Urban Screen as Virtual Counterpoint

Katheryn Wright


The urban screen is becoming a familiar feature in metropolitan areas. A notable case in point is the British Broadcasting Company (BBC)'s "public space broadcasting" initiative to increase the number of large scale or "big screens" in Britain by 2010, presumably in time for the arrival of the Olympics to London in 2012 ("BBC's Public Space Broadcasting Project"). While outdoor screenings are a common enough practice within the history of cinematic exhibition, the urban screen combines the "function of public space" with the cultural forms of the city (Struppek 174). Digital artists using video projection have worked with a similar set of demands, making their contributions prescient sites of analysis within the genealogy of the urban screen. This paper discusses how three public artworks, Elisabeth Brockmann's Der Digitale Blick (2000), Krzysztof Wodiczko's "The Tijuana Projection" (2001), and Magali Desbazeille's Internet/ performance-based project Key + Words (2002), raise questions concerning the linked materialities of participants, spectators, artist, artwork, archival footage of the event, and urban space, more generally. In order to understand these linkages, I use Deleuze's concept of the virtual developed through the writings of Katherine Hayles, Manuel DeLanda, and Brian Massumi as counterpoints to the digital works. Virtuality challenges ontological and epistemological assumptions regarding the materiality of the screen as interface. This challenge opens up new points of reference from which to consider the phenomena of the urban screen today.

[1] Consider the following mission-statement from the company Fullbeam. "Just take a look around you... You will see how many unused surfaces there are in your immediate surroundings that could be utilized for advertising and promotional purposes. Suddenly the projector shines on those dull ceilings and pillars; walls are transformed into brilliant advertisements. Asphalt and building façades into slide shows" (2004). In this account, Fullbeam anticipates the logic of the urban screen. The term "urban screen" pinned by Mirjam Struppek (173 -174) refers to a set of contemporary exhibition practices in urban and public spaces focused around digital video projections and display technologies. Analysis of the urban screen often turns to digital art in order to articulate a working vocabulary from which to study the urban screen in situ. Carey Jewitt and Teal Triggs' editorial "Screens and the Social Landscape" outlines several approaches to the study of the screen: as a site for public discourse, a mediator for human interaction, and as landscape. Anthony Auerbach explores how the screen plays a part in the social fabric of urban life by outlining a dialectics of the screen. The urban screen is ideological in that it "displays" and "conceals" (4) while facilitating "the acceptance of video surveillance" (6). For Lev Manovich, the urban screen is an example of a visual display where physical space and data space converge; "every object may become a screen connected to the Net with the whole of built space eventually becoming a set of display surfaces" (2).

[2] These discussions oscillate between the importance of formal characteristics of the urban screen and a concern with content. The goal of International Urban Screens Association (IUSA) organized by Struppek is to harness the potential of the urban screen:

Urban Screens is the beginning of a worldwide movement promoting the extended use of digital displays in public spaces. The Association will assist their networking abilities and their sustainable considerate integration in the urban landscape. It will support to examine how current commercial use can be broadened with cultural content and thus become a new public exhibition and information format. (http://www.urbanscreens.org/)

The IUSA's mission statement illustrates a contradiction central to the study of the urban screen. There is an attraction to the urban screen as a form, but concerns over content temper this fascination. Studying media often seems like a tug-of-war between the significance of a particular media form and the information it conveys. The urban screen is no different. And, as Auerbach claims, the urban screen has the "allure of a medium in search of a message" (2). The ongoing challenge is to define and evaluate the rules of the urban screen in regards to design and context while acknowledging the potential significance of both its form and content to the understanding of community, publicity, and urbanity. This essay is my initial attempt in evaluating the urban screen and I begin by appreciating what is for me its most intriguing feature, its potential.

