CFP: Media Acts

A call for papers for the 10th International Conference of the Nordic Society for Intermedial Studies (NorSIS), on 26-28 October 2011 in Trondheim: Media Acts. Keynote speakers include Jacques Rancière and James Elkins.


Recent technological changes that involve digitization have been claimed to erase the differences among individual media, and fundamentally to alter the conditions of perception and experience. In the art world, formerly dominant conceptions of art forms such as poetry, painting, sculpture, and even video art, which in the 1960s were codified as channeled sensory portals, have been replaced by blurred domains of new media art, of sound art and tangible media. What, then, in the current situation, does the disputed concept of ‘medium’ mean? Certainly, media still matter – but why, how and in what ways?

The 10th NorSIS conference addresses these questions by changing focus from what a medium is (in terms of substantial characteristics) to what media do. Mediated forms of expressions are to be considered in terms of their achievements, that is, in terms of the productive changes they introduce into the mediated situation. The conference invites presentations that investigate and compare different kinds of mediated expressions, not as re-presentations of a pre-given reality, but as transformative performances, interferences and interventions.

The conference takes up the issue of form, not in the Greenbergian formalist sense in terms of isolated sensations and brute material forms divorced from questions of meaning, but suggesting that form be treated in terms of formative interventions. It takes up the issue of media borders, not as the borders between art forms and individual media, but rather as the cultural borders and social divisions that result from, or are undermined by, human formative interventions. Hence, processes of mediation are understood as involv- ing articulating apparatuses that bring about a particular distribution or redistribution of the sensible (Rancière 2004). Mediated forms of expression are conceived as performing media; and by asking what media do, we want to provide fresh approaches to the old problems of image-text relations and media borders, as well as to the ideological or political powers of media.

What, then, are the implications of conceiving media as performative? First, mediated forms of expression are not passive; they interpellate or call upon us. Pictures, for example, do not passively await significations that we arbitrarily attribute to them. Following this line of thought, it would even make sense to ask if pictures look back at us (Elkins 1996), or to ask what they want (Mitchell 2005). What we perceive first, whether in a mediated situation or not, is not abstract forms and colors, but the “face” of the surroundings, the physiognomic, affective and emotional aspects. Second, human formative interventions are never innocent. A particular distribution of the sensible not only determines what is visible and what is not; it not only provides a delimitation of space and time, but determines who can have a share in the community commons, who can have a voice and be heard and who cannot (Rancière 2004). Besides, any culture possesses a common repertoire of narratives and cognitive forms that can be used to configure facts. There are, one could say, an aesthetics and an ethics of the fact. A distinction can be made between a general cultural poetics and a specific poetics of individual forms of expression (Tygstrup and Holm 2007). The poetics of literature and film, for example, contribute to the general cultural poetics but are simultaneously apart from it. The political and ideological significance of mediated forms of expression, therefore, relates to their power to uphold and sanction as well as to frustrate and contest the divisions of the dominant cultural poetics.