Political Discourse on the New Media

Urban Palimpsest: Color in Berlin by Joelle Dietrick/ Republic of the moon - a new artists autonomous territory by Rob La Frenais/ Surface to Surface: War & Art in the Screenic Era by Adam Tobias Schrag/ Electric light and the abyss: Digital media and the representation of disaster by Kit Wise
Wednesday, 21 September, 2011 - 14:45 - 16:05
Chair Person: 
Helen Sloan
Joelle Dietrick
Rob La Frenais
Adam Schrag
Kit Wise

Urban Palimpsest: Color in Berlin

by Joelle Dietrick

During the 2010-11 academic year, the DAAD gave me a research grant to investigate the importance of color in the manufacturing of consumer desire and political ideology in Cold War Berlin. At the heart of this research were concerns about consumer excess, unsustainable patterns, and resulting class divides. Many of these patterns were set after World War II and exported to Europe through the Marshall Plan. I studied art and design in divided Berlin because it was ground zero for related ideological debates. This paper documents discoveries made during my year in Germany. 

Clever use of color has always been inextricably linked to commerce and politics. These connections are especially clear in the postwar West German discourse around Heiterkeit; literally “cheerful,” also “light” and “bright” as in color. In West Germany in the 1950s, the postwar victory over despair used the trope of Heiterkeit constantly as a way to design interiors and manufactured objects that lightened the country’s mood. Heiterkeit as a soft power strategy in the Cold War reached a fevered pitch during the 1959 Kitchen Debate between Nixon and Khrushchev at the American Home exhibition in Moscow. In front of brightly colored, American-made kitchen appliances, Nixon endlessly listed his country’s consumer objects to be admired while Khrushchev emphasized the Soviets’ focus on essential rather than bourgeois luxury items.

With the U.S. economy causing Americans to reevaluate their relationship to design and consumerism, now is an ideal time to study the psychological impact of color, especially as it is streamlined and easily indexed with digital technology. In the spirit of the Bauhaus, both my research in Germany and contemporary artworks about color, including my own, considers the complicated relationship between design and identity during tough economic times.

Republic of the moon - a new artists autonomous territory

by Rob La Frenais

"Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot live in a cradle forever" - Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky, 1911

How will we live on the Moon? Despite long-term plans to send humans to Mars, in the short term the Moon is the most likely place to rehearse living away from the Earth. It is envisaged that sooner or later a small outpost of humans and robots will be established, possibly living in tunnels drilled under the Moon's surface and quite possibly established by emerging superpowers such as China or India.

It is likely that a future moon habitat would be a human/robotic presence on the South Pole or the Moon where water ice is expected to be found. So how might artists respond to this new territory, which technically belongs to everyone? One strategy could be the pre-emptive setting up of a micronation which could claim the Moon independent of national or commercial interests.This stragegy has already been used by artists such as Slovenia's Neue Slovenisch Kunst (NSK) who issued their own passports, the Danish group N55 or artists like Antti Laitinen. Alexandra Mir famously declared herself the 'First Woman onThe Moon' on a Dutch beach.  

 Th initial idea came from a recent International Astronautical Federation meeting in Paris attended by the exhibition curators, in which issues of space governance were discussed. A United Nations official with an interest in the peaceful uses of space stated, “The last thing we want to propose is a Republic of the Moon”. We wondered: why not?  So we propose to set up, in advance, an artist's micronation- a Republic of the Moon and will communicate with specific artists and groups inviting them to participate, to start thinking about methods of governance, diplomacy and autonomy of this future artist's territory.

Surface to Surface: War & Art in the Screenic Era

by Adam Tobias Schrag

Drawing on several images from both military weapons systems and digital media artists, this paper sketches a critical phenomenology of the surface at the intersection of human sensoria and technological media—at the screenic sites where complex technological, social, and corporeal operations become perceivable events. Certain visual technologies, in both their vernacular and official uses, from the digital cameras at Abu Ghraib to the recent Gorgon Stare Reaper drone program, serve simultaneously to both document and implement acts of war. At the same time, the practices of digital artists have sought, in the same convergent digital milieu, to address, reframe, and think through these emerging militarized modes of perception. Engaging the work of Michal Rovner, Jenny Holzer, Martha Rosler, and Wafaa Bilal as “objects to think with,” this paper works toward a transmedial theory of the screenic by attending the way these digital-artistic practices address and are addressed by the interpenetration of technological media (the screen) and corporeal media (the human sensorium) in the context of war.

Electric light and the abyss: Digital media and the representation of disaster

by Kit Wise

The advent of digital media and its rapidly developing online and urban manifestations has changed our understanding of the city. From large format urban media screens to iphone Google Earth apps, the contemporary ‘overexposed city’ described by Virilio can be understood as a fluid, animated surface of extreme light; symptomatic of the exponential development of ‘urban spectacle’ identified by Guy Debord where content is irredeemably driven by consumption.

Popular culture is also strewn with visions of urban spaces. In cinema, the rise of graphic-novel derived films set in alternative or futuristic cities, such as the Gotham of Batman or Bregna of Aeon Flux, as well as disaster movies such as The Day after Tomorrow, I am Legend and Independence Day, nudge popular imaginings towards ‘new’ urban forms and disaster narratives. In these imaginings, the city-as-light of Virliio can be traced as a recurring motif.

These super-luminous images of the city are increasingly defined in relation to notions of landscape, seemingly spurred on by ecological concerns and the portrayal of war as well as ecological crisis – the antithesis of the city of light  – in the media and entertainment industries. How do contemporary artists navigate this territory? This paper addresses various modes for the current digital imaginings of urban disaster in contemporary art. It draws upon Lev Manovich and Paul Virilio to consider the conditions of vision, ‘digital light’ and their ability to address these notions of disaster, the city and the sublime.