Wednesday, May 25, 2005

ZKM exhibition: Making Things Public

Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy is a show up now at ZKM Center for Art and Media (Karlsruhe, Germany). It's been curated by Bruno Latour (Sociologist of Science and Technology), Peter Weibel and Steve Dietz (the latter two are both well known curators of contemporary and media arts). Thanks, first off, to Bruno Latour for meeting with us and introducing we INCITErs to the show, despite the 2 hours of tour-guidery he had done in the morning and the train to Paris which was pressuring him from the other side.

The show is enormous. Viewing it taxed all of us, and we had two full days to see it. It's also categorically limitless (which is to say: a-categorical), presenting work which seemed to conceive of itself more comfortably as science, and other pieces which presented themselves as activism, as agit prop, as illustration, even as "art." Of course, the setting (ZKM) and the setting's accoutrements (curation, wall text, accompanying brochure, exhibition book) suggest that we could read all the works as "art." But I don't know. To do so, in the face of such widely varied works, seems to stretch the category "art" so far that it can no longer do any meaningful work. On the other hand, it does neither viewers nor the works on show nor the collective project any favours to declare "this is not Art!". All I'm trying to suggest is that evaluating the works on show, and the collective exhibition, by the terms and standards set by the contemporary art world might not be, in all cases, the most generous or meaningful way to look at it (although it does produce some interesting against-the-grain effects, e.g. the always-fun frisson of really hating some of the works).

So, yes, the show is ambitious. Go see it if you find yourself in Karlsruhe. There are a hundred ways into it and probably more than a hundred ways to exit out the back of it. Let me just notice one aspect, which is probably as much a comment on the curatorial project as it is about anything else. Latour is a sociologist. Weibel and Dietz are curators. This is interesting, although I think it does not exhaust or encompass our ways of seeing the work they've assembled. But there is a relationship that obtains, over the course of the show, between the works and the text. The show is divided into 13 sections (although Latour says there are only 4), each accompanyied by a sizable text which introduces the themes of that section. Although probably better to say: "introduces the argument of that section," because each section is presented as one argument within a larger argument sustained or made by the show itself (that argument, rendered here in freakish, un-helful miniature, is something like: "politics is all about things"). So each section wages a strong argument, then presents (I don't know) 5 to 20 pieces which [X] that argument. But what is the relation here, the X? That is the question I'm raising. For a show that wants to open out our conception of what things are (by deflecting our attention away from questions of *what they are* to questions about *how they are made*), it felt to me that the arguments dictated to the works, and that rarely does a work stand out, or stand aside enough to speak back to the argument, to question it or modify it or relay it. Too often, the works appear as mute illustrations of the argument on hand. This is not just a problem with the text (text, per se, is not to blame). It also has to do with the enormity of the show—the overall design, we could say: there's just so much; rarely can pieces rise above the melee. Although, I think this sense of the works as participating in a melee, or a massively disputed state of affairs, is probably one the curators would (or do) encourage. So maybe this is one of the points the show wants to make about publics and collectivities: that they should be "disupted states of affairs" (indeed, they say exactly this on the web page I've directed you to above). But I don't think so, or, I don't think this quite excuses it. I wanted the works to have their say: their own, distinctive, subjective, situated say. I wanted there to be MORE disputation.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Meaghan Morris talks

