Speculations on Digital Art and Viral Spaces
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Blog written by Dale Hudson, co-curator with Sharon Lin Tay of “Map Open Space” exhibit at FLEFF 2010.
The forthcoming FLEFF exhibition Map Open Space asks artists, activists, and academics to consider the digital environments on networked communication in relation to radical cartography and data visualization. In short, the exhibit continues the work of the previous exhibitions that Sharon Lin Tay and I have curated for FLEFF since 2007.
Map Open Space does, however, take a more specific focus on work that engages with the unsettled and ongoing debates and conversations about anything that falls under FLEFF’s rubric for the environment — public health, war, labor rights, women’s rights, human rights — according to the technical and imaginative possibilities of web-based projects. We were less interested in work that could be streamed online, for example, than we were interested in work that could only operate, run, or happen online.
We are very fortunate to have South African urban geographer Ismail Farouk and Dutch-born Iranian programmer Babak Fakhamzadeh serve on the Map Open Space jury, along with California-based Christina McPhee. Part of our ubuntu.kuqala exhibit for FLEFF 2008, Farouk and Fakhamzadeh’s soweto uprising.com demonstrates that something as familiar as web-application mashups using GoogleMaps can be used to visualize, archive, and interact with history, becoming an exercise in radical historiography.
Most people are probably so familiar with GoogleMap mashups that they don’t even think about the types of knowledge produced by them. They are often used for entertainment, such as documenting parades for Chinese New Year and snowmen in Europe and North America after the recent blizzards caused by global warming, as well as tracking the global whereabouts of tabloid celebrities. (That’s right, you can use them to avoid being anywhere near the likes of Paris Hilton, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, and Sarah Palin!) More commonly, they appear in the results to Google Web searches, marking the locations of basic consumer services like banks, cafés, and dry cleaners, to specialized services like halal groceries and martial arts dojos.
GoogleMap mashups are ubiquitous and do everything from tracking climate change and traffic jams, visualizing uneven distributions of resources like fresh water and access to education, as well as human rights violations and advocacy campaigns, such as torture awareness campaigns, in acts of “maptivism.” There are lists of the “best” ones of sites like Mashable and even blogs dedicated to tracking them, such as Google Maps Mania
What distinguishes soweto uprising.com is that it opens up unsettled debated in history from the perspective of high-school students who took to the streets of the Johannesburg township of Soweto during the protests against the oppressive Apartheid system in South African on 16 June 1976. The project seeks to become a community-driven digital archive through which members of the “lost generation” of young South Africans who sacrificed their education to stand against Apartheid can reclaim and transmit history.
What makes the project urgently important is that this history is in the process of being memorialized by the post-Apartheid government under the African National Congress (ANC) in heritage sites for international tourism, as well as football fans flocking to South Africa for the FIFA World Cup. This official version of history diminishes or marginalizes the role of women and of organizations, such as Black Consciousness Movement and Positive Action Campaign. Soweto uprising.com, then, seeks to open a space for other threads to a moment in history that we think we understand, but we probably have lots more to learn before we even begin to understand.
The project includes routes of the participants along with custom icons that link to additional information about sites, events, and martyrs; contemporary photographs of key sites along the student routes, such as schools and police stations; user-contributed testimony or remembrance; and blog queues into Google keyword searches to track what people around the world are writing about sites in Soweto.
The project was initially conceived four years ago in conjunction with the Hector Pieterson Research Project, Soweto’s first historical museum, named after one of the first victims of police violence against the student protesters. A substantial obstacle for soweto uprising . com, of course, is the realities of the global digital divides. Many of the participants in the Soweto uprising do not have Internet access or Internet literacy, and others are understandably suspicious of documenting their histories.
We feel that soweto uprising . com is an inspiring example of the possibilities for politically engaged GoogleMap mashups that help us to visualize and archive history, as well as to open up thinking about our ongoing interactions with history. If you know of others, please share them with us.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Blog written by Dale Hudson,co-curator with Sharon Lin Tay of ‘Map Open Space’ exhibit at FLEFF 2010.
In his monthly column in an issue of Sight & Sound last summer, Nick Roddick reasserted what many critics have already made clear: “the old cinema paradigm” continues to face challenges after movie audiences, particularly in the global North, have enjoyed nearly two decades of screening media online.
Roddick notes three angles of “attack” by new media paradigms: (1) screenings are more likely individual acts involving an “iPod with earphones” than collective acts in a theater; (2) a top-selling videogame, such as Grand Theft Auto IV, is more profitable for transnational media corporations than a movie, such as Pirates of the Caribbean 2 — and, moreover, such videogames are “often narratively more sophisticated”; and (3) the film industry now faces a situation comparable to that faced by the music industry in pervious decades in the form of de-centered file-sharing that they cannot control.
Geffrey Macnab’s column in the same issue discusses web sites dedicated to streaming film (or, more precisely, streaming digital video and digitized film), including “online cinémathèques” such as The Auteurs [http://www.theauteurs.com/], which offers a selection of feature-length narratives and a place to discuss them with other cinéphiles who have paid for a subscription to the site, and UbuWeb [http://ubu.com/], which has provided open access to mostly experimental shorts since “way back” in 1996.
These columns appear in an issue [http://www.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/issue/200905] devoted to the 50th (masculinist) anniversary of the birth of the French New Wave with the theatrical release of François Truffaut’s Les 400 Coups. (The feminist anniversary of the the birth of the French New Wave passed largely unmarked back in 2004 with the 50th anniversary of Agnès Varda’s La Pointe courte, though Varda’s film [http://www.criterion.com/films/524] has been memorialized along with Truffaut’s film [http://www.criterion.com/films/151] with Criterion Collection editions in the U.S.)
The special issue of Sight & Sound is careful attention not to reproduce the nostalgia that cluttered thinking a few years ago with the 50th anniversary of “1968,” which, in retrospect, might now be considered one of the last gasping breathes of eurocentrism. However, the issue does convey an uncomfortable sense of uncertainty (if not, impending crisis) that continues to spill over from journalism to academic listservs, such as a recent thread on whether “celebrity studies” had supplanted “star studies” in an era when viral videos often have more views than the combined sales across platforms for the latest blockbuster.
For anyone who has participated in FLEFF since its rebranding in 2006, questions relating to “old cinema” and new-media paradigms might be posed differently. New-media paradigms do not displace entirely or replace outright other paradigms. Instead, they offer opportunities for a remixing of conventional modes of thinking, whether to re-think philosophical constructions of knowledge or to re-gauge our expectations from media.
In anticipation of the “Map Open Space” exhibition in mid-March, Sharon and I will be posting on work from the previous exhibits (including the work of the “Map Open Space” jury), which ask us to visualize history, memory, and trauma, according to paradigms that remix “old cinema” with new media. Rather than documenting history, memory, or trauma in the manner of expository and educational films, these works engage audiences in the production of unstable meaning and unfinished events.
Until then, share insights with us about work have you screened that remixes the old cinema paradigm with new-media paradigms.