Invisibility Studies Seminar IV: Screens, Camera and Surveillance

During my residency at the University of Copenhagen, I had access to a rich variety of resources and opportunities for more interaction with local practitioners and researchers. One was the session on "Screens, Camera and Surveillance" of the Invisibility Studies Seminar I attended, organised by Henriette Steiner from the Section for Landscape Architecture and Planning and Kristin Veel from the Department of Arts And Cultural Studies. Even though the subject of the seminar may not strike you as directly linked to my City in Translation explorations, it has strong connections that are worth looking into closely.

Refshalevej, Copenhagen. Photo by Canan Marasligil. 

Presentations

Accumulation of the Invisible: Clouds, Servers, and the Californian Ideology

The first presentation was "Accumulation of the Invisible: Clouds, Servers, and the Californian Ideology" by Héctor Hoyos, Assistant Professor of Iberian and Latin American Cultures at Stanford University.  

In this talk, Hoyos examines the role of the arts in unmasking widespread technological determinism as ideology. He focuses on “the cloud,” an attempt to brand and sanitize server- based computing. The technique itself resembles Marxist primitive accumulation; its “server farms” resemble banks. Hoyos considers works that make such a structure visible, including photographs by Irish artist John Gerrard and by American reporter Kim Steele. The talk also draws from the Chilean Alejandro Zambra’s storytelling and from Salvador Allende’s radical Cybersynproject from the 1970s. Together, this eclectic array of sources allows Hoyos to upend and denaturalize what Barbrook and Cameron called in 1995 “the Californian Ideology” –one that has since taken over the world. 

Figura

The second presentation was "Figura" from Frederik Tygstrup, Professor at the Department of Arts And Cultural Studies, University of Copenhagen

In the early twentieth century, Walter Benjamin prophesized that the increasing amount of writing surrounding us in modern cities would eventually change our mode of reading, from absorption in textual worlds to a distracted recognition of surface values, like reading hieroglyphs rather than texts. Hundred years later, our immersion in signs of all sorts coming towards us on innumerable and ubiquitous surfaces raises the stakes of Benjamin’s intuition: what is the logic of our interaction with the panoply of signifying processes that are becoming still more deeply ingrained with the machineries of social reproduction today?
We have sign processes conveying information, creating meaning, producing reference and visibility, distributing value, processing commodities, and much more. Faced with this saturation, we are compelled to reconsider our understanding of what signs do, to reassess the scope of Saussure’s famous query into “the life of signs in the life of society.” Signs are expressions, emerging from a surface, and we have huge theoretical and methodological resources to gauge the ways in which they confect meaning and construct reference. We still need, however, to develop our understanding of a third modality of sign processes, namely how expressions affect us. To accommodate this need, I will heuristically suggest considering signs as figura, expressions that combine aspects of meaning, reference and affect.
Starting out from Erich Auerbach’s classical archaeology of the notion, I will comment on Jean-François Lyotard’s understanding of the entanglement of discursivity and figurality and try to develop the innovative use of “the Figure” in Gilles Deleuze’s work on Francis Bacon. The presentation will be theoretical and explorative and invite to an open discussion on the potential merits of thinking about the life of signs today in terms of figurality. 

This second talk has especially given me food for thought in the frame of City in Translation. The question of visuality is about what you see and what you don't see, such as I tried to explain in my first Fictions post "It all started with a choc".

Tygstrup also mentioned the mediation of power structures and the massification of information. A lot of data is flowing around us but how does this flow become visible? Another point that resonated with me in this talk is the idea that we are dealing with many structures and feelings: signs as something that affect us and exerts a power on us. 

Round table

Following the two presentations was a discussion chaired by Thomas Mical, Associate Professor at the Art Architecture and Design Department of the University of South Australia, with:

  • Susanne Wigorts Yngvesson, Associate Professor in Ethics at Uppsala University and Senior Lecturer at Stockholm School of Theology
  • Nanna Bonde Thylstrup, post.doc. Saxo Institute, University of Copenhagen
  • Annie Ring, Research Fellow and Acting Director of Studies in German at Emmanuel College, Cambridge
  • Henriette Steiner, Associate Professor, Section for Landscape Architecture and Planning, University of Copenhagen
  • Kristin Veel, post.doc., Department of Arts And Cultural Studies, University of Copenhagen

The whole event also featured artist Anja Borup and the Superselfie. 

About the seminar series

The Invisibility Studies Seminar Series 2015 seminar series takes as its starting point the book Invisibility Studies: Surveillance, Transparency and the Hidden in Contemporary Culture (Peter Lang), which was published in January 2015. Contributors to the book, as well as distinguished Danish and international scholars and artists, were invited to read a section of the book as a way of launching further discussion. The common themes of the seminars, as of the book, are current changes in the relationships between what we consider ‘visible’ and ‘invisible’ in different areas of contemporary culture, including architecture, visual art, literature, philosophy, and technology.