ISEA2011 PANEL: Unsitely Aesthetics

Unsitely Aesthetics: the Reconfiguring of Public Space in Electronic Art

Chair: Dr. Maria Miranda

With the growth of the internet and mobile telephony across the globe we are witnessing new configurations of public space and public culture. In his conclusion to the book Networked Publics, Kazys Varnelis describes this new state of affairs as network culture and proposes that network culture has replaced the logics of both modernism and postmodernism, becoming the dominant cultural logic of our age. As the conditions of network culture expand many artists are forging a new relationship with the internet, not as a medium, but rather as another site of their work.

Today it is not the virtual as a separate space apart that is of interest, but the fact that the layering of the virtual sits beside everyday life through connection. For many artists the internet is now acting as one site of the work as well as another form of public space. These artists are leaving the studio behind, moving and working in public spaces, in a process that is both mobile and nomadic.

Unsitely Aesthetics refers to a particular aesthetics that has emerged with this mobile and nomadic shift in artistic practices. Unsitely plays with the figure of site, a well-rehearsed figure in contemporary art, but suggests a current disturbance of both sitedness and sightliness. These unsitely/unsightly works utilise a DIY approach unconcerned with issues of beauty or traditional notions of spectatorship, and they often use laughter and humour to get at something else. While unsitely upsets site’s singular location it suggests a space of tension, ambiguity and potential.

This panel explores the multiple and diverse ways artists are working in public space within the context of network culture where being in two places at once, or the superimpostition of real and virtual space has become the common experience.

How is network culture shifting the notion of both place and public art for spatial media art practices? In particular how is the internet a site/unsite of public art? How does site work in media art practices that exist across media and in different places?
Public Intimacy
by Brandon LaBelle

Increasingly our experiences of public space include private expressions, personal emotions and intimate secrets: the strict divide between interior life and the outside world has dramatically shifted, leading to a new notion of public intimacy. To be involved in each other’s lives has taken on new dimensions as networked culture delivers home life to distant geographies and personal messages to numerous points of open contact.

Exploring the theme of public intimacy my presentation maps out this new understanding of community and publicness by considering digital exchange as a gift-economy. While the internet and networked economies have certainly spawned an array of new forms of consumerism based entirely on money and credit, it has also introduced forms of communication, sharing, exchange and collaboration that might be viewed as supplemental, that is, as an additional formation of economy in which to be on-line is to give and receive.

Such a perspective may be found through a number of artistic works. For instance in Christin Lahr’s Macht Geschenke work, a daily project of transferring one cent through on-line banking to the country of Germany along with a quote from Das Kapital, or, a site that supports individuals to commit facebook suicide, the economy of being on-line can be traced through aspects of excess, expenditure, sacrifice, and generosity. Following such works, the internet will be underscored as a performative identification with others that creates unsteady forms of intimacy equally inspiring for imagining new forms of alliance, friendship, and sharing as well as artistic intervention.
Sitings of Art in Unsitely Places: the City as Atelier Aléatoire
by Darren Tofts

Drawing on Guy Debord’s notions of the dérive and détournement, as well as Oulipean concepts of potentiality and becoming, this paper will engage with the author’s recent experiments in redefining urban space as aesthetic space.  It will offer a critical engagement with the author’s detourned experience of the chance identification of potential, or accidental art in the streets of Melbourne and Rome, a commentary upon emergent sitings of art in unsitely places.  It will also argue for an alternative conception of art installation beyond the situatedness of the gallery, using GPS satellite co-ordinates to direct local and remote visitors to simultaneously engage with unsitely aesthetics in both cities, thereby extending both telematically and aesthetically the notion of what art and installation can become.
Uncertain Aesthetics: Networks in the Age of Emerging Technology
by Renate Ferro and Timothy Murray

We understand Uncertain Aesthetics to be a critical component in the performative spaces between contemporary conceptions of networks. The surge of digital accumulation, the continual surprise of informational texture and the layers of expressive multiplicity are what lend networks their creative power – as networks interface both real and virtual spaces. We are attracted in our curatorial and artistic work to projects that capitalize on the expansiveness of the digital and that confront the user with the realities of undisciplined knowledge. Undisciplined, that is, as we embrace it from within the legacy of interactivity, a practice that both solicits the user to respond to a set of predetermined choices and gives itself over to the users’ momentary stages, creating works whose algorithms leave them incomplete.
Unsitely Aesthetics: Performative Encounters in Public Space
by Maria Miranda

