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Curating the City: Urban Interfaces and Locative Media as Experimental Platforms for Cultural Data


Abstract and Figures

This article establishes three main arguments centred on these themes. First, we propose that the analysis of media artworks, installations and other locative-based media projects bring different conceptual and theoretical tools to the already growing fields of software studies (Manovich, 2013) and the relationship of code and algorithms to cities and the built environment (Kitchin and Dodge, 2011). As multi- screen, site-specific, social and participatory ecosystems, which work according to the dual principles of physical touch and, what Verhoeff and Cooley (2014) have called elsewhere, haptic, gestural “looking”, Saving Face specifically and other artworks more generally offer a context for reflecting on the movements of people and the circulation of data and images across platforms, the urban context as living and layered archive, and the activity and gestures that are elicited by a variety of screen-based, cultural interfaces. Because it allows the mobile subject in public space to engage in the process of creation and dissemination of images, the artwork enables us to consider the specificities of current uses of mobile, interactive, and networked media. It presents these as a process, an operation, and a working-with technology on the one hand, and as a communal, collaborative, and public engagement on the other. As such, the work is what it does, or, if you prefer, it does what it is. Second, the concerns of software studies and the programmable city are reflected back into media artworks themselves, as they offer potential to test the limitations of affordances, play with possibilities and engage embodiment and performativity at a stage of temporary reflexive impasse – wherein the artwork occupies a theoretical as well as material space. In this way, as a theoretical object – or object to “think with”, Saving Face can be used to interrogate how urban projects can be understood as (curatorial) laboratories for embodied criticality. It is an allegorical example of design, and an example of theoretical analysis. Indeed, the work is reflexive. It proposes itself as embodied thought, not only on interactive screen media, but also on a cultural understanding of the physical or material, as well as networked connectivity. It experiments with its technological affordances (Gibson 1979). It conducts such an experiment in that it works to critically expose how these affordances operate in the act of working with them. At the same time Saving Face experiments with ways of addressing the social questions about subjectivity and visibility within a connected and participatory framework raised by the potential of its individual affordances. Thus, Saving Face can also be considered as performative and experimental, in the sense that it makes that which it analyzes. This performative potential is the “message”, one could say, in McLuhan’s terms – or, arguably: the medium is the method (Verhoeff, 2013).1 Thirdly, this article addresses some theoretical underpinnings of an analytical approach to understanding how location-based media, or urban interfaces, layer urban spaces. It sketches some thoughts about a potentially critical-analytical approach to the "cultural interfaces" (Manovich, 2001) of current urban projects that use location-based media, and it offers an approach to understanding these projects as curatorial machines for cultural data. To do this, we zoom in on efforts such as Saving Face to provide access to data and their collections – whether or not instigated by museal and archival institutions or whether more bottom-up, civic collaborative projects. These works, as theoretical objects allow us to investigate layering as a design-principle for urban interfaces as navigational laboratories.
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9 Curating the city
Urban interfaces and locative media as
experimental platforms for cultural data
Nanna Verhoe and Clancy Wilmott
When dening our identity and the identity of others, our sensory abili-
ties are increasingly replaced by networked surveillance and identica-
tion technologies. How do we experience the way our body and identity
are being ‘measured’ as functional and controllable products? Can touch
based perception play again a role in experiencing the other’s identity?
[…] Together you compose new, temporary, non-traceable, and non-
controllable networked identities.
(Verhoe and Cooley, 2014)
The local set-up of Saving Face by artists Karen Lancel and Herman Maat
(2012) comprises a large, public, urban screen and an application with facial
recognition software for a smaller screen, housed in a kiosk. The work invites
participants to touch and trace their faces and thereby ‘paint’ themselves
on the smaller screen in front of them, thus contributing their image to the
database (see Figure 9.1). Meanwhile, the individual’s face on the large screen
transforms into a composite image of the larger community of participants,
past and present, who have traced their faces. Between these various mecha-
nisms, screen-to-screen communication across spaces, databases of tracings
and interactive touchscreen technology, software and code work to bring
together the urban interface of the artwork, structuring its relations and per-
formativity as they arise. Yet, this interface structure is not accidental – such
urban interfaces are coded and designed to experiment with their aordances,
bringing to the fore discussions about contemporary public space, networked
urban culture and the relationship between code and space. Furthermore, in
the intersection between the datacation and the proliferation of digital inter-
faces for ‘culture’, artworks like Saving Face can help establish theoretical
and analytical tools for the critical evaluation of these interfaces of cultural
This article establishes three main arguments centred on these themes. First,
we propose that the analysis of media artworks, installations and other loca-
tive-based media projects brings dierent conceptual and theoretical tools to
Curating the city 117
the already growing elds of software studies (Manovich 2013) and the rela-
tionship of code and algorithms to cities and the built environment (Kitchin
and Dodge 2011). As multiscreen, site-specic, social and participatory eco-
systems, which work according to the dual principles of physical touch and,
what Verhoe and Cooley (2014) have called elsewhere, haptic, gestural ‘look-
ing’, Saving Face, specically, and other artworks, more generally, oer a con-
text for reecting on the movements of people and the circulation of data and
images across platforms, the urban context as living and layered archive, and
the activity and gestures that are elicited by a variety of screen-based, cultural
interfaces. Because it allows the mobile subject in a public space to engage in
the process of creation and dissemination of images, the artwork enables us to
consider the specicities of current uses of mobile, interactive and networked
media. It presents these as a process, an operation, working with technology,
on the one hand, and as a communal, collaborative, public engagement on
the other. As such, the work is what it does, or, if you prefer, it does what it is.
Second, the concerns of software studies and the programmable city are
reected into media artworks themselves, as they oer the potential to test the
limitations of aordances, play with possibilities and engage embodiment and
performativity at a stage of temporary reexive impasse – wherein the artwork
occupies a theoretical as well as material space. In this way, as a theoretical
object – or object to ‘think with’, Saving Face can be used to interrogate how
urban projects can be understood as (curatorial) laboratories for embodied
criticality. It is an allegorical example of design, and an example of theoretical
analysis. Indeed, the work is reexive. It proposes itself as embodied thought,
not only on interactive screen media, but also on a cultural understanding of
Figure 9.1 Saving Face installation
Source and copyright: 2013 Ruthe Zuntz, reproduced by permission.
