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On Adjacency: Infrastructural Tactics for Urban Screens in Transit (Shanghai version) / Stephanie DeBoer

Stephanie DeBoer
Associate Professor, Cinema and Media Arts/Studies, The Media School, Indiana University, the United States of America



Reference this essay: DeBoer, Stephanie. “On Adjacency: Infrastructural Tactics for Urban Screens in Transit (Shanghai version).” In Urban Interfaces: Media, Art and Performance in Public Spaces, edited by Verhoeff, Nanna, Sigrid Merx, and Michiel de Lange. Leonardo Electronic Almanac 22, no. 4 (March 15, 2019).
Published Online: March 15, 2019
Published in Print: To Be Announced
ISBN: To Be Announced
ISSN: 1071-4391
Repository: To Be Announced

Public urban screens are material interfaces for addressing the relations between urban inhabitants and the infrastructures in which they live and pass. This article reflects upon the relations between Shanghai’s state-entrepreneurial context for urban screens and the tactics of adjacency available to media artists and curators (and by extension urban inhabitants) for encountering them, particularly as they are linked to infrastructures of transit and mobility. Mainstream platforms and technological systems generate mobility within the city, as critics of infrastructure have argued, yet this mobility creates the possibility for other new movements to occur. Urban screen infrastructures are thus productively approached in the performative modalities of the interface, as they sit at the razor-thin line between competing articulations of ‘adjacency.’ Indicative of the potentials of expression, experience, and encounter that might emerge in the proximity of otherwise unlike domains – here among layers of urban infrastructure – adjacency is articulated by Out of Home (OOH) screen industries in recombinant innovations that advance us toward new technological and urban futures; media artists and curators, however, have opportunity to take advantage of the layering of urban/screen infrastructures to potentiate other ways of being to be recognized. Here, practices of adjacency can reframe the urban screen to make known the relations, encounters, movements, and sensations that might otherwise sit in the shadows or interstices of the state-entrepreneurial city.

Keywords:  Urban screens, adjacency, infrastructure, interface, affect, media art, tactical media, Out of Home screen industries, transit, Shanghai, site specific, public



Public urban screens are one of the more visibly material interfaces for engaging with the relations between urban inhabitants and the urban infrastructures in which they live, play, work, and pass. Shanghai’s recently accelerated developments in urban screens are one intensified context for reflecting upon the ambivalent relationships between the commercial-state industries that can overwhelmingly formulate urban screens for some (especially globally aspiring) cities and the everyday practices through which inhabitants might sustain themselves in the streets. A recent public roundtable organized by the Shanghai-based Screens Collective in conversation with the Beijing managing director of JCDecaux buses reflected on the sustainable modes of urban experience potentiated in Shanghai’s urban screens – modes shared yet contested between media industries and media artists. [1] Since at least fifteen years previous, medium- to large-scale public screens had become increasingly visible in the commercial centers and (more recently) suburban environs of the city – from the common LED red-lettered ticker screens that widely adorn kiosks and storefronts to the more overtly designed and large-scale public surfaces for advertising and address that overwhelm the facades of commercial buildings and the city’s transportation systems. By 2017, JCDecaux had become one of the more predominant faces of the Out of Home (OOH) screen advertising landscape in central and transit Shanghai (not to mention the urban centers of China, the Asia Pacific, and beyond), ubiquitously populating the surfaces of metro corridors and trains, bus routes, and airport terminals. The Screens Collective’s conversation with JCDecaux came on the heels of a previous year of discussion, debate, and public rehearsals concerning the expressive, performative, and experiential potentials of urban screens in public. [2] For Shanghai and other urban spaces of the region (though certainly not for all screened cities of the globe), the material interface of the urban screen was increasingly held by the OOH advertising industry, which primarily serves as a negotiating lynchpin between municipal transportation and real estate infrastructures and the commercial as well as state entities that desire (and often work to control) the public spaces and platforms for address to which they are linked. Against these overwhelming contexts for state-commercial public address, the Collective was concerned with an inquiry that has widely held the attention of urban media artists: how might urban screens instead become sites enabling dialogic encounters on the street? Adjacency – a term and practice for enabling unseen or unknown expressions, experiences, and encounters of our present to emerge, and here be intuited, through the proximity of otherwise unlike domains – had come to be one of the Collective’s means for getting there, which further prompted queries into what adjacent expressions, infrastructures, fields of attention, or contexts for mobility might the urban screen and its experiences be reframed and thereby reformed in Shanghai. [3]

Evoked in this conversation was a set of problems and potentials inimical to the ways in which urban screens “generate,” as Brian Larkin has observed for infrastructures more generally, “the ambient environment of everyday [here urban] life.” [4] Public urban screens are part and parcel of the infrastructural and often ephemeral force-relations of the city that work to modulate our bodies, movements, sensations, and relations. [5] At the same time, such urban screen infrastructures are, especially for the contexts of urban media art, productively understood in the performative modalities of the interface suggested by Chatzichristodoulou et al. [6] Marking “a shared space of dialogue as well as a site of contestation and tension,” [7] they here sit at the razor-thin line between more dominant state-entrepreneurial articulations of urban screens and the media artists and curators (and by extension everyday urban citizens) who work to negotiate and sometimes repurpose their use, expression, or experience. In the conversation that prompted this essay, the OOH company’s notion of “sustainability,” on the one hand, referred to the “optimal” use of resources in the material production and technological maintenance of the urban screen. [8] Sustainability was simultaneously an exercise in branding, a basis for JCDecaux’s significant place in urban spaces planned to participate in the economic values of an aspiring global city. For the Collective, however, the sustainability potentiated in urban screens indicated instead the critical tactics for living and transiting, communicating and communing that urban inhabitants might find in the interstices or shadows of this very same city – for addressing the ways of being and moving (in waiting, walking, dwelling, encountering) that often remain unacknowledged in its temporalities and flows. Here, the out of home industry’s links to official transportation infrastructures – the more ‘known’ and official state-commercial contexts of the city – is set against the media art collective’s considered connections to infrastructures of emotion, feeling, affect, encounter – the less known and more ‘felt’ experiences evoked in the everyday lives of the city. [9] Notable in this roundtable conversation was thus what Anna McCarthy has long noted of screens in public spaces – that such screens are inherently a “flexible apparatus” as they take on the scales, powers, and discourses of their practiced places. [10] Such in-situ practices for the urban screen are constituted not only (though certainly) in the dynamics that form their locations in Shanghai versus London versus Tokyo; they are also formed, as suggested in the conversation above, in the adjacent fields and practices within which particular actors, artists, and institutions situate and mobilize the public screen.  

