Panel A: Stories of Trash

Amy Folkedahl Meehleder, “Mapping the “Trash-scape:  Waste and the Grid in Three Works by Rashid Rana, Anjum Singh, and Vivan Sundaram”

Describing American capitalism as the ultimate arbiter in globalization and the recurring grid form in twentieth century Modernism respectively, art critic Geeta Kapur and theorist Rosalind Krauss both identify systems for constructing difference that are arbitrary and potentially infinite. I suggest it is possible to map as conceptually parallel Kapur’s idea of globalization as a system imposed on the Third World since approximately the 1990s and Krauss’s description of the grid in the work of American and European artists working just prior to 1979. Together these ideas signify a seemingly ever-expanding form, both grid and global capital, that arbitrarily differentiates the polities and regions it encompasses. Through this differentiation, nations such as Pakistan and India, defined as “Third World” or “emergent” are situated culturally and economically under the matrix of the globalized world and yet also arbitrarily separated from its other segments. Employing these paired concepts, this paper focuses on The World is Not Enough (2006-7), Rashid Rana’s photographic montage of a Lahore dump, Anjum Singh’s painting series Spit, Spat, and Stub (2008) depicting spent tobacco products layered over abstract maps of Delhi, and Vivan Sundaram’s Master Plan (2008), a digital photographic print of a miniature city made of trash. These are each subtly gridded compositions which conceive an aerial positionality for the viewer, an orientation that dislocates the viewer from her individual self (as the contemporary consumer is dislocated) and allows for the deployment of grid forms that speak to the structure of capitalism, urbanism, and art making in the twenty-first century, particularly when mapped over, under, or through the local trash that these artists use as subject and medium.

Rieke Jordan, “Moby-Dick; or, The Waste”

It is tempting to see rapid overhauls, decay/ recycling, and planned obsolescence as signs of the (post)industrial era and global capitalism. In her article “Ramble City” for instance, Guiliana Bruno makes the claim that in the movie Blade Runner “the [postindustrial] system works only if waste is produced” (Bruno 1987, 64). She argues that post-industrialism recycles, remixes, reuses. The capitalist system needs waste to reproduce its inherent aesthetics and ecologies. For this talk, I would like to take her claim into a different century and into different terrain. I argue that reproduction of early capitalist logics can already be identified within novels of the nineteenth century, in which “waste management” and reusing/ recycling start emerging.

My paper turns to one of the behemoths of American literature to explore these questions: Moby-Dick. Can Melville’s novel tell a prehistory of the topos of waste, embedded within an early capitalist environment (whaling / New England’s economy of the 19th century)? My talk traces how animal leftovers are reused, repurposed, reimagined: Melville gives detailed description of how a whale will be cut up meticulously on land. Its skin is to be turned into umbrellas, its fat into candles. Also, the Pequod carried storage cans and containers for fat. I see these as examples of how waste comes to signal (the rise of) capitalist activity (and societies!), long before mass production and factories have produced (and reused) waste.

This might give further indication on how Moby-Dick has been repurposed and reused, cut up and turned into something new in both academia and pop culture. Film adaptations, an opera, a pop up book, or even the novel rewritten with emojis, (Emoji-Dick), hunt something down that shall not perish, but that is meant to be reworked.

Curt Lund, “Rubbish, Classics, and the Things In Between: Shifting Values of the Everyday Objects that Surround Us”

Addressing the conference’s interest in obsolescence, this study takes as its focus the “design object” — the toaster, the typewriter, the teapot — and examines various theoretical models designed to analyze consumption and retention practices of such everyday objects. Various visualizations of the Fashion Cycle / Product Life Cycle, such as Nystrom’s curve and Klepper’s spiral; Pearce’s modes of collecting; Thompson’s Rubbish Theory; Schudson’s Cultural Value Model; and other theorizations are introduced and utilized to examine a subject’s complex relationship to their things as well as practices that resist or even celebrate obsolescence.