118 Nanna Verhoe and Clancy Wilmott
the physical or material, as well as networked connectivity. It experiments with
its technological aordances (Gibson 1979). It conducts such an experiment
in that it works to critically expose how these aordances operate in the act of
working with them. At the same time, Saving Face experiments with ways of
addressing the social questions about subjectivity and visibility within a con-
nected and participatory framework raised by the potential of its individual
aordances. Thus, Saving Face can also be considered as performative and
experimental, in the sense that it makes that which it analyses. This performa-
tive potential is the ‘message’, one could say, in McLuhan’s terms (1964) – or,
arguably: the medium is the method (Verhoe 2013).1
The value of media analysis becomes evident when the relative trans-
parency of these artworks is counterposed by the blackboxing of more
pervasive, although no less curated, digital networked systems. As
KitchinandDodge(2011) have argued, the countervalent nature of code/
space is directly linked to urban systems, embedded within the built envi-
ronment, regulating the ows and rhythms of the city. Furthermore, the
proprietary status of many of these algorithms, and the way in which they are
shrouded with a peculiarcurtain of governmentality (Rouvroy and Stiegler
2015) means that they are often treated with (perhaps, rightful) suspicion
because they are impossible tounpack without prior access to behind-the-
scenes information. This limits the way in which we can understand these
spaces. For example, this blackboxingmeans that, for the most part, the
algorithms and geotracking software that govern space are both protected
(copyrighted) and hidden away from scrutiny and criticism. However, rather
than attempting to untangle what may well be an impossibly complicated
web, it may be possible for artists and critics to grapple with the realities of
code/space by using (small-scale) media projects that reconstruct such urban
dispositifs and take them as examples to think with.
Departing from the specicities of the work Saving Face, such media or
performance installations allow us as scholars (in the words of the artists) to
understand and theorise particular sets of relations, including those of pro-
grammability, urban environments and algorithmic cultures. In fact, it is pre-
cisely because of their diversity – a diversity common in artistic and innovative
design that such tactical media projects (though in some cases they may
be framed as educational projects), which want to positively and creatively
embrace those technologies, can be used to help us think through their coun-
terpart contemporary concerns: geolocative tracking and algorithmic power
in code found in the digital cartography and database-logic that provides
the grid for our urban mobility. While often unclear as to how or to what
end these mobile technologies seem to inspire social and critical ambitions to
not only call up location-specic data (whether trivia, commercial messages,
entertaining or ‘educational’ content) but also allow for performative and
‘awareness’ enhancing, participatory forms of civic engagement or agency.
This leads to our third objective. This chapter addresses some theoretical
underpinnings of an analytical approach to understanding how location-based
Curating the city 119
media, or urban interfaces, layer urban spaces. It sketches some thoughts
about a potentially critical–analytical approach to the ‘cultural interfaces’
(Manovich 2001) of current urban projects that use location-based media, and
it oers an approach to understanding these projects as curatorial machines
for cultural data. To do this, we zoom in on eorts such as Saving Face to pro-
vide access to data and their collections – whether or not instigated by museal
and archival institutions or whether more bottom-up civic collaborative pro-
jects. These works, as theoretical objects, allow us to investigate layering as a
design principle for urban interfaces as navigational laboratories.
These three issues foreground a long-standing interest in the way in which
mobility shapes our visual practices: in the way we act, experience and think
with mobility. This thinking-with is what underlies creativity and experimen-
tation. To be precise: in design we nd this thinking-with at the intersection
of technology and practice. As such, navigation and mobility entail more
than the portability of devices, the principles of ubiquitous computing or the
temporality embedded in what we can call performative digital cartography.
Mobility and navigation are cultural in the sense that they not only bring
forward process as a cultural form, and emphasise not only the experiential
and performative but also the philosophical nature of being-in-the-world, but
they also shape our thinking in and as a process. This emphasis on thinking-
with accompanies an ongoing dialogue with gures that function as tropes:
gures or spatiotemporal visualisations which bring together a metaphoric
and systemic logic of using and thinking about media for instance, the
navigational as trope of mobility in the visual culture of the moving image.
A powerful, pervasive, yet sometimes uncritically used metaphor of layering
can be useful to describe the experience of using mobile and location-based
screen technologies, but it needs to be specied in analytical terms, in our
opinion, in order to become a true concept.
Here, we focus on the logic of layers and layering that we can recognise
in our use of and thinking about media technologies as cultural interfaces
interfaces that bring us tools to reect on culture. In this sense, it means
moving beyond systems and relations to explore the performativity of inter-
face technologies, which occurs in the reciprocity of creativity and reexivity.
How does design work with what we can do with technologies and how does
this become a thematic in itself: how does design work with, and, by this,
also reect on these aordances? It is the critical implication of questioning
by doing in design that we wish to address in the context of the role of code
in urban experience: in what way can we embrace code as a critical means to
interrogate urban culture?
The curatorial in dispositifs
In the face of fast-paced innovation and transition, it is necessary to develop
concepts that may help us to approach the diversity and fugitivity of projects
as urban interfaces; to frame them in a coherent conceptual universe in order
120 Nanna Verhoe and Clancy Wilmott
to better grasp the details, their comparative specicity and to assess their
historicity.2 The dispositif the arrangement that encapsulates technology,
subject and image is particularly useful as a heuristic device that is scal-
able for the comparative analysis of any systemic or composite object (van
den Boomen 2014). It allows us to historicise and situate, synchronically or
diachronically, dierences and similarities between media forms.