[3] In order to dismantle this binary between form and content inscribed in preliminary discussions of the urban screen, I return to three artworks using digital video projection or display technologies to engage concretely with the screen's potential. The concept I have found most useful in understanding the significance of potentiality is the "virtual." The virtual runs through the philosophical tradition of Gilles Deleuze and in the early twentieth century, Henri Bergson (1912). [1] Yet, like any concept, the virtual has been molded into its contemporary usages through debate and critical engagement thinkers like N. Katherine Hayles, Manuel DeLanda, and Brian Massumi. These authors' engagements with the virtual will provide counterpoints to the potentiality of the urban screen in the artwork of Elisabeth Brockmann, Krzysztof Wodiczko, and Magali Desbazeille. As such, this paper isn't organized with a conventional thesis statement. Instead, I piece together variances within modes of reception for Der Digitale Blick (2000),"The Tijuana Projection" (2001), and Internet/ performance-based project Key + Words (2002). I similarly highlight principal themes within Hayles, DeLanda, and Massumi's readings (receptions) of the virtual and locate moments of intersection between the two. These moments will hopefully point towards a way to appreciate the potentiality of the urban screen without rehearsing tired binaries.

Encoding Materiality—Elisabeth Brockmann's Der Digitale Blick (2000)

[4] German artist Elisabeth Brockmann uses projection technologies, lightboxes and illuminated prints to integrate haunting images into architectural sites. In the seventies, Brockmann studied with Gerhard Richter but lost interest in painting and moved towards film and theatre (Sonna 2003). Alongside studying in Paris and New York and teaching at Staatliche Hochschule for Gestaltung, Karlsruhe from 2000, Brockmann has had group or solo exhibitions and public installations with galleries located in Munich, Berlin, Cologne, Paris, Dresden and Düsseldorf. A recurring image in her repertoire is the disembodied face of the mannequin, often wearing make-up and erotically staring with hyper-realistic eyes. Brockmann's series "I as in 'Identity'" consists of a collection of these faces, all bald, slick and mask-like yet strangely human. The presentation of the series on Brockmann's website is even more striking as each face dissolves into the next. Rather than recalling a mechanic sameness of assembly-line bodies, the dissimilarities between head shapes, contours, skin tones, and eyes of these mannequins' faces stand out, inviting a re-conceptualization of identity at the level of the body. These enlarged and morbidly peaceful faces appear to float in the gallery installations, their ghostly whiteness like death-shrouds seemingly peeled from the skull of their corpses. Perhaps these masks speak to "Western" identities—subtly dissimilar, eerily so. The body, in turn, transforms into "a fiction, a site for departure and return" (Friedberg, 1993, 38). Part of the fiction in Brockmann's imagery is that of the living mannequin, giving the seemingly inhumane mannequin an identity through her artwork.

[5] The context and quality of Brockmann's images coincide with an increasingly reinvigorated discussion of the concept of the virtual. Katherine Hayles (1999) uses virtuality as a means to escape the "liberal humanist" or Cartesian tradition and its construction of the body [2] which assumes a qualitative break between the bios, or the stuff of life that makes up the physical world, and consciousness. Hayles discusses discourses on digital technologies that absorb this separation when theorizing the relation between material substrates (bios) and information (or consciousness) as code. The dystopic dream of uploading consciousness into a computer in order to live forever, and in this scenario consciousness is always considered as sets of information patterns, illustrates only one example of the Cartesian tradition taken to its extreme. This line of reasoning is problematic precisely because it fails to recognize the necessary integration of information with materiality.

[6] The virtual is the means through which this integration can be imagined, as Hayles defines virtuality as "the cultural perception that material objects are interpenetrated by information patterns" (Hayles 1999, 13). Two parts of this definition stand out: cultural perception and interpenetration. A subject perceives, but can culture? I take Hayles to mean that the virtual is collective yet works at the level of the body, resisting the urge to distance culture (and subsequently history) from its lived expression, like consciousness is distanced from the body in the liberal humanist tradition. Opposed to the unilateral movement and dominant-submissive power play wrapped up in the notion of penetration, interpenetration suggests a symbiotic and consensual relation between material and information, as if in a feedback loop. The virtual assumes that information (as code) means nothing outside of materiality (as a lived, cultural experience).

