Part II. Situating

“Thinking in Networks: Artistic-architectural Responses to Ubiquitous Information”

Yvonne Spielmann

I wish to raise awareness for creative practices which in aesthetictechnical ways reflect on digitally networked information and communication systems. I am in particular interested to discuss conceptual frameworks that are appropriate to define how theories, practices and aesthetics intersect in the media-cultural applications of current media technologies. They are, for the most part, associated with fluidity of constantly changeable media borders, the miniaturization of objects and the increase of responsive environments. The main characteristics of the present situation are: permanent flow, constant change, connection with everything and endless continuation of processes. These characteristics are also building blocks to identifiable core parameters that are generally agreed to connotate the essential structures of our contemporaneity at global scale. In this situation, I like to focus on conceptual frameworks that have fostered thinking in complexity and have led to a high level of connectivity which distinguishes media and cultural processes of the present.

“A Portrait of the Artist as a Smart City – Body, Complexity and Urban Life”

Kristin Veel and Henriette Steiner

This chapter discusses how complexity is identified and articulated in the contemporary discourse on smart cities, regarding complexity as a key concept that both gives rise to but also helps us unlock central paradoxes in this discourse. We start out by discussing what kinds of notions of complexity are at play in the smart city discourse, starting from the conceptual distinction between ‘romantic’ and ‘baroque’ complexity. We then turn to the artwork Body 01000010011011110110010001111001 from 2012 by the British artist Stanza, reading the mode of representing cities of the artwork against the grain of the smart city discourse. Finally, we argue for the necessity to consider the complementarity of the two ideal-typical conceptualisations of complexity as a hermeneutic predicament – as well as suggesting the necessity of their transgression.

“Distraction Reconsidered: On the Cultural Stakes of the Ambient.”

Malcolm McCullough

This essay explains how a complex ubiquity of media has made urban distraction into something quite different from former industrial pollution, and how under these new circumstances, attention to surrounds deserves reconsideration. Although the human mind has always wandered, it has never had such remarkable means for doing so. Never has quite so much of the human perceptual field consisted of artifice, placed with a purpose, and engineered for cognition.

“The Information Environment”

Sean Cubitt

The term ‘environment’ presumes that something surrounds (‘environs’) something else. So the term environment’ expresses a relationship, which here will be taken in the first instance as that between humans and their environments. This chapter argues that the organic world of rock, soil and water, plants and animals, only becomes environmental in specific historical conjunctures, those that separate population from land, the most significant of which on the global scale were the enclosures of the early modern period, and the colonial moment. It goes on to argue that the human-environment relationship has undergone at least two more major  changes. The second involved the alienation of tools, from extensions of the labouring body to large-scale industrial technologies. The third, which is now nearing completion, involves the alienation of knowledge, like tools once integral to human life but now exiled and placed as an information environment through which we must navigate. It is possible that a fourth moment is in formation: one in which the human body becomes environment: something to be controlled and exploited. Taking as its starting point Foucault’s observation that bio-politics intervenes between populations and their environments, this chapter interrogates what ecocritical media studies can reveal of the political economy of ubiquitous networks. It asks whether such an aggregate situation, one of increasing standardisation and alienation, can allow events worthy of the name.

“Media Always and Everywhere: A Cosmic Approach.”

Sarah Kember and Joanna Zylinska

Computational ubiquity constitutes a conceptual and political challenge for those who want to take techno-human relations and environments seriously without just pandering to the financial and political interests of the techno-industry. Our response is therefore twofold: we take a careful look at ubiquity understood both as a discursive trope and a lived materiality while also extending the model of ubiquitous computing to what we are provisionally figuring as “cosmic media”, with all the serious playfulness this concept involves. Cosmic media is about communication across scales and about Big Thinking in history, computation and media that can also be read as small – as masculinist, reductionist and scientistic for example. Rather than seeking a “just right” resolution of scale manifest in the Goldilocks principle, we offer a retold story of cosmic media and computational ubiquity through the more provisional “just” right Goldilocks perspective.

“Ubiquitous-ALife in TechnoSphere 2.0”

Jane Prophet and Helen Pritchard

Our underlying premise is that the process of making, matters. We analyse the process of designing and making the ubiquitous artificial life (ALife) project TechnoSphere 2.0, within the context of SE Asia. Material feminisms are useful for discussing ubiquity, particularly the reconfiguration of porous boundaries between living and non-living, maker and “user”.   We investigate the apparatus of ALife, where Technosphere 2.0 beasties emerge through entangled relations of GPS, hardware, software, humans and non humans in the city, merging with the noise of urban landscapes, GPS, mobile devices, mobile apps, server technologies, adhoc connections and patchy network coverage.

“Disability, Locative Media, and Complex Ubiquity”

Gerard Goggin and Katie Ellis

The current phase of network societies has generated an intensification of pervasive, ubiquitous digital technologies and cultures of uses, with emergent, complex social functions, and politics. In this chapter, we explore a fascinating, instructive example of the actualization of such ubiquity-effects — the case of locative media technologies designed for and by people with disabilities. In the meeting of the complexities of disability and locative media technology, we find an challenging example of ubiquity — what social practices emerge from it, what their cultural implications are, and how design makes sense of this. We discuss these dynamics of complex ubiquity and disability through two case studies: way-finding locative media smartphones and apps; and Google Glass.

“Indexical Visualization”

Dietmar Offenhuber and Orkan Telhan

Visual representations of abstract data are ubiquitous in contemporary culture. As infographics, data visualizations or visual narratives, these representations are designed with the intention to clarify, persuade, or educate us. In this essay, we explore the design space of indexical representations — that is representations that maintain a direct and legible causal link with their object of representation — as an alternative to iconic and symbolic visual languages for delivering information. We present a number of cases from urban installations, synthetic biology and chemistry in which visualizations made of engineering chemical and living matter can compress the space between representation, translation, and mediation through the immediacy of cause-effect and input-output relationships. We argue that as indexical designs find new places in the visual rhetoric, they will establish their own reading habits and fundamentally change our experiences with signs and signifying systems.