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2013 | Book

Public Space, Media Space

Editors: Chris Berry, Janet Harbord, Rachel Moore

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan UK


About this book

Public Space, Media Space asks how media saturation are transforming public space and our experience of it. From the role of graffiti and Youtube videos of street art in the Cairo revolution, to OOH (Out of Home) advertising, the book is diverse in its approach and global in its coverage.

Table of Contents

The physical public space of the city is back on the agenda. Not so long ago, Rem Koolhaas wrote that “the street is dead” and “The Generic City is what is left after large sections of urban life crossed over to cyberspace” (Koolhaas, 1995, pp. 1253, 1250). Whilst an evacuation of physical space is both anticipated and confirmed in his commentary, the situation today presents us with a less clear division of online and offline worlds. After the 2011 Arab Spring, followed by the August riots in several cities of the UK, we can say with certainty that media, space and event are thoroughly imbricated. Public space is almost by definition contested, or at least negotiated, space in that no one person or company can unequivocally own and control it. Yet the privatized regulation of public space, or the current hybrid formation of privately owned public space, encroaches on such rights to contest and negotiate. What we understand as media networks and media domains are not to be imagined simply as counter-forums to regulated public space or prosthetic adjuncts to what occurs in cities; rather, they are part of the material and experiential formation of what now constitutes life in public spaces.
Chris Berry, Janet Harbord, Rachel Moore
1. What Is a Screen Nowadays?
Mike Figgis’ film Timecode recounts 93 minutes in the life of a group of people living in Los Angeles (Timecode, 2000). The duration of the movie and of the events it relates coincide: the story is captured in one long take without intervals or cuts. Most surprising is the possibility of following more than one situation simultaneously: it was shot with four different digital cameras, and all four takes are presented contemporaneously, on one screen divided into four sections. Sometimes the plotlines of the various characters intersect with one another more or less haphazardly, and when this happens the camera that has been following one of the characters may shift to another character and follow him or her instead. At other points the plotlines converge, and we discover retrospectively the correlations. More often, however, the events proceed in parallel, without intersecting, but also without excluding the possibility of eventually crossing paths. We watch the stories in the four adjacent sections of the split screen, jumping from one to another, attempting to establish connections, selecting what seems to be the central point, at the mercy of the flow of images.
Francesco Casetti
2. Multi-screen Architecture
We are surrounded today, everywhere, all the time, by arrays of multiple, simultaneous images — in the streets, airports, shopping centers and gyms, and also on our computers and TV sets. The idea of a single image commanding our attention has faded away. It seems as if we need to be distracted in order to concentrate, as if we — all of us living in this new kind of space, the space of information — could be diagnosed en masse with attention deficit disorder. The state of distraction in the metropolis, described so eloquently by Walter Benjamin early in the twentieth century, seems to have been replaced by a new form of distraction, which is to say, a new form of attention. Rather than wander cinematically through the city, we now look in one direction and see many juxtaposed moving images, more than we can possibly synthesize or reduce to a single impression. We sit in front of our computers on our ergonomically perfected chairs, staring with a fixed gaze at many simultaneously “open” windows through which different kinds of information stream toward us. We hardly even notice it. It seems natural, as if we were simply breathing in the information.
Beatriz Colomina
3. Mapping Orbit: Toward a Vertical Public Space
Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Map (Figure 3.1) first surfaced as a sketch in 1927 entitled “One-Town World.” A decade and a half later, in 1943, Life magazine published a refined version of it called the “Air Ocean World map.” By 1954 the Dymaxion Air Ocean World map had become the full expression of what Fuller referred to as “Spaceship Earth” (Marks, 1960, p. 50). As it circulated, one of Fuller’s biographers explains, “many geographic facts, not usually observed, became dramatically apparent” (ibid., p. 50). The final version of the map represents the planet as an island in one ocean without any visible distortion of the relative shapes and sizes of the land areas and without splitting any continents. It is relevant to the mapping of orbit for several reasons. First, it exemplifies an experimental and conceptual approach to the mapping of earth that challenges methods and assumptions of traditional cartography, which tend to reinforce elements that divide societies, obscuring the relational patterns emerging from processes of globalization. Second, it foregrounds principles of contiguity and integration by presenting the earth, air and oceans as continuous domains, and in so doing implies that change in one inevitably affects conditions in another. Third, it became a template for the demonstration and analysis of the unequal distribution and use of world energy resources, and thus articulated broader global political, economic and environmental concerns (ibid., pp. 50-53). Finally, the map changed the ways in which the public thought about the world as well as the ways in which geographers thought about mapping it.
