towards a transnational campo: isea2011

The Large Screens and the Transna­tional Pub­lic Sphere re­search pro­ject explores the ex­change of in­for­ma­tion and in­ter­ac­tive con­tent be­tween cities iden­ti­fied as media ‘hubs’, and the im­pact on the for­ma­tion of a re­gional pub­lic sphere. This pro­ject cur­rently links screens be­tween Fed­er­a­tion Square, Melbourne and those man­aged by Art Cen­ter Nabi, Seoul.



The Large Screens and the Transna­tional Pub­lic Sphere re­search pro­ject ex­plores the ex­change of in­for­ma­tion and in­ter­ac­tive con­tent be­tween cities iden­ti­fied as media ‘hubs’, and the po­ten­tial for the for­ma­tion of a re­gional pub­lic sphere, in this case, the Asian re­gion.

Pub­lic screens could be­come sites to in­cu­bate in­no­v­a­tive artis­tic and com­mu­ni­ca­tion modes that re­vi­tal­ize pub­lic space and pub­lic in­ter­ac­tion. Net­worked pub­lic screens could also func­tion as a nexus for new forms of cross-cul­tural ex­change.  Trans­mit­ting art­work on a large screen be­tween two cities with pub­lic in­ter­ac­tive di­men­sions re­quires an in­no­v­a­tive ap­proach in cu­ra­to­r­ial tech­niques, artis­tic con­tent pro­duc­tion. Our ap­proach em­pha­sizes so­cial and cul­tural val­ues above com­mer­cial­iza­tion of the screens and squares.

Artists’ in­ves­ti­ga­tions, the chang­ing role of the cu­ra­tor, in­ter­ac­tion with au­di­ences, the over­com­ing of tech­no­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences and fi­nan­cial im­per­a­tives, will be de­scribed in the con­text of the is­sues faced in try­ing to gen­er­ate a ‘sense of be­long­ing’ in many con­tem­po­rary civic pub­lic spaces.

Begun in 2009, re­search for Large Screens and the Transna­tional Pub­lic Sphere will con­tinue until mid 2013 de­vel­op­ing in­ter­ac­tive re­al­time artis­tic events be­tween Mel­bourne and Seoul to ex­plore the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of dif­fer­ent art prac­tices that in­spire and bridge com­mu­ni­ties across two cities.

Our pro­gram of cross-cul­tural ex­change and em­pir­i­cal analy­sis of pub­lic in­ter­ac­tions around large screens, aims to in­form media, cul­tural and urban plan­ning pol­icy. Our cul­tur­ally and or­gan­i­sa­tion­ally di­verse team mem­bers in­clude the­o­rists, ad­min­is­tra­tors, tech­ni­cians, artists and cu­ra­tors, from the Art Cen­ter Nabi, Seoul, South Korea, Fed­er­a­tion Square PL, Uni­ver­sity of Mel­bourne, Uni­ver­sity of Syd­ney. Fund­ing comes from the Aus­tralian Re­search Coun­cil and the Aus­tralia Coun­cil for the Arts. [1]


Can re­cently ‘cre­ated’ pub­lic spaces be­come places of civic en­gage­ment – can they be­come a transna­tional ‘campo’?

The hy­poth­e­sis being tested is that real-time, in­ter­ac­tive art­work pre­sented be­tween na­tions, on large pub­lic screens can have a pos­i­tive im­pact on how we en­gage with one other and, in a broader sense, af­fect our civic lives.

Our aim is to in­form media, cul­tural and urban plan­ning pol­icy to re­vi­tal­ize pub­lic space and pub­lic in­ter­ac­tion by in­creas­ing risk- tak­ing and cre­ative op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Cur­rent urban plan­ning pol­icy in Aus­tralia, for ex­am­ple, treats elec­tronic screens in much the same way as sta­tic bill­boards.  This un­der­es­ti­mates the pos­si­bil­i­ties for pub­lic screens to be sites that in­cu­bate in­no­v­a­tive artis­tic and com­mu­ni­ca­tion modes. Cur­rent pol­icy also ig­nores the po­ten­tial for net­worked pub­lic screens to func­tion as a nexus for new forms of cross-cul­tural ex­change.

