[iDC] Architecture and Situated Technologies – Review and Commentary

Jessica Thompson jessicathompson at sympatico.ca
Fri Oct 20 17:30:07 EDT 2006

Hi, Everyone;

Greetings from the Urban Center.

I thought I would introduce myself to the list by providing a bit of  
a report from the field as we round up the last few minutes of the  
Architecture and Situated Technologies Symposium, organized by our  
colleagues, Mark Shepard, Trebor Scholz and Omar Khan.
A few notes on the structure:

The day was organized into 3 sessions, each consisting of 4  
speakers.  Each session was followed by an open discussion with the  
panelists moderated by Mark, Trebor, and Omar.  During the sessions,  
members of the audience were invited to text or email questions to  
the feedback section of the website which were addressed after each  
session, enabling us to ask questions as they occurred to us.

In his section of the program overture, (presented on Friday night)  
Trebor used a diagram to describe the funding structure which feeds  
the engine of many of the mobile, ubiquitous, and emergent  
technologies that have become pervasive in our culture:  The diagram  
consisted of a series of interlocked boxes to represent the degree to  
which different groups such as the corporate sector, the military,  
the government, etc were able to produce new modes of technology.  As  
one might imagine, the US military and the corporate sector had the  
largest boxes, and the artists, independent researchers and academics  
had one of the smallest boxes.  (Apologies for any inaccuracy here,   
Trebor’s presentation, and others, will be posted on the website  
following the Symposium.)

It was  this, and other “moments of truth” that I found of most value  
as we took part in the presentations and discussions.  Rather than  
being a summary of the presentations in themselves, I think it might  
be of more value to share with you a snapshot of the Symposium,  
through my eyes, and through my particular interests.

In “Technology and users in public space: what's wrong with this  
picture?” (later retitled “Instruments and producers of  the  
commons”)  Usman Haque identified that the use of the term, “user”   
creates an unbalanced dichotomy between those who have create and  
those who (supposedly) engage.  I’ve often lamented that the problem  
that I have with a lot of interactive work that I call “the  
assumption of an interested public” where the creator assumes that  
because the piece he or she has made is “interactive” that the public  
will come running to your door.   What is far more interesting is  
work that engages participants in tangible ways.   Hasque  described  
his “Open Burble” project, where participants determined the  
integrity of the piece, and where blog entries created by  
participants after the fact were incorporated into the piece.

In Structures of Participation, Natalie Jeremijenko presented her  
recent research on interactive behaviors within the context of  
museums as of way of exploring the differences between the structure  
of participation and the architecture of participation.  One of her  
most notable observations was that within museums (which she  
considers public spaces) most of the interactions within these spaces  
take place between the visitors, rather than as a result of the work  
itself.   This behaviour was unaffected by any design strategy – the  
most significant factor in determining whether someone would choose  
to interact with a piece of art was whether he or she saw others  
already doing it.   While individual behaviour cannot be predicted  
accurately, the patterns identified within small groups are  

She also identified an ongoing issue within design concerning  
empirical results – the collective assumption with interactive design  
is that such measurables are unnecessary, however, many of the  
projects that receive funding are those that can present (or at least  
propose to present) some sort of outcome.

This phenomenon was also touched on in the overture, but I’m  
wondering if a discussion could be started based on this thread. What  
are the implications of the research model on the production of new  
media art?  Does a project need to be produced by a media lab in  
order to receive critical attention?   Should researchers be aspiring  
to present work in a museum or in a trade show?

In “Innovation is Expensive” Michael Fox addressed a question posed  
on this list earlier this year, which asked why more architects were  
not participating in envisioning the future.  Michael, as a working  
architect, offered that there is always a practical reality, which  
accompanies architectural innovation – in the end, the buildings need  
to be built.  Often the mass production (and funding) found within  
other industries is not available, which often means that architects  
are more end-users than innovators.

This is just a small portion of the thoughts and insights presented  
today – and I apologize to those of you who presented who I didn’t  
have time to get to.  The audio from all the presentations will be  
available for download on http://www.situatedtechnologies.net/

Jessica Thompson

Jessica Thompson’s studio practice consists of portable audio pieces  
that pieces that explore parallels between physical location,  
psychological space, game playing and public performance within the  
urban environment. Her recent projects have been shown at the 2004  
Psy-Geo-Conflux, (New York) GAME CITY, (FADO, Toronto), New  
Territories, (ARCO, Madrid) Glowlab Open Lab, (Art Interactive,  
Cambridge) Art Projects, Art Basel Miami Beach and ZeroOne San Jose.  
(San Jose, CA)  She is the Online Magazine Editor of Glowlab.  

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