Lisa Parks
4. Cairo Diary: Space-Wars, Public Visibility and the Transformation of Public Space in Post-revolutionary Egypt
I have to admit that I have rarely encountered such reserve in putting pen to paper as I have since January 2011. During recent months I have kept on writing scattered notes every now and then. Whenever I was finished with a short article, another dramatic event, massacre or killing occurred. This led me to stop writing at once. The overwhelming events affected me by triggering a deep resistance to writing, let alone publishing, as if the written word could have been a direct betrayal of the lived experience (Figure 4.1).
Mona Abaza
5. Shanghai’s Public Screen Culture: Local and Coeval
Moving image screens used to be confined indoors, in the form of either movie theater screens or TV screens. But, over the last decade and more, electronic moving image screens of various sizes and types have moved out to proliferate across the public spaces of the world’s cities. From the huge LED screens that cover whole sides of office towers and shopping malls to ATM screens and information screens in the lobbies and entrance halls of stations, banks and other publicly accessible buildings, they have become commonplace. How should we understand these public screens and their role in the public spaces of contemporary urban life? Many scholars who work on public screens are drawn by the novelty of certain screens and their unusual uses, such as the monumental size of certain screens; how some are not attached to but are an integral part of architecture; efforts to use them to stimulate public debate; and art shows using public screens. But, with the significant exception of Anna McCarthy’s seminal work on what she terms “ambient television,” written before the arrival of the flat screen, the everydayness of public screens has been relatively neglected so far (McCarthy, 2001). Perhaps they are so taken for granted that it is hard to pay attention to them except when they are exceptionally large or something unexpected is seen on them. But how are they actually used in everyday life? And are they used in the same way all over the world, as part of some post-modern homogenization of urban life?
Chris Berry
6. iPhone Girl: Assembly, Assemblages and Affect in the Life of an Image
In August 2008 the world’s attention was on China. The Beijing Olympics were reaching their climax, having already put into circulation a myriad of explosive images. A minor scandal followed the Zhang Yimou-directed opening ceremony when it was revealed that Lin Miaoke (林妙可), a pretty young girl, had lip-synched over the voice of the ostensibly less attractive Yang Peiyi (杨沛宜)1 in a contemporary Singing In The Rain scenario (Spencer, 2008). In this volatile image-world of national spectacle, image was everything and images of beautiful young girls and women fueled the desire for the national in a global world, just as the image of woman has functioned in so many other contexts as a universal sign, producing desire for whatever product or nation-state is being promoted (Figure 6.1a).
Helen Grace
7. In Transit: Between Labor and Leisure in London’s St. Pancras International
Screens today proliferate in all manner of public settings, from the iconic bank machine through rail station advertisements, Tube escalators and information panels to museum displays. They are, by turns, tools to get money and information; platforms to advertise, entertain, instruct and inform; and media to attract, occupy, preoccupy and distract your attention. Their presence or absence is an indication of modernity, tackiness, concern or suspicion. Built into them is a random spectator whose momentary glance whilst hurrying through their everyday resists the scrutiny and rich theorization traditionally enjoyed by visual studies of art or cinema. Who or what in these scenarios is the subject and who or what is the object? The address is not to one and everyone but to anyone. Infecting every facet of the urban experience, taken as a whole, they amount just so much visual noise, pulling your attention this way and that, repelling or seducing you with the warm glow of the commodity fetish. Despite the fact that we are dealing with moving images, investigating their medium specificity, their internal formal structures and the ingenuity of their siting, will not, on its own, suffice to understand the impact of this phenomenon on our daily experience of the city. The cinema that once might have satisfied the losses associated with modernity, when experience and contemplative thought were losing ground to representation and the fragmentation of perception, bears no straightforward relation to contemporary public screens.
Rachel Moore
8. Encountering Screen Art on the London Underground
For the past 40 years, the material form of public art works has included media of various kinds. The use of film and video in public art practice breaks with a tradition of fixed, monumental public art, the memorial culture that writer W. G. Sebald describes as the official sanctioning of forgetting (Sebald, 2005). In a culture of moving image public installations, by contrast, the architectural fabric of the city becomes dynamic, uncertain and a fluid surface suggestive of the contingency of urban life. Each time we encounter a video screen the images may vary, depending, for example, on the particular intersection of a looped program and a finely timed daily commute. As time-based media, the presence of moving image screens in the city mixes with the various temporal flows of urban space. Each artwork is, of course, functioning in relation to a given environment, drawing on a tradition of site-specific art practice that became prominent in the 1970s (Kwon, 2003). The majority of what might be called intermedial public artworks has been commissioned for a particular location, negotiating with factors of history and neighborhood, material properties and environmental atmosphere, and the habitual and exceptional uses of a space by various communities, commuters, tourists and individuals. Site-specific art as it was conceived over 40 years ago challenges a heritage of timeless and universal public art, inserting into urban contexts artworks that surprise and engage; perhaps most significantly, many of these artworks can only be understood within the dynamic situation of their context (Finkelman, 2000).
