April 2, 2009
Erkki Huhtamo (UCLA), “Elements of Gigantology: an Archaeology of Public Media Displays”
Additional support for this event came from the Concordia University Research Initiative in Technoculture, Art and Games (TAG).
Erkki Huhtamo is a media archaeologist, writer, and exhibition curator. He was born in Helsinki, Finland in the last millennium and works as Professor of Media History and Theory at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Department of Design | Media Arts. He holds a PhD in cultural history and has published extensively on media archaeology and media arts, lectured worldwide, created television programs and curated exhibitions. In recent years his research has dealt with topics like peep media, the archaeology of the screen, tactility in art history and the emergence of mobile media. His new book Illusions in Motion: an Archaeology of the Moving Panorama will be published by the University of California Press in 2010. He is in the process of finishing another book, a collection of writings on media archaeology (with Dr. Jussi Parikka, also University of California Press, 2010).
Event report: A pioneer in media archaeology—a process of “digging” for patterns of cultural and technological change—Erkki Huhtamo applied his characteristically agile and versatile analysis to the phenomenon of the contemporary ubiquity of urban screens. In what he referred to as an “archaeology of screens,” Huhtamo invoked Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo, perhaps the world’s densest concentration of urban screens, and asked “How did we get here?” His archaeological approach required a broadening of the traditional definition of “screen” and, treating the material form of screens as highly adaptable, considered how fireworks, magic lanterns, commercial flyers, and billboards all participate in the history of the modern screenscape. By adopting this inclusive stance, Huhtamo raised pertinent questions of typology for screen culture studies; for example, the screens in Shibuya and Times Square share a physical and semiotic space with billboards and neon signs—should we differentiate between these forms and on what basis? Typology also becomes important when considering how scale and proximity have functioned as organizing principles in our experiences of screens. Huhtamo invoked the spectacles of P.T. Barnum as an illustration of the unpredictable interplay between the gigantic and the miniature, and the proximate and the distant in the history of visual culture.