[7] The sameness of the mannequin's faces in Brockmann's imagery forms a kind of code, whose repetition resembles the function of information patterns. The variances in these patterns, however, instill a materiality heightened even more so when arguably the most human part of Brockmann's faces, the eyes, are projected onto an architectural site. Der Digitale Blick (2000) is a front and rear projection on the 23-meter long glass panels above the entranceway of the Bavarian State Theater-New Residence Theater in Munich, Germany. A mirroring technique allows for the projected image to appear both outside and inside the theater (Sonna 2003). The digital projection provides the means through which her image materializes, and the ephemeral quality of the installation is haunting in its apparent ability to foreshadow the encoded materiality of the urban screen.

Image from Brockman, 2000. Click on image to go to Brockman's homepage.

[8] The Bavarian State Theater-New Residence Theater (Bayerisches Staatsschauspiel/ Neues Residenztheater), also called the Cuvilliés Theater, is the primary repertory theatre in Munich for performing productions from iconic playwrights like Shakespeare, Goethe, Brecht, Miller, and Ibsen. The Old Residence Theater, a Rococo-era building designed by François de Cuvilliés, was destroyed during WWII and rebuilt as the New Residence Theater, and is a major part of the cultural landscape in Munich. Brockmann's projection never explicitly acknowledges the historical destruction and rebuilding of the site, but instead focuses on the social practice of theater-going in the early twenty-first century. In the Residence Theater, people come together as a public as they watch the play unfold. The eyes make the theater see, mimicking the primary task of theatergoers attending a production and creating a twist on the notion of the gaze. [3] In this instance, the condition that constitutes publicity is the visual and the simultaneous "screening" of the projection and the play.

[9] The gaze of the mannequin's eyes isn't static or fixed only on a certain point like a stage, but follows the theater-goers through their transition from outside to inside. That which should be static, the stare of an inanimate object, instead moves and follows those entering and exiting the building. Unlike a surveillance camera, Brockmann never conceals her eyes but confronts the public with their intense look. Theatergoers and those passing by meet the scrutiny of a constant stare, and this gaze is the common ground through which a public can potentially form. While the "I as in 'Identity'" series articulates identity as rooted in the sameness of contemporary consumption practices, in the Residence Theater projection, the question over identity seems less important than the materiality (as movement) of the digital image through the theater. The juxtaposition of the living digital image meshed through an architectural site parallels Hayles' virtual as encoded materiality at simultaneously the levels of body and culture.

[10] The virtual constitutes a site of convergence that cannot be read like a representation; "Not meaning, not information, not interpretation, not symbolism is transmitted: only sensation, the germ of that which may eventually unfold as new possibility. What is transmitted is potential inventiveness" (Massumi 2002, 119). What we find in virtuality is the sensorium (materiality) fused with information patterns. What gets left behind is interpretation. Brockmann positions the theater as the face, the doors open and people pay to walk through its mouth. Awaiting on the other side is another mouth, another entranceway to the body comprised of the streets in Munich. The experience could only be reciprocal rather than linear, as an onlooker cannot merely contemplate without eventually entering or exiting the building.

[11] In the context of Brockmann's projection, the potentiality of the urban screen becomes an interface of cultural data existing at the level of bodily movement. The way the people receive these screened spaces transform into a dynamic virtuality where information (image) interpenetrates materialities (bodies and screens). The virtuality of the urban screen makes explicit the embodied experience of encoding materiality. The New Residence Theater has a history and function, but as a screen its space transforms from a materiality of brick to that of virtual flesh. The same can be said for Brockmann's imagery which gains a dimensionality and history (of the theater) through its engagement with the virtual.