The concept of dispositif is wide-ranging and far-reaching. Michel de
Certeau (1980) oered a critique of Foucault’s famous ‘panoptic’ conception
of the dispositif as a formation for surveillance and control, and has inspired
an approach to dispositif as that which opens up ‘possibilities of contact,
participation, play, as well as bodily and sensual experiences’ (Kessler 2007)3
This reconsideration of dispositif as a networked arrangement that allows for
various forms of agency and performativity is useful for a pragmatic, ana-
lytical approach to interactive and locative interfaces.4 Media dispositifs can
thus be understood as the arrangements that establish relations and processes
between, and organise spatial and temporal settings of, technologies and
practices that produce subjects and shared meanings. We take the location-
based projects under discussion, with Saving Face as the primary example, as
installation-dispositifs that comprise a layered interface layeredness here
understood as the spatiotemporal relations designed in, and organised by, the
interface. The notion of layering is designed to be productive for the analysis
of hybrid compositions of interfaces, of images and of spatial constructions
of navigation, which are produced in the act of interfacing.
Moreover, the concept of the curatorial puts a specic spin on that concept
of dispositif; one that begs for an analysis of this layering, and enables us
to analytically tease out the relationship established by the installation and
the larger urban dispositif that encapsulates the work. Dispositifs, or any
kind of spatiotemporal spectatorial and participatory arrangement, entail
a form of curatorial design. The curatorial is here understood as a broader
conceptual framework for the design of, and programming within, cultural
spaces – whether virtual, social, geographical or conceptual – than the more
narrow sense of curation as the professional practice of designing museum
exhibitions. It constructs a reexive positioning of elements, it is constituted
in its operation (in the vein of curatorial machines) and is embodied in the
experience of the possibilities of contact, and of playful and participatory
engagement invoked by this design. It is this coming together of thought and
experience that is at stake in curatorial design: an embedded and embodied
criticality below the surface.
For our understanding of the curatorial, as derived from the word cura-
tion used for museum and other exhibition practices, we may bring together
the English ‘to expose’, which includes the meaning of ‘laying bare’ and the
French verb ‘exposer’ – to display, as well as to argue (Bal 1996: 8). It is this
specic combination of analysis and argument, or the analytical and the
rhetorical, that we can recognise as main principles of ‘the curatorial’ across
disciplines and in dierent cultural contexts. Indeed, within our mediatised
Curating the city 121
culture, we speak more and more of curatorial practices outside of institu-
tional walls. The city has been conceptualised as urban, curatorial space, for
example. The authors of Digital_Humanities dene curation in analytical and
rhetorical terms in the context of digital, networked culture, as: ‘the selection
and organisation of materials in an interpretive framework, argument, or
exhibit’ (Burdick et al. 2012: 17).
Whatever the medium, platform or institutional context, curation can be
seen as care fo r t he constel la ti on of eleme nt s – th eir selec ti on an d organisation
and their interpretative framework. Indeed, as Burdick et al. (2012: 18) con-
tinue: ‘Rather than being viewed as autonomous or self-evident, artefacts can
be seen being shaped by and shaping complex networks of inuence, produc-
tion, dissemination, and reception, animated by multilayered debates and
historical forces.’ To curate, then, is: ‘to lter, organise, craft, and, ultimately,
care for a story composed out of even rescued from – the innite array of
potential tales, relics, and voices’ (Burdick et al. 2012: 34). Or, in the concise
summary by Marc James Leger, curation is ‘a practice that creates a space
for discourse and critique’ (Leger 2013: 12) – a space-making, discursive, and
critical endeavour. When we speak of interactive and networked installations
or systems, this discursive and framing aspect of curation is part of the design
of creative engagement between artefact and public in interaction. This per-
formative potential of media-based dispositifs involves curatorial design.
Interestingly, a similarity with media has inspired work on museums and
exhibition practices as well. For example, Kossmann et al. (2012) have a sym-
metrically opposite perspective and argue for an understanding of museum
exhibitions as media in a McLuhanian sense, including their essential ‘trans-
forming potential’. The authors point out how the ‘open, associative nature
of the format’ ts the cultural moment (Kossmann et al. 2012: 33). They
consider the exhibition as an ‘interface with a critical function, directing
the view and transforming the message into a manifest interpretation’. For
an interest in interactive mobile or location-based media, the analogy with
exhibitions as spatial media through a concept of interface is inspiring for
the development of a critical approach to these practices. In this comparison,
we would include tours (audio tours, mapped tours, GPS-based, augmented-
reality applications, etc.) as mobile forms of exhibition.5 A necessary step in
this comparison of curation of museum exhibitions and curation in media
projects is to discern the distinction between curation by the project itself
the curatorial at work, so to speak – and the institutionally embedded prac-
tice of curation of these projects within, for example, a collection, a museum,
or an archive.
Taking the curatorial as a heuristic concept, we can move from the technical
principles of exhibition and programming practices in institutional contexts,
and focus in our analysis of the underlying curatorial logic within dispositifs
of public, urban installations or media projects in the broadest sense. This
can contribute to a conceptualisation of a notion of cultural curation that
brings together the multiple levels on which the curatorial logic is at work.
122 Nanna Verhoe and Clancy Wilmott
Dispositifs as curatorial machines
Within a culture that so privileges innovation, urban interfaces are much like
‘laboratories for experimentation’, to borrow a term from science and tech-
nology studies. An experimental system, a laboratory can be conceived of as:
‘a heterogeneous constellation of theories, objects, instruments and practices
redening each other constantly and whereby this redening is the result of a
play with possibilities and, ultimately, a form of problematisation’ (Keilbach
and Strau 2012: 83). Indeed, these urban interfaces explore and question
their own possibilities. While we creatively invest in these projects and herald
them as new interfaces for civic engagement, playful learning and participa-
tory culture, we need to develop tools for analysis, comparison and criticism.6
However, traditional evaluative criticism struggles in understanding qualities
that are also, precisely, inherent vulnerabilities of urban interfaces. When
it comes to concerns about meaning and sustainability, our thinking about
innovative and experimental interfaces must take into account the fact that
such interfaces are inherently short-lived, that they enable but also require
participatory engagement, and that they have a transformative potential that
may or not be eectively deployed.
