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Algorithmic Aesthetics

Bodies and Subjects in the Era of Big Data

Andrew J. Ball

Though the authors in this general issue of Screen Bodies engage with a wide array of media, they express a shared group of concerns. Namely, how recent technological advancements and the big data cultures of the Information Age are altering social norms concerning the body, the subject, and intimacy. The first two articles focus on increasingly data-oriented cultures that have given rise to aesthetics derived from quantification and mathematics. In “Qualities Over Quantities: Metric and Narrative Identities in Dataveillant Art Practice,” Amy Christmas examines the “surveillant aesthetic” present in three multimedia art projects—Hasan Elahi’s Tracking Transience (2002 to present), Jill Magid’s Composite (2005), and Heather Dewey-Hagborg’s Stranger Visions (2012–2013). Christmas argues that these artists explore new modes of subject constitution and constraint, and reveal the potential of “dataveillance” to bridge formerly disconnected processes of “quantitative (metric) and qualitative (narrative)” self-formation. Similarly taking up questions of aesthetics, the “quantified self,” and its relation to narrative, Kallie Strode examines the datafication of beauty in “Narrating (Sur)face: The Marquardt Mask and Interdisciplinary Beauty.” Strode reflects on the ethics of quantifying beauty and looks to the plastic surgery method patented by Stephen Marquardt, who has developed a model of facial beauty using the golden ratio. The Marquardt mask, she argues, exemplifies an algorithmic aesthetic that is being applied to the reformation of bodies. Along similar lines, in “Cyborgian Salariats” Stephanie Bender argues that the individual is subordinated and rationalized by modern technology. Bender examines how Sasha Stone’s photo essay “Hundred-Horsepower Office” presents an optimistic vision of a new kind of subject, the Weimar-era white-collar worker, a human-machine assemblage that combines the body and modern office technology.

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Emily R. Aguiló-Pérez and Jacqueline Reid-Walsh

Girlhood Studies, as an academic discipline, is continually growing. Since some educational institutions include girls’ studies as part of a special curriculum, an academic program, a certificate course, a minor, or as part of Women’s Studies or Gender Studies, Girlhood Studies has a presence in academia although at this stage rarely in an autonomous department. This interest in the pedagogies and practices of teaching Girlhood Studies is an important aspect of its growth as a field of study not only at the university level but also in other academic settings and outside of them, be they workshops, special programs for girls, and summer camps, among others. Depending on these formal and informal educational contexts, the discussion of approaches to teaching Girlhood Studies ranges from the theoretical to those that outline hands-on projects that invite and promote the discussion of girlhood. As Claudia Mitchell (2021) states in her editorial “What can Girlhood Studies be?” the research and scholarly work in Girlhood Studies “stands as its own theoretical and practical area” (vi) that warrants its study and teaching and that prompted the production of this special issue on teaching Girlhood Studies.

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Claudia Mitchell

A dream, dating back to 2001 when the late Jackie Kirk, Jacqui Reid-Wash, and I passed through a section labelled Girls Studies in Foyles Books on Charing Cross Rd., London, UK, was that someday there would not only be a journal devoted to girlhood studies but also a whole interdisciplinary teaching area. We talked about how students of youth studies, or childhood studies, or what was then called women’s studies might consider girlhood studies as an option in their programs or as a whole area of specialization. The dream of the journal was realized seven years later with the first issue of Girlhood Studies in 2008. Since then, as the guest editors of this Special Issue on Teaching Girlhood Studies highlight, there have been many initiatives including the development of courses on Girlhood Studies, and community/university activist projects. And now, finally, we have a whole issue devoted to teaching, curricula, and pedagogies of Girlhood Studies.

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Claudia Mitchell

This issue of Girlhood Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, while unthemed in the sense that it comes out of an Open Call, reminds us that a foundational principle of Girlhood Studies remains one of contesting and challenging inequities. Furthermore, how girls themselves might, under some circumstances, take up critical issues in their lives is evident in these contributions. Each of the contributors has placed front and centre the idea of contesting. Recently in a publications panel at a graduate student conference, participants, eager to get their work published, wanted to know more about this journal. Two of their questions stand out. “May the articles be quantitative as well as qualitative?” and “Is it enough that at least half of my participants are girls?” This collection of articles responds beautifully to these questions in offering an affirmative to the question about quantitative and qualitive data when the point is to use appropriate evidence to contest gender norms, and a negative to being about representation in terms of simply including girls.

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Lu Yang

An Artist in Transformation

Ari Heinrich, Livia Monnet, and Gabriel Remy-Handfield

Lu Yang (陆扬, 1984) is a critically acclaimed new media artist and rising star based in Shanghai, China, who works across film, games, performance, and installation. His work has been exhibited at numerous biennales and exhibitions in China and around the world, including the 59th Venice Biennale in 2022. He has collaborated on videos with high-profile rock bands like The 1975, and one of his videos featured in a 2020 fashion show of the Chinese sportswear company Li-Ning.1 Lu Yang has also won prestigious awards, including the BMW Art Journey Culture award in 2019, and Deutsche Bank's Artist of the Year award in 2022, and the artist was anthologized in Barbara London's critical history of video and the digital arts, Video Art: The First Fifty Years (2020), as well as in Dominique Moulon's Chefs d'oeuvre du 21e siècle : l'art à l'ère digitale (Masterworks of the 21st Century: Art in the Digital Era, 2021). In contemporary art and popular culture, Lu Yang is clearly a force to be reckoned with.