Intensive Topologies – Krzystof Wodiczko's "The Tijuana Projection" (2001)

[12] Krzystof Wodiczko is an internationally known artist who has been working with slide and video projections since the 1980s. Emigrating from Poland to Canada and then the United States, Wodiczko currently teaches in Boston at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has had several major retrospectives of his work. Wodiczko's over seventy public projections in locations like Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square, London (1985), the Hirshhorn Museum (1988), the A-bomb Dome in Hiroshima (1998), Beijing's Tiananmen Square (1999), and more recently the Old Courthouse in St. Louis, Missouri (2004) depict marginalized persons or contain symbols that recall the violent history of a given landmark.

[13] An example of this recollection is the Madrid projection on the triumphal arch (1991). The skeleton hands that are holding a gas nozzle and M-16 were Wodiczko's response to the first Gulf war. The triumphal arch was built in celebration of General Francisco Franco's victory in the Spanish Civil War. At the top of the arch is the question, "¿Cuantos?," or, 'how much?' The projection integrated temporarily into the site traces a potential lineage from European forms of fascism to American neo-colonialism, confronting the contemporary moment with a history of violence enshrined through the monument. Similar to Der Digitale Blick, the projected image along with the experience of the artwork brings the site to life. Wodiczko explains that "the speaker becomes a critical participant in the environment of the monument. The person begins to animate the monument. Another kind of dialogue begins for the city at large, perhaps for the world" (Philips 2003, 4).

[14] The animation to which Wodiczko refers gains a new significance in his Tijuana projection (2001). Part of the art project InSITE 2000, the Tijuana projection wants to give voices to the marginalized women of Mexico working in "maquiladora" factories that live through the traumas of sexual abuse, alcoholism, and domestic violence. Located primarily along the American border, these factories import tariff-free materials from the United States, assemble the products, and send them back to the U.S. Proliferating after the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), maquiladoras are a way to lower corporate costs for American consumers. The women working in these factories encounter sexism, low wages, discrimination and the environmental effects from manufacturing toxins and other chemicals released in the air. The Tijuana projection gives a face and voice to free trade and to the Mexican worker increasingly derided in the United States with the current debate over immigration policy spurred on primarily by neo-conservatives.

Image from Art: 21. Click to access information on artist, additional images,
and a digital video recording the event in Tijuana, Mexico.

[15] The site of the project was the façade of the Omnimax Theater at the Centro Cultural Tijuana (Cecut), a community and cultural center located in Tijuana which, besides the IMAX Theater, houses exhibits on Mexican history. For two nights, women gave testimonies about their lives in the maquiladoras, temporarily inscribing their experiences into the collective memory of Mexico. An online video on the Cecut Project website of the event unfolding captures a portion of one of these testimonies, translated from Spanish:

And I have also dreamt of bulls, the size of elephants. There are many bulls, many of them surrounding me, ramming their horns into me. It's raining very hard and I try to yell out for help and no one, no one hears me.

Image from Art:21.

The repetition of "no one" in her testimonial contrasts the public forum where her story is being heard live by a crowd of over 1,500 people. A specially-designed headset with a digital camcorder and microphone allows for the wearer to move around while speaking. Each face is centered on the dome of Cecut's IMAX Theater and seems to look into and confront the participants in the crowd. The Tijuana project is an art event that integrated digital code into the materiality of the urban screen through the bodies of the women working at maquiladoras.

[16] While acknowledging the necessity of giving voice to marginalized persons in a public setting, another effect of Wodiczko's Tijuana project is the production of an encoded-material space that is elastic in character, or, in other words, topological. Topology refers to geometric properties that remain invariant under bending, stretching, molding, etc. (DeLanda, 2002, 24). Like a string of elastic that can be pulled in many divergent directions while still being elastic, a topological form "... (a singular point in a manifold) guides a process which results in many physical forms" (DeLanda, 2002, 15). In the virtual philosophy of Manuel DeLanda (2002), the move towards topological space is a way to escape the strictures of geometry that focuses on the standardization of form rather than its transformation. In Wodiczko's projection, the dynamism results from how the faces of the women fold to fit the contours of the IMAX dome. The relations between witness, camcorder, microphone, dome, Cecut, image—the social space of the project—artist, onlooker, camera recording the projection—the project's space begins to stretch—Tijuana, environment, the factory, a consumer in the United States buying goods processed in maquiladoras, NAFTA—the space bifurcates and diverges—patriarchy, neo-imperialism, and globalization—it enfolds—to the screen of my computer through which traces of the event coalesce illustrate the elasticity of social space. This elasticity is topological.