So, let us start with the specicity of urban, location-specic media ‘pro-
jects’. We consider these as dispositifs, in the sense of spatiotemporal situ-
ations or assemblages that bind together the image, the interface and the
interfacing subject. We make a distinction, here, between the interface such
as the device, installation, or screen as the site of input and output (when we
speak of what we see and use) and the apparatus when we refer to the wider
machinic assemblage of which it is part, which comprises, for example, also
software, network protocols, GPS, online connectivity, etc. We speak of
dispositif when we are concerned with the arrangement or relational system
of interface and subject. This entails a perspective on the performativity of
urban interfaces characterised by connectivity, participation and navigation,
and brings to the fore the transformative, and thus, inherently critical poten-
tial of urban interfaces. This transformative potential is the locus of experi-
ence and meaning and, hence, cultural signicance of design.
Central to this argument, and what we will consider here, is a concern
with what we understand as critical and how curatorial ambitions of criti-
cality and care can be analysed in the context of these urban projects. This
concern is augmented by often uncritical interpretations of criticality – ones
which assume a simple deconstructionist approach or are pseudo-political
yet donot allow us to theorise and reconceptualise its foundations. Central,
then, in this context, is the concept of dispositif, for it allows us to con-
siderboth the specicity of arrangements or assemblages the design of
elements and set-up that includes a participatory subject – and a critical per-
spective for how this subject is encapsulated and constructed by this design.
Many use the term ‘critical’ often but what do they mean by it? How does it
work? What does it do? In the case of performative, interactive, participatory
Curating the city 123
urban media interventions, it is perhaps productive to approach this as an
embedded and embodied criticality. Criticality, in Irit Rogo’s (2006) termi-
nology, refers to a performative function of critique, which is experienced in
encounter, which ‘takes places’ at the interface:
[…] in a reective shift, from the analytical to the performative function
of observation and of participation, we can agree that meaning is not
excavated for, but rather, that it ‘takes place’ in the present. The latter
exemplies not just the dynamics of learning from, of looking at and of
interacting with, works of art in exhibitions and in public spaces, but
echoes also the modes by which we have inhabited the critical and the
theoretical over the recent past. It seems to me that within the space of a
relatively short period we have been able to move from criticism to cri-
tique, and to what I am calling at present criticality. That is that we have
moved […] to criticality which is operating from an uncertain ground of
actual embeddedness.
(Rogo 2006: 2; emphasis added)
It is there, outside the regime of representation and in the realm of per-
formativity, that, according to Rogo, active and critical participants are
produced. Indeed, interactive media design often explicitly addresses the
connection between thinking and doing. By bringing together the creative,
experimental and critical, philosophical underpinnings of the social-politi-
cal ambition of design, this reection underscores the way in which design
works with a layering of urban space – a layering that allows for a participa-
tory and critical engagement with urban culture; a layering that is designed
and curated. As such, it is possible to approach urban interfaces, or loca-
tion-specic ‘media projects’, as curatorial machines; they are designed as
techno-social assemblages that practise curation – the verb ‘practise’ under-
stood here to indicateprocess, rather than product – as they lter, select,
order, shapecontent and meaning, and position the public as spectator or
Saving Face as a curatorial machine
Let us now sketch two sets of aspects that we can develop in the analysis
of curation: the earlier coupled analytical and rhetorical aspect of cura-
torial design (curatorial vision), and the overarching mission of care and
critical potential (criticality) inherent in what we can call cultural cura-
tion: the care for and critical investment in the relationship between these
threelevelsofcuration. We do this by looking at the way Saving Face, in
a reexive gesture, demonstrates, questions, and, as such, critiques these
As a laboratory for experimentation, this work thematises the way in
which its design establishes new connections, allows for forms of interaction
124 Nanna Verhoe and Clancy Wilmott
and encourages forms of haptic and participatory engagement. It asks for a
critical–analytical perspective on its status: to make visible and to question
the project as a form of design that, itself, makes statements about its own
inherent critical potential, its criticality, that stems from the reciprocity of
analysis and argument.
Saving Face explicitly addresses three aspects of the layered and location-
based interface that are brought together within a dispositif of urban inter-
faces: the participatory agency of the individual in the act of interfacing, the
installation as public event, and the questioning of traceability of the image in
the composite, networked collection or database. There lies its performativ-
ity.7 Signicant about Saving Face is the centrality of the face in this layering
– as the central image on the urban screen, in the intimacy of the participant’s
gesture of stroking one’s own face in order to conjure up the screen image as
a networked composition: a collage of the dierent faces of other, earlier par-
ticipants. The title of the work with the double entendre of recording one’s
face and not losing face in front of (or facing) a public, brings to the fore
the question of individuality and public identity. The face as quintessential
communicative element in interaction provokes us to probe the notion of
‘interface’ as central to curatorial design.
The interface of the installation works with the principle of touch and a
haptic and material form of looking as a gesture of making, saving and trac-
ing the image, and, as such, seems to comment on several issues at stake in
our argument. As an artwork, it puts technology and connectivity between
the hand, the screens, and the archive, database or network centre stage.
Itis an interface par excellence and literalised by visualising the way it func-
tions as technological arrangement and the touch of the user that activates
its operation. On the one hand, the artwork reminds its participants that
they are being seen; that to be in urban, public space means to be visible. On
theother hand, it endeavours to intervene in how visibility operates, how
visibility – the public face – signies. The gesture of touching one’s own face
in order to visualise one’s self in relation to others points to the processual
character of navigational gesture in the context of location-aware technolo-
gies. In this way, it harkens back to a long history in which photography (art)
and policing (governance) are mutually informing. The artists themselves
acknowledge this connection:
In a visual, poetic way Saving Face shows our emotional and social
encounter with trust, visibility, privacy in our ‘smart’ cities. When
dening our identity and the identity of others, our sensory abilities
are increasingly replaced by networked surveillance and identication
technologies. How do we experience the way our body and identity
are being ‘measured’ as functional and controllable products? Can
touchbased perception play again a role in experiencing the other’s
(Lancel and Maat, 2012)8
Curating the city 125
As the artists indicate, Saving Face counters the abstraction we frequently
encounter in public places. It gives signicance to an activity navigation
and its gesture – that is routine, everyday and, presumably, inconsequential.