This article reflects upon the relations between Shanghai’s overwhelmingly entrepreneurial-state context for urban screens (a context both distinct from and resonant with many urban spaces in the Asian region) and the often smaller-scaled and mobile tactics of adjacency available to urban media artists and curators for encountering them, particularly as they are linked to infrastructures of transit and mobility. “Cities and their traffic flows,” argues Anna Greenspan in her address of Shanghai’s future-oriented development, “is as critical to the workings of power as the geopolitics of nation states” – they have “always been about more than urban planning.” [11] Situating urban screens within the layered workings of urban infrastructure is crucial to adequately addressing all that is indicated in this “more than” as it is potentiated in the urban screens attached to the city’s planned transport systems, and for the media and urban artists and curators encountering them in Shanghai. Each mainstream platform and technological system “generates movement” within the city, as Brian Larkin has further argued; yet “this movement creates possibilities for other new actions and mobilities to occur.” [12] Anthropologists of infrastructure such as Larkin emphasize the “politics and poetics” of what would seem to be uninflected matters of engineering, media circulation, or the built environment. [13] Shanghai’s recent and current urban development has “most often [materialized in] physical urban redevelopments and new urban expansions.” [14] The continued and intensified construction of metro lines and stations thus sit at the center of the planned city’s “intertwined and interdependent” – and starkly visible – focus on “the development of suburbs and the urban renewal of the Central City.” [15] Linked to the complex of state, commercial, and real estate interests that undergird Shanghai’s development, the mainstream OOH screens that line streets, metro corridors, and carriages are also available as platforms for other poetic and everyday urban and media expressions, experiences, and appropriations.  

The layered concerns of infrastructure are a lynchpin for addressing the competing practices through which urban screens are utilized by both mainstream state-commercial entities and the media art practitioners that negotiate them. The tactics that media artists and curators can form in relation to the public screen is here best understood as a localized and urban articulation of Rita Riley’s notion of tactical media – a negotiated range of shadow, interstitial, and adjacent encounters with urban infrastructures that potentiate other flows and ways of knowing and being to be recognized, and from there sometimes acted upon. [16] This essay’s opening conversation between JCDecaux and the Screens Collective thus serves as a jumping off point for exploring the contingent relations between public urban screens, embodied inhabitants, and their urban environments – relations arguably central to site specific and geographic approaches to screen studies. [17] I first address the dominant form of urban screens in Shanghai by addressing the layered maintenance of JCDecaux’s OOH practices within the city’s formations of urban development, especially as they enter Shanghai in the time period leading to and following from the 2010 Shanghai Expo, a milestone hailed at the center of the city’s recent material development. The second movement of this essay then explores an individual performative screen practice by one member of the Screens Collective, Shaw Xu Zhifeng. Also initiated in 2010, his Look Through Me project offers space for reflection on the mobile modalities of adjacency that might enable the reframing of urban screens – for more speculative affects and dispositions; everyday gestures and encounters to be recognized in the state-entrepreneurial city. 


Heading: Maintaining the Layered Infrastructures of Urban Screens in Public Transit    

The Screens Collective formed the 2017 roundtable with JCDecaux to grapple with the OOH industry’s predominant formation of urban screens in Shanghai, and thereby its central role in the maintenance of the “highly contested zone” of public urban space. [18] In this inquiry, the collective aimed to further develop the dialogic practices of everyday urban screen inhabitation to which they aspired. JCDecaux’s dedication to the sustainable maintenance of the urban screen in public is central to its advertising as well as brand presence; yet the public spaces linked to these screens are formed, as David Harvey has argued for urban spaces across the globe, simultaneously “dependent upon state power and implicated in the uneven process of capitalist globalization.” [19] Bolstering JCDecaux’s “worldwide” and “no. 1” status – in outdoor-, street furniture-, airport-, and transport advertising – is its commitment to the detailed maintenance of its urban screens, as its promoted “high quality” and environmentally sustainable efforts in repair repeatedly renew the light boxes, billboards, video, and LED screens that adorn the facades of trains and metro stations, buses or bus shelters, and airports of the planned locations of the city. [20] JCDecaux’s highly touted maintenance of the urban screen is here easily folded into the specters of a Shanghai often critiqued for its mimicry of global capital, as its seemingly ubiquitous screened facades result in merely ‘thin’ planned urban spectacle. A linear timeline of JCDecaux’s development in China would certainly confirm its participation in this critique. The company’s entry into the China market in 2005 coincided with the lead-up to the 2010 Shanghai Expo. This globally aimed urban/national branding event marked a watershed moment for the heightened visibility of urban screens in central Shanghai – not only materially but also poetically in the imagination of the city, as “giant billboards and video screens unabashedly declared Shanghai’s ambitions for growth.” [21] As a centrally hyped event within Shanghai’s recent urban planning push, the time leading up to and following the Shanghai Expo witnessed a marked expansion of the metro system throughout the city [22] – with its accompanying expansion of nearly ubiquitous metro OOH advertising screens – a significant, often heavily screened, revamp of commercial centers in its major districts, and the rapid build-up of the Pudong district’s iconic skyscrapers, adorned with moving image video and LED screens and full building facades lit with ambient moving and still lights. Not simply an economic showcase (though certainly at times also this), however, Shanghai’s urban screen cultures are better understood, as Chris Berry has also argued, not as some mimicked “adaptation of a Western or metropolitan standard,” but rather as “part of a coeval pattern of local uses under conditions of rapid proliferation of new media technologies around the world.” [23]


Figure 1: Variety of street-level urban screens along Huaihai Middle Road in Shanghai. Photograph by Stephanie DeBoer. © Stephanie DeBoer, 2016. Used with permission.

Berry’s coeval address of urban screens in Shanghai productively brings our attention to the level of the street, as well as to the mid-level actors called for in critical studies of media and its industries. [24] It encourages us to attend to the on-the-ground and everyday practices of urban screen encounter, from which we might further extrapolate the ways in which localized urban actors – the shopkeeper, urban transit authority, real estate developer, or local district official (the latter of which has particular influence on the placement and formation of public screens in Shanghai) – collaborate and compete to emplace, frame, and mobilize urban screens for urban inhabitants to encounter in their everyday routes. Such coevalness is further manifest in the particular infrastructural negotiations through which even the more mainstream urban screen institutions contribute to the public spaces and experiences of the city in transit. Critics of infrastructure have underscored the layered formation of everyday space – the ways in which new technologies and by extension new (here urban) spaces are formed in a “layering of networks and infrastructures.” [25] These layered networks and infrastructures, as Brian Larkin argues, can certainly “contest each other,” yet at other times can “also feed off each other and remain mutually dependent.” [26] Even a brief glance at the advertising screen practices of OOH industries such as JCDecaux underscores the ways in which such institutions – here a dominant holder of the material interface of the urban screen in Shanghai – understand and work to their advantage the multiply layered formation of the urban screens that they emplace throughout the city. In attaching its advertising light, digital, and LED screens to the transportation infrastructures of Shanghai, suggested managing director Gina King, JCDecaux indelibly links itself to a relatively ‘stable’ material base for their commercial urban address. [27] Transportation systems are here well-understood to be the very networks through which the city itself is constituted; they are also the central circulatory systems through which OOH industries such as JCDecaux thereby address the urban inhabitants who pass through its public spaces.  