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Stephan Jaeger

Abstract

This article provides an analysis of how military history museums in Germany, Britain, Belgium, Poland, and the United States exhibit and contextualize weapon technologies that were developed in the two world wars. The article focuses on technologies (gas warfare, the atomic bomb, tanks, and the V2 long-range rocket) that are directly connected to military success and innovation but also relate to dehumanization and destruction. By employing the analytical concepts of experientiality and of antagonistic, cosmopolitan, and entangled memory, this article demonstrates how museums can create open or closed narratives, steer the visitor toward particular interpretations, enhance or deconstruct the authentic aura of technological artifacts, and stage the symbolic potential of technologies. In addition, it shows how museums can educate visitors and allow them to experience the ambiguities, controversies, and complexities of these technologies.

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Introduction

Places of Progress? Technology Museums, Memory, and Education

Christian Kehrt and Daniel Brandau

“Revolutionary” technologies or large technological systems are often deemed controversial, risky, or ambivalent. Diverging interpretations clash when technological objects, such as rockets, airplanes, or nuclear reactors, are exhibited in museums or at heritage sites, with profound implications for underlying concepts of historical education. This special issue explores the argument that histories of technology have often upheld a traditional view of modern linear progress but became the focus of controversies when the social, political, and cultural conditions of perceiving and remembering these objects changed. At former “places of progress,” visitors and exhibition makers are confronted with the remains of the Industrial Revolution, colonialism, two World Wars, the Cold War, the Age of Coal, the Space Age, the Atomic Age and the Digital Age. Exhibitions and displays have been used to explain, teach, or make sense of the advents, successes, and failures of high-tech projects. Understanding technological artifacts and corresponding sites such as Chernobyl, Peenemünde, and Hiroshima as well as structures such as factories or bunkers as sites of memory (lieux de mémoire, a term coined by Pierre Nora) shifts our attention to processes of remembering modern technologies and the cases in which established narratives of progress have been supported or challenged. Questions about the ethics of technology use often seem to subvert stories of the “heroes of invention,” leaving visitors with the impression of technological ambivalence. Attempts to teach and learn about history and technology via objects and sites have been complicated, politicized, and contested.

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Vittorio Gallese and Michele Guerra

Abstract

In the last decades, the contribution of cognitive neuroscience to film studies has been invested in at least three different lines of research. The first one has to do with film theory and history: the new attention, inspired by cognitive neuroscience, to the viewer's brain-body, the sensorimotor basis of film cognition, and the forms of embodied simulation elicited by the cinematic experience has stimulated a profound rethinking of a relevant part of the theoretical discourse on cinema, from the very beginning of the twentieth century to the most recent reflections within cognitive film studies and the phenomenology of film. The second line has to do with the intersubjective relationship between the movie—its style, rhythm, characters, and narrative—and the viewer, and it is characterized by an empirical approach that yields very interesting results, useful for rethinking and problematizing our ideas about editing, camera movements, and film reception. The third line concerns a possible experimental approach to the new life of film, focusing on the digital image, the innovative forms of technological mediation, and the inscription of a new film spectatorship within a completely different medial frame. The goal of this special issue is to offer insights across these lines of research.

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Peenemünde Contested

Remembering Second World War Technologies in Rural East Germany from 1984 to 1992

Daniel Brandau

Abstract

Given Peenemünde's ambivalent military and technological history, from rocket development during the Nazi period to East German naval and air bases during the Cold War, its musealization was considered both a chance and challenge during the region's deindustrialization in the 1990s. Local residents’ support of veteran engineers promoting an apologetic view of Nazi rocketry was met with bewilderment. However, a space park project and anniversary event were spearheaded by government and industry representatives, turning a regional affair into an international controversy. The article analyzes the function of memory work and the remembrance of technological progress in rural northeastern Germany before and after German reunification. Based on archival sources and interviews with former officers and museum advocates, it traces the Peenemünde museum project through a history of ideological and biographical caesurae, enthusiasm, political promises, and socioeconomic despair.

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Ruin of Empire

The Uganda Railway and Memory Work in Kenya

Norman Aselmeyer

Abstract

This article is concerned with the memory of the Uganda Railway in Kenya. Built during the heyday of British imperialism at the end of the nineteenth century, the colonial railway has been a highly contested infrastructure. Drawing on museum exhibitions, public speeches, and publications, the article argues that the main narrative of the railway line as a tool of oppression began to change when the railway infrastructure gradually deteriorated in the mid-twentieth century. I show how three distinct groups (white expatriates, Kenyan-Asians, and Kenya's political elite) were involved in creating a new public memory that popularized the Uganda Railway as a cornerstone of the postcolonial nation. Their uncoordinated but simultaneous efforts toward a new reading of the past all aimed, albeit for different reasons, at reimagining the nation. The article thus shows mechanisms of coming to terms with the colonial past in a postcolonial nation.