This call is for a special issue of
The Journal of Media Art Study and Theory
CFP Special Issue:
Blurring Digital Media Culture
Tony D. Sampson (University of East London), and Jernej Markelj (University of Amsterdam)
Deadline for full submissions: Aug 20th, 2022 (for publication in April 2023).
This special issue of MAST journal asks arts practitioners and theorists to consider the conceptual, theoretical and methodological usefulness and application of the blur in the study of digital media culture. We are interested in exploring the ways in which porous boundaries and zones of indistinction can be creatively employed for dealing with intricacies of our networked existence, challenging rigid political, aesthetic and technological categorizations, and forming different forms of empowering entanglements.
The verb, to blur, generally means to make or become unclear or less distinct. As a noun the blur points to a thing or an event that cannot be perceived clearly. Blurred images and concepts imply overlaps, collisions, interferences, insensibility, fuzziness, and even mess. Can focusing on these zones of indistinction be productive in the already highly ambiguous domain of the digital, where Poe’s law reigns supreme, and where the line between fact and fiction is becoming increasingly muddled? Is it not paradoxical, under these conditions, to suggest that we need to blur our vision to grasp the bigger picture? While acknowledging the dangers of losing detail, resolution, or definition, our contention is that blurred distinctions can offer a novel way of thinking about the complexities of digital media culture. We maintain that the blur is able to grapple with the messiness of the networks, but also to resist oppressive border regimes seeking to contain their potentials or capitalise on them.
Our approach takes its cue from a long trajectory of blurrings in media theory and art. This lineage includes McLuhan and Nevitt’s (1972) blending of media consumers and producers, early 1990s hypertext theory, suggesting that the network displaces the distinction between readers and authors, as it does Bruns’s (2008) portmanteau concept of produser. The blur also resonates with Haraway’s (1985) cyborg manifesto, which is an affirmative rendering of what can happen when humans and technology, nature and science, begin to collapse into each other. These early posthumanist blurrings echo throughout the nineties in the explorations of the potential of virtual reality, which could, according to different theorists and artists, produce new boundary-free bodies that could ‘no longer be defined as distinct’ from their environment (e.g. Richards in Dovey, 1996: 182). In contrast to the confident assertions of the cyborg and these early VR artworks, we find a more destabilized post-millennial posthumanism with Parikka’s Digital Contagions (2005), which at the onset of the accidents of the viral network destabilises the distinction between ecologies of media and microbes.
The beginnings of artistic explorations of the blur are, of course, pre-digital. They can be found with proto-abstract artists, like Turner, whose art’s ‘embracing or enveloping quality’ came about because of its ‘indistinctness’ and ‘loss of definition’ (Stokes, 2014). The blur as a literary tool can also be found with fictional characterizations that are made purposefully indistinct; characters like Gatsby can thus become illusive aesthetic figures that assimilate the background so as to blend into the narrative. Challenging high resolution is key for Imperfect Cinema too, the Cuban movement that challenged hi-budget institutionalised filmmaking by insisting that ‘technically and artistically masterful [cinema] is almost always reactionary’ (Espinosa, 1979). Gerhard Richter’s (see fig 1) paintings of blurred photographic materials, conversely, employ blurring as a way ‘to make everything equal, everything equally important and equally unimportant’ (Richter, 2009). In Fred Moten’s (2018 227) grasping of David Hammons’s Concerto in Black and Blue, he notes how the blur of the artwork does not invoke an in-between of black and blue, but rather an ‘outside’ of lines, borders and focal planes; in black’s ‘entanglement’ with blue – its blueblack. Finally, Steyerl’s concept of a poor image, a highly circulated and reproduced digital image ‘often degraded to the point of being just a hurried blur’, allows us to explore the tensions between the commodified consumption of viral images and their excluded visual economies (Steyerl, 2009).