[17] The topological character of the Tijuana projection emphasizes transformation and process over objectivity and form. This emphasis on transformation and process focuses on how the project unfolds as an event that enters into the dynamics of social and spatial relations of globalization. These processes are both extensive (existing outside of the project yet informing its construction) and intensive (the encoded materialities that begin within the project and explode into the event). Intensive space "progressively differentiates, giving rise to extensive properties," and the virtual "leaves behind traces of itself in the intensive processes it animates" (DeLanda, 2002, 25; 40-1).

[18] The potentiality of the urban screen is intensive as much as it is extensive. The screen is a "virtual space...It exists in our normal space, the space of our body, and acts as a window into another space" (Manovich, 1995, 95). The screen as an interface is not merely an "empty container" through which information passes, but a dynamic set of relations that affect the topological formation of social space. [4] The potentiality of the screen in the Tijuana projection forms through the relation between IMAX dome, the digital video images projected onto the dome, and the bodies of the factory workers giving testimonies held together through the awkward headset that the participants wear. While providing marginalized voices a venue to speak in public, Wodiczko also uses their bodies as an interface, a screen. The women, like the faces of Brockmann's mannequins, are anonymous subjects through which the event gains significance within the social space of Mexican history. These "witnesses" remain nameless, remaining only as bodies through which Wodiczko speaks about NAFTA and globalization. They are themselves simultaneously bodies and screens; they are the traces of the virtual.

An Emerging Event - Magali Desbazeille's Key + Words (2002)

[19] A conceptualization of the event is a key component of the virtual because it acts as the medium through which intensive processes and extensive properties emerge. The event is what analysis attempts to reconstitute in order to understand the process that leads to its formation and proliferation. Brian Massumi (2002) positions a study of the event against the methodology of critical cultural theory, specifically structuralism. In semiotic and semantic modes of analysis, including theories concerning discourse and representation, the event is lost through the formulation of structure. Only considering structural or systematic factors in relation to an object's social and cultural contexts loses an event's "expression" (Massumi, 2002, 26).

[20] Rather than objects to be read or interpreted, Brockmann's Der Digitale Blick and Wodiczko's Tijuana project are events that happen with effects that may or may not resonate within the topological formations of social space. Instead of a bounded space differentiated from a "private," the public that forms through the process of screening also is implicated in and constitutes part of formation of the event. When analyzing the event, key questions might include: What are the intensive processes that contribute to its expression? How do flows of the social and spatial relations of capitalism fold into and re-inscribe the event? How does publicity function in the confines of an event's formation and subsequent dissipation? The intensive formation that I have tried to consider is the potentiality of the urban screen. Both art events begin when screening unfolds as a process; "The beginning is an indeterminate giveness, which by virtue of its indeterminacy cannot be said exactly to have preexisted. But neither can it be expected to end" (Massumi, 2002, 212). Answering the second question, flows of capitalism enfold into these art events through, at the very least, the embodied (affective) experience of a cultural happening like the theater or in the act of 'witnessing.' They continue to bifurcate through the commodification of identity markers and reification of modes of surveillance (the omnipotent eyes or the body as interface).

Image from Desbazeille and Canto, 2002.
Click on image for more information about this project.

