[iDC] Re: Atoms and Bits and Interaction City

Khan, Omar omarkhan at ap.buffalo.edu
Wed Aug 23 16:50:19 EDT 2006

The discussion that has been spurred on by ISEA/01 has been very
productive but I feel it has not touched on a very important aspect,
architecture. The "critical" vs. "playful" (which seems more precisely
to be "entertaining") opposition reminds me a bit of the "art" vs
"design" dichotomy that served only to reify the institutionalization of
art through galleries, museums and experts. Hence Anna's comment that
the successful part of the Festival was the "curated" part is emblematic
of this :

>I agree with Chris Byrne that the strongest parts of the Festival were
the >fully curated parts - Edge Condidtions, Next New and also Frontera
>Electronica as mentioned by John simply because it acknowledged a
Latino >presence in what is after all a very heavily populated Latino
city. And >yes, the lack of local interfacing with both Vietnamese and
Latino >communities was pretty appalling.

Curation here is not simply the choice of artworks but the venue of
their presentation. Yes if you put something in a museum, or a club or a
theater it completely affects its reception. When you put it in a trade
show hanger like southhall one would imagine that it will affect the way
the artists and the audience will respectively present and receive that
work. Now do you resist this "trade show" reading or do you perform it,
"play" it out and in the process not only reveal its workings but also
make your audience complicit in the activity. This is what is completely
missing from this conversation the material objects that frame the work
we do. I use the word "architecture" to refer to these objects which I
think are not separate from the politics of critical discourse that so
many are complaining about. 

"SEEN-Fruits of our labor" (www.fruitsofourlabor.org) was our piece in
the ZeroOne festival. It was in response to Community Domain. Please
look at the site for explanation of the project because what I want to
point to is the problem that we had in "siting" it. Steve Dietz asked if
we would like to include it in the Edge Condition show and although that
was very tempting becase we could control the lighting, security etc. it
clearly went against the spirit of the the work...accessibility to the
general public. It ended up in front of the museum in the ring of palms.
When we were doing our surveys with undocumented day workers the
director of the worker's center asked where the work would be located. I
told her I didn't know but we were considering in front of the museum.
The museum she responded...would they (her and the workers) have to pay
to see it? Who is the audience for this work? What is the politics of
the architecture that enables or deters the participation of this
audience? Who came to South hall vs who went to the museum vs who
searched the streets. We are so quick to encapsulate the work in artist
and curator intentions that we do not reflect on their actual
performance... social, technical, political. Not only is the brevity of
the festival a problem for properly assessing/appreciating the work but
the places/spaces where it occurred. What is the architectural dimension
of the question Kevin Hamilton poses: 
>I'd be curious to talk to Lu Shie of the Long March project (still the
>outstanding part of my short ISEA experience) about the difference
between >that project's life on the road in China, working with remote
audiences on >specific challenging and implanted projects, and its life
on the >international art biennial circuit. How do those two spheres
relate, >compare? Does the success of the latter now support more of the
former? How >aware is one of the other? 

There have been questions about the symposium that Trebor, Mark Shepard
and I are organizing in October. At the bottom of the post there is a
description and venue. In reference to the symposium I had begun a
thread on the significance of the material object in light of situated
technologies. Regarding the ISEA/01 discussion I thought it would be
good to discuss the politics of the material object as it moves from
being a fixed frame to an active actor in the environment.

Mark Shepard has articulated the signficance of the SI as a historical
respose to CIAM planning strategies. Kevin Hamilton has suggested the
'telos' in the architectural imaginings of Constant for "modernist
self-sufficiency" resulting in a conflict free utopias. Steve Dietz's
mention of Archigram's "Instant City" project that brings to a Sleeping
Town playful tranformations. If you take the sargeant pepper blimps out
of Instant City and replace them with black hawk helicopters I think the
strategy: descent, event, highest intensity, infiltration, network takes
over all still work. My point is that in all these cases the
significance of architecture as a means to impose an materialized
organizing frame that will socially engineer the public is clear. It
assumes that this frame is fixed and sustainable. I think situated
technologies offer us another way to think about it. 

The tying of information and the material object opens the architectural
frame to manipulation. Its meaning can no longer be stabilized by the
owner or the marketer but is open to use and misuse by the consumer.
Likewise with the continued necessity for the f2f, the corporeal contact
in material space, the fostering of local context, information sharing
alone is not enough. The liberation of self and community through
information sharing  has to be tied to the situated and local provided
by material objects.

A step further in this postulation is the functioning and information
sharing between objects outside of human agency. Objects become not only
information producers but consumers. 

