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Thinking through Digital Media: Transnational Environments and Locative Places speculates on animation, documentary, experimental, interactive, and narrative media that probe human-machine performances, virtual migrations, global warming, structural inequality, and critical cartographies across Brazil, Canada, China, India, USA, and elsewhere.




Thinking Through Digital Media: Transnational Environments and Locative Places charts media practices developed from analogue technologies as they migrate to the ones for digital media and digital networks. Conventional definitions of film, photography, television, and video no longer make sense as distinct media, given accelerated developments in digital technology and radically different ways of harnessing these technologies around the world. Comparably, the terms multimedia, interactive, and screen no longer make sense in ways that they once might have, nor do other terms from analogue media ecologies, such as animation, documentary, experimental, narrative, or so-called hybrid forms. Digital media ecologies are increasingly based on explorations of code and user interface; interrogations of archives, databases, and networks; production via automated scraping, filtering, cloning, and recombinatory techniques; applications of user-generated content (UGC) layers; crowdsourcing ideas on social-media platforms; narrowcasting digital selves on “free” websites that claim copyright; and provocative performances that implicate audiences as participants.

Dale Hudson, Patricia R. Zimmermann

1. Taking Things Apart to Convene Micropublics

Thinking through digital media highlights collaborative and participatory aspects of media practice to convene critical micropublics, yet it also highlights the potential for control and surveillance. One of the primary objectives of the hacker ethos of “taking things apart” is to understand the invisible and inaudible aspects of digital media as well as the larger networks that shape social interactions and productions of knowledge along with state and corporate structures that seek to contain them. Hacking and pirating draw upon Marxist theories about the materiality of media as well as the political economies of its production, circulation, and meaning. Walter Benjamin and Siegfried Kracauer, for example, theorized photographic and cinematographic possibilities like the close-up and slow motion that could reveal what the human eye, trained by conventions of everyday life, overlooks. Benjamin hoped that “the work of art” would counter the rise of fascism; Kracauer believed film could bring about the “redemption of physical reality.”1 Hacking and prirating offer comparable strategies to make visible—in this case, propiatary locks on creativy and innovation. Transnational corporations, such as Apple, market and promote a discourse of do-it-yourself (DIY) that suggests that anyone and everyone can control the means of both production and distribution.

Dale Hudson, Patricia R. Zimmermann

2. Mapping Open Space to Visualize Other Knowledges

Mapping orientates and determines ways in which we perceive and understand the world and our place in it. Maps reveal and illuminate, but they also conceal and obfuscate. Early mapping projects like Benjamin Fry’s Anemone (United States, 1999; visualize connections between webpages, much like information-clouds visualize keywords today. Anemone maps and visualizes using the structure of a tree with branches, revealing connections while concealing context. Digital media also allows for mapping toward the concept of open space that moves away from trees and branches toward rhizomes and nomads. Open space refers to the green commons inside urban areas. Rather than defining and dividing, which are the domain of conventional cartography and historiography, radical and critical forms of cartography and historiography invite new participation and facilitate new questions. By enlisting perspectives frequently ignored or unrecognized, the projects examined in this chapter explore the interfaces and intervals of the digital, abstract, and immaterial with the localized, materialized, and grounded. Mapping projects use data visualization to make visible what might be invisible, such as carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide detected by air-quality sensors, tagged by GPS, and rendered on a Google Earth image of Accra, Ghana, by Participatory Urbanism (United States/Ghana, 2006;, a collaboration between Eric Paulos and the citizens of Accra.

Dale Hudson, Patricia R. Zimmermann

3. Documenting Databases and Mobilizing Cameras

This chapter turns to projects that think about and through the digital structures of data and databases, and the mobility of digital cameras. These projects explore how digital media disrupts conventional structures by prompting a rethinking of the concept of documenting that foregrounds spatiality over temporality, relationality over causality, and automated functions over auteurist choice. We draw on Christiane Paul’s description of a shift “from ‘mapping’ to ‘tagging’ as the new paradigm of dynamic classification, context creation, and meaning production” in digital media.1 Digital technologies not only map our anatomy, they tag our identity. We are becoming digital through biometrics (e.g., dates of birth, shoe sizes) in state and corporate databases and digital profiles in social media. Our digital identities exist as data in databases, which suggests that we can document ourselves or be documented by someone else, including an artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled bot, without ever having to appear on camera. Comparably, mobile cameras and sensors also allow movements that are not constrained to human perspectives or abilities. More profound than a majestic crane-shot in the latest Hollywood blockbuster, mobile cameras can be harnessed to document spatial relations for further analysis.

Dale Hudson, Patricia R. Zimmermann

4. Tactical Engagement through Gaming and Narrowcasting

Lev Manovich explains that interaction is an obvious function of the computer that should not be confused with precomputer audience interaction in the form of reading audiovisual information and interpreting meaning.1 Digital media, then, functions within closed systems, not outside them. This chapter examines two types of interaction that are potentially not overdetermined by corporate and state surveillance of data gathering. Here, interaction functions as critical or tactial engagement. We analyze digital media that forwards the ideals of tactical media that Rita Raley has described that engage in strategic micropolitics rather than grand revolutions.2 We examine digital media projects that include counter-gaming, machinima (3D animation shot in a game engine), video performances, and documentaries that appeal to affective and subjective forms of knowledge and reject assumptions that objectivity and evidence are the only valid forms. Identities are not fixed but performed, that is, contingent upon politics rather than place. We also probe narrowcasting, which reconfigures the push of broadcasting on commercial networks in the direction of P2P models, somewhat like the “spreadability” described by Henry Jenkins.3 Given restrictions on both print and online access to journal articles, Katherine Hayles argues that academic work largely has “a negligible audience and a nugatory communicative function.”4

Dale Hudson, Patricia R. Zimmermann

5. Collaborative Remix Zones: Toward a Critical Cinephilia

Our final chapter revisits the concept of cinephilia after digital media and distributed networks.1 We seek to identify a place for critical cinephilia that moves toward an opening of meaning from the control of transnational media corporations (TMCs). Romanticized and institutionalized as an expression for an “excessive love of cinema” that emerged in postwar France for a generation of privileged (mostly male, invariably white) audiences, cinephilia has come to be associated with nostalgia for the pleasures of flickering celluloid in a darkened cinematheque.2 We resituate mid-twentieth-century notions of cinephilia within early twenty-first-century frameworks that recognize that universalizing North Atlantic assumptions about cinema are less capable of recognizing the complexities of global articulations of cinephilia today. Film studies scholarship has appropriated the term “cinephilia” for cultural and historical contexts comparable to postwar France, including South Asian diasporic attachment to homeland through consumption of Bollywood films and the “cine-mania” surrounding contemporary South Korean films. With the consolidation of TMCs, cinephilia reproduces itself as technophilia, a consumerist obsession with the technologies and the safe harborof the home theater against an onslaught of potential threats within public spaces.3

Dale Hudson, Patricia R. Zimmermann


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