By returning the ‘face’ to ‘interface’, the project raises questions about pres-
ence, subjectivity, visibility and the anonymity often attributed to being in
public. The work is highly personal, yet combines the private intimacy of
auto-toucha gestural sele with a highly public and collaborative, yet
very temporary, visibility on screen.
The collage of dierent faces displayed on screen is a tracing as well as
a tracking of multiple actions by multiple participants accumulating and
metamorphosing across multiple moments. A composite image, it speaks
symbolically to the multiplicity of subjectivity and to the temporal layering
of various individual presences. The processuality of the navigational gesture
does leave a trace – albeit an untraceable one. An iconic image of individual
faces – fractured and reassembled into a new whole – it says: ‘we were here’
rather than who we are. The image testies to past gestures, the image’s mor-
phing evolution inviting further interaction and gesturing. At the same time,
each live update of this visualisation keeps record of – or tracks – the to-be-
future traces (uploaded in a Flickr stream). The installation bears witness to
and renders visible the processual layering that is the semiotic process of the
navigational gesture: a trace of the act of tracing.
The way in which the urban, public context is a layer in the design that
requires curating, becomes clear when we consider the way this installation
like so many locative media or artworks travels. Its location specicity
is one that is, paradoxically, exible. Elsewhere, Verhoe (2012) has spoken
about the ambulant locatedness of mobile media; here, migrating locatedness
may be more appropriate. Indeed, each location-specic installation entails
curatorial design, as not every public place is the same. While both are urban
spaces, on a well-known square in Amsterdam, the work functions dierently
from, say, within the walls of a museum.
For example, a dierent version of Saving Face, named Master Touch
(Lancel and Maat 2013), was set up in the then-newly opened Rijksmuseum
for the special occasion of the Museum Night in 2013. There, the images of
participants merged with faces of paintings. The similarity between the two
installations allows us to consider what makes them dierent. If we depart
from an analysis of dispositif, this comparison between both works hinges,
we would say, very much on both the level of the location specicity of the
spatial context and the level of its networked connectivity in the second
case, comprising a dataset of images from the museum collection rather than
other participants from other locations or other moments.
The description the artists give highlights some interestingly dierent key-
words: Master Touch is an engaging and innovative way to open up data
from the digital museum collection for the audience’ (Lancel and Maat 2013).
This mission sounds dierent from the earlier cited descriptor of Saving
Face: ‘In a visual, poetic way, Saving Face shows our emotional and social
126 Nanna Verhoe and Clancy Wilmott
encounter with trust, visibility, privacy in our ‘smart’ cities’. We do not
have space to go further into the specicity of these dierences in vision
and mission nor into the theoretical question about whether and how to
consider these as either dierent installations or dierent instalments of the
same installation but the juxtaposition of their similarities and dierences
hopefully demonstrates our point about the levels of the curatorial design of
layered interfaces of networked, locative dispositifs.
The design of the interface can be considered a form of curation-at-work,
as it makes visible the layers of curation as process. It reects on the layering
of the cultural dispositif that comprises the in-situ installation, the local urban
and public context and the spatiotemporal interlocal network it is embedded
in. Curation on this level entails the design of the possible interaction with
technology to generate images, to contribute them to a collection, to create
compositions, to disseminate for an engaging, local public. It is curation of
curation – so to speak – an embodied self-reexivity. By working with these
principles, the installation demonstrates its principles. This opens up to the
critical potential inherent in the curatorial.
Conclusion: care and criticality
But what of the curatorial ambition of care? Let us remind ourselves that
curation comes from the verb ‘to care’. This may seem like a detour from the
concept of the curatorial and of software, code and the built environment,
but in fact, care is indispensable in all times and places to allow life to be
sustained, including the life of social ensembles we call cultures. But care is
necessary in many respects, not just in the sense of sustainability. The need
to care for objects includes what is usually called conservation in the context
of collections, but also the quality of their presentation. It includes the inter-
relations amongst objects and the enhanced meanings that may generate in
their dialogue.
Moreover, care is needed for the objects’ dialogue with the public, includ-
ing but not limited to physical interactivity. All this may seem to suggest that
we must hold the objects’ hand, in an aective relationship. But rather than
such a chaperone model, curation can also be thought of as the design of a
laboratory. Then, it is not so much in relation to this more nostalgic notion
of care in conservation, but rather as care for the arrangement of possibilities
and experimentation.
Let us conclude with some thoughts about the implications of the model
of curating as an analytical framing concept and frame the features, poten-
tial and consequences for a broader notion of cultural curating. Through
the notion of curating, we can reect on urban media with the question
about what we may take as the consequences of performativity as central to
dispositifs of networked, location-based, interactive technologies: the ques-
tion of care and criticality in design. The curation of culture is the agency
and creativity that connects the making with the dissemination of images.
Curating the city 127
The agency is, then, thought of in terms of aordances and responsibilities;
the creativity as productive, personal and critical; making, contributing and
This conclusion is also a proposal to think of design in terms of care. In
what way can we embrace and make use of those technologies that poten-
tially change (or have changed) the status of the image? Our key word, care,
can be seen to be embodied, or practised, in the installation Saving Face.
There, the central and intimate act of stroking one’s face becomes a contribu-
tion to a shared collage, or composite image. This gesture is literally, as well
as guratively, care-ful: the visibility of the subject being on a public screen,
adding to the community, underscores the personal and hence responsible
nature of the act of participating. One becomes visually part of the image,
adding one’s face to the otherwise anonymous image.
Networked culture and technological innovation demand changing the
principles and the philosophy of the design of public engagement. New plat-
forms outside of the institutions provide new curatorial spaces, and technolo-
gies oer new tools for public interventions. Moreover, curation in and of
urban space necessarily involves multiple levels of (spatiotemporal) design:
of the dispositif of the location-based project, of the urban dispositif, as well
as the more distributed and interlocal networked dispositif. The principles of
current networked, urban culture and our fast-changing media technologies
not only demand critical thinking about, or better, within design, but also
oer the tools to change practices of engaging publics. Indeed, transforma-
tion and change require and enable a fundamentally critical stance: not a
critique outside of it, but a criticality embedded or embodied within design.
