After two intense days of presentations, endless coffee breaks and some lovely late night typical Portuguese food (organised by the conference hosts), I finally have time to reflect on what has been a very successful and enjoyable workshop. With a traditional conference format but with extended time for presentations and Q&A (30+15 minutes) and only two papers per panel, it generated debates and contrasting points of view. On the panel on authorship, for example, a traditional model of autonomy of the artist during the romantic period described by Antonio Machuco Rosa found its counterpart in Karl Flender’s paper on contemporary reappropriation of the literary format by digital technologies. Flender’s paper suggested that the author is an assemblage of computer programmer, bots and the unintended Internet log/commenter. Or in other words, the author is no longer fully autonomous and (on many occasions) can be described as a collective agent.
Some of the presentations incorporated performative events and practice-based interventions, such as Pip Thornton’s imaginative assemblage of poetry, receipt printing machines and Google AdWords marketing software to highlight the unforeseen consequences of attaching monetary value to singular words. Panos Kompatsiaris’s presentation on the super-star curator was not only informative but very entertaining, as he highlighted the struggle of star-curators to come up with overarching blurbs for the large scale art events that they are organising that satisfy all involved parties while also distinguishing themselves from any other event. As Panos notes, these blurbs usually begin with a negative statement, stating what they are not trying to achieve prior to stating what they seek to achieve. It goes without saying that such curators and their ‘aura’ are essential for enabling contemporary art to state its meaningfulness and achieve maximum monetary value in the (upmarket) art markets. Jeremy Swartz highlighted the importance of the role of the curator of multidisciplinary conferences/exhibitions to enable embodied aesthetic experiences and exchange of ideas across disciplines. This in turn provides a powerful platform to expose and confront the challenges of living in the Anthropocene era and (at least) reflect on its unsustainability.
My own paper—Probing the Machine-city Through Cinematic Narratives—is based on my main arguments and findings from my thesis, which I hope to eventually publish in a book format. Through an assemblage of urban studies, philosophy, (digital) media studies and sociology, I argue that participatory art (in the form of an emergent and collective performance in digitally mediated space) enables new aesthetic experiences that interfere with the (desired) efficiency and predictability of the machine-city, triggering both reflection and alternative ways of interacting with the city. My ethnographic study on Blast Theory’s A Machine To See With demonstrates the potential of cinematic narratives that draw from previous avant-garde art movements and artefacts, such as Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera. As Jussi Parikka noted during the Q&A, participatory art should be triggering reaction as much as reflection. Conference organiser Jose Gomes Pinto pointed out that the Situationists had achieved similar aims decades ago. However, it would be interesting to see what they would have done if they had iPhones; would they be opposed to them or instead would they hack their unforeseen potential as an artistic tool?. It reminded me of one of the best-known Situationist provocations: enabling people to turn on and off their street lights. Perhaps there is an app for that?…
The event closed with an enlightening presentation from keynote speaker Jussi Parikka on Multiple Futurisms: Imaginary Futures in Contemporary Art. Jussi highlighted the potential impact of emerging avant-garde contemporary media art forms that draw from past movements. I was delighted (and surprised) to see how Futurism found its way into contemporary urban environments in Africa and the Middle East. Through examples of glitch art, performative art interventions and original art/critique artefacts, Jussi exposed the potential of new ‘futurisms’ that are immersed in the chaotic ‘hyperness’ of largely unsustainable urban environments, such as the Middle East utopian dystopias built in no-one’s land to become inhabitable urban theme parks. For me, this is exciting (and scary) terrain, as it shows the potential of contemporary media art to expose, question and challenge these emerging urban forms, but also their potential to support them. As an example, Jussi showed us a video of a wealthy Arab performer/maverick riding a motorbike that seems to have come straight out of the original Tron movie while he waves at passersby and the camera that tracks him as he cruises the empty streets of a Middle East major city.
On Saturday, we all went out as a group for dinner and a few drinks. Our hosts brought us to a trendy area of Lisbon where we were fortunate enough to experience the clash between old and new: he first brought us to a small traditional ‘sports’ bar with an improvised bingo and loads of memorabilia. Then they brought us to Damas, a super-trendy bar where (if I am guessing right) Lisbon’s growing creative industries chill out and party. And to top it off, they brought us afterwards to Bar do Terraco, strategically positioned between an incredible panoramic view of downtown Lisbon and a monumental façade of a traditional Portuguese church building.
Lisbon is one of my favourite destinations in Europe, but thanks to our hosts Jose and Joana I was able to see it in a different light and be inspired to think of the future possibilities of my research on the mediated city as I enjoy the simple pleasure of a ‘derive’ through a fascinating city and its complex (and sometimes contradictory) environment.
To the hosts and organisers and to all the participants and newfound friends, I would like to say ‘muito obrigado e ate a proxima’! (Thanks very much and see you soon!).