, society had the ability for the first time ever to mechanically record on a grand scale audio-visual impressions of these changes to everyday life. A database is simply a structured collection of heterogeneous elements that can be organized into multiple narrative strands. For media artists, building the database into the aesthetic design of a work itself offers an avenue for creatively documenting the radical multiplicity of urbanized environments, preserving attention to the sensory experience of details while aspiring to a legible whole.