Changing technologies demands not only for critical reection on design but,
perhaps more urgently, a criticality within design a design of the interac-
tion with technology that allows for a closer experience of the processes of
its framing as a poetic act. As interactive projects, or curatorial machines
such as Saving Face exemplify, it is by being in touch with the work that we
participate in its examination, by tracing its criticality below the surface.
1 Elsewhere, Verhoe (2013) has invoked McLuhan’s (1964) famous dictum in the
title of an essay on the performative nature of interactive technologies and the
agency involved in using interfaces for navigation.
2 Lev Manovich’s (2001) conception of cultural interfaces is a dialogue of software
operation and human activity in their operation, in a working together of cultural,
technological and ‘human’ registers.
3 See Kessler (2007). Kessler is specically referring here to a special issue of Hermès
(no 25, 1999).
4 Inspired by similar questions is a more ‘science–technology–society’ approach to
networks that focuses on processes in which human and non-human actors oper-
ate. Similar is the network-based thinking, but in contrast with perspectives of
‘science–technology–society’ or ‘actor–network theory’, dispositif analysis is more
concerned with questions of subjectivity, discourse and power.
128 Nanna Verhoe and Clancy Wilmott
5 But then, exhibitions are already inherently mobile, if we consider their performa-
tivity as I have unpacked it at the beginning of this chapter. The spectator, visitor
or participant is, after all, mobile in the exhibition. The tour, then, is only a geo-
graphically wider net to capture what is at stake in exhibition.
6 Civic learning can be considered ‘a form of engagement that combines participa-
tion with the act of reection’. See Gordon and Baldwin-Philippi (2014).
7 As argued elsewhere, the notion of ‘layering’ is meant to be productive for the
analysis of hybrid compositions of interfaces, images and spatial constructions of
navigation, as a product of interfacing (Verhoe 2012).
8 For moving images of Saving Face see Lancel and Maat (2011).
9 Others have made a plea for the connection between critique and analysis, and
the making of images. Laura Marks (2002), for example, has developed a notion
of haptic visuality to conceptualise a more intimate form of critique, and Kember
and Zylinska (2012: xvii) speak of media production and enactment and plead for
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Supplementary resource (1)

... In this paper, we argue first that the contact zone is a 'cultural interface' 19 between the mobile phone and a range of social and symbolic meanings associated with it. This can be simultaneously confining and open-ended because of the way that digital devices are acquired and used by marginal and gendered social groups. ...
This paper examines the curation of a month-long public exhibition titled #AanaJaana [#ComingGoing] in one of New Delhi’s busiest metro stations, as a form of self-authorship by young women from its digital and urban margins. #AanaJaana [#ComingGoing] is a metaphor for journeys, communications, connections, associations, interceptions, social networks and individual/collective behaviours, that is curated as women ‘see’ and ‘speak’ with/through their mobile phones. Using Marie Louise Pratt’s notion of ‘contact zone’, we examine #AanaJaana as a space of encounters that emerges by visually ‘composing-with’ as well as ‘learning-with’ the realities and constraints of space, technology and power. Based on self-authorship over a period of 6 months within a ‘safe space’ of a WhatsApp group of young women living in the urban margins, we draw attention to #AanaJaana as a set of crosscutting networks of power dynamics over women’s bodies across the home, mobile phone and the city. #AanaJaana refers to how young women in the margins negotiate the ‘freedoms’ of moving (aana) in online space with the ‘dangers’ of going out (jaana) into the city, or the restrictions of entering (aana) online space with the freedom of leaving (jaana) home. We argue first, that #AanaJaana is a space of confinement because of the infrastructural paralysis in the peripheries. Second that it is also at the same time translocally produced by referencing several textual, digital and material spaces of self-realisation. Finally, we argue that #AanaJaana is a space of intertextuality through encounters between emojis, shorthand, voice notes on the mobile phone, with parody and dark humour of their gendered experiences that can transform shame, humiliation and fear into reflection, resistance and agency. The paper concludes that as a polycentric practice, #AanaJaana offers an appropriate metaphor to expand the ‘contact zone’ in order to decolonise gendered knowledge and power across digital-analogue margins.
... In this context, curators in Doha and Singapore have played a strong role in the promotion of the nation in cosmopolitan terms. They narrate their city as a cultural hub, as a cradle of innovation, as a centre of the avant-garde (Verhoeff and Wilmott 2016). They situate it as embedded within regional networks and in a series of imaginary transnational communities (Gardner and Green 2016). ...
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Over the last two decades, we have seen a worldwide expansion of the concept and practice of cultural diplomacy, along with the emergence of a multipolar world. This raises the question of the way in which the notion is mobilized and understood beyond Europe and North America. This paper is based on comparative research carried out in Qatar and Singapore. Both countries have developed ambitious cultural diplomacy strategies, based on the establishment of world-class cultural and educational institutions, and on their integration into regional and global cultural networks. But many have highlighted contradictions between these ambitious strategies and the restrictions and pressures that both countries place on their civil societies. This paper discusses how curators, who have become key global gatekeepers, negotiate their role in their country’s global cultural strategy and position themselves with regard to the official national narrative. With their multiple belonging, they shape narratives that make regional and local scenes and can put cities on the world art map. This symbolic power puts them in a strategic position to shape the nation-branding discourse.
... […] in a reflective shift, from the analytical to the performative function of observation and of participation, we can agree that meaning is not excavated for, but rather, that it takes place in the present. 15 ...