Notable in such OOH industry efforts is how the close layering of transportation systems and advertising networks form the relational field from which such screen industries innovate their techniques and technologies, thereby influencing the relations between public screens, urban inhabitants, and their urban environments. It is in the maintenance and repeated recombination of these proximate state-entrepreneurial infrastructures that new OOH screen formations are produced to further address and enfold urban inhabitants in transit. A recent metro tour provided by ST Decaux, a corporation formed between JCDecaux Group and Shanghai Shentong Metro Group Co., Ltd., offers opportunity to reflect upon how such institutions work to their advantage the layered infrastructural formation of the urban screen. Xujiahui is one of the busiest stations in the Shanghai metro system; it is also the site for Decaux’s showcase of all the screen products that they offer their state-commercial clients and supporters. With names (at of the time of the 2018 tour) such as ‘Mega Projection Zone,’ ‘Mega Lightbox,’ ‘Digital Bulkhead,’ ‘Pillar TV,’ ‘12-Sheet Lightbox,’ or ‘Brand Zone,’ these and other screen technologies are repeatedly recombined and attached anew to the city’s metro, bus-line, train, and highway systems. Yet they are at the same time, of course, maintained and produced with a singular aim in mind – promoted in their virtues of offering, for example, arenas of ‘coverage,’ ‘uninterrupted playback,’ or ‘high frequency networks.’ [28] Indeed, these screen formations and promotions tell us of the infrastructures – material, practiced, and discursive – through which OOH industry strategies of ‘exposure’ are created. “Exposure,” suggests Chris Berry in his critique of the public transportation system in Shanghai, is the “logic” that “[drives] out-of-home advertising in the Shanghai public transportation system.” [29] Drawing from the more elite-attendant practices of the OOH company Focus Media, Berry deduces that “the same logic of catching people while they are walking in transit applies to screens in the Shanghai public transit system, where average citizens congregate.” [30] Here, public screens are being deployed as part of the “ongoing attempt to redefine publicness by saturating public space with OOH advertising, transforming the ‘dead time’ of the commute into consumer training.” [31] The point is not to get people in transit “to gaze at the television [or public screen] attentively throughout their journey, but to ensure that they are [simply] exposed to the screens, like it or not.” [32]

Extensions of Steven Johnson’s notion of the ‘adjacent possible’ are useful here; they help us to explicate not only the means through which such innovations in urban screen practice might be produced, but also the limits of their potential outcomes. Johnson repurposed the term to capture “both the limits and creative potential of change and innovation.” [33] The adjacent possible, he further argues, “is a kind of shadow future, hovering over the edge of the present state of things”; [34] the “good ideas” that lead to this future are built “out of a collection of existing parts, the composition of which expands (and occasionally contracts) over time.” [35] Other social critics, inspired by Johnson’s term, have underscored the place of such innovation in the development of technological fields, as they are formed through the recombination of adjacent (like/unlike) elements or arenas. [36] For the OOH industry in Shanghai, new configurations in light billboards and the increasing array of digital and LED moving image screens – as they are combined or attached anew to Shanghai metro, bus-line, train, and highway systems – similarly aspire to newly effect the relationships between public screens, embodied subjects, and the urban environments that form the public spaces of our cities. The limits of such systems of innovation, however, are notable. In this layered and negotiated intersection between transportation systems and advertising networks, the public spaces of the transit system are restricted in the future-oriented aspirations of the planned city. Reminiscent of the “avenues of progress” that Anna Greenspan sees evoked in the modern urban designs of new Shanghai, the spaces of its metro corridors and trains in particular (as well as in airports, bus routes, and buses) are produced to advance the state-entrepreneurial city in a “linear mode of temporality that is encoded in the road based [here metropolitan transit extended] imperative of creation: destroy the old to pave the way for the new” in their innovation of public screen address. [37]  


Figure 2: Out of Home (OOH) advertising screens, subway inhabitants, and Shanghai metro infrastructures. Photograph by Taqi Shaheen. © Taqi Shaheen, 2016. Used with permission.

These screened sites of the adjacent possible might well be described as spaces of spectacled ‘distraction’ – as urban arenas in which OOH innovations in techniques of exposure produce, in a paraphrase of Beatriz Colomina, a “public screen environment” experienced as the “latest and enhanced versions of modernity as a culture of distraction” where “layers of moving image screens compete for our attention with billboards.” [38] Yet such a description would at the same time easily miss the particular set of infrastructural urban histories, and with this the relational screen practices and powers, that produce these urban spaces for Shanghai. In her discussion of the planned development of the Pudong district from the nineties to the naughts and into the teens of the new millennium, Greenspan admits that Shanghai’s showcase district, “does, at least at first glance, seem like a master-planner’s fantasy.” [39] Glanced upon at night, the city’s central districts are “awash with neon and LED lights” and “home to one of the densest clusters of skyscrapers in the world” – “the backdrop of a future fantasy with whole buildings metamorphosing into massive screens.” [40] This version of Shanghai is an image through which “China’s economic miracle receives its most vivid and concrete manifestation.” [41] Yet in the same address, Greenspan further underscores that “the forces that went into the making of even this most spectacular of Shanghai’s new districts are far more complex.” [42] The most recent manifestation of central Shanghai’s new façade “has actually emerged from a web of singular forces that have arisen through the particular forces of the contemporary East Asian entrepreneurial state” [43] – a “diverse” and “complex interaction between traditional state bureaucracies and a multiplicity of agents including SOEs (controlled by the state government), enterprises run by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), enterprises run by local government, diasporic capitalists and the mainland’s new capitalist class, who are often old party members.” [44] All of whom, in turn “follow the contours of provincial and local alliances and the business networks to which they connect.” [45] This attention to the diversity of localized interests at play in the production of contemporary and central Shanghai concretizes Aihwa Ong’s critique of our often too easy equation between spectacle and global capitalist hegemony. “Urban dwellers in Asia’s big cities,” she argues, “do not read spectacles as a generalized effect of capitalism, but rather as symbols of their metropolis that invite inevitable comparison with rival cities.” [46] The screened experience of central Shanghai, as “a critical site of China’s urban representations,” is thus an on the street expression of a larger Asian “art of being global” – and by extension of being modern, innovative, entrepreneurial – in a kind of “hyperbuilding,” in Ong’s words, and here attendant ‘hyperscreening’ in Shanghai’s central districts. [47] These urban environments are nonetheless formed in a multiplicity of competing and colluding actors linked to localized infrastructural systems and networks.


Figure 3: East Nanjing Road at night; Out of Home (OOH) advertising screens and lights. Photograph by Stephanie DeBoer. © Stephanie DeBoer, 2016. Used with permission.


Figure 4: East Nanjing Road at night; Out of Home (OOH) advertising screens. Photograph by Taqi Shaheen. © Taqi Shaheen, 2016. Used with permission.

It is this sleight of hand concerning the ubiquity of urban screens in central and transit Shanghai that media artists and curators such as the Screens Collective must simultaneously recognize and address – this sleight of hand between the spectacle of urban screens experienced as aspirationally distant from the control of urban inhabitants, and the diverse interests and linked infrastructures that collaborate and compete to mobilize public screens for the entrepreneurial urban state. How might we inhabit urban screens and their linked public spaces of address that seem so distant from us and our control? How might we situate our everyday practices, dispositions, affects, and ways of moving or being amongst an ubiquity of screens in public space that, even as they are ‘coevally’ produced in Shanghai, still remain anathema to the practices of dialogic encounter that can be central to the aims of urban media art? One avenue for urban artists may lie in tactics that repurpose and take their cues from those of the OOH screen industry. Tactics that differently recognize and take advantage of the layered and diversely produced infrastructures of the urban screen in Shanghai – and from there the mobilizations that can spin both within and out of their structures, gaps, and shadows. “Travel, movement, communication and transportation networks,” as De Souza e Silva and Sheller phrase, “help to constitute modern bodies, societies, cities, regions, and borders.” [48] So do the screen interfaces and systems to which they are attached. Here, the practices of ‘exposure’ through which the urban screen is maintained by OOH industries such as JCDecaux are a central means through which the constitution of such bodies, societies, and cities are aspired. Such a practice is, at the same time, a “response to the difficulty of getting the public’s attention,” which is “secured with great difficulty” across the diverse and layered infrastructures that constitute public and screened space. [49] Indeed, as Anne Cronin has presciently parsed, “the public address of outdoor advertising may act to call into being a virtual viewing collective, but it is unable to fix its parameters as a consuming public.” [50] For the practices of media art, urban screens can also be repurposed and rearticulated in relation to other adjacent infrastructures, thereby extending or shifting the parameters of its public engagement. Here lies not simply the linearly ascendant innovation of the adjacent possible perpetuated by JCDecaux and other OOH industries, but a more intuitive set of adjacencies – and all that is potentiated in more intuitively set proximities to other (less dominant or mainstream) scales and expressions, bodies and mobilities, networks and systems. Through this might be made visible, known, or experienced other potentiated infrastructures of emotion and affect, and other less known but more felt acts and gestures, reframings, and encounters that stand at the interstices and shadows of the planned city. 


