We are currently working on a collection of essays, in which we aim to put forward the notion of [urban interfaces] as the lens through which we can explore how situated media, art, and performances constitute and construct contemporary urban public spaces. In today’s post-identitarian and hyper-diverse cities the notion of public space is in urgent need of being reexamined. What are current sites of intersection? How do people in cities relate to their environment, to other people, and to themselves? The contributions deal with contemporary practices of navigation and mapping, intervention, playful staging, meeting, making, and narration within public spaces, as a way to analyze how traditional public sites have become complex hybrids. We suggest that it is interfacing practices like these that reflect and constitute the current mediatized urban public domain.
Our point of departure is Alexander Galloway’s proposal that interfaces are not objects or boundary points but “autonomous zones of activity”, “processes that effect a result of whatever kind” (The Interface Effect, 2012: vii). This shifts our attention from (fixed) objects to (on-going) practices of mediation and to situated and performative conceptions of the interface. Branden Hookway (Interface, 2014) similarly moves from media as nouns to media as verbs by emphasizing that interfaces are inherently about interfacing. In his approach to interfacing as process he stresses that interface is a form of relation. Interfaces, according to Maria Chatzichristodoulou et al., allow two different systems or entities to interact that would otherwise be unable to communicate. They produce and mark “a shared space of exchange and dialogue as well as a site of contestation and tension” (Interfaces of Performance, 2009: 1). Galloway speaks of interface as “agitation” or “generative friction between different formats” (The Interface Effect, 30).
We contend that the interfaces in and of urban public spaces not only provide access but more importantly, position us and structure our agency within these spaces, and shape our surroundings as zones or territories for interaction, exchange, and encounter. In this collection we examine a range of practices emerging from urban screens, media architecture, and interactive installations; location-based games, augmented reality and mobile mapping applications; and urban interventions and performances, and other public events. For this, we propose [urban interfaces] as a provisional category, a bracket that allows us to bring together and compare seemingly disparate forms, meaningful, yet often fugitive moments of public interfacing in urban spaces. Our focus is on the creative and artistic design and curation of these practices, in particular on how technological, material, and socio-cultural processes shape intersections of bodies, spaces, and technologies and produce meaning in urban contexts.
The collection of essays brings in a cross-disciplinary perspective from media studies, performance studies, contemporary art theory, urban studies, and artistic practice around shared questions about performativity, criticality, connectivity, agency, participation, collectivity, space making (and space hacking), and principles of inclusion and exclusion.
We bring together single-authored as well as collaborative and multivocal contributions that reflect on these questions and practices specifically from the perspective of interfaces, or, perhaps better, interfacings, foregrounding the workings of [urban interfaces], unpacking: how they facilitate, produce and mediate particular spatiotemporal urban configurations and interactions; how they shape engagement with socio-political urban issues; how they invite and produce particular modes of collectivity, from the ad hoc, playful and spontaneous, to durable ways of commoning and redefinition of citizenship.