One particular site that complicates the notion of obsolescence is the art museum, a liminal environment in which, for many centuries but particularly in the last 80 years, everyday objects are “enfranchised,” “made strange,” “ritualized,” extended an “aura” alongside objects of strictly aesthetic consideration. The transformation of everyday objects through the acts of collection and display troubles the notion of obsolescence, simultaneously distancing objects from their intended use while celebrating the particular considerations of form, material, affordance, and cultural significance of each object that made/makes them useful and used. In the second part of this presentation, I explore how an object’s entry into this liminal space changes our perceptions of it, through the work of such theorists as Gell and Duncan, who aptly explore the transformative effect of the museum environment on artwork and “art-like” artifacts (and on museum viewers themselves). With this phenomenon in mind, influential contemporary design collections at two leading American institutions — the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Art Museum — are examined to explore how “legitimizing” institutional practices help shape the criteria and value judgments used in writing the contemporary canon of design history.

Panel B: Digital Culture and Science Fictions

Andrew Bailey, “Not Enough Memory: Examining History and Obsolescence in Contemporary Game Art”

This paper will examine the new media art installation Various Self Playing Bowling Games (2011) by Cory Arcangel. The work consists of an assemblage of outdated gaming consoles that have all been modded to run a loop of gutter balls within a collection of retro bowling games. Although this may initially seem like a simple joke that banks on the humour of watching the on-screen bowlers awkwardly fail over and over, there is a deceptive amount of underlying layers to this work that when peeled back establish a critical perspective on how we experience mass entertainment, technological consumerism, and the emptiness of the product cycle. By examining this work through an interdisciplinary lens of art history, media archeology, and game studies, this paper will show how broader video gaming culture has inherent and problematic ties to planned obsolescence. Using Hito Steyerl’s work on degrading media and historical stasis, I will argue that the repetitive patterns of technocapitalism that Arcangel is focusing on are gradually eroding video game history in ways that will eventually make large parts of it inaccessible for future study. Examining Arcangel’s piece in this way allows us to gain an awareness of this continual cycle of invention and supersession, and forces us to confront how and what we deem defunct. By focusing on the faults, failures, and weaknesses of gaming’s history, Arcangel shows us how obsolete technologies can be reused and appropriated into something creative and defiant that functions in opposition to society’s hunger for newness and innovation.

Jennifer Jodell, “Naked Before the New: Celebrities as Mediating Bodies in Mid-Century Written Science Fiction”

This paper focuses on early- to mid-century (1930s-1960s) science fiction short stories featuring (often female) musicians and actresses whose performances impart “animating energy” and emotional “guidance” to audiences of emotionally exhausted and affectively bewildered subjects living in totalized consumer societies of enforced and never-ending “newness”.  Using a combination of affect, embodiment, and biopolitical theory, as well as analyses of the relationship between neoliberal governmentality and reality television, I examine the earliest depictions of the science fiction celebrity in an exploration of the deep ambivalence these texts reveal toward the role of the celebrity in a culture increasingly dominated by mass culture.  Specifically, this paper focuses on the celebrity who is doubly framed as a beloved performer and an augmented being co-constructed by a male engineer, the state, and the corporate media.  On the one hand, these fictional representations gesture toward the knowledge and agency afforded to the celebrity/artist through her creative capacities, memories of a now-lost “past”, and access to a global audience. On the other, they suggest that she is an unwittingly complicit mediating body whose purpose is to animate and regulate the psychological and physiological responses of the consumer, citizen, and worker for the benefit of capitalism and the state.  Additionally, contact with this figure is often depicted metaphorically as an addictive “drug” that re-attunes the body’s affective energies away from some (now obsolete) figuration of the interior self (a mind, a soul) and toward an ever-mutating horizon of passively received and hypnotic stimuli whose volatile newness is potentially dangerous.  The goals of this paper include better understanding the genre’s engagement with the trope of the cyborg-as-media creation common to later feminist sf and 1980s cyberpunk.