The ten­dency is to reg­u­late the scale and lo­ca­tion of pub­lic screens based on the as­sump­tion that the pri­mary use will be ad­ver­tis­ing or pas­sive pro­gram­ming. Urban pol­icy needs to ad­dress the re­sult­ing paucity of civic en­gage­ment when screens only sup­port cen­trally reg­u­lated con­tent that treats view­ers as pas­sive spec­ta­tors. To pro­vide in­formed urban plan­ning guide­lines, we need a clearer un­der­stand­ing of the spec­trum of po­ten­tial uses of pub­lic screens and ad­dress the com­mon per­cep­tion that con­tent pro­duced by artists is free.  Artist’s de­vel­op­ment and pro­duc­tion time should be al­lo­cated dur­ing bud­get de­vel­op­ment and al­lo­ca­tion as a part of civic for­ward pro­gram­ming.

The aim of the Large Screens and the Transna­tional Pub­lic Sphere pro­ject is to show what an in­ter­ac­tive city can be or should be. We en­vi­sion the city as a liv­ing or­gan­ism that ex­presses in real time its emo­tional and phys­i­cal states. We dream of a new col­lec­tiv­ity based on di­ver­sity. This is pos­si­ble with today’s media. The large screen works as a win­dow to other cul­tures, air­ing cul­tural and artis­tic con­tents from around the world. But as cities de­velop and their pop­u­la­tions ex­pand, it be­comes clearer that pub­lic art should also be able to ques­tion our no­tion of the ‘civic’, re­flect­ing on it, ask­ing if there are any holes, rather than con­form­ing to it. The term ‘civic’ can be re­fined and re­de­fined by good pub­lic art. In the end, it is a process of cul­tural ne­go­ti­a­tion. Through this pro­ject, we are propos­ing both new modes of ex­pe­ri­ence to share with and be­tween peo­ple, de­liv­ered by a new tem­plate for con­tent de­liv­ery — across coun­tries, across screens. Me­di­ated by tech­nol­ogy, but in­her­ently live.


Artists can seek to en­cour­age sub­tle shifts in how pub­lic’s think of them­selves and each other. This is par­tic­u­larly so, when the work being pre­sented re­quires the pub­lic to in­ter­act with it in real time, and, there­fore have a cru­cial role in re­al­is­ing and per­form­ing the work.


In Au­gust 2009, two art­works were pre­sented si­mul­ta­ne­ously on the In­cheon (South Korea) and Fed­er­a­tion Square (Aus­tralia) net­worked screens, with the pub­lic in­vited in both places to in­ter­act with the work and with one an­other. These pro­jects re­lated in a del­i­cate way with each other, both ar­tic­u­lat­ing iden­tity in some way, be­gin­ning what is be­com­ing a po­etic transna­tional cre­ative di­a­logue.

sm­s_o­ri­gins uses the large screen as a pub­lic sms graf­fiti board. Leon Cmielewski and Josephine Starrs con­ceived and de­signed the piece work­ing closely with pro­gram­mer Adam Hin­shaw. A phone num­ber is dis­played on a large screen in a pub­lic space along with the in­struc­tion “sms the name of the coun­try you come from.”. When par­tic­i­pants sms their (and/or par­ents or grand­par­ents) coun­try of ori­gin a curved vec­tor is added to the map of the world dis­played on the large screen, which up­dates in re­al­time as it re­ceives texts. The map of the globe then be­comes a plat­form for a more dy­namic un­der­stand­ing of the peo­ple with whom we are shar­ing that pub­lic space. The pur­pose­fully in­nocu­ous de­sign of the screen be­comes ge­o­graph­i­cally alive to share our per­sonal her­itages. sm­s_o­ri­gins re­in­forces con­cepts of global cit­i­zen­ship and mul­ti­cul­tural so­ci­eties. Im­por­tantly, this work pro­vides an entré for the less ex­tro­vert, lead­ing to a greater sense of par­tic­i­pa­tion and shared his­to­ries.  The work is de­signed with a sim­ple ap­pear­ance, al­though the pro­gram­ming is far from sim­ple.  The com­plex­ity of global mi­gra­tion is re­vealed and, in a very un­de­mand­ing man­ner, pro­vides a col­lec­tive plat­form that gen­er­ates a sense of the even­ness of our de­mo­graphic his­to­ries.

