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Urban Media Aesthetics


Urban Media Aesthetics is an ongoing curatorial research project that investigates subject matters relevant to artistic and curatorial practices with digital art forms in urban environments. 

The notion of urban media aesthetics as a curatorial subject relates to the presentation and integration of artistic, visual digital content in urban contexts. This materializes in various contemporary examples, such as digital art installations, media facades, pervasive and mobile displays, big screens, projections of moving images, architectural mapping and animation, responsive architecture, and other types of “exhibition forms,” which take the urban environment as their exhibition space while integrating digital content, infrastructure and digitally-inspired forms into the urban ecology. 

While urban media aesthetics as a research area might reflect a history of technologies, with relations between developments in screen and projection technology and developments in artistic expression and presentation, this initiative is not looking for a historical narrative or line of progress or development. There is no ‘one’ history of this discourse and no archive laying the ground for it either. There is no established framework for grasping, approaching and critiquing the emerging artistic and curatorial practices with media aesthetics in urban public contexts. Perhaps we can look towards principles of nomadicism, interdisciplinarity and emphasis on cultural and social situations, which we find in an archeological approach, to avoid relying on historicity that would tell us about technological “progress” without questioning what progress even means.

Of concern here is how an aesthetic and curatorial vocabulary is growing out of creative practices with urban media aesthetics by identifying and interrogating some of the underpinning critical concepts, methodologies and ontologies.

As a curatorial subject matter, urban media aesthetics falls into a contemporary period in which the curatorial practice is increasingly employed in a wide range of cultural fields. In emphasizing the urban context as a curatorial territory, the critical assessment needs to take into account the relationships and collisions between artistic and urban cultural discourse (to some extent informed by spectacle, experience culture and popular culture, cultural economy, social politics), and the exchange between various fields that are not traditionally at play within artistic discourse, such as visual culture, media archeology, architecture theory and urban studies.  

How can the curatorial researcher deal with concerns that are relevant to this emerging artistic paradigm, without drawing primarily, perhaps out of a sense of obligation, from discourses and critiques from the past? What are the “right” or relevant questions to pose in regard to contemporary media aesthetics in urban public space? How are current practices with urban media aesthetics redefining conceptions of ‘artwork’, ‘aura/originality’, ‘aesthetics’, ‘experience’, ‘time-space’, and ‘site-specificity’?

My hope it that this initiative could contribute to a better qualification of the premises and purposes of these curatorial initiatives and the forms of value they provide to urban public space – beyond imagination, cultural perspectives, glimpses of utopia, self-reflection and alteration of social relations. It also seems urgent to also consider how we deal with the risks of intrusion, exclusion, surveillance and rational spectacularization, and to deal with the unkept promises of technological progress.

The concept of urban media aesthetics is not defined on the platform. Rather, it is refined along the way and its introduction on the home page is updated as new perspectives are investigated. The point of this is not to lock the concept in one meaning or to describe one category or type of aesthetics, in reflecting a Deleuzian notion of how meaning is never immanent and never produced through isolating processes but rather through ‘intricate webs of connectedness’.  

This text will grow as the project grows – and it will be updated with “side notes” linking to projects, texts, interviews and references that are given certain attention at the moment. Eventually, it will bring us closer to grasping what the current discourse of urban media aesthetics is about.

Tanya Toft

Creative Commons License

Julian Opie’s installation of selected works for the second SP_Urban Digital Festival in São Paulo (2013)


Alice Arnold’s Electric Signs (2013) – documentary screening


Confronting Spectacle








“There are eyes everywhere. No blind spot left. What shall we dream of when everything becomes visible? We’ll dream of being blind.”
― Paul Virilio



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