Sam McCracken, “Critical Mass as Obsolescence: Internet Memes and the Ephemerality of Digital Culture”

The “Internet meme‚” — in keeping with digital vernacular, the “meme” — proved an object of contemporary study difficult to describe in the critical literature. Even recent and well-respected book-length analyses of the meme, including Limor Shifman’s Memes in Digital Culture (2013) as well as Ryan Milner’s The World Made Meme (2016), differ in their definitions of the form, the cultural product, the mode of internet humor. The scholars’ struggle to delineate what exactly a meme is — and to produce “stable” definitions that remain true beyond the cultural moment in which they write —moreover, testifies to the malleability of the meme and speak to its resistance to uniform classification over time. This difficulty responds not only to the breadth of conceivably “memetic” forms (ranging from the conventional “image macro,” to the “reaction GIF,” to countless other manifestations of intertextual juxtaposition) but equally to their ephemerality as individual cultural products that circulate continually and transform dialogically between internet-users: by the time one puts pen to paper, it would seem, the object has shifted, a new meme or memetic form has taken the place of the former.

This study contends that scholars of the meme ought to recalibrate their critical frameworks to embrace such an ephemerality, in recognition of the sociocultural mechanics that undergird the production of Internet memes in the age of Web 2.0: the age-old tension between mass appeal and cult interest; the twin logics of consumerism and neoliberalism, under which the digital self’s ontology depends on a constant vacillation between consumption of the popular and a self-marketization as both recognizable and unique, individual. This socio-digital “feedback loop,” moreover, has engendered an e-culture of “predestined” (but not necessarily “planned”) obsolescence, in which a particular meme’s arrival at peak popularity paradoxically signals its discontinuation in the cultural marketplace.

Panel C: (Un)dead Media

Frances Cullen, “Having Fun with the ‘Old Plastic Toy Camera’”

In an article about “The Future of Film Photography,” written for Time Magazine in 2015, Lucia De Stefani reports that if we are, in fact, in the midst of a revival of the old, analog photography, this resuscitation is two-pronged. It is re-appearing, she finds, in the small-scale production lines of niche enterprises catering their heritage products and brands to film enthusiasts and aesthetes. But with perhaps a bit more flash — or at least more mainstream visibility — it has also returned in the form of what she quotes Bing Liem of Fujifilm as calling the “old plastic toy camera.” Indeed some years after the medium’s de facto demise, cameras like Fujifilm’s Instax cameras, the Lomo Instant, and Polaroid Originals’ OneStep have salvaged and repurposed once defunct instant photography technologies and made them available for retail everywhere from gift shops to large chain stores, from camera and electronics shops to Toys-R-Us. By examining the aesthetics of these devices, as well the mechanics of their use and the contexts of their circulation and adoption, my paper will examine vintage photography, childhood, childishness, and play. It will ask: what about an antiquated technology like photography — which is to say, really, the very process of antiquation — that makes it amenable to re-use in the particular form of a toy? Why does the prospect of playing with the old and defunct wield such an appeal? And what does this tell us about the substantial cultural work that obsolescence does in the twenty-first century?

Saul Kutnicki, “Putting ‘the rest’ to rest: Visual Culture and the Last Days of Kodak”

Those who are familiar with the famous Kodak slogan, “You press the button, we do the rest” cannot help but marvel at the decline of film-based photography in which much of what “the rest” involved was no longer needed. Along with film went the factories that produced and processed film for photographers and filmmakers around the world. An industrial behemoth on par with any of the great industrial names in America, Kodak filed for bankruptcy in 2012, sold off many of its patents to large tech companies, and rapidly found film rendered obsolete, save for a few visual artists and experimental filmmakers. As large-scale physical imprints of the film industry that consumed so much of its product, the factories themselves, where film industry research and manufacture took place, are what now supply us with clues about the nature of decline in cinema history.

Therefore, my presentation proposes a retelling of this one aspect of cinema history, which is part of several episodes of decline taking place during the last century. Kodak’s decline and film’s relative obsolescence marks a crucial moment for developing a meaningful understanding of what I call the “impermanence of cinema.” In keeping with the unique outlook on history a study of impermanence provides, I will argue that the significance of Kodak’s decline can be measured, visualized, and historicized in images created by film artists, such as Robert Burley and Tacita Dean, as well as images and discussions carried out by spectators who witnessed Kodak’s demolition. Throughout the presentation, I stress how the event of these filmic records permit a particularly critical way of observing Kodak’s demise and support claims about the interconnectedness of obsolescence in the industrial history of film and media.