Scaling Adjacent Mobilities for Urban Screens in Transit in Public

Understanding the layered infrastructural formation of urban screens – and thereby the dialogic potentials engendered in and around them – can help us to understand a number of smaller-scaled street to transit-level tactics recently generated by media artists in the arenas where urban screens most predominantly proliferate in urban China and beyond. Shaw Xu Zhifeng’s inaugural 2010 performance of his ongoing video project, Look Through Me, was an act of wrestling the screen from the heightened scales and spectacle of the city. [51] As he walked along Shanghai’s East Nangjing Road and through its associated metro stations and corridors with an LCD video screen strapped to his back, Look Through Me I, reflected Shaw, was a response to the urban screens that surrounded the Shanghai districts in which he lived and through which he passed every day. It was an act of reframing and repurposing the public urban screen to a level and experience “that [he] could touch” – to the scale of the body and the mobility of the street. [52] Look Through Me I is in many ways reminiscent of Rita Riley’s notion of ‘tactical media’ – virtuosic (for her, online) media art efforts that remain ephemeral in temporality, modular in form, and created not outside or against some system, but rather within it to engender an (even if momentary) laying bare of the networks in which we are embedded. [53] Such tactics – extended here to the relations between the screen, its inhabitants, and the city – are intuitively infrastructural. [54] Inherently cognizant of how urban screens are layered within a diversity of intertwined urban infrastructural systems, such tactics recognize the potentially dialogic formation of mainstream urban screens, as they remain sites potentiating adjacent arenas of expression and encounter within the everyday environments of the city. Tactics of adjacency here work not in the modalities of innovation so often linked to Steven Johnson’s ‘adjacent possible,’ but rather in the more intuitive modalities suggested by Richard Sennett. As he outlines structures whereby acts of intuition might be inspired, Sennett suggests how “establishing adjacency between two unlike domains” can help us to “sense what isn’t yet could be” in a given field. [55] In this way, a competing multiplicity of entwined and sometimes shadow temporalities, durations, affects, and ways of being can also be experienced. As these projects re-perform and reframe the urban screen across adjacent languages, expressions, movements, and occasions, they can also enable other, more speculative affects, mobilities, gestures, and encounters to be recognized in the city.


Figure 5: Look Through Me I, Shaw Xu Zhifeng, 2010. East Nanjing Road, Shanghai. Photograph by Yu Ji. © Shaw Xu Zhifeng, 2010. Used with permission.

Adjacency’s central act of reframing is literalized in Shaw’s performative video project, as his body in motion becomes the interface for screened encounter – an invitation for dialogue that can potentially make visible, known, or felt the possibilities, contestations, and tensions of urban screens in transit. Here, the screen does not only work to “constitute bodies,” as De Souza e Silva and Sheller remind us for official transportation and communication infrastructures. [56] In its differently scaled and embodied expression, this screen interface also further foregrounds the relationships between screens and bodies in public. In so doing, it further offers opportunity for urban inhabitants to recognize the tensions inimical to urban screen address. As he walks along East Nanjing Road in Shanghai with an LCD video screen strapped to his back, Shaw invites passersby to ‘look through’ from behind him and out through the camera view that faces forward on his chest. Notable is how the close proximity between screen and body in this case simultaneously evokes and differs from both the large-scale public screens and handheld screen devices that were then increasingly visible in central and transit Shanghai. Certainly, this 2010 public video performance evoked and anticipated the handheld mobility of the smart phone that was nascently experienced as ubiquitous in these districts. Yet Shaw’s invitation to the passersby around him to ‘look through’ the shoulder-wide video screen on his back also, and more strongly, evokes the visibly collective address of the larger-scaled OOH advertising and information screens that increasingly adorned central Shanghai’s building and transport facades. The adjacencies of screen scale, then, are the lynchpin through which Shaw’s project makes visible and felt other modes of knowing, experiencing, moving, or encountering in the city. Addressing struggles over gentrified urban space – the modes of inhabitation potentiated and prohibited in 1980s developments in New York’s Lower East Side – geographer Neil Smith argues how “the construction of geographical scale is a primary means through which spatial differentiation ‘takes place.’” [57] For him, scale is a significant “language of spatial difference,” the visibility of which “is produced by geographical structures of social interaction.” [58] Such social interaction can then potentiate “intense political struggle” over how urban citizens might inhabit the city’s streets and spaces. [59] As it transforms the public screen to the aspect ratios of the body, Shaw’s Look Through Me I video performance utilizes differences in scale as the artistic practice through which to reframe our attention from the then increasingly spectacled heights of the public screen to the street-level and embodied struggles over urban and screen inhabitation. It is here at the level of the street where the project works to make visible and experienced the modalities through which urban citizens might pass by or encounter in the state-entrepreneurial and heavily screened formations of urban development that were transforming these landscapes of the city.

Indeed, Shaw’s street-level video performance makes potentially legible how public screens in such urban arenas are not only spatially but also temporally contingent as well. Chris Berry has rightly reminded us that the public urban screens most predominantly linked to Shanghai’s more recent set of material transformations are not “ubiquitous” in Shanghai, but are merely seen and felt to be so in the central districts in which they are housed (while certainly also present elsewhere, suburban environments or second and third tier cities, for example, might still only aspire to such urban promise). [60] This recognition of the public screen can be further brought to Shanghai’s central districts themselves. As Shaw’s bodily-scaled public screen walks down East Nanjing Road, it reframes, from a street-level motion and view, the contingencies involved at a particular nexus of urban/screen development. East Nanjing Road is a largely commercial corridor within a central district long slated to showcase the most recent views of a ‘new Shanghai’ that were to culminate around the 2010 Shanghai Expo and beyond. From the 1980s – and well before from the 1930s and 40s – this street was an urban attraction for commercial strolling as well as the nighttime viewing of neon light signs and advertising; [61] over the course of the late 1990s to naughts, its architectural surfaces increasingly featured still and moving (electronic, for example) image signs and screens. By the time of this article’s publication, portions of East Nanjing Road, since paved over for pedestrian-only traffic, are filled with ever more spectacularly scaled and positioned LED advertising screens affixed upon buildings, their huge dimensions and ambient light dwarfing the shadows of passersby by night. A steady series of moving and still image LED lights and advertising screens repeatedly illuminate the street, linking up to escalators that lead down into metro station corridors, themselves awash in the light of OOH advertising platforms and screens. East Nanjing Road is further bookended by the mile-long embankment and viewing platform that extends along the Huangpu River, enabling urban tourists and citizens to look out across the river toward the by now iconic view of a hyperbuilt Pudong. This is the site where Anna Greenspan notes that “China’s economic miracle receives its most vivid and concrete manifestation,” with Lujiazui’s dense cluster of skyscrapers leading to the heavens, their facades now necessarily lit with ambient LED light surfaces, fulfilling “a future fantasy with whole buildings metamorphizing into massive screens.” [62] Against this, as if to underscore the temporally contingent experience of this urban screen showcase, Shaw’s performative screen walks down East Nanjing Road in 2010 during the daytime. While LED lights and screens continue to be developed to more fully fill urban space against the competing light of day, such daytime efforts toward exposure and address are never complete. Daytime East Nanjing Road – at night so iconically overwhelmed by the ambient lights of urban screens and facades – is here instead revealed as a more critical urban geography, where the relationships and struggles among people, urban screens, and urban environments might be rendered more legible. 