Traditionally, public art or art in public spaces has been associated with work that is, as Claire Doherty stated in her curatorial project One Day Sculpture, “permanently sited, monumental and commemorative.” In my paper I will present and discuss work that is made for, and in, public space, but in contrast to this description or definition, is neither monumental nor fixed. Rather the practices I am concerned with play out in public spaces (including the internet) but are not considered public art. They work simultaneously across a number of sites, both online and offline, and utilize a range of media strategies and interventions. They are ephemeral, networked and performative. I call these art practices uncertain and argue they exist at the intersection of media art and contemporary art. I propose that these uncertain practices create a different aesthetics, one that I call unsitely.
Bios of the Participants
Maria Miranda is a post-doctoral fellow in the School of Communication, Arts and Critical Enquiry at La Trobe University, Melbourne. In 2009 she completed her Ph.D thesis entitled, Uncertain Practices Unsitely Aesthetics at Macquarie University, Sydney. Maria is a media artist who works in collaboration with sound artist Norie Neumark as Out-of-Sync. Their work has been exhibited nationally and internationally. She lives and works in Melbourne, Australia.

Brandon LaBelle is an artist and writer. His work addresses the relation of the public and the private, formal and informal cultures, sociality and the narratives of everyday life, using performance and sited constructions as creative supplements to existing conditions. His work has been featured at Sonic Acts, Amsterdam (2010), A/V Festival, Newcastle (2008, 2010), MuseumsQuartier/ Tonspur, Vienna (2009), 7th Bienal do Mercosul, Porto Allegro (2009), Center for Cultural Decontamination, Belgrade (2009), Casa Vecina, Mexico City (2008), Fear of the Known, Cape Town (2008), Netherlands Media Art Institute, Amsterdam (2003, 2007), Ybakatu Gallery, Curitiba, Brazil (2003, 2006, 2009), Singuhr Gallery, Berlin (2004), and ICC, Tokyo (2000). He is the author of Background Noise: Perspectives on Sound Art (Continuum, 2006) and Acoustic Territories: Sound Culture and Everyday Life (Continuum, 2010). He is currently Professor in New Media at the National Academy of the Arts in Bergen, Norway.

Darren Tofts is Professor of Media and Communications, Faculty of Life and Social Sciences, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne.  His publications include Prefiguring Cyberculture: An Intellectual History, Illogic of Sense: The Gregory L. Ulmer Remix, Memory Trade: A Prehistory of Cyberculture, Parallax: Essays on Art, Culture and Technology and Interzone: Media Arts in Australia.

Renate Ferro ( is a media artist working in emerging technology and culture. Her artistic practice reflects critical interactivity incorporating social and theoretical paradigms of the psychological and sociological condition with networks of technology. Most recently her work has been featured at The Dorksy Gallery (NY), The Hemispheric Institute and FOMMA (Mexico), and The Janus Pannonius Muzeum (Hungary). Her work has been published in such journals as Diacritics, Theatre Journal, and Epoch. She is a co-moderator for the online new media list serve -EMPYRE-soft-skinned space ( and the art/imaging editor of the journal DIACRITICS ( published by the Johns Hopkins University Press. Renate Ferro is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Art at Cornell University teaching digital media and theory. She also directs the Tinker Factory, a creative research lab for Research Design, Creativity and Interdisciplinary Technology (

Timothy Murray is Director of the Society for the Humanities, Professor of Comparative Literature and English, and Curator of the Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art (, at Cornell University. He is co-moderator of the -empyre—soft-skinned space (, new media listserv and the author of Digital Baroque: New Media Art and Cinematic Folds (Minnesota 2008); Zonas de Contacto: el arte en CD-ROM (Centro de la imagen, 1999); Drama Trauma: Specters of Race and Sexuality in Performance, Video, Art (Routledge, 1997); Like a Film: Ideological Fantasy on Screen, Camera and Canvas (Routledge, 1993); Theatrical Legitimation: Allegories of Genius in XVIIth-Century England and France (Oxford, 1987). He is editor of Mimesis, Masochism & Mime: The Politics of Theatricality in Contemporary French Thought (Michigan, 1997) and, with Alan Smith, Repossessions: Psychoanalysis and the Phantasms of Early-Modern Culture (Minnesota, 1997). His curatorial projects include CTHEORY MULTIMEDIA ( and Contact Zones: The Art of the CD-Rom (


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