A little bit more about this, because it's worth it and because I mentioned it here before. Meaghan Morris is the Chair Professor and Head of Department in the Department of Cultural Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong. In 2000 (I think I'm remembering that date correctly), she left Australia to take up that post, having been long interested in issues of race, nationalism, and globalisation, and seeing in the move an opportunity to explore what it might mean to do cultural studies (how it might usefully annoy or test the concept of culture) in Asia, in an only-just-post-colonial country, in a linguistically mixed environment, outside of the Anglophile world where cultural studies is so thoroughly (self-)centred. She talked at some length about the politics of publishing and translation, and how these conspire to excuse Anglophile readers from reading non-Anglophile literatures. So, she gives an example, rarely do we (Anglophiles...this is the word she used) engage contemporaneously with, say, Chinese scholars who publish in Chinese. Language and geography seem to stand in the way, if not something like Culture itself (the marketing team for an American publisher might say: "what market is there in the US for contemporary work on China?"). And when we do get or make the chance to so engage, it is often necessarily in translation (Morris expressed her frustration with intellectuals who assume their audiences will be literate in more than one language; for a majority of the world, she says, literacy in a single language is often a significant accomplishment). And in translation tends to mean, although need not mean: several years if not decades later, with all due excuses made in the new introduction for all the ways in which the piece (typically a book, not a stand-alone journal article) fails to address its new local readerships. In this context, Morris then spoke about a journal called Traces, which she has edited and written for, and which appears in simultaneous four-part translation (Korean, Chinese, Japanese and English), every single issue. No mean feat, that. Think about the logistics. So the talk was about what it means to do cultural studies in linguistically mixed environments, with a strong implication being that the world is just such an environment, and yet (in cultural studies and elsewhere) is rarely conceived of and written for as such. Morris' strongest and clearest call to action was for "intellectuals" (she made a point of specifying intellectuals) to actively take up the task of engaging with scholars across the world, not just in the Anglophile world.

[Also: Nervous speakers of the world, take heart. Early in her talk, Morris was relying heavily on her glass of water and finally explained: "This always happens to me, in every single talk I've ever given for my entire life...just at this point in the talk. I must breath now." At which point, she did: just stood there, sipping and breathing. All very endearing.]

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

INCITE/RCA collaboration

With the RCA/INCITE collaboration week over (or at least, ceased), first things first: gratitude! To Katrina Jungnickel and Nina Wakeford and Nina Pope and Lucy Kimbell who conceived and organised and in general possible-ised the whole thing. It was a really good event and worked on all sorts of levels: collaboratively, disciplinarily, non-disciplinarily, anti-disciplinarily...for what it provoked and what it effected.

So to pull on one of many possible threads: even though the event was established (and usefully so) in a disciplinary framework (sociologists collaborating with interaction designers), one of the things I really like about collaboration is the way it brackets the disciplinarity of disciplines (I fear that I'm going to continue the stretch the grammatical elasticity of that word...bear with me. If you do, I promise to stop short of "Disciplinarity-ness."). Disciplinarity doesn't go away, or very far away, but I rarely feel like the action takes place through or by way of disciplines. When they're called upon, they're called upon quite explicitly, to address some problem that is particularly well suited to a discipline's strengths, rather than silently dictating to our methods and the products of our work, as they can otherwise do. So, for instance, with George Grinsted, my designer (he calls me "his sociologist"), he might ask me how Sociology thinks about copyright or intellectual property vis a vis the sociologist's data, but even this conversation (whatever we do with it) doesn't take place on disciplinary turf. Rather, the discipline is being called up, accessed, then re-shelved. The action then continues to take place elsewhere, in whatever space the collaboration creates for itself, making decisions based on what the project needs and NOT what the discipline needs (although there are definitely times when the needs of a discipline should guide our work). For me, this situation (meaning: this placement, this location) of disciplines plays to Disciplinarity's strengths (e.g. an intellectual history, a deep and broad set of resources for addressing certain kinds of problems) and avoids its weaknesses (e.g. the way it can hem in the products of our work, limit our audiences, hamper our methods).

Collaboration (and I think even collaboration within a discipline, although I have less experience with this and suspect that it is more difficult to set Disciplinarity aside in this case, even while this kind of collaboration probably highlights the productive differences within a discipline)...collaboration does or can set Disciplinarity to the side (always in reach, inevitably embedded in the muscle memory of our individual practices) while establishing a territory for the project at hand. In collaboration or working alone (one never is), this is my ambition for any work I do. Collaboration gets me there a little quicker.


Thursday, May 05, 2005

INCITE/ RCA - day four

It's meant to be a week long collaborative experiment yet it has felt neither like a week nor particularly long. Time has taken on a slippery sheen. Hours have disappeared yet days have run on. Piles of paper grow ever larger. Each ripped piece still important for some scribbled reason. Pairs huddle, walk and talk in tandem. We've been eating at desks, in transit and during crits. For me, it seems there have been few moments when I haven't been thinking about, chewing over or worrying about my collaborative challenge. (If this is my response then the sleep research/design team must be really blurring the boundaries!)