Figure 6: Look Through Me I, Shaw Xu Zhifeng, 2010. Shanghai Bund, looking out toward Pudong. Video still by Angelo Romano. © Shaw Xu Zhifeng, 2010. Used with permission.

For Look Through Me I’s performative poetics, to embody the screen was to here re-perform and reframe Shanghai’s dominant urban screen infrastructures to a street-level scale inhabitable by its citizens. This street-level specter was to thereby reflect upon the layering of adjacent ways of being, viewing, and encountering that might further be possible in the screened city. To be sure, as Shaw walks down East Nanjing Road, this invitation to differently attend to the screen is always only potentiated – such are the limits of attention for all screens in public. In the video recording of Look Through Me I, many people pass by without ever noticing Shaw’s walking/waiting/pausing/wandering screen unit; others glance in passing, turning heads in a double-take, to then only move on; still others stop and pause for a better view of this unlikely configuration of the screen, and its reframed view of the people, architectures, and urban spaces through which they are passing; in later iterations of Shaw’s Look Through Me project, people stop for conversation. In this instance, Shaw’s screened wanderings also take him from the daytime commercial corridor of East Nanjing Road to the riverside platform that affords views of Pudong – by then (as today) a display of old and new heights for Shanghai’s locally formed global aspirations, from the 1994 Oriental Pearl Tower to the ever-higher stature of the Shanghai World Financial Centre skyscraper then only recently built to contribute to the sustainable ecology of the city. Upon this platform already primed for framed city viewing, Shaw stands still among the milling crowd of urban tourists who are looking out and taking pictures – with cameras and not yet smart phones for this moment of the larger population – of the urban attractions in Pudong development on the other side of the river. Here, Shaw’s paused and no longer mobile screen unit garners a shift in screen attention, as these tourists encounter and photograph not simply the iconic city view before them, but rather the Look Through Me I screen interface that frames and further mediates this very scene. 

In his discussion of everyday viewing practices surrounding the urban redevelopment of Qianmen in Beijing, Yomi Braester suggests that, “the superimposition of the human eye, the camera viewfinder, the digital camera screen, and the wall [in Qianmen] have produced a complicity of imaging practices,” a “multiplicity of apparatuses [that] have framed the city within a Chinese box of reproduced images … resulting in a hall of mirrors that defers all critical view.” [63] If this is the case, then Shaw’s mobile screen unit addresses such complicit screen specters to not simply make visible the collusion of all urban imaging practices. In its performance of the adjacent scales and embodiment of the public screen, Look Through Me I instead frames for our recognition the layered composition and thus potential difference that might also lie among the habits, experiences, and practices through which urban inhabitants encounter the screened city. Adjacency’s potential as a spatial tactic for media art is here reminiscent of Christen Cornell’s reframing of the history of avant-garde art in China from the late 1980s to early 2000s in the context of “urban flux” – a period, as she phrases, of “dramatic spatial and social flux in the country, characterized by radical urbanization, widespread demolition of the built environment and mass rural to urban migration.” [64] On the one hand, Cornell underscores a largely accepted history of recent Chinese art practice as its discursive possibilities were limited in the immediate state responses to artist participation in 1989 Tiananmen protests, as well as the following marketization of public life that resulted from the major shifts in economic policy that ensued from 1992 onward. At the same time, she argues that we must also recognize the spatial practices and communal productions that artists were able to engage in at the interstices of massive urban, domestic migrant, and transnational flux in the wake of these economic policies. Here, she argues, we must look not only for discursive movements (overtly political yundong movements in art, for example) but also for the potentials of spatial movements within the material city. In so doing, she seeks to enable further recognition of “modes of political intervention that … work creatively and discreetly with the movements of institutional and physical change.” [65]  


Figure 7: Look Through Me I, Shaw Xu Zhifeng, 2010. Shanghai subway corridor. Photograph by Yu Ji. © Shaw Xu Zhifeng, 2010. Used with permission.

More recent projects such as Look Through Me I further potentiate recognition of the ways in which an adjacent screen – here, the mobilization of an embodied and differently scaled public screen – can evoke more speculative and reflective modes of engagement with even the most ‘hyperscreened’ and illuminated arenas of the city. In the process of his wandering through East Nanjing Road and its environs, Shaw’s mobile screen unit also goes underground. It is here, in Shanghai’s subway and metro corridors, where the OOH advertising screen strategies of ‘exposure’ are most clearly evoked and addressed in Shaw’s performative video project. These corridors, ubiquitously lined on all sides with illuminated advertising boxes and (then increasingly) moving image screens, are a model scene for how urban inhabitants and passersby in transit are overwhelmingly addressed in an ongoing effort to, as Berry has phrased, “redefine publicness by saturating public space with OOH advertising.” [66] The screen tactics of Shaw’s performance, however, add another layer of potentiated attention to this landscape; they are differentiated in their attendance to embodied mobility and scale. As he wanders through these metro corridors, Shaw’s screened figure is certainly framed, reframed, and archived in the smartphone screens and camera viewfinders of passersby – in similar manner to the photo reproduced earlier in this essay of Shaw’s screen unit standing and facing toward the iconic view of Pudong. Of further note is how Shaw’s address of the urban commute – its habits of looking and experiencing in the screened environments of the transit system – works to enable recognition of an adjacent range of dispositions, movements, sensations, and relations in this very same arena of the city. In the midst of his walk through the subway corridors of East Nanjing Road, Shaw’s screen unit stops and pauses before an advertising screen extending the vertical span of the metro wall, from foot to near ceiling, its ambient light illuminating and reflecting on the surfaces of the enclosed metro pathway. Here, the LCD screen on Shaw’s back differently frames, reproducing in smaller scale, a partial view of the larger screen interface that would otherwise overwhelm him – his embodied figure appears in relative shadow enveloped in its light, which constitutes the metro corridor. The relationships between bodies, urban environments, and newly or differently scaled screens that have been a part of Shaw’s entire walk are here evoked more starkly in its encounter with an iconic material interface of planned urbanism for Shanghai, the urban screen. As he pauses to stand in a liminal moment of being both enveloped by the OOH screen and not, the framed screen at Shaw’s back becomes the occasion for reflection on not only how we might become screens in the context of the state-entrepreneurial city, but also how we might simultaneously reflect upon the material interfaces that most spectacularly constitute its central and transit environments. Mobile differences in screen scale become the performative cut through which urban imaging practices linked to the screen might be seen and experienced as relationally layered, thereby allowing for other adjacent affects, dispositions, and potential attentions to be evoked in this very same city. 

