Mapping the Urban Database Documentary: Authorial Agency in Utopias of Kaleidoscopic Perception and Sensory Estrangement

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Mapping the Urban Database Documentary: Authorial Agency in Utopias of Kaleidoscopic Perception and Sensory Estrangement

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Title: Mapping the Urban Database Documentary: Authorial Agency in Utopias of Kaleidoscopic Perception and Sensory Estrangement
Author: Shapins, Jesse Moss
Citation: Shapins, Jesse Moss. 2012. Mapping the Urban Database Documentary: Authorial Agency in Utopias of Kaleidoscopic Perception and Sensory Estrangement. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: This dissertation theorizes the genre of the urban database documentary, a mode of media art practice that uses structural systems to uncover new perspectives on the lived experience of place. While particularly prominent in recent decades, I argue that the genre of the urban database documentary arises at the turn of the 20th century in response to the rise of the metropolis and the widespread adoption of new media technologies such as photography, cinema, and radio. This was a time when the modern city engendered significant disorientation in its inhabitants, dramatically expanding horizontally and vertically. The rampant pace of technological development at this time also spawned feelings of dehumanization and the loss of connection to embodied experience. The urban database documentary emerges as a symptomatic response to the period's new cultural conditions, meeting a collective need to create order from vast quantities of information and re-frame perception of daily experience. The design of structural systems became a creative method for simultaneously addressing these vast new quantities of information, while attending to the particularities of individual experience. For media artists, building a database into the aesthetic design of a work itself offers an avenue for creatively documenting the radical multiplicity of urbanized environments, preserving attention to the sensory experience of details while aspiring to a legible whole. Crucially, I argue that the design of these systems is a vital form of authorial agency. By reading these artists' work in relation to contemporary practice, I aim to make transparent the underlying, non-technical ambitions that fuel this distinctive mode of media art practice.
Terms of Use: This article is made available under the terms and conditions applicable to Other Posted Material, as set forth at http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:dash.current.terms-of-use#LAA
Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:10984871
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