Janet Harbord, Tamsin Dillon
9. Direct Address
A Brechtian Proposal for an Alternative Working Method
The invention of the printing press and the resulting availability of printed, yet often unauthorized theatrical productions, allowed theatre companies to produce plays without having seen a performance, or having consulted the playwright. Writers included “margin notes” — didascaliae — to guide actors rehearsing from their scripts. The Direct Address project explores how contemporary uses of social media engage with the tradition of annotation and commentary by making them live, participatory and open to public scrutiny. How are our lives and desires represented in public space with the proliferation of media screens, the immediacy of access to products and services, linking us to an ever-expanding network of consumption while in transit? What would happen if we reclaimed and renegotiated access to some of those spaces? What if we could overwrite the corporate signature by introducing a different voice and consolidating a different civic agenda?
Marysia Lewandowska
10. Domesticating the Screen-Scenography: Situational Uses of Screen Images and Technologies in the London Underground
Proposing a grounded approach to everyday interactions with urban screens, in this chapter I present findings of my ethnographic research conducted on the London Underground, which investigated people’s encounters with a range of screens, including conventional poster advertising as well as newer LED screens showing moving images. Dominated by tunnels, the architectural design encourages passengers to move forward, but the surfaces, covered almost entirely with advertising screens, invite passengers to look around. As I aim to demonstrate, passengers nonetheless routinely compensate for their lack of control over advertising screens by employing ethnomethods1 of appropriating the screens for their own situational ends, contrary to the advertisers’ conception of passengers as “captive audiences.” Silently progressing through what the respondents termed “scruffy,” “narrow” and “crowded” space (a price many must pay in order to move through their city efficiently), passengers develop what I will call “situational uses of urban screens.” Passengers make use of screens as representations of more pleasant looking elsewheres, as points of concentration to avoid the gaze of others, and to focus their own thoughts, or as providers of potentially useful information. Perfecting these skills of appropriation to a level of taken-for-granted habit allows passengers to move routinely through the changing screen-scenography2 and to “domesticate” it (see Silverstone and Hirsch, 1992; Berker et al., 2006) as their everyday travel space.
Zlatan Krajina
11. Privatizing Urban Space in the Mediated World of iPod Users
This chapter investigates the meanings attached to the sonic mediated habitation of public urban spaces, through analysis of the experiences of Apple iPod and smartphone users as they navigate their way through the city accompanied by the music contained in their personal technologies. Urban subjects text whilst walking, attention focused on the screen of their phone; talk to absent others on their smartphones; sit in trains reading from their iPads whilst simultaneously checking their emails; or sit engrossed in the latest snippet from their Facebook accounts. These forms of technologically mediated behavior question what it means to inhabit public urban space for many city dwellers. Public space is increasingly turned into a utilitarian space of private mediated activity. Time is reclaimed in terms of its “usefulness” and multi-tasked in relation to the possibilities embodied in users’ smartphones: “I’m not very good at doing one thing at once. I always feel that if I can do two things then it’s better” (Samantha).1 Streets walked through become secondary to the act of talking, texting, playing, listening or surfing. Awareness of others is equally recessed: “I work on the assumption that those people don’t know me, and I don’t know them. I’m not aware of any reaction I might be causing” (Lucy). Public space increasingly becomes a blank and neutral canvas on which to write one’s personal activity and experience.
Michael Bull
12. Publics and Publicity: Outdoor Advertising and Urban Space
This photo essay reflects on mediatized public space, “publicity” and their relationship with the outdoor advertising industry and its products — billboards, panels, and adverts on buses and taxis. Excerpts from ethnographic research on the industry and images of advertising’s impact on urban space are placed in dialog to offer insights into the forms of publicity created.1 This series of snapshot urban views aims to echo people’s apprehension of advertising texts, and to signal how people and advertising panels inhabit city spaces. It shows how the advertising industry’s research on its targeted consuming publics is folded into this urban encounter. This performs a publicity that is mediated not just by the adverts but by commercial knowledge practices and the intense semiotic “noise” of contemporary cities.
Anne M. Cronin
Public Space, Media Space
Chris Berry
Janet Harbord
Rachel Moore
Copyright Year
Palgrave Macmillan UK
Electronic ISBN
Print ISBN