It is thus not simply in looking and relooking, but also in re-performing the relations that form the urban interface that Look Through Me I potentiates recognition of shifting configurations among urban screens, embodied inhabitants, and urban environments. Shaw’s screened project offers further reflection upon how these relations are particularly articulated from one time and space to another. As it encounters the coeval dynamics that form the screened urban environments of new millennium Shanghai, Susan Leigh Star and Karen Ruhleder’s seminal reflection on the “when” of infrastructure comes starkly into view. Refuting common understandings of infrastructure “as something that is built and maintained, and which then sinks into an invisible background,” infrastructure is instead “something that emerges for people in practice, connected to activities and structures.” [67] Here, infrastructure “appears only as a relational property,” wherein our attention to the “changes in infrastructural relations become central.” [68] Look Through Me I is reminiscent of earlier, differently trans/national circulations of screen and media art practice – for example, a series of works and actions produced by the longstanding performance and media artist Peter Weibel in the late sixties to early seventies, as he enquired into television and video technologies and their applications. One significant performative action of this project strapped a television console of (then) portable size on Weibel’s back, its screen facing out toward the viewer in the photograph that captured the performance. Weibel’s screen unit is here set within an outdoor landscape, as the artist stands in fishing waders holding a fishing pole against the backdrop of a wide natural lake, the TV screen on his back reproducing in smaller scale the lake before him and the trees that line its distant shores. On the one hand, this work was remarkable for its transcendence of the borders of the gallery. In a further tenet of media art at the time, this screen performance also reflected upon the contemporary ideological, technical, as well as spatial possibilities and limits of television broadcast and representation for North America and Western Europe. For all its portability, for all that might be broadcast into its bunny ears, how far might we extend the mobility of the television screen? What might constitute the outer limits of this screen interface and its performative address? And how might the artists body work to mediate these concerns? Set within Shanghai’s contemporary screened urbanism, Shaw’s Look Through Me project re-performs and reconfigures the relationships among environments, screen interfaces, and bodies suggested in Weibel’s earlier performance. In so doing, Look Through Me I attests to the ways in which locational and temporal contingencies – and thereby differently located media and art practices – can significantly shift the meaning, impact, and necessary tactics for urban screens. Indeed, this inquiry is further underscored in the shifts in screen configuration that Shaw later brings to Look Through Me as the project travels to cities beyond Shanghai, as well as back to the gallery space itself. Yet here in the project’s first iteration, at the very least, tactics for making recognizable these relationships and dynamics – thereby potentiating other affects and dispositions to be recognized – remain within the always already contingently layered infrastructures of Shanghai’s screened city. 



The roundtable discussion between the Shanghai-based Screens Collective and OOH industry with which this article began introduced a similarly shared yet competing set of concerns for urban sustainability. This relational contingency is further underscored by Scott McQuire’s recent argument for our need to grapple with the “ambivalence of the digital.” [69] For him, such ambivalence lies in “the demand to negotiate the tension between the potential for new modes of citizen involvement and self-organization and the tendency for such projects to be marginalized by, or to themselves produce, new fields of technocratic control.” [70] This ambivalence further “stems from the extent to which what Stephen Graham aptly calls ‘counter geographies’ often depend upon the very same tools as do contemporary strategies of control.” [71] To be sure, any identification of the contradictions between citizenship and urban space needs to be defined within the particular urban geographies of Shanghai and related city spaces. To name a further set of examples suggested in this article’s reference to the ‘state-entrepreneurial’ city, for example, recent technological and bureaucratic developments in ‘security’ that have increasingly disallowed on the street – as well as in transit – expression in urban China in the years following the Shanghai Expo. Yet McQuire’s overall recognition of the ‘ambivalence of the digital’ continues to hold for Shanghai’s screened urbanism, as its urban screen interfaces mark a potentially performative “shared space of exchange and dialogue as well as a site of contestation and tension.” [72] My focus on the workings of ‘infrastructure’ throughout this article is to underscore the simultaneously material, poetic, and political valences of the urban screen interface, here as it is negotiated between media artists and OOH industry screen developers and marketers. It is also to indicate the dialogic potentials that lie in our recognition of the relationally layered, and thus potentially differentiated formation of the urban interface, and from here our potential recognition of the adjacent infrastructures of emotion and affect, as well as ways of being, knowing, and moving that might also inhabit the transit and central spaces of the city. Such efforts may not result in any coherently sustained counter geography. But they might, in their even momentary and everyday expression, work to sustain us there.



Sincere thanks to fellow members of the Screens Collective, Xu Zhifeng, Wu Jie, Taqi Shaheen, as well as Petra Johnson, its co-convener. Many of the ideas, accounts, and perspectives of this article would not be possible without the collaborative conversation, engagement, and work of the Collective.   

Author Biography 

Stephanie DeBoer is Associate Professor of Cinema and Media Arts/Studies in The Media School at Indiana University. Her work addresses the cultural, artistic, technological, and social formations of screens; media and video art; and public, urban, and transnational media geographies. Her work is interdisciplinary, multi-modal, often collaborative, and spans locations including Shanghai, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Bloomington. Her essays concerning these topics appear in The Palgrave Handbook of Asian Cinema (Palgrave, 2018) and Framing the Global (Indiana UP, 2014). Also author of Co-producing Asia: Locating Japanese Chinese Film and Media (Minnesota UP, 2014), DeBoer is co-organizer of the 2018 symposium held at Nanyang Technological University, Emergent Visions: Adjacency and Urban Screens; the producer of the 2017 exhibition, China Remixed: Public Video Art Exhibition; and convener of the “Screen Ecology Project.” She is also a co-convener of the Shanghai-based Screens Collective, which addresses fundamental questions concerning the potential of urban screens as sites of public contact.

Notes and References 

[1] “Recognizing Affects in the Now, Shaping Sustainable Urban Futures (Urban Screens Version),” roundtable talk of the Screens Collective (Petra Johnson, Stephanie DeBoer, Taqi Shaheen, Xu Zhifeng, and Wu Jie) with Gina King of JCDecaux. Shanghai Project, Himalayas Museum, Shanghai, P.R.C., January 5, 2017.

[2] This discussion was publicly shared in the following roundtables, as well: “Urban Screens as Sites for Public Discourse,” roundtable talk of the Screens Collective (Petra Johnson, Stephanie DeBoer, Taqi Shaheen, Xu Zhifeng, and Wu Jie). ReformerART Space, Shanghai, P.R.C., November 6, 2016; “Screens/Body/Attention: Interruptions for Urban Screens,” roundtable talk of the Screens Collective (Petra Johnson, Stephanie DeBoer, Taqi Shaheen, Xu Zhifeng, and Wu Jie). Chronus Art Center, Shanghai, P.R.C., June 11, 2016.

[3] This article is indebted to Petra Johnson for first highlighting for me the potentials of adjacency for media and urban arts practice. Aspects of her individual and further collective work can be seen at: and

[4] Brian Larkin, “Poetics and Politics of Infrastructure,” Annual Review of Anthropology 42 (2013): 328.

[5] The phrasing of this articulation of the urban screen came about through my ongoing conversation with and as part of the Screens Collective.

[6] Maria Chatzichristodoulou, Janis Jefferies and Rachel Zerihan, eds., Interfaces of Performance (New York: Routledge, 2009).