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This chapter will investigate a set of artistic and activist augmented reality (AR) projects that in various ways revolve around the curation of urban, public, and institutional spaces. These projects demonstrate intersections between principles of design, mobile design, and performative cartography, and urban curation—principles that we can recognize in various art projects that aim to intervene into the set infrastructures of public space, experimental forms of curation making use of AR technology, or projects that hack into institutionally embedded forms of “on-site” museum exhibition. What these different projects share, beside the use of AR technologies, is their experimentation with the affordances of this technology for a mobile, spatial curation that blurs the boundaries between the art project and the wider contours of public and/or institutional space, and also fundamentally reconfigures the relationship between these parameters and the viewing subject. Through a comparison of different forms of curatorial ARtivism—or experimental and activist mobile media curation by means of AR technology—various archival, architectural, and cartographic principles of this navigational AR-based curatorial design can be discerned. This chapter examines several artistic and/or activist AR projects from the early years of the medium, as well as more recent projects—making use of various digital but also analog AR technologies—alongside a few iconic AR interventions in the exhibition spaces of institutions such as MoMA, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam—whether endorsed by these institutions or “unauthorized.” With these archival, architectural, and cartographic principles of curatorial ARtivism in mind, we can begin to see a body of work that is as variegated as it is experimental, yet one that not only represents a significant genre of mobile media art, but also fundamentally redefines existing institutional principles and categories of art curation.
... In both of these data-driven discourses, the mediating interface disappears. In our cases above, however, we saw that data are not just informational objects but equally performative objects with the power to enact new realities (see also Kitchin & Perng, 2016;Verhoeff & Wilmott, 2016). I suggest that future research develops perspectives on data-enabled citizen participation that are more agnostic about machine versus human agency or top-down versus bottom-up and instead investigates how data, human actors, and urban issues come together in networks that interface and constitute "the political" in the sense of serving to align common interests and/or to articulate controversies. ...
The current datafication of cities raises questions about what Lefebvre and many after him have called “the right to the city.” In this contribution, I investigate how the use of data for civic purposes may strengthen the “right to the datafied city,” that is, the degree to which different people engage and participate in shaping urban life and culture, and experience a sense of ownership. The notion of the commons acts as the prism to see how data may serve to foster this participatory “smart citizenship” around collective issues. This contribution critically engages with recent attempts to theorize the city as a commons. Instead of seeing the city as a whole as a commons, it proposes a more fine-grained perspective of the “commons-as-interface.” The “commons-as-interface,” it is argued, productively connects urban data to the human-level political agency implied by “the right to the city” through processes of translation and collectivization. The term is applied to three short case studies, to analyze how these processes engender a “right to the datafied city.” The contribution ends by considering the connections between two seemingly opposed discourses about the role of data in the smart city – the cybernetic view versus a humanist view. It is suggested that the commons-as-interface allows for more detailed investigations of mediation processes between data, human actors, and urban issues.
... This approach, as we will expand on below, is useful for a comparative perspective on situated installations, urban screens or media architecture. In other words, we use this project not only as an object to think about, but also an object to think with (Verhoeff and Wilmott, 2016). 1 We explore the way the historical layering of urban space can be considered as being activated, if not visualized in the sense of 'made visible' by the principle of navigation -whether or not by means of location-based interfaces. This perspective of the city as a spatially distributed and historically layered archive pushes out the more conventional idea of an archive as a spatially demarcated, heterotopic repository of the past, and re-evaluates it as situated, present and future-oriented. ...
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We propose a set of analytical concepts that help analyse how media/ interfaces situate us within our cities and in connection with the invisible digital data that surround us. We recognize a set of architectural, cartographic and archaeological principles that structure the way the interfaces allow us to navigate the city as an emergent and layered data archive. These concepts help us investigate how interfaces not only communicate data as information, but, more importantly, structure, if not control, our agency within the visual regime that they sustain. Moreover, they help to understand and articulate how creative and critical artistic practices in the spaces of our cities contribute to public debates about the significance of digital data in contemporary society. The world is becoming increasingly 'datafied' as all aspects of life previously unquantified are now being translated into digital data (Van Es & Schäfer, 2017; Cukier and Schönberger, 2013). So-called Big Data have the capacity to reveal information about the past and to inform the future. The open data movement argues that data is a public good and seeks to democratize the production of information and knowledge. The access and reusability of public information, it is argued, allows for the public scrutiny of institutions and stimulates informed and active citizen participation. The challenge facing this movement is that data must not only be made accessible, but also
... They are not only curated but also bring forward a curation of space. As "machines of curation," they produce new and emergent meanings and experiences within urban spaces (Verhoeff and Wilmott 2016). This third article concerns the cartographic aspect of how they operate as interfaces for both mobility and presence. ...
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[This is the online-first version of the essay that is part of the special issue on Urban Cartographies for the journal Television and New Media, edited by Heidi Rae Cooley, Nanna Verhoeff and Heather Zwicker (forthcoming 2017): ] This article analyzes the way media technologies provide interfaces for the complexity of cities as historically layered, continuously changing, and intricately connected spaces. Following Branden Hookway and Alexander Galloway, I understand media interfaces as processes rather than objects. An interface is not something; it does something. I propose to focus on the way in which often temporary, mobile, and connected interfaces produce urban cartographies in the very act and process of navigation. This navigation constitutes a performative cartography of ambulant presence, fluid connectivity, and an inherent multiplicity of connections between locations and other subjects. In what follows, I examine a small collection of urban art projects that speak to this description and suggest that the interface’s pursuits of connectivity, and the stakes and claims inseparable from these pursuits, produce and structure urban cartographies. The article then questions in what ways interfaces can create, not a threshold between two dimensions, but spatial transformations of a third kind.
Accounts by geographers of the ways in which urban spaces are digitally mediated have proliferated in the last few years. This significant body of work pays particular attention to the production of urban space by software and digital hardware, and geographers have drawn on various kinds of posthumanist philosophies to theorize the agency of the technological nonhuman. The agency of the human, however, has been left undertheorized in this work, often appearing in the form of excessive resistance to the agency granted to the digital. This article contributes to understanding the digital mediation of cities by theorizing a specifically posthuman agency; that is, a human agency both mediated through technics and diverse. Drawing on the philosophy of Stiegler as well as a range of feminist digital scholarship, the article conceptualizes posthuman agency as always already coconstituted with technologies. Posthumans are simultaneously individuated and exteriorized in that coconstitution, and this permits agency understood as reinvention. The article also insists that such sociotechnical agency is differentiated, particularly in terms of the spatialities and temporalities through which it is organized. It concludes by arguing that geographers must reconfigure their understanding of digitally mediated cities and acknowledge the inventiveness and diversity of urban posthuman agency.