What is the politics of these objects? Are they a means out of this
virtual/material conundrum? Do they follow the same logics of
ownership...patents, copyrights etc. that their less "informed"
predecessor's did? Are their material framings less imposing? Can they
become platforms for more distributed and equal participation? I would
like to bring up some great questions which Saul and Patrick exchanged
around the this on the earlier thread. It would be great if we could get
further responses on this.

How does this mesh of communications networks affect our sense of an
evergent/cybrid architecture (physical/information)?
How does it affect our social structures, grouping, socioeconomic
How does the evolving physical/informatic 'city' change the way we
create, dialogue, and collaborate?

I wonder how it effects or effaces our collective sense of Self - or do
we believe this is fixed and does not have to be accounted for in our
vision of interacting with the material world


Symposium Information:

Architecture and Situated Technologies
October 19-21, 2006
The Urban Center, 457 Madison Ave New York, NY 10022

This symposium, organized around the notion of an "encounter," will
attempt to articulate new research vectors, sites of practice, and
working methods for the confluence of architecture and situated
technologies. What opportunities and dilemmas does a world of networked
objects and spaces pose for architecture, art, and computing? What
post-optimal design strategies and tactics might we propose for an age
of responsive environments, smart materials, embodied interaction, and
participatory networks? How might this evolving relation between people
and "things" alter the way we occupy, navigate, and inhabit the built
environment?  What is the status of the material object in a world
privileging networked relations between "things"? What distinguishes the
emerging urban sociality enabled by the wireless communication
technologies? How do the social uses of these technologies, including
(non-) affective giving, destabilize rationalized "use-case scenarios"
designed around the generic consumer? How do distinctions between space
and place change because of these networked media ecologies?

Through a combination of workshops, presentations, and panel
discussions, the symposium will attempt to stage a set of encounters
between invited participants, an audience encouraged to participate, and
the City of New York. 

Architecture and Situated Technologies, organized by Omar Khan,  
Trebor Scholz and Mark Shepard, is a collaborative production of the  
Center for Virtual Architecture at the University at Buffalo, The
Institute for Distributed Creativity, and the Architectural League of  
New York.