[7] Maria Chatzichristodoulou and Rachel Zerihan, “Introduction,” in Interfaces of Performance, eds. Maria Chatzichristodoulou, Janis Jefferies and Rachel Zerihan (New York: Routledge, 2009), 1.

[8] This description of the work of JCDecaux can be found on the JCDecaux website: JCDecaux, “JCDecaux Group,” accessed May 30, 2019,

[9] I have been made aware of and come to understand the relationships between the ‘known’ and the ‘felt’ in my conversations with Petra Johnson, artist and fellow co-convener of the Screens Collective. Her observations have led me to reflect upon approaches to affect and its theorization that, in the phrasing of Gregory J. Seigworth and Melissa Gregg, “attends to the hard and fast materialities, as well as the fleeting and flowing ephemera, of the daily and the workaday, of everyday and every-night life, and of ‘experience’ … where persistent, repetitious practices of power can simultaneously provide a body … with predicaments and potentials for realizing a world that subsists within and exceeds the horizons and boundaries of the norm.”  “An Inventory of Shimmers,” in The Affect Theory Reader, eds. Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010), 7.

[10] Anna McCarthy, “Terminal Thoughts on Art, Activism, and Video for Public Places,” in Ambient Television: Visual Culture and Public Space (Durham: Duke UP, 2001), 227-230.

[11] Anna Greenspan, “The Road Versus the Street,” in Shanghai Future: Modernity Remade (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 39.

[12] Brian Larkin, “Piracy, Infrastructure, and the Rise of the Nigerian Video Industry,” in Global Currents: Media and Technology Now, eds. Tasha G. Oren and Patrice Petro (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2004), 162.

[13] See the following article for a related account of the anthropology of infrastructure and its usefulness for (here visual) art contexts: Karin Zitzewitz, “Infrastructure as Form: Cross-Border Networks and the Materialities of ‘South Asia’ in Contemporary Art,” Third Text 31, no. 2-3 (2017): 341-358.

[14] Yongjie Sha et al., “Introduction: Approaches to Understanding Shanghai Urbanism,” in Shanghai Urbanism at the Medium Scale (Berlin: Springer Geography, 2014), 1.

[15] Urban planners and scholars of urban planning such as Yongjie Sha et al. note how these material shifts in the urban landscape have been most recently linked to The Comprehensive Plan of Shanghai 1999-2020. They further underscore how the “physical city building [that] has been the main focus of China’s urbanization in the last 30 years and will last for a while longer,” “can no longer be continued” (1; 2). They argue for how the focus of urban planning must shift as, among other things, other concerns of urbanization such as “public services, operational efficiency and quality of life are still lagging far behind…” (16). Yongjie Sha et al., “Introduction.”

[16] Rita Riley, “Introduction: Tactical Media as Virtuosic Performance,” in Tactical Media (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009), 1-30.

[17] Notions of the screen dispositif as articulated by Nanna Verhoeff influence my inquiry here and throughout the article. For Verhoeff, the screen dispositif comprises the “site-specificity of the screen … as well as the surrounding public spaces” and “broaches the question of how screens in the city situate us both as spectators in relation to the screen, and as navigators within and inhabitants of this larger connected space. Moreover, it raises the question of how the presence of screens reconfigures the space itself.” Nanna Verhoeff, “Screens in the City,” in Screens: From Materiality to Spectatorship – A Historical and Theoretical Reassessment, eds. Dominique Chateau and José Moure (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2016), 125.

[18] Scott McQuire, “Introduction,” in Geomedia: Networked Cities and the Future of Public Space (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2016), 9. In reference to David Harvey.

[19] Ibid.

[20] This description of the work of JCDecaux can be found on the JCDecaux website: JCDecaux, “JCDecaux Group.”

[21] Anna Greenspan, “The Power of Spectacle,” in Shanghai Future: Modernity Remade (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 53.

[22] Indeed, as Yongjie Sha et al. note, “in order to ensure transportation networks were sufficient to meet the huge influx of people during the EXPO event, development of the Shanghai metro system was pushed forward by ten years.” Yongjie Sha et al., “Post-use of 2010 Shanghai EXPO UBPA Site,” in Shanghai Urbanism at the Medium Scale (Berlin: Springer Geography, 2014), 91.

[23] Chris Berry, “Shanghai’s Public Screen Culture: Local and Coeval,” in Public Space, Media Space, eds. Chris Berry, Janet Harbord, and Rachel Moore (New York: Palgrave, 2013), 111.

[24] See Timothy Havens, Amada D. Lotz, and Serra Tinic, “Critical Media Industry Studies: A Research Approach,” Communication, Culture & Critique 2 (2009): 234–253.

[25] Larkin, “Piracy, Infrastructure, and the Rise of the Nigerian Video Industry,” 160.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Gina King made this comment and observation of OOH screen strategies in the following public roundtable discussion: “Recognizing Affects in the Now.”

[28] My thanks to Tsong Chen of JCDecaux, Shanghai, for facilitating this tour of the OOH screens of the Xujiahui metro station for me and the undergraduate students of my travel course “Uncovering the Media City: Public Screen Cultures and Urban China,” which was supported by the Media School at Indiana University. The tour took place on March 16, 2018.

[29] Chris Berry, “Exposure: The Integrated Spectacle of the Shanghai Public Transport System,” Situations 7, no. 2 (2014): 14.

[30] Ibid., 16.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid., 17.

[33] Steven Johnson, “The Genius of the Tinkerer,” The Wall Street Journal, September 25, 2010,

[34] Ibid.

[35] Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation (New York: Riverhead Books, 2010), 35.

[36] Eddie Smith, “The Adjacent Possible,” Practically Efficient, September 8, 2010,

[37] Greenspan, “The Road Versus the Street,” 30.

[38] Berry, “Exposure,” 21; Beatriz Colomina, “Multi-screen Architecture,” in Public Space, Media Space, eds. Chris Berry, Janet Harbord and Rachel Moore (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 41-60.

[39] Anna Greenspan, “Master and Disciple,” in Shanghai Future: Modernity Remade (New York: Oxford UP, 2014), 18.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Greenspan, “The Road Versus the Street,” 44-45.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Greenspan, “The Road Versus the Street,” 48-49.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Aihwa Ong, “Hyperbuilding: Spectacle, Speculation, and the Hyperspace of Sovereignty,” in Worlding Cities: Asian Experiments and the Art of Being Global, eds. Ananya Roy and Aihwa Ong (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 210.

[47] Ibid., 207. Ong here develops and expands the term ‘hyperbuilding’ from Rem Koolhaus’ use of the term, and argues it to be a ‘worlding practice’ for Asian cities – equally about state and sovereign power of the nation as it is about global capital. These are the relations at play in my reference to the ‘state-entrepreneurial’ articulation of urban screens in Shanghai throughout this article.

[48] Adriana de Souza e Silva and Mimi Sheller, “Introduction: Moving Toward Adjacent Possibilities,” in Mobility and Locative Media: Mobile Communication in Hybrid Spaces, eds. Adriana de Souza e Silva and Mimi Sheller (New York: Routledge, 2015), 2.

[49] Berry, “Exposure,” 23.

[50] Anne Cronin as cited in Chris Berry, “Exposure,” 25.

[51] Shaw Xu Zhifeng, Look Through Me I, 2010, video performance, Shanghai, P.R.C. To see a video excerpt of this urban performance, go to the 2010 Look Through Me I project on Xu Zhifeng’s online artist page: Shaw Xu Zhifeng, “Look, Through Me I,” accessed May 30, 2019,

[52] Shaw Xu Zhifeng, interview by Stephanie DeBoer, Shanghai, P.R.C., December, 2015.