[21] Mediation [5] typically provides a means through which the public enters into an event's becoming (Massumi, 2002, 81). Discussions of mediation in the context of critical and cultural studies informed first by the critical theory of the Frankfurt school in the early twentieth century and second by the University of Birmingham's Center for Cultural Studies, emphasize the spatio-temporal break between producer and receiver. This break results in an open circulation of symbolic goods [6] that have an ideological character and contribute to the formation of mass culture. Generally, critical theory and cultural studies attempt to reconcile this split through meditations on representation. This logic re-inscribes the break between information and materiality that the concept of the virtual critiques. Rather than mediation, Massumi emphasizes modulation; "Don't mediate. Modulate!" (Massumi, 2002, 198). Modulation doesn't focus on the relation between representation and reality but how intensive processes emerge, bifurcate, and evolve through an event's becoming. Magali Desbazeille's Internet/ performance-based project Key + Words (2002) consists of several phases where the screen modulates between subject, public, website, gallery space, and urban landscape.

[22] The first screen the viewer encounters occurs in his/her own home or office. The user clicks onto the site and sees words, phrases, web addresses, etc. move across the window. These "word bits" are keywords people type on www.metacrawler.com. As keywords run across the screen, certain words trigger sound bytes. For example, when someone types "free," a sound byte says, "Is anything really free?" Other sound bytes question the identity of the user by saying phrases like "Do you really need it?"

[23] The second phase of Key + Words consists of an installation in a gallery where the keywords move across the "blank spaces" of transparent screens or the gallery's white walls. Rather than sound bytes, a performance artist reacts to the words scrolling across the screen(s). As the sound element, designed by Siegfried Canto, becomes less automated than in the initial phase, the urban screen bifurcates into several parallel modulations between performer and projection, user and computer screen, and quite interestingly, user and performer. The potentiality of the screen connects two bodies through the virtual unfolding of a generative process. Articulating these modulations, even in the simplified situation of the art event, is key to locating the emergence of the new. Attempting to understand where newness and potential emerge from the virtual is what is ultimately at stake, as this is where, for Massumi, an ethics of virtuality exists (Massumi, 2002, 39).

Image from Desbazeille and Canto, 2002.

[24] The modulation of the project to its third phase opens Key + Words into an urban setting. It consists of an outdoor installation that projects the keywords onto a given building (on a monumental scale in an urban space). Less of a prescribed event than the Tijuana projection, the outdoor version takes part of the Internet "off of the screen, and repositions it in a public place...Keywords catch the eyes of pedestrians, while the recorded voices and sound question them" (Desbazeille, 2002). The projection connects the user behind the computer with the passerby. Subjects meet through objects while information streams through emerging interfaces.

[25] A possible approach to reconciling the modulation of screens with mediation is through the concept of montage. Montage is the layering of images (or sounds) onto other images (or sounds) that create a new whole. Meaning comes not from the single image, but rather the combination of themes that contribute to the whole. Sean Cubitt (1998) applies Eisenstein's overtonal montage to a digital aesthetic. He describes how the montage functions as a "catalogue of shots" that serves as a "reference for a dozen possible types of search" (1998, 44). The layers of montage reveals deeper structures beyond representation, which also manifests in the overtonal images of CGI (1998, 44). Montage is a way to consider the relation between the parts to the whole, especially when used to articulate a digital aesthetics.

[26] Unlike Brockmann and Wodiczko's projections, Desbazeille's Key + Words engages explicitly with the Internet and does so through text. The multiple webpages, images, windows, and hypertext that feed into the holistic experience of the Internet layer together create whole "structures." In the context of these structures, the Internet seems "everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The user enters this nonspace and becomes similarly dematerialized. In this sense the user becomes a linguistic node, another simulation among a 'universe' of simulations, a 'packet' of information constantly moving from one server to another" (Biggs 1996, 322). This conceptualization of the Internet, dependent on the digital aesthetics of montage, reinforces the separation between materiality and information. The Internet isn't a network formed through social practices but the epitome of an exclusively discursive framework, even if Cubitt claims to move beyond representation, which refuses to take into account the dynamics of change.