The con­cept, de­sign and pro­gram­ming by Seung Joon Choi in <Value> ex­plores what is im­por­tant to peo­ple. A word sent via sms re­spond­ing to the ques­tion “what is valu­able to you” gen­er­ates a text and data flow. The word­cloud ex­pands de­pend­ing on how im­por­tantly peo­ple value each word. The words may be ‘love’/‘net­work­ing’/ ‘home’/ ‘joy’.<Value> ex­presses what any par­tic­u­lar group, in that time and across space, wish to em­pha­size. Choi says that ‘pur­su­ing or choos­ing val­ues in our lives can lead to vital de­ci­sions at times’. <Value> sug­gests that we take a step back and light­heart­edly ex­plore whether it is pos­si­ble to har­monise dif­fer­ent val­ues. We are fa­mil­iar with this tool now (in 2011) as in­for­ma­tion clouds, but this re­mains im­por­tant work, as it still not com­mon­place for data on group val­ues to be col­lected and dis­played in this way.

Both pro­jects set and achieved very am­bi­tious aims – work­ing cross cul­tur­ally and transna­tion­ally in a real-time pub­lic in­ter­ac­tion bridg­ing two urban screens. We are build­ing on this ini­tial ex­per­i­ment to de­velop a range of art­works that in­clude live per­for­mance, in­ter­ac­tive sound, sim­ple ges­tural and imag­ing based on the spe­cific sites. All this, and the over­ar­ch­ing aim to in­ves­ti­gate how best to fos­ter a sense of com­mu­nity, makes for fas­ci­nat­ing dy­nam­ics.


Tra­di­tion­ally a cu­ra­tor acts as a carer, some­one who is meant to min­is­ter to the im­me­di­ate needs and longterm sur­vival of art­works. Over the past fifty years or so, the cu­ra­tor has also been charged with car­ing for artists and for the events that tend to tran­spire around artists.  In­deed, with the rise of ‘par­tic­i­pant’ cul­tural phe­nom­ena such as per­for­mance art, re­la­tional aes­thet­ics, in­ter­ac­tive and emer­gent in­stal­la­tions, the cu­ra­tor has be­come a kind of be­hind-the-scenes pro­ducer as well as a cre­ative diplo­mat.

The in­ten­tion of so­cially en­gaged prac­tice chal­lenges or some­times blithely ig­nores the gallery con­text of the art­world. There are many for whom the ‘out­side world’ is now the rel­e­vant do­main for artis­tic en­coun­ters. Where the rules are wider and wilder in this bois­ter­ous world of ver­nac­u­lar ex­pe­ri­ence.

Our aim is to ef­fec­tively cu­rate in­ter­ac­tive and emer­gent art­works that are specif­i­cally de­signed for large pub­lic screens.   How­ever, the legal and tech­no­log­i­cal con­text of pub­lic screens run counter to con­ven­tional artis­tic de­vel­op­ment and pre­sen­ta­tion.  The screens are ‘pub­lic’ be­cause they carry their sound and image streams into the civic do­main. When we add the ad­di­tional pos­si­bil­i­ties of pub­lic en­gage­ment there is a po­ten­tial for the kind of spon­ta­neous re­sponse not nor­mally as­so­ci­ated with the gallery sys­tem with the hope that this may en­gen­der the (re)de­moc­ra­ti­sa­tion of civic spaces.

