Summary: To confront the changes catalyzed by the introduction of new digital technologies and the move toward virtualization and simulation and thinking with the new findings in neuroscience relating to perception, this interdisciplinary workshop takes this dynamic moment of change as an important opportunity to reconsider forms of mediation, modes of perception, and sensory experience of visual and material culture by concerted questioning of what is new, what is global, and what remains local, differenced, embodied, affective, and material about cultural interfaces and interactions. The Mellon workshop is timed to coincide with and take synergistic advantage of the Visual Culture Center’s year-long conference, Visualities beyond Ocularcentrism: Understanding Sense Perception and Experience Before and in the Wake of the Digital. The workshop will compare the complex, changing, and mediated modes of perspective and experience historically, cross-culturally, and trans-disciplinarily.
Contemporary Relevance: The expansion and uptake of new media technologies of visualization and virtualization—from the Internet to cell phone cameras— and their penetration into everyday life generates grand claims about radical transformation (ranging from the creation of new modes of perception, subjectivity, and community to the elevation of sight over other senses and the destabilization of truth). But this permeation and sense of an attendant rupture also bring to the fore new and important questions about the limits of traditional fields and methodologies to assess what has changed. Is this really an age of the screen? Is vision now the dominant mode of apprehension? Have new media severed or even freed seeing from the shaping differences of culture, history, and embodiment? Chafing critically against both claims of the radical novelty of new media and flattening analogies between the old and new, the seminar emphasizes the modes of visuality which have shaped much of what we take today to be unprecedented in the wake of new media: its violations of disciplinary boundaries, its questioning of the human (and the differences between human, animal, and machine), its constructions (socially, ideologically, technically) and variability (over time, across culture), its destabilization of truth claims through its modes of simulation, and crossings of the senses (e.g., through simulation, haptic interfaces). One of the primary goals of the seminar is to explore how a more complex historicization and comparative cultural treatment of these issues may produce a different and more textured account of perception and experience in our present and the futures our moment seems to forecast.
Scholarly Importance: The organizers intend to develop the workshop proceedings as the basis for a published anthology of essays. With seed funds for the development of an online database, we will also use the materials gathered for the seminar as the basis for a metatextually rich interactive archive of materials for the research and study of global material and visual culture and old and new media.
Central Questions and Thematic Threads: Can we repurpose the methodologies developed for analyzing the perception and reception of visual and material objects to account for what is different about the interfaces of new media? Do the new findings in neuroscience and discussions of cerebral mirror neurons require us to think differently about the senses, body-knowledge, and processes of perception? Can we understand changes in technology or variance in modes of perception without considering local and particular differences whether of temporality, subjectivity, embodiment, culture, or geography? What new collaborative and comparative modes of inquiry can we develop by working in transdisciplinary partnership between the humanities, arts, and sciences?