[27] Desbazeille's project that takes the words of the screen into urban space is a kind of hypothesis that asks if the textual world of the browser is an embodied one. Montage re-inscribes a representational framework by erasing the processes (or modulations) that underscore the formation of the event. Desbazeille's combination of performance and digital art that persists through the beginning of his career is his attempt to reconcile the virtuality of the screen with the representational and space-less conceptualizations of digital environments. Studying at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris and Le Fresnoy, Studio national des arts contemporains in Tourcoing, France, Desbazeille has exhibited performance-based digital artworks primarily in France over the past ten years. His interactive video installation "You think therefore I am (following you)" consists of animated figures projected onto the gallery floor. As people "bump" into these projected images, the characters reveal their inner thoughts. A more recent project is "Wallpapers" (2006) where Desbazeille projects images of rooms onto walls that performers occupy. The action in these projects isn't the layering of digital with reality, but rather the modulation of encoded materialities from one animated figure or wallpaper to the next.

[28] "The change is expressed as a blend between the exemplary event and his ordinary word, a bleed between the two" (Massumi, 2002, 56). Massumi discusses the notion of the "bleed" in order to understand the "change" that holds the event together through its bifurcations. He uses U.S. President Ronald Regan as an example of an event; the incipience of his dialogue juxtaposed with his jerking movements (bifurcation points) during his speeches was held together through the tone of his voice. For Key + Words, the modulations that opened out onto urban space hold together through the streaming motion of the words running across the computer screen, gallery wall, or urban site. After watching the website for awhile, the words and sound bytes fall away, leaving the modulation of abstract symbols moving through layers of screen.

A Moment of Intersection

[29] The creative process "modulates experience" (Massumi, 2002, 173) and art, rather than reconstructing that experience, situates it in the context of an event (Massumi, 2002, 174). Brockmann, Wodiczko, and Desbazeille resituate bodies of participants, audience, and users within a modulating series of screens. Der Digitale Blick, the digital projection of a mannequin's eyes incorporated into the New Residence Theater "interpenetrates" digital code and material substrate through the expression of the event. The integration of video, site, projection, and body in the Tijuana project illustrates the elasticity or topological character of social space, and the movement between multiple screen sites is the intensive process that generates the modulation of the event, as evidenced in Key + Words. Each of these steps informs contemporary usages of the concept of the virtual, as used primarily in the work of Katherine Hayles, Manuel DeLanda and Brian Massumi.

[30] These three parallel discussions resist focusing exclusively on either formal components (shape, size, quality of projection) or content (what is being screened). Instead, by blurring the boundaries between form and content through engaging with the concept of the virtual, I try to see how the screen's potentiality has material consequences. This process has led me towards the formulation of the following thesis: the material reality of the screen is read through the body as potential, and the potentiality of the screen is experienced through the material reality of the body. Brockmann's projection in Munich postulates a potential body that is realized through the movements of spectators at the New Residence Theatre. The bodies of Wodicko's witnesses carry this same burden, as their material realities can only gain significance to an extended audience topologically enfolding into the potentiality of the screen. Put another way, Wodicko's public projection at the cultural center in Tijuana promises for his audience the production of meaning through his political statement about NAFTA; only with this promise do these women's realities gain any significance at all. Their burdens also signify a potential ideal that can be achieved through a critical awareness of human rights concerns, and the urban screen is a central component in this arrangement. Key + Words modulation through a series of screens maybe best illustrates the material effects of the screen's potential through its haunting production of emptiness and non-existence. Like the faces in Brockmann's work, the repetition of words and phrases through the project's various phases creates a kind of redundancy between Internet, user, viewer, artist, computer screen, urban site, gallery opening. This redundancy is itself a spectacle, now fading away in an online archive created by the artist himself.

[31] The analyses of these artworks is an attempt to come to terms with the way the virtual forms a counterpoint to representational and discursive frameworks, but what effect does this discussion have on an evaluation of the urban screen? Screening is not an act of erasure, but an intensive process that emerges through social practice. A public also enfolds into this process, a combination of what the artist might plan and, more importantly, something else entirely which, like the art events described, continue to evolve. This paper is the ultimate proof of their possible mutations, as I only came to know these temporary artworks in their archived formats, grasping at traces in an attempt to locate their becoming. It is from within these traces and through the screen of my laptop that my body enfolds into these events. Without knowing where it goes, I learn to appreciate the process.