> -----Original Message-----
> From: idc-bounces at bbs.thing.net [mailto:idc-bounces at bbs.thing.net] On
> Behalf Of Anna Munster
> Sent: Tuesday, August 22, 2006 9:16 PM
> To: idc at bbs.thing.net
> Subject: Re: [iDC] Re: Interactive City: irrelevant mobile
> Steve, John and others,
> I'm glad that you, Steve, took the time out to interact with this
> discussion
> and to add some of your comments about the background and intent to
> of the projects and themes you worked on. I think this is important
> information to have because, in fact, it can be then passed on,
> to others in terms of organisational and process 'notes'
> Without wanting to detract from the fact that you and Joel and
> others obviously put a great deal of work into the event (and I have
> involved in conference organisation and know that it's long, hard and
> thankless), I still think you have to take account of the fact that
> people who went to this year's ISEA and 01 Festival think it didn't
> This is evidenced from: this and other list discussion, everybody I
> into commenting upon this while there and various blogs. It's ok for
> something not to work. You should also be aware that there were many
> individual events and particularly curated aspects that did work, were
> enjoyed.
> The point is why did it not work overall and how can things change
> something more productive in the future.
> It didn't work NOT because you didn't put a huge amount of work into
> It didn't work for all the reasons that people have been speaking of
> this list:
> - irrelevant or not completely articulated and worked through themes.
> - a general sense of experiencing the relationship to the city of San
> and its space and architecture as dislocated, nonlocated, delocalised.
> while you list various projects that did try to work with place and
> community this did not come across as a major experience for many who
> participated over the 7-10 days.
> -a sense that too much was trying to be achieved in too many disparate
> spaces. That's a case of being over-ambitious and obviously
> under-resourced.
> Less things more tightly drawn together might well remedy this. People
> not need to be constantly entertained but rather thoughtfully
> -a sense among many artists and thinkers and cultural producers that
> are terribly more urgent issues at stake right now and that there is
> responsibility from a critical, artistic community holding any event
> the US now to foreground these issues: imperialism/empire/nonempire,
> war/ethics, technology/military, poverty/human rights,
> precarity/labour/illegality, paranoia/regulation/deregulation,
> fundamentalism etc etc...
> I also believe that this is the creative responsibilty of a country
> as
> Australia right now and pointed to the Sydney Biennale as an example
> another lost opportunity in this area.
> I did not expect ISEA to be smooth, slick or perfect. I expected chaos
> the rough and ready...However what I primarily took away from the
> overall was a kind of disconnected emptiness. Unfortunately I did see
> kind of biennale structure being emulated and this is quite possibly
> effect of the scale of the projects ISEA is trying to achieve. In the
> Pacifc Rim summit the point was made a number of times that
> localised participation in relation to locale can often be more
> an experience for participants. I have to say I agree.
> As for John's comments about the devolution of Anglo-American
> toward fascism at the moment - yes, I couldn't agree more. I certainly
> don't exempt my own 'nation' from that either. I returned to a whole
> of news reports about outbreaks of anti-semetic and anti-islamic
> and desecration of mosques and synagogues throughout Sydney. We are
> as racist a country and it is State sanctioned racism similarly
> by organised fundamentalist religions.
> But what I did really sense from going to the US (and this is not the
> first time - I spent about 3 months in NY in 2004 during the period
> Kurtz was arraigned and have been back and forwards many times b4
> was the very deep level of militarisation of every aspect of civilian
> life. To me this is fundamentally frightening and the most obvious
> that we have moved headlong into neofascism...what is to be done,
> socially, culturally...has never been a more pertinent question...
> Best Anna
> > your comments strike deep at the fundamentals of the developed world
> > and the US in particular.  As an American who left the US back at
> > height of the "War on Drugs" -- a time which left the lasting legacy
> > of mass incarceration of minorities over the last 20 years -- when I
> > returned for visits, and now, after a full year in the US -- it is
> > very difficult to articulate the whys of the transformation of the
> > society, yet it proceeds.
> >
> > At any rate, I think it is still true that whatever particularity
> > confront in the US, there are many contradicting alternatives.  Some
> > hidden, some disguised, some in the process of morphing from one
> > to another.  Creativity is becoming the enemy of those in power.
> > Fear is the primary instrument for them to maintain control.  Many
> > people here are afraid (of the Other).  This is an evolution of
> > which has happened historically in other places.  I personally see
> > this condition as a demonstration of how the Nazi regime gained
> > control of the German state with no substantial protest from the
> > population.  The identification of the Evil Other was a critical
> > in that process.
> >
> > You are observing the results of this evolution.
> >
> > Amurika has always identified itself by its opposition to the Evil
> > Other -- and in that comes to severe crisis when there is a hint
> > there is no Evil Other, only the self in the mirror.  So it hunts
> > an image to lean against for its own self-worth.  A fundamental
> > psychic problem.
> >
> > I essentially empathize with your observations.  And admit that it
> > can be that Empire is indeed rotting to the core.  Just look around
> > at the infrastructure there in San Jose.  Imagine what the US
> > education system, public infrastructure, health services would look
> > like if they received an infusion equal to that spent on bombs,
> > and other killing devices in the last 4 years.  Splendid.  But the
> > cynical leaders are stealing the country blind in every sense --
> > morally, spiritually, physically, psychically -- sowing fear
> >
> > I would have liked to talk with you f2f about this situation in San
> > Jose -- I find it helps to speak with people who are not directly
> > subject to this surrounding social system -- to begin to articulate
> > what is happening here.  It is frightening on one hand, and on the
> > other, it is simply the de-volution of this empire, and nothing else
> > should be expected in the trundling, crushing, passage of beast into
> > the historical pantheon of Empire.   It is not normalized for people
> > who are still capable of feeling, though feeling in this system is a
> > contradictory and challenging prospect.   As the Canadian filmmaker
> > Bruce Elder observed:
> >
> > "The darkening of the world, the flight of the gods, the
> > transformation of humans from flesh to metal, the spread of the
> > hatred of fertility and creativity are all processes that have gone
> > so far that they sometimes seem irreversible. They have proceeded so
> > far that we no longer even remember what was lost in forsaking our
> > humanity, and are unable to gauge how far we have declined."
> >
> > The most radical action against this process is the facing of the
> > Other and engagement despite the fear of that unknown on through to
> > understanding.  That can happen on a 1-2-1 basis, actually HAS to
> > happen at that granular level for the re-volution, re-velation, and
> > creation to proceed!
> >
> > Cheers
> > John
> >
> > _______________________________________________
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> >
> Dr. Anna Munster
> Senior Lecturer,
> Postgraduate Co-ordinator
> School of Art History and Theory
> College of Fine Arts
> University of New South Wales
> P.O Box 259
> Paddington,
> NSW 2021
> ph: 612 9385 0741
> fx: 612 9385 0615
> _______________________________________________
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