Taking these and other conceptual and aesthetic explorations of the blur as a starting point, we encourage our contributors to investigate the complexities and ambivalences of contemporary digital media culture. Our invitation aligns itself with the suggestion of Hillis et al, who point to ‘the necessity of resisting the imperatives of coherence and neatness when addressing [digital] phenomena that are complex, diffuse, and messy’ (2015). Drawing attention to the fuzziness of our world and challenging forced distinctions is, according to Crawford, to oppose the epistemological violence of algorithmic classifications (2021). Along these lines, she claims that algorithmic systems ‘oversimplify what is stubbornly complex so that it can be easily computed, and packaged for the market’. Resistance to simplification is precisely what allows Paasonen to critique the dominant cultural analysis of new technologies, which suggests that we are addicted to devices and apps which distract us from boredom. By foregrounding ambiguity, she shows that online ‘frustration and pleasure, dependence and sense of possibility, distraction and attention, boredom, interest, and excitement enmesh, oscillate, enable, and depend on one another’ (2021). Correspondingly, Sampson complexifies the distinction between sleep and wakefulness, distracted scrolling and attentive digital labour, by focusing on the nonconscious entanglement of brains, bodies and computers that is already operational in both of these supposedly contrasting states (2020).
Inspired by these blurrings, we welcome contributions that work with zones of indistinction to explore themes related to digital culture, such as:
· conceptual histories and inheritances of the blur
· the porous boundaries of parasites, viruses and other digital microbes
· metaverse and the emerging indistinctiveness between bodies and virtual environments
· affect as a blur of truth and falsity; aesthetic facts
· blurrings in diaspora arts, politics, and life
· complications of cybernetic systems and their environments, individual entities and their pre-individual milieus
· digital technologies as a pharmakon that simultaneously inhibits and empowers
· potentials and dangers of ambiguity, irony and undecidability
· immunopolitics beyond border regimes
· COVID-19 blending of home and office, of home and classroom
· epistemological violence of algorithms and their oppressive classifications
· quantum culture, decoherence, and Schrodinger’s Cat
· digital aesthetics and the blur
· blurrings as speculative fiction
We encourage submissions in the below categories:
· full papers (4000-6000 words)
· practice-based studies (an original media artwork accompanied by a 1000-2000 words essay)
Full paper submissions must include an abstract (150-200 words), 5-8 keywords and a bio (100-150 words). The word limit for full papers includes bibliography and notes.
Submissions in practice-based studies demonstrate a media art project as the basis of developing research in the context of the issue’s theme. Media artworks for submissions in practiced-based studies may include (but are not limited to) video/sound art; the documentation of media installations; virtual/augmented/mixed reality projects; locative/mobile media art; digital, web-based and screen-based art; hybrid and interactive media projects. Short essays (1000-2000 words) may include a brief description of the artwork (e.g. materials, techniques, processes of creation/practice, etc.) and should further explain how the artwork theoretically relates to the key theme in the special issue. Submissions in this category are assessed based on originality and relevance.
Authors are encouraged to include 3-4 still images of their artwork in the body of the essay. For online works, please provide a link to the work (include a password if needed) in your essay for the editors’ review. All aspects of the submission (essay, images or links to the work, bio, contact info) must be included in one Word Document File.
For formatting, style, and full submission guidelines, please visit https://mast-journal.org/submission-guideline.
The deadline for full submissions is Aug 20th, 2022.
Please send your submissions (and questions) to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject heading Blurring Digital Media Culture.
About guest editors:
Tony D Sampson is a critical theorist with an interest in the philosophies of media technology. His publications include The Spam Book (Hampton Press, 2009), Virality (University of Minnesota Press, 2012), The Assemblage Brain (University of Minnesota Press, 2017), Affect and Social Media (Rowman and Littlefield, 2018), and A Sleepwalker’s Guide to Social Media (Polity, 2020). Tony is the host and organizer of the Affect and Social Media international conferences in east London and a co-founder of the public engagement initiative the Cultural Engine Research Group. He works as a reader in digital media cultures and communication at the University of East London. Email: email@example.com
Jernej Markelj (PhD, Cardiff University) is a lecturer in New Media and Digital Culture at the University of Amsterdam. He is researching the intersection of media and affect to investigate themes of contagion, addiction, and control. His work has been published in edited books, such as Deleuze and The Global Pandemic (Bloomsbury, 2022) and Clickbait Capitalism (Manchester University Press, 2022), and in academic journals like New Media & Society, Convergence, and The Journal of Media Art Study and Theory. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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