Panel D: Accelerated Infrastructures

Anthony Kahane, “Communism, Meltdowns, and Morlocks:  Wealth Addiction in the Transition to a Post-Labor Society”

As technology advances society changes; does this statement demand proof?  If indeed it does, let us turn to Malthus, whose teachings can be summed up in six words: “people must be allowed to die.”  Morbid, certainly, but until recently it was also true.  A simple proof of this is that population growth is geometric, whereas food production could only grow arithmetically while Malthus was alive; thus, if population were to increase un-checked, there would not be enough food.  Flash forward to present-day USA and food production has improved so drastically that we supposedly dispose of 40% of the total volume produced annually.  We have moved on from paying our farmers to grow corn: we now pay our farmers not to grow corn.  Technology has advanced beyond the need for much of the farming labor that was once essential to society, and as we innovate farther, and our capability to automate becomes more sophisticated, the real need for much of the labor done in the developed world diminishes.  And what happens when technology advances beyond the need for human labor completely?  As the richest segments and members of society continue to amass more and more of the world’s wealth, a scenario closer to H.G. Wells’ idea of the future begins to seem more plausible than a painless transition to post-labor utopia, and depending on the news-day, the End of the World more likely still.  The first part of this paper will prove that poverty is already globally obviable, and the second part will analyze why it persists and will continue to persist; the third part of this paper will suggest the likely future awaiting us, and what might still be done to affect its outcome.

Thomas Lawson, “Picking Up Good Citations: Networked Criticism in the Age of the Database”

Since the turn of the 2010s, it has become commonplace for music journalists and ordinary listeners to bemoan the state of music today: there is no identifiable subculture or counterculture. If 1977 had punks, then what have the 2010s given us? Popular music journalists such as Simon Reynolds and Mark Richardson have argued that what sets this new generation of listeners apart from b-boys or punks is that they have internet access, and consequently, an embarrassment of musical riches at their fingertips. The question becomes the following: Has such access to the history of recorded music led to a shift in the sensibility of ordinary listeners, one that resembles that of the past’s obsessive crate digger? In this paper, I take up this question in the context of the review-based social cataloging site Rate Your Music, citing Matthew Fuller and Bernard Stiegler to demonstrate how the Rate Your Music user’s access to an exhaustive database of recordings and crowd-sourced genre descriptions leads to a predominant style of intertextual shorthand to describe the sound of emergent styles. Specifically, users deploy a latticework of long-forgotten microgenres and bygone artists to review new music, precluding novel ways of interpreting and talking about the contemporary. Turning to the work of Félix Guattari, I argue that the media ecology of the Rate Your Music user forecloses the generation of subcultural identity that might be accomplished through the communication of affective responses. Lastly, I parse the media ecology of electroacoustic improvisation’s online community, which discusses live performances that go unrecorded and require writers to narrate their affective response for others. Through electroacoustic improvisation, I theorize how such affect-centered approaches to writing criticism in networked spaces can yield what Guattari calls a rhetorical and lexical order, inventing new ways to talk about, judge, and value contemporary music.

Panel E: Redesigning the Obsolete

Arnon Ben-Dror, “Cultivating the Past: Jeremy Deller’s Anachronistic Garden”

This paper discusses a recent project (‘Speak to the Earth and It Will Tell You’) by the British artist Jeremy Deller, which was presented at Skulptur Projekte 2017. It consisted of a ten-year collaboration with gardeners from allotment clubs in Münster, Germany, who recorded their social and horticultural activities in diaries, which were then compiled into a library and presented in a gardener’s cabin.

Following art historian Claire Bishop’s call to judge participatory projects aesthetically, rather than ethically or instrumentally (aesthetics, here, is taken in the Rancièreian sense of pertaining to the perceptual configuration of society), this paper asks if the ideas and effects generated in this project for the participants and for the viewers succeed in disrupting prevailing social constructions of time, space and social activities.

Based on a close reading of the work and on gardeners’ accounts and local press reviews, I argue that the work manages to construct an anachronistic spatio-temporal environment, where time is slow, reliable and diachronic and space presents itself as culturally and architecturally homogeneous and obsolete. By so doing, the project negates prevailing forms of experience, namely the precarity, heterogeneity and virtualization of contemporary life.

