Q&A with Stephanie DeBoer, who examines the various aspects of media screens in Southeast Asia
Stephanie DeBoer, associate professor of cinema studies in The Media School, has focused on understanding the impacts of media screens, media infrastructure and global media geographies. Her research reaches international communities including Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo.
Question: What are your career goals?
Answer: On the one hand, my more immediate goal is to write my book manuscript so that I have the basis for advancing to full professor. It is entitled Infrastructures on the Edge: On the Material, Poetic, and Political Valences of Screens in Urban Space, and focuses on the situations of public urban screens in Hong Kong and Shanghai.
More widely, and into the longer term, my interests lie in learning to better sustain platforms and centers for collectively engaging with the possibilities and problems of media and art for public spaces – and to do so in a way that engages with such arts and humanities concerns, practices and practitioners on a global scale. We need more, and more meaningful, platforms for connecting and comparing across the various experiences and infrastructures of public media, screens and art across the globe, as well as contexts for various practitioners and citizens to come together to converse about how we live, create and commune with them. These are the kinds of platforms that I hope to continue to co-create with others going forward.
Q: What is your greatest achievement as a scholar?
A: In addition to my 2014 book, "Coproducing Asia: Locating Japanese-Chinese Film and Media" (published with the University of Minnesota Press), I am most proud of the platforms for collaboration and co-creation that I have co-produced over the past five years or so. Examples of these are listed in bullet points at the end of my answer to the next question on research interests, and are more expansively detailed in my CV. These are platforms that have brought scholars, artists, curators, university students, as well as members of the public together to collectively engage and grapple with the meanings and practices that form – and might yet better form – public screens and public-mediated experience. The fact that these collaborations have brought together folks from a wide range of locations – from East and Southeast Asia, Europe, as well as North America, including Bloomington – is especially significant to me. While screens are an important component of everyday and public life in all of these places, their impacts and meanings, possibilities and problems, can be quite distinct from one place to another.
Q: What are your research interests?
A: Overall, my work addresses the cultural