Infrastructure Aesthetics

Strong overlaps between the Infrastructure Aesthetics conversation (below) and our panel at last year’s CRESC conference on ‘reimagining infrastructure’. We described our panel in the following way:
This panel explores the relationship between infrastructure and representation. One of the intriguing qualities of infrastructures is that the infrastructural dynamics of any particular political and material arrangement are impossible to detect through direct perception. Infrastructures are by definition distributed, systemic, transformative and relational. What an infrastructure ‘is’ is thus often represented by network diagrams or maps. The national grid, the London underground, the national rail network or the national network of roads all imagine infrastructure as a map of lines of connection, with relationships of importance, scale or type depicted by different line thickness, by colour variations or by differential shading. This panel aims to set the familiar descriptive mapping of infrastructures as a set of network relationships alongside perhaps less familiar ways of depicting infrastructural qualities and effects. Photographic techniques, for example, draw out aspects of infrastructure that go beyond connectivity, highlighting instead questions of temporality, presence and place. Narrative or fictional depictions of infrastructure are able to tap into the rich and at times competing meanings that are layered onto infrastructural forms. By bringing together photographic and textual forms of infrastructural re-imagination, the panel thus aims to interrogate the powerful and multiple ways in which infrastructures might be participating, in both acknowledged and unacknowledged ways, in the formation of contemporary social worlds. It also aims to open up the question of how the re-imagination of infrastructure, through different media forms, might operate as a means of intervention into political debate about where infrastructures exist, and who they appear to be for.

To discuss these ideas we were joined by photographers Martin Newth and Fergus Heron, and by activist groups Zuloark and Stacktivism.

Supply Studies

For the past year I (alongside Ben Mendelsohn, and with the support of Nicole Starosielski) have been organizing a series on “Infrastructure Aesthetics” to explore representations of infrastructure in the workings of modern life. This has taken the form of artist talks, discussions, and film screenings. While I’m most looking forward to the events we are planning for next year, which I hope will include some more of my colleagues, I wanted to share the last event of this term as an introduction. This event, “Corporate Imaginaries,” was an experimental screening curated primarily from short-form advertisements, manifestos, and branding videos scattered across the web:

Infrastructure Aesthetics III: Corporate Imaginaries is a festival of triumphalist, mundane, and outright campy promotional videos about supply chains, ports, energy, and transport. Drawn from the semi-public archive of web videos, we approach these texts as the monuments of corporate image making—from grandiose visions of…

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