These findings contribute to the debate regarding the aesthetic qualities and political potential of participatory art by broadening the scope of available aesthetico-political strategies. In a broader context, the paper also adds to the discussion on the political (in)efficacy of anachronisms in contemporary art, by suggesting that in a virtual society characterized by a radically heterogeneous present, it is the reenactment of past “manners of beings”, rather than past contents, that might prove a more useful disruptive tactic‚ a suggestion consistent with Rancière’s claim that art is political insofar as it frames a specific space-time sensorium.

Austin Young and Drew Smith, “Towards a Meta-Studio”

The fundamental basis to an architect’s academic education, the studio, has devolved  into a Darwinian system of survival and elimination where doctrine has been discarded and students have been conceptualized as consumers. This novelty is propelled by an endless stream of student awards, competitions, instagram features, and recruitment opportunities. With such devotion to the cult of novelty comes the inevitability of obsolescence, exhaustion, and over-saturation.

In response to the consumption of current architectural studio education, the meta-studio proposes embracing the role of editors, where students must browse among the class’s abundant production for those works that strengthened their own personal style. For, no one alone ever created a new style.

Rather than resolve the stalemate generated by the crisis between the legacy of modernism and the post-modernist splintering of languages, the post-fordist novelty in architecture education claims to impose not a style but a new kind of folklore. This shift is the primary explanation for why many contemporary architects are now weary  of the style-mongering of the 1950s when an aspiring theorist had only to fill in the blank in the phrase The New (…)-ism and set up in business.

Today, the university system has responded to the speed of the digital economy with its accelerated rhythms of obsolescence, and its reliance on (mostly) immaterial products. Rather than continue to produce novel projects we, as an architecture community, ought to construct novel ideologies which when critiqued and pushed to their logical ends become doctrines in themselves — no longer synonymous with suffering — but liberating.

After all there is no novelty in the universe.  Yet, there is no escaping the fact that transformation and novelty are the irreducible qualities that any theory and studio would need to confront.

Panel F: Wasted Architectures

John P. Taylor, “The City With No Future: Urban Freeways, Racial Politics,  and the Cinema of the Obsolete City”

This presentation analyzes government and Hollywood films to demonstrate a shift in the public imagination of urban space — from futuristic to abjectly obsolete — over the course of the mid 20th century. The fate of U.S. cities and their representation was tied to freeway construction. Futurists such as Le Corbusier and Norman Bel Geddes imagined that cities of the future would be built around superhighways that would connect high-density living spaces.  This tradition of freeway driven utopian imaginings continued into the 1960s, when government films such as It’s How You Put the Pieces Together (ca. 1965) and Soaring Sculpture (1968) proposed freeway projects as a way to clear blighted property and initiate futuristic renewal projects. These films situate freeways as a technology for the revitalization of “old” urban spaces.

The plans depicted in these films never fully materialized; on the contrary, freeways became a technological development that rendered the city obsolete as a living space in dominant cultural representation.  Urban freeway projects razed communities of color, facilitated white flight, and contributed to the de-population and decline of urban centers.  The perception of the city as obsolete space was intimately tied to racial and ethnic politics of the 1970s, as this presentation demonstrates through an analysis of films such as Rocky (1976) and Saturday Night Fever (1978), which depicted the city as encumbered by outmoded ethnic traditions that must be overcome in order to join the white social order.

The presentation concludes with an analysis of films produced by artists working in communities of color affected by freeway construction, such as Hampton Alexander (1977), produced by residents of St. Paul, Minnesota’s Rondo community.  These filmmakers utilized visual media to document their persistence within urban space, as well as alternative ways of imagining the temporality of the city.

Mary Begley, Patrick Larkin, and Meg Lundquist, “Put a Tunnel Through K-Mart: Revisioning the Obsolete”

We want a tunnel through K-Mart, now! In the context of modern urbanist aesthetics, the K-Mart on Lake Street is anathema, a vestige of bygone times, when suburban commercial development ruled and long-term planning took a back seat to short term-solutions. Our proposal positions this relic of suburban commercial development, now incongruous in growing Minneapolis, as an object to be highlighted, discussed, and preserved. We must face and discuss this failure of the past, this big plain box, decorated with a large sign, off-white striated concrete, and a vast, empty 500,00 square foot parking lot.