[53] Riley, “Introduction: Tactical Media as Virtuosic Performance.”

[54] As referenced throughout, my approach to infrastructure in this article is indebted to central figures in the anthropological as well as interdisciplinary study of infrastructure. I would further note that it also sits in conversation with the work of such media art and screen studies scholars as Holly Willis and Nanna Verhoeff, both of whom refer, if differently, to the significance of infrastructure to understanding media art and urban screens. Holly Willis, “Urban Screens/Screened Urbanism,” in Fast Forward: The Future(s) of the Cinematic Arts (New York: Wallflower Press, 2016), 88-109; Verhoeff, “Screens in the City.”

[55] Richard Sennett, “Arousing Tools,” in The Craftsman (New York: Penguin, 2009), 209-211.

[56] De Souza e Silva and Sheller, “Introduction,” 2.

[57] Neil Smith, “Contours of Spatialized Politics: Homeless Vehicles and the Production of Geographical Scale,” Social Text 33 (1992): 97.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Ibid.

[60] Scholars and critics of urban design and communication such as Wu Jie have certainly begun to outline and categorize the public screens that occupy the environs of the communities, for example here, that surround Tongji University. As Wu notes, such community screens tend to be relegated to particular locations – for example, set at the thresholds of entrances and exits of compounds and buildings as well as replacing earlier (non-electronic) platforms for information dissemination. Wu Jie, “Geiyu shehui de gonggong dianzi pingmu yanjiu [Foundations for Research on Public Electronic Screens in the Community]” (unpublished paper, Tongji University, Shanghai, P.R.C.); Berry, “Shanghai’s Public Screen Culture,” 113.

[61] Conversation with Shi Hantao, Shanghai, P.R.C., June, 2016.

[62] Greenspan, “Master and Disciple,” 18.

[63] Yomi Braester, “Traces of the Future: Beijing’s Politics of Emergence,” in Ghost Protocol: Development and Displacement in Global China, eds. Carlos Rojas and Ralph A. Litzinger (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016), 33.

[64] Christen Cornell, “Using Movement: How Beijing’s post-1989 Artists Capitalized on a City in Flux,” Cultural Studies, published online (March 2018): 276,

[65] Ibid.

[66] Berry, “Exposure,” 16.

[67] Susan Leigh Star and Karen Ruhleder, “Toward an Ecology of Infrastructure: Design and Access for Large Information Spaces,” Information Systems Research 7, no. 1 (March 1996): 112. My thanks to the careful anonymous reviewer who reminded me of this article’s links to Star and Ruhleder’s address of the ‘when’ of infrastructure.

[68] Ibid., 113.

[69] Scott McQuire, “Introduction,” 8.

[70] Ibid.

[71] Ibid.

[72] Chatzichristodoulou and Zerihan, “Introduction,” 1.


Berry, Chris. “Exposure: The Integrated Spectacle of the Shanghai Public Transport System.”  Situations 7, no. 2 (2014): 14-29.

Berry, Chris. “Shanghai’s Public Screen Culture: Local and Coeval.” In Public Space, Media Space, edited by Chris Berry, Janet Harbord, and Rachel Moore, 110-134. New York: Palgrave, 2013.

Braester, Yomi. “Traces of the Future: Beijing’s Politics of Emergence.” In Ghost Protocol: Development and Displacement in Global China, edited by Carlos Rojas and Ralph A. Litzinger, 15-35. Durham: Duke University Press, 2016.

Chatzichristodoulou, Maria, Janis Jefferies, and Rachel Zerihan, eds. Interfaces of Performance. New York: Routledge, 2009.

Chatzichristodoulou, Maria, and Rachel Zerihan. “Introduction.” In Interfaces of Performance, edited by Maria Chatzichristodoulou, Janis Jefferies and Rachel Zerihan, 1-8. New York: Routledge, 2009.

Colomina, Beatriz. “Multi-screen Architecture.” In Public Space, Media Space, edited by Chris Berry, Janet Harbord, and Rachel Moore, 41-60. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

Cornell, Christen. “Using Movement: How Beijing’s post-1989 Artists Capitalized on a City in Flux.” Cultural Studies, published online (March 2018): 276-296,

De Souza e Silva, Adriana, and Mimi Sheller. “Introduction: Moving Toward Adjacent Possibilities.” In Mobility and Locative Media: Mobile Communication in Hybrid Spaces, edited by Adriana de Souza e Silva and Mimi Sheller, 1-16. New York: Routledge, 2015.

Greenspan, Anna. “Master and Disciple.” In Shanghai Future: Modernity Remade, 17-28. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Greenspan, Anna. “The Power of Spectacle.” In Shanghai Future: Modernity Remade, 53-65. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Greenspan, Anna. “The Road Versus the Street.” In Shanghai Future: Modernity Remade, 29-51. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Havens, Timothy, Amada D. Lotz, and Serra Tinic. “Critical Media Industry Studies: A Research Approach.” Communication, Culture & Critique 2 (2009): 234–253.

JCDecaux. “JCDecaux Group.” Accessed May 30, 2019.

Jie, Wu. “Geiyu shehui de gonggong dianzi pingmu yanjiu [Foundations for Research on Public Electronic Screens in the Community].” Unpublished paper, Tongji University, Shanghai, P.R.C.

Johnson, Steven. “The Genius of the Tinkerer.” The Wall Street Journal, September 25, 2010.

Johnson, Steven. Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.

Larkin, Brian. “Piracy, Infrastructure, and the Rise of the Nigerian Video Industry.” In Global Currents: Media and Technology Now, edited by Tasha G. Oren and Patrice Petro, 159-170. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2004.

Larkin, Brian. “Poetics and Politics of Infrastructure.” Annual Review of Anthropology 42 (2013): 327-343.

McCarthy, Anna. “Terminal Thoughts on Art, Activism, and Video for Public Places.” In Ambient Television: Visual Culture and Public Space, 227-230. Durham: Duke University Press, 2001.

McQuire, Scott.  “Introduction.” In Geomedia: Networked Cities and the Future of Public Space, 1-16. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2016.

Ong, Aihwa. “Hyperbuilding: Spectacle, Speculation, and the Hyperspace of Sovereignty.” In Worlding Cities: Asian Experiments and the Art of Being Global, edited by Ananya Roy and Aihwa Ong, 205-226. Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

“Recognizing Affects in the Now, Shaping Sustainable Urban Futures (Urban Screens Version).” Roundtable talk of the Screens Collective (Petra Johnson, Stephanie DeBoer, Taqi Shaheen, Xu Zhifeng and Wu Jie) with Gina King of JCDecaux. Shanghai Project, Himalayas Museum, Shanghai, P.R.C. January 5, 2017.

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“Screens/Body/Attention: Interruptions for Urban Screens.” Roundtable talk of the Screens Collective (Petra Johnson, Stephanie DeBoer, Taqi Shaheen, Xu Zhifeng and Wu Jie). Chronus Art Center, Shanghai, P.R.C. June 11, 2016.

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“Urban Screens as Sites for Public Discourse.” Roundtable talk of the Screens Collective (Petra Johnson, Stephanie DeBoer, Taqi Shaheen, Xu Zhifeng and Wu Jie). ReformerART Space, Shanghai, P.R.C. November 6, 2016.

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