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With the canonical phrase “the medium is the message”, Marshall McLuhan refers to the inherent self-reflexivity of media. Regardless of the content or message, the medium puts forward the specificity of its technology and the way that it “shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action.” (1964: 9) To take this to its extreme consequence, we can say the message and the medium that communicates it cannot be separated. Even more, regardless of what the content is, the message of media is reflexive of the way the medium presents this message. Elsewhere, I have pointed out that self-reflexivity of media is particularly striking at moments of technological innovation and media change. Specifically, visual media technologies have been used to demonstrate the new way in which they construct space. From a historical perspective we can see how machines of the visible, to invoke Jean-Louis Comolli’s phrase (1980), ranging from panoramic paintings, photography, stereoscopy, cinema, television, the digital screen, and more recently, the mobile screen, show related, yet also different ways in which spatial relations are created and visualized. In comparing these media technologies through the practices for which we use them, we can discern in what way mobility and principles of navigation as a mode of looking and experiencing the world, are central to our current visual culture. In the following I will argue that the mobile screen, in particular in the case of the application of augmented reality technology, demonstrates how navigation emphasizes a particularly active position and agency of the viewing subject: the subject as co-creator.
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Le texte presente ici est issu d’une seance du seminaire « Digital Studies » qui s’est tenue le 7 octobre 2014 au Centre Georges-Pompidou. Ce seminaire, sous la direction de Bernard Stiegler, philosophe, president du groupe de reflexion « Ars Industrialis » et directeur de l’Institut de recherche et d’innovation, interroge l’influence des technologies numeriques sur le savoir d’un point de vue epistemologique et les manieres dont elles affectent les differentes disciplines academiques. L’enje...
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The touchscreen interface is a threshold between site-specific data overlays and one’s fingers that touch, swipe, and pinch to access information about one’s surroundings and, in the process, leave traces ‐ fingerprints ‐ on the screen. The navigational ‘gesture’ is central to the process of making meaning in two forms of deictic transaction: the gesture of raising and pointing a mobile device (e.g. in the case of the augmented reality) and the finger’s pressing on the touchscreen (activating data overlays) ‐ both of which require pointing and touching. The former is future-oriented, pointing toward some destination; the latter is past-oriented, accruing not only traces of where one has been but also the residue of touching the screen. Gesture and touch intersect in the tracing-tracking that transpires in the present and that holds both past (‘where I’ve been’) and future (‘where I’m headed’). Extending arguments we have made elsewhere about the way navigation shapes and determines how, today, we understand and perform space, time, and subjectivity, in this article we explore how the navigational gesture as a cultural form is related to a deeper cultural logic of indexicality. We consider the relation between the physical use of the mobile micro screen and the haptic experience that this interaction brings about. We address how various traces produced at the intersection of technology and practice function to inscribe time in space. Ultimately we argue that navigation by means of locative (media) technologies proceeds according to a specifically deictic indexicality that opens onto a layeredness that characterised the mobile present.
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Nanna Verhoeff’s new book is a a must for anybody interested in visual culture and media theory. It offers a rich and stimulating theoretical account of the central dimension of our contemporary existence – interfacing and navigating both data and physical world through a variety of screens (game consoles, mobile phones, car interfaces, GPS devices, etc.) In the process of exploring these new screen practices, Verhoeff offers fresh perspectives on many of the key questions in media and new media studies as well as a number of new original theoretical concepts. As the first theoretical manual for the society of mobile screens, this book will become an essential reference for all future investigations of our mobile screen condition. – Lev Manovich Mobile Screens charts a “navigational turn” in contemporary media culture and recasts screened images as “performative cartographies.” Fusing intermediale discussions of hand-held devices, gaming consoles, urban screens, and cinema, Verhoeff eloquently demonstrates the multi-sensorial nature of screened life while revealing how screens are reading life back to us in new ways. Lucidly written and cleverly theorized, the book is vital for anyone interested in contemporary media culture – Lisa Parks Nanna Verhoeff has produced a fascinating examination of mobilities, screens and their many intersections in the digital age. Well worth reading – John Urry
Attempts to improve participation in civic life often focus on increasing the number of citizens engaged rather than improving the quality of engagement. As digital interventions flood the civic space, investigating the mediating interfaces that provide opportunities for deeper engagement becomes necessary. This article engages in design-based research that assesses the affordances and effects of one such platform: an interactive online game for local engagement called Community Plan It (CPI). Drawing on an analysis of game mechanics, in-game actions, and interviews and focus groups with players, we ask if and how CPI can move citizen participation beyond isolated transactions. We draw two conclusions: CPI creates and strengthens trust among individuals and local community groups that is linked to confidence in the process of engaging, and it encourages interactive practices of engagement that we define as civic learning.
An argument for a shift in understanding new media--from a fascination with devices to an examination of the complex processes of mediation. © 2012 Massachusetts Institute of Technology. All rights reserved.
After little more than half a century since its initial development, computer code is extensively and intimately woven into the fabric of our everyday lives. From the digital alarm clock that wakes us to the air traffic control system that guides our plane in for a landing, software is shaping our world: it creates new ways of undertaking tasks, speeds up and automates existing practices, transforms social and economic relations, and offers new forms of cultural activity, personal empowerment, and modes of play. In Code/Space, Rob Kitchin and Martin Dodge examine software from a spatial perspective, analyzing the dyadic relationship of software and space. The production of space, they argue, is increasingly dependent on code, and code is written to produce space. Examples of code/space include airport check-in areas, networked offices, and cafs that are transformed into workspaces by laptops and wireless access. Kitchin and Dodge argue that software, through its ability to do work in the world, transduces space. Then Kitchiun and Dodge develop a set of conceptual tools for identifying and understanding the interrelationship of software, space, and everyday life, and illustrate their arguments with rich empirical material. And, finally, they issue a manifesto, calling for critical scholarship into the production and workings of code rather than simply the technologies it enables--a new kind of social science focused on explaining the social, economic, and spatial contours of software.