The site offers an opportunity to engage with the obsolescence of big box consumerism as it contrasts with new urbanism. In the modern atmosphere of urban renewal and redevelopment, the logical step for developers would be to tear down the K-Mart and build in its place a mixed-use, privately owned, neoliberal “dreamscape.” Our proposal subverts this increasingly typical logic of urban redevelopment, instead offering an adaptive re-use: Keep the K-Mart, put a tunnel through it, turn its remaining structure into a big box museum chronicling obsolete forms of consumerism, and infill the lot with public amenities. This plan acts as a critique of the neoliberal development, while still achieving the city’s development goals by presenting a new paradigm that would drive interest and investment.

The Put A Tunnel Through K-Mart project will research, develop, and propose a plan for an inventive and contextually-informed reuse of the store. Using the post-ironic language of social media advocacy and an aesthetic of pop novelty in combination with architectural design and urban planning, PATTKM will push for radical solutions for the site, including public housing, park, library, and museum – showing that the alternative to the typical neoliberal development scheme is feasible, innovative, attractive, and ultimately not so radical.

Sarah Wheat, “The Architectural Document: The Hudson Motor Car Company Factory Portfolio and the Albert Kahn Associates Archive”

At a time when the image of Detroit in the collective imaginary has once again become internationally popular — this time not as the heart of automobile production but as the ultimate post-industrial landscape — the figure of Albert Kahn has emerged as the foremost architect in connection with Detroit’s urban ruins. Through original research into the Kahn archive, this paper analyses the use of construction photographs in the building of the Hudson Motor Car Company Factory in Detroit during the summer of 1910. Although the images in the Hudson portfolio are intended to objectively represent the construction site, they retain a sense of narrative or intrigue as to the settings, objects, and people whose images were captured.

As historical documents, the Hudson images give us not only an idea of how Kahn’s factories were built in a technical sense, but they also provide information about industrial structures that made up the fabric of the once-mighty city of Detroit, including its workers and businessmen who were once proud residents of the city. The Hudson Factory, pictured in this series as powerful in its control over the working class within the US capitalist economy, has today been reclaimed through natural decay and the activities of the local community. Only two small pieces of the original structure still stand, while evidence of multiple rave parties litters the site. In many ways, it would be hard to find a location more typical of contemporary Detroit. The factory, like Detroit’s automobile production, was never planned for obsolescence. The detritus that remains at the locus of the automobile’s first success, when viewed together with the Kahn construction photographs, unearths the bygone narrative of a once-monumental achievement in both design and large-scale production that continues to serve as emblematic of Detroit in popular myth.

Panel G: Functions of Film

Jeremy Meckler, “What is Cinema in the Age of Convergence? Locating the Post-Cinematic in the Twitter Controversy Surrounding Twin Peaks: The Return”As production and distribution of television, film, and online video have approached each other, and the boundaries between media have begun to dissolve, critics‚Äô yearly top-ten lists have become a key site for arguments about the differences between cinema and everything that resembles cinema. Looking at the kerfuffle stirred up by Twin Peaks: The Return’s inclusion on several prominent lists of the best “films” of 2017, this paper will attempt to derive the boundaries of television and film within intertextual convergence. Tracing the arguments made for Twin Peaks: The Return as both fundamentally cinematic and fundamentally televisual, I will explore assumptions about these categories. Does the involvement of David Lynch, a canonized “film” director who insisted this project be shot on 35mm and referred to it as “an 18-hour feature film” make this project definitively cinematic? Or do the distribution, pacing, zeitgeist release, and episodic divides make it an ineluctably “television”-based text?