Everyone is deeply involved in their projects, so much so that although we glimpse each other occasionally scurrying back from field trips, to and from scanners and photocopiers, with increasingly interesting bundles of diagrams, piles of data and modeling materials there have been few spaces for leisurely inter-group chat. So I imagine everyone is looking forward to tomorrow to see what has been going on around the studio.

Just to recap, the pairs have been working on:

George + Kris - Personal Photography Online & Photoblogs
Joe + Monica - Mexican Women's experience on Racism, Mestizaje & National Identity
Matthew + Beckie - Girls, Bodies & Images
Tamsin and Bas + Jenny and Sue - Women's Sleep
Tom + Vicky - The contemporary construction of Greekness
Jon + me - No.73 bus

Tomorrow is the final day of the collaboration. At 13.00 every pair will present their design solution or research artefact or whatever they are calling it to the group. We are meeting at UniS for the final session which will encompass individual, pair and disciplinary reflections on the project. Now, enough blogging. I need to finish my work.


Tuesday, May 03, 2005

INCITE/RCA - day one

The other big event which kicked off on Friday afternoon is the RCA/ INCITE collaboration. It's a week long experiment during which interaction design students from RCA Interaction design unit are collaborating with sociologists from INCITE, University of Surrey and Goldsmiths College. It's being run by Nina Wakeford (INCITE) and Lucy Kimbell and Nina Pope (RCA).

The pairings include:

- George Grinsted + Kris Cohen
- Joe Malia + Monica Moreno
- Jon Arden + me
- Matthew Falla + Beckie Coleman
- Tamsin Fulton & Bas Raijmakers + Jenny Hislop & Sue Venn
- Tom Jenkins + Vicky Skiftou

Whilst Friday afternoon provided a valuable overview of sociological and interaction design perspectives and a collaboration experience case study, today marked the real (uncomfortable and exciting) start to the event. Pairs were tasked with negotiating shared interests, complementary skills and theoretical frameworks. After a series of iterative idea generation exercises each pair had to present their working brief to the group. I can only speak for my own experience and I found it an exhausting but very interesting day. I'll be detailing my views, sketches and (no doubt) emotional ups and downs on my bus blog as this is the project from which Jon and I are drawing inspiration. Tomorrow many pairs are in the field for some quick and dirty research before coming back to another group crit at 4pm.

More updates to come.

- kat

Monday, May 02, 2005

INCITE/ INTEL Privacy workshop

It's been a busy few weeks leading up to a few big INCITE events.

Last Thursday and (half of) Friday saw the University of Surrey play host to the INCITE and INTEL Privacy workshop. We were lucky to have the pleasure of 15 very smart and fun people talking about and commenting on new research projects. The purpose of the event was to discuss projects and thinking around privacy/technology issues, make use of each other’s knowledge and debate insights generated.

Participants included:

INTEL, PAPR research lab members:
Ken Anderson, Senior Researcher/Design Anthropologist
Michele Chang, Interaction Design Researcher
Sunny Consolvo, Senior Researcher
Scott Mainwaring, Senior Researcher
Wendy March, Interaction Design Researcher

Department of Sociology, University of Surrey:
Kris Cohen, Research Fellow, INCITE
Mary Ebeling, Postgrad student, INCITE
Jo Moran Ellis, Senior Lecturer in Sociology
Nicola Green, Lecturer in Sociology
Gerard Oleksik, Postgrad student, INCITE
Nina Wakeford, Reader in Sociology and Director of INCITE
Steve Smith, Postgrad student, INCITE

UK social scientists:
Georgina Born, Reader in Sociology, Anthropology and Music, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Cambridge
Daniel Neyland, Senior Research Fellow, Science & Technology, Oxford Said Business School

A literature review of UK and European empirical research around the areas of privacy will shortly be posted on the INCITE website. Mary also documented the event and this too will be available soon.

Thanks to everyone for making it a valuable two days.