But we are not quite there yet!  The cor­po­rate en­ti­ties who man­age the screens re­quire a co­he­sive­ness of the pro­gram­ming as well as a pre­dictable ‘be­hav­iour’ of the pub­lic. Adopt­ing the fa­mil­iar tem­plate of the tele­vi­sion broad­cast, re­duces the risk of an un­planned empty screen, a fail­ure to be avoided at all costs. Turn­ing over the tech­nol­ogy to artists to test out their ideas first is often a hard-won ne­go­ti­a­tion. The artist wants to be able use these screens and spaces to play and ex­per­i­ment – to see what hap­pens and to ex­plore the cre­ative ques­tions that arise. Again, not every artist can leave their egos at the pave­ment to tran­si­tion into ex­per­i­ment­ing in these un­cer­tain pub­lic spaces. Con­ven­tional train­ing cer­tainly has not helped them in this kind of pub­lic risk tak­ing en­de­vour ei­ther. These are artists who have de­vel­oped a pub­li­cally en­gaged prac­tice through ex­pe­ri­ence. Part of the cu­ra­tors role is to find the com­mon ground for shar­ing the as­pi­ra­tions that are sin­cerely dri­ving pre­sen­ters and pro­duc­ers, and to fig­ure in the en­gage­ment with the pub­lic.


The first au­di­ence eval­u­a­tion for this pro­ject was con­ducted in Au­gust 2009 dur­ing the live telem­atic broad­cast of sm­s_o­ri­gins and <value>. A sur­vey was con­ducted at the To­mor­row City’s Plaza, In­cheon, and the same sur­vey was tri­alled si­mul­ta­ne­ously at Fed­er­a­tion Square. Eval­u­a­tions from Ko­rean re­sponses re­vealed a high rate of par­tic­i­pa­tion with the in­ter­ac­tive art works on the large screen. More than three quar­ters of the au­di­ence en­gaged with the new media art using text mes­sages, and con­sid­ered such in­ter­ac­tions suc­cess­ful in forg­ing cross-cul­tural ties. Many also ex­pressed en­chant­ment to­wards the new art forms shown on the large screen. These ex­pe­ri­ences of en­chant­ment and shock re­flected the high moder­nity of the megac­ity, as en­vi­sioned by the In­cheon City plan­ners. Al­though au­di­ences were acutely aware of the top-down urban re­gen­er­a­tion of In­cheon, their re­sponses re­vealed how the net­worked screen could po­ten­tially cre­ate a tran­scul­tural space me­di­ated by their in­di­vid­ual ex­pe­ri­ences of media con­sump­tion. [2]

The sec­ond au­di­ence eval­u­a­tion was held across three months from Sep­tem­ber to De­cem­ber 2010 at Fed­er­a­tion Square dur­ing fur­ther screen­ings of sm­s_o­ri­gins. The broader po­lit­i­cal cli­mate in Aus­tralia at this time was marked by ris­ing racial anx­i­ety. Is­sues of mi­gra­tion dom­i­nated pub­lic dis­course. SMS re­sponses to the work showed that the par­tic­i­pants were them­selves mi­grants or had fam­ily mem­bers who had ex­pe­ri­enced mi­gra­tion. In an­a­lyz­ing these par­tic­i­pants’ re­sponses, it ap­peared that most em­braced the ide­ol­ogy of a mul­ti­cul­tural Aus­tralia — the idea of Aus­tralia as a coun­try of mi­grants — as most re­acted pos­i­tively to the di­verse ethno­graphic de­mo­graphic of users in the square.

At the Songdo event, re­spon­dents were pre­dom­i­nantly urban Seoul dwellers in the age group be­tween twenty and forty. Older peo­ple and those from the sur­round­ing rural province of Songdo did not par­tic­i­pate. From the pro­duc­tion cycle of cu­rat­ing and tech­no­log­i­cal net­work­ing, to the con­sump­tion of its prac­tice as an event, such ex­changes high­light the pol­i­tics of ac­cess and dis­tri­b­u­tion that un­der­pins the mo­bil­i­ties prof­fered by the large screen.


The next ex­per­i­ment will be pre­sented in early Oc­to­ber 2011. We aim to pre­sent an al­ter­na­tive that re­siles from the nec­es­sary ap­proach adopted in 2009. In par­tic­u­lar, we aim for the artists to ex­pe­ri­ence a more play­ful am­bi­ence and be able move away from “broad­cast­ing” method­ol­ogy. “HELLO”  is a per­for­ma­tive work based on ges­tures gath­ered from a range of mul­ti­cul­tural groups in Seoul and Mel­bourne.