The title is borrowed from Andre Bazin’s major collection of film theory, What is Cinema?, and by using Bazin’s work as a jumping off point I will use Twin Peaks: The Return as a site to interrogate the dualities that pervade much of film theory through the hazy differentiation of intertextual media convergence. Dualistic divides seem endemic to much of film theory — think of Bazin’s realism vs. formalism, Gunning’s spectacle vs. narrative immersion, Mulvey’s scopophilia vs. voyeurism, or Deleuze’s time-image vs. movement-image for instance — but what the digital convergence in general and Twin Peaks: The Return in particular, exemplify is a postmodern dissolution of dualistic boundaries. I contend that Twin Peaks: The Return is both post-cinematic and post-televisual, existing simultaneously within neither category and both, and through its very existence it instigates for a new film theory whose boundaries are equally hazy.

Jonah Jeng, “Action Reaction: Michael Bay’s 13 Hours and the Nostalgia for Embodied Warfare”

In his essay “Experiences of Modern Warfare and the Crisis of Representation,” Bernd Hüppauf charts the disconnect between the abstracted, dematerialized nature of the modern battlefield — a condition that has intensified with the normalization of drone warfare — and contemporary combat pictures that still foreground the human.

Historically, these films have tended to depict charismatic soldiers having their humanity assaulted by the violence they experience and are forced to perpetrate. In other words, these pictures “aim to maintain a dichotomy between war and civilization” (Hüppauf 60), except, today, such a dichotomy has become almost entirely obsolete. Modern war is not passionate or heroic but largely cold and depersonalized, and yet, genre tropes that underline war’s alleged human component persist, suggesting what J.D. Slocum calls a “nostalgia [that] both urges reflection about why these specific [human-centered] values are being privileged now and reiterates the centrality of Hollywood to the construction of memories about war and wartime” (Slocum 271).

Most contemporary war films enact this nostalgia subtly and likely unconsciously, with their human focus coming across more as an adherence to the convention of anthropocentric storytelling than as a self-reflexive embrace of an outdated ideal. Michael Bay’s 13 Hours is a striking exception. In this paper, I claim that Bay’s newest film champions an anachronistic model of embodied warfare as an alternative to the state of modern combat. The film does this on several levels. Narratively, it establishes a tension between ineffectual military elites who strategize from behind computers and tough men on the ground who get things done. Aesthetically, the film turns to what Geoff King calls the “impact aesthetics” of the action genre, producing a confrontational affect that addresses the viewer’s own corporeality. In doing so, the film attempts to reinstate the human body as the privileged site of agency in warfare.

Yandong Li, “The Power Resistance Nature in Jem Cohen’s Films: Interpreting the Fading Identity of New York through Cinema”

As in his book The Practice of Everyday Life, de Cearteau states that ordinary people exercise this resistance through appropriating images, products and space to their own interests within the framework laid out by the elite. Filmmaking is one product that filmmakers uses to against the power dominance.

Cities especially New York City is cities are often in Cohen’s cinematic gaze. Because Cities “are always on, more or less, and they’re also places where notions of democracy or the lack of it are readily tested in very visible, public ways”. Cohen observes, documents and critiques the urban grey area, marginalized groups, and street events. l deconstruct and reconstruct Cohen’s 9 New York based films, and then theorize his work and transform Cohen into Cohenism; interpreting homogenized and commodified space, erasure space through his films, photography, and in person interview with Cohen, exploring and resisting the power of obsolescence in the crisis of urbanity.

Jem Cohen has produced over a dozen films with at least a partial setting in New York City with various video formats and length. I choose 9 of Cohen’s films as my study objects. Although Museum Hours (2012) was shot in Vienna, Austria, I consider Museum Hours is one of Cohen’s important work. It evokes our collective memories about the place we live, which consists the most important content in my study.

There are numerous previous studies dealing with cinema and city. And most books concern more with the cinema than urbanism. In my research, however, I employ an interdisciplinary approach to study urban through multi-disciplines; namely, film studies, aesthetics, and sociology.

Film Screenings

Matt Whitman, “Mourning material: a contemporary case for film”

Addressing the contemporary relevance of film as a material for use by artists and filmmakers, this presentation will survey a number of recent works that I have completed from 2013 to 2018.

These works attend to the use of the medium precisely for its ability not only to “see‚” differently than digital means of motion picture capture, but to indeed critique the contemporary subject of its capture – namely, through explorations of the task of mourning.