[1] As Henri Bergson (1912) writes, "That which distinguishes it [a representation] as a present image, as an objective reality, from a represented image is the necessity which obliges it to act through every one of its points upon all the points of all other images, to transmit the whole of what it receives, to oppose to every action an equal and contrary reaction, to be, in short, merely a road by which pass, in every direction, the modifications propagated throughout the immensity of the universe. I should convert into a representation if I could isolate it, especially if I could isolate its shell. Representation is there, but always virtual—being neutralized, at the very moment when it might become actual, but the obligation to continue itself and to lose itself in something else" (Bergson 1912, 28). A represented image has been classified and set-apart ("isolate") from the present image. Any image could feasibly be isolated from the present. Whether or not the image ever is made into a representation, the "could be" constitutes the potential where virtuality exists.

[2] In her introduction to How We Became Posthuman (1999), Hayles critiques how contemporary forms of liberal subjectivity, born from the Enlightenment subject, distinguish between "the enacted body, present in the flesh on one side of the computer screen, and the represented body, produced through the verbal and semiotic markers constituting it in an electric environment" (Hayles 1999, xiii). Here Hayles speaks to a basic assumption regarding representation; there exists a gap, re-inscribed through mediation, between subject (the enacted body in the flesh) and object (the represented body). This "gap" is implicit in the Cartesian dualism of body (physical materialities) and mind (information patterns), and is part of what constitutes the virtual.

[3] Anne Friedberg (1993) traces the "mobilized virtual gaze" to the "window shopping" experience of consumers in the nineteenth century with the beginning of modernism. As cities grew, the "commodity-experience" (Friedberg 1993, 147) became a central feature of cultural life. The commoditization of this experience expanded to women and minorities with the growth of another form of shopping, the cinema. The cinema "brought together the mobilized gaze of the shopper and tourist into a 'virtual mobility'; the spatially and temporally fluid subjectivity of this form of visuality is often at odds with bodily position" (Friedberg 1993, 147). This gaze is a central feature of American life, both publicly (the shopping mall) and privately (the VCR).

[4] Much has been written about how the Internet and other new technologies potentially change human conceptions of space, opening up a new frontier that previously appeared closed to the instantaneity fostered by various technological inventions like the telephone. Jessica Helfand (2001) highlights the need to discuss a transition from the theorization of physical space, which embodies the formerly open space of the geographical frontier, to that of the representation of space, speaking to the vast and seemingly endless expanses of the Internet (Helfand 2001, 36). Art historians have typically occupied this kind of dialogue, dealing with these central concepts of space and representation. However, their discourse generally revolves around the creation or simulation of either representational or non-representational (abstract) space from the flat picture plane. Helfand does not address the canvas, however, but rather the screen. She writes, "Space on the screen is just that: on the screen. Not in it. Not of it. Design tools are mere control mechanisms perpetuating the illusion that Internet space is made up of pages, of words, of flat screen" (Helfand 2001, 37).

[5] A central component of mediation is the concept of the frame. Mark Hansen (2004) emphasizes the importance of the framing for the construction of consciousness: "framing is the activity through which consciousness actualizes the transpatial domain constitutive of human (organic) life" (83), but constantly filtering meaning through consciousness (liberal humanist subject) runs counter to the virtual's critique of Enlightenment subjectivity. Virtuality resides on the edges of the frame, and then disappears when actualized as an object to be analyzed. This is a strange line to follow when screens, obviously, frame information, even when the same codes travel from interface to interface. Yet Wodiczko's projection on the triumphal arch, for example, challenges the notion of screen as frame, and in so doing, forces a consideration of site as virtual.

[6] See John Thompson's The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of the Media (1996)


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