The evo­lu­tion of this pro­ject is worth out­lin­ing as its ges­ta­tion cov­ers the kinds of in­ter­ac­tions in­volved in this re­search.

The idea, based on the prac­tice of Aus­tralian chore­o­g­ra­pher, Becky Hilton, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Ko­rean chore­o­g­ra­pher, Soon-Ho Park, is that ges­tures are gath­ered from var­i­ous groups, five ges­tures are sub­se­quently se­lected to form a chore­o­graphed se­quence. These are then ex­changed one-on-one be­tween par­tic­i­pants to pro­duce an unan­tic­i­pated dance.

The con­cept has been through sev­eral it­er­a­tions, and at one point the thought was to in­clude pub­lic or­gan­i­sa­tions such as the Ko­rean army, folk­danc­ing troupes and the vol­un­teer fire brigade. The idea is now dis­tilled into a more se­cre­tive and se­duc­tive ‘Chi­nese Whis­pers” where, in a tent or tem­po­rary en­clo­sure in both sites, one dancer shows an­other the move­ments, who then re­peats their mem­ory of the moves to a new per­former. The crowd out­side only sees the par­tic­i­pant that re­ceives the ges­ture being passed on. The final re­veal to the pub­lic is the com­bined re­sults of all the ges­tured “move­ment-whis­pers.” This it­er­a­tion of the idea stems di­rectly from the transna­tional as­pects of the pro­ject as it ad­dresses the con­cerns of the Ko­rean part­ners about in­di­vid­ual ret­i­cence to spon­ta­neously per­form in pub­lic. In turn, the Aus­tralian ideas of mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism were taken up by the Ko­rean chore­o­g­ra­pher with gusto, pro­vid­ing a way in for them to work­shop with local mul­ti­cul­tural or­gan­i­sa­tions for the first time.

Be­cause of our en­thu­si­asm, the pro­ject had quickly and imag­i­na­tively leapt into the par­a­digm of the ‘big event’. This in turn fed the par­a­digm of the ‘high pro­duc­tion broad­cast’ and un­wanted pres­sure on the part of the artists and par­tic­i­pants. We needed to scale-down to main­tain a sim­ple ap­proach while keep­ing the role of the artist and the core con­cept at the heart of the pro­ject. The re­sult­ing new ap­proach does this and aims to ex­tend the tech­no­log­i­cal uses of ready to hand pro­grams such as Skype. En­gag­ing the pub­lic in this sce­nario now be­comes the main chal­lenge. We hope peo­ple will begin to repli­cate the move­ments them­selves in a spon­ta­neous re­sponse to what they are see­ing on the screen, cre­at­ing yet an­other ver­sion of this con­tem­po­rary “folk dance.”

Through­out, the cu­ra­tors have found that the pri­mary dis­cus­sion, which needs re­in­forc­ing all too fre­quently, is to keep the artist at the core of the pro­ject.  And all the while, in­vest­ment in main­tain­ing good will from all the part­ners is para­mount. It is where most of the en­ergy of this pro­ject has been ex­pended — with ex­cel­lent re­sults in nav­i­gat­ing and de­vel­op­ing the transna­tional re­la­tion­ships over the course of this chap­ter in the re­search.

Ref­er­ences and Notes:
  1. This paper in­cludes ex­tracts from a jour­nal paper pend­ing pub­li­ca­tion in 2011, with writ­ten con­tri­bu­tions from re­search part­ners: Nikos Pa­paster­giadis, Scott Mc­Quire, Amelia Dou­glas, Ross Gib­son, Au­drey Yue, Sun Jung, Ce­celia Cmielewski, Soh Yeong Roh and Matt Jones.
  2. A. Yue and S. Jung, “Urban Screens and Tran­scul­tural Con­sump­tion be­tween South Korea and Aus­tralia” in Global Media Con­ver­gence and Cul­tural Trans­for­ma­tion: Emerg­ing So­cial Pat­terns and Char­ac­ter­is­tics, ed. D.Y. Jin, 15-36 (Philadel­phia: IGI Global, 2011).

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