In this moment of precariousness as a viable method, how might “seeing” and “thinking” through film, along with its alleged historical, outmoded connotations and anachronistic presence, engender a new series of possibilities for processing and addressing contemporary experiences?

Nickk Hertzog, “Vaporwave: Nostalgia, Irony and Empowered Obsolescence”

I am proposing a 30 minute video work, that will function as both video-essay and creative moving-image work. The video explore the subject of “Vaporwave” and associated trends in “New Aesthetic” as genres of music and aesthetic that recycle cultural material from the early computer and internet era. Vaporwave was first used as a term to describe loosely connected internet-based music trends that stemmed from Tumblr websites and formed into an aesthetic subculture. The genre typically involves remixing synth-heavy 80’s tracks into slower and more atmospheric music tracks, functioning as a reconfiguration of the original or the basis for a new track to be produced. A comparable visual trend emerged through the adoption of early computer imagery, such as basic CGI geometries, computerised gridlines, and an exaggerated use of statuesque busts and computerised Roman columns. Colour-schemes utilise luminous gradients, the hallmark of early computer colourisation, with mostly settling on a lurid magenta palette, dragged from some stylishly miscoloured digital sunset. These signal their intention to deal with recently outdated imagery, computer packaging from the 90’s; educational software graphics; the neon of the gaming arcade; and the cringe-worthy aestheticising of early cyber-punk aesthetics. It is this cringe that comes loudest from these chosen subjects; by basing their approach in these unfashionable approaches we see a vibrant media dynamic emerge from the repurposing of stylistic obsolescence. The fashion cycles of imagery then turns to a decidedly contemporary from of political production.

This video will form an audiovisual survey of this genre and the implications of its approach to seemingly obsolete imagery and style. Is Vaporwave a classic example of “retro”: decreased cultural cache become a new form of cache in and of itself? Is this compatible with ideas that Vaporwave holds something unique in its approach? The appropriation of imagery and music that were previously scorned as cheesy and shallow, were once embraced without irony, enjoyed as new music or absorbed as sleek advertising. My video will propose that Vaporwave is less a cynical ironic positioning that it is an attempt to move past ironic interpretations of the past. Importantly, it is a largely non-commercial form, or at least one not widely commercialised, which suggests that it is not part of a consumerist recycling as dictated by corporate agendas. Rather, the political purpose of this and similar movements is a form of consumer recycling from the materials that are thoroughly rejected by corporate formats. Old styles, and early computer become something of a corporate embarrassment, revealing a not-to-distant past in which the technological leaps and bounds that were promised by these companies and structures have given way to a future which that is embarrassed by how far behind used to be.

Through voice-over and audiovisual exploration, this video will explore the implications of Vaporwave as a particular contemporary relationship in time. Is Vaporwave just the latest in a long line of nostalgic formats? Or does this heightened nostalgia say something new with each iteration and format? The decidedly audiovisual and networked approach of vapourware communities and their stylistic meme-speak suggest a relationship to recycled materials that is thoroughly nuanced. But what can the hyper mining of the past say about or present? Are we encountering the new production of the past, or the production of new pasts? Can obsolescence be refused its part in corporate cycles, and instead be made to serve the contemporary critical consciousness of the internet’s cultural producers? When all that is solid melts into air, how do we navigate the vapor?

Sam Hoolihan, “Meditation, Chance, and Embracing Technological Limitations”

I am presenting a selection of short 16mm and Super 8 film works created over the past five years that challenge the ever-accelerating speed of contemporary society.

I’m drawn to working with tools and materials that force me to slow down into the present moment. I find the act of shooting with a Bolex a very nourishing and meditative process. The Bolex allows me to run a single roll of film through the camera multiple times, creating multiple exposures. This results in unexpected layers of images, textures, and patterns that build tones and depth in the composition. I love working this way. I find it offers me a chance to surrender and lose control of the process a bit by allowing chance to play a part.

The Bolex does not record sound, holds about 3 minutes of film at a time, and allows about 25 seconds of filming with each wind-up of the motor. These technological limitations undoubtedly force me to look at things a different way, change my point of view, and dictates the final form.

Is the process of slowing down and simply taking the time to look at things ‘as they are’ in the present moment an act of subversion?