After completing a dissertation (York, 2015) on memory studies, European settler culture, migration and socially engaged art, I moved on to examine questions of mobility, technology and infrastructure within collective memory practices, exploring media geography and the cultural politics of digital mapping, urban developments such as smart cities, theories of space, and visual culture.
Antinomies of Location: Posthuman, Postmodern, and Postdigital Locative Media
Referencing an older generation of critical media arts practice, I have committed to writing a monograph in which to develop a new theoretical practice within the study of mobile communications that speaks to the inherent potential for experimentation – to restoring the value of a collaborative arts practice united by misusing technology and destroying its intended aims, as opposed to satisfying the bottom line. Invariably, the sense of jubilant experimentation that is present in this scholarship has eroded with concerns surrounding the repressive and disciplinary power of location-aware mobile services, as the most important debates tend to form around issues of privacy, surveillance, and data ownership in relation to the quantified self, with mounting concerns regarding the reorientation of everyday life by surveillance technologies, including biometrics. By situating these concerns within a broader history, my effort to reprise locative media’s experimental beginnings leads to an argumentative position where it may now be possible to creatively rethink the nature of critique itself, and indeed to acknowledge the growing urgency for new critical paradigms just a generation after we celebrated their departure as an aid to knowledge production.
Ecology, Infrastructure and Mobility in Communications Research
The ultimate aim for my SSHRC-funded project, Ecology, Infrastructure and Mobility in Communications Research, is to critically re-examine the large-scale urban renewal projects that have been proposed by leaders in tech, including Alphabet Inc., by facilitating collaborations among experts from diverse fields on the conjuncture between three distinct research areas: ecology, infrastructure and mobility. Through this effort, my hope is to generate creative alternatives to some of the prevailing issues surrounding big data, privacy, data ownership, and the ecological imprint of digital technologies, and to explore doubts regarding the industry’s ability to judiciously deliver services that are normally covered by municipalities and regional governments. In the first leg of this project, both myself and a photographer retrace the residential infrastructure that pre-exists Sidewalk Toronto as a means to challenge the rhetoric of sustainability that persists within the larger discourse of the smart city. Through the medium of walking, we geolocate the area’s “infrastructure space” (Easterling, 2016) as a way to map the present and past simultaneously, bringing needed context to efforts at transforming the space into a residential delivery system. Other research creation projects will be carried out in the coming months.
Current Completed Research (2015-present)
In Geospatial Memory, an edited volume published in Media Theory (2018), I sought to develop existing polyvocal expressions surrounding the geoweb to address digital media’s ability to shape our navigational and sensed reality, but with a particular focus on aesthetic, cultural, historical and archival objects. A total of 17 contributors found various ways to infuse collective memory practices together with the experiences, discourses and technologies of the geoweb, drawing from film and archival studies, psychogeography and urban studies, and media archaeology, to name a few.
Selected Peer-Reviewed Articles / Book Chapters
In “Geospatial Detritus: Mapping Urban Abandonment” (Routledge, 2016), I examine how digital mapping visualization has helped to transform abandoned cities into motors of sensory experience, sociality and public initiative. By drawing from Fran Tonkiss’ (2013) concept of “austerity urbanism,” I position demands to mobilize an international tourism industry in relation to equally provocative initiatives to develop and refurbish abandoned cities, highlighting the important role that digital media plays in this refurbishment.
In “Geolocating Popular Memory: Recorded Images of Hashima Island after Skyfall” (Popular Communication: The International Journal of Media and Culture, 2018), I significantly enhance one of the examples briefly mentioned in “Geospatial Detritus” by grappling with efforts to document Japan’s Hashima Island following its appearance in the popular film Skyfall (2012). In this expanded version, I describe how the film’s commercial success led to subsequent efforts by Google to produce images of the island’s built environment using digital navigation technologies, and describe how this effort led the Japanese government to include Hashima Island in a bid to gain UNESCO heritage status for sites of industrialization during the Meiji period. I further analyze how the circulation of images depicting Hashima Island in popular culture has affected continuing efforts to hold Japan accountable for its past injustices. By focusing on the period “after” Skyfall, I connect this geopolitical maneuvering by extension to the Google Street View initiative, exploring the latter’s impact on navigation, spatial presence, and heritage.
In “The Geospatial Rhetoric of Asylum: Mapping Migration in Fortress Europe” (Networking Knowledge: Journal of the MeCCSA, 2016), I isolate a cluster of connections that exist between geospatial imaging technology and relations between users, interfaces and publics, focusing on a German neo-fascist group’s publication of a Google Map containing locational information of the country’s asylum houses. I examine how the group’s information gathering tactics reflect long contested relationships between maps, power and the construction of identity, and I question the viability of addressing anti-migrant sentiment by appealing to spatial demands that are historically aligned with social justice initiatives. I further address methodological, historical and theoretical issues. These include: the epistemic assumptions behind rejecting politically motivated maps as propaganda, the logistical or strategic novelties associated with crowdsourcing information, and the narrative power of maps.
PhD Research (2007-2015)
In 2015, I successfully defended my dissertation, After Collective Memory: Postnational Europe and Socially Engaged Art, together with my external examiner, Dr. Erica Lehrer (Canada Research Chair, Heritage and Memory Studies, Concordia). Drawing from the interdisciplinary humanities, this work situates digital, cinematic, literary, and sculptural interventions aimed at challenging specific imaginaries of European “home” amid the global financial crisis in 2008. By bridging the history and theory of memorialization together with approaches from critical race and ethnic studies, I argued that interventions into European collective memory during that period were largely initiated among second-generation migrants pursuing a “translocal” (El-Tayeb, 2011) identity politics.
The bulk of my dissertation is devoted to putting forward a strong rebuke of the cosmopolitan turn within European public culture, focusing in particular on the cosmopolitan ethos that emerged from the so-called European-Jewish tradition. I delve into myriad strategies created by Holocaust memory practitioners from the immediate post-war years to the present day, highlighting their recent attempt at accounting for “multidirectional” (Rothberg, 2009), and explicitly non-Jewish, experiences of genocidal violence. Second, I investigate the geopolitical conditions that led West German counter-monuments to become a design standard on the global stage, focusing on post-Soviet memorial strategies, government policies and official narratives. Third, I assess the haunting resurgence of a cosmopolitan populism as depicted in a video trilogy by artist Yael Bartana. Entitled And Europe Will Be Stunned (2009-11), the trilogy is based on a fictitious activist group that attempts to overcome the demand to congregate under nationalism. I then compare Bartana’s work with perspectives from critical ethnic studies that aim to disassemble the populism of the movement that she herself identifies as a problem.
During the course of writing my dissertation, I published in Descant Magazine, Drain: A Journal of Contemporary Art and Culture, Topia: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies, Reviews in Cultural Theory, and in two edited volumes. In 2017 I published an article on Yael Bartana’s artisitic works in PhiN: Philologie im Netz (Philology in the Network), in which I situate Bartana’s artistic works within specific historical and theoretical debates. I also explored issues of urban geography that were adjacent to my PhD research (M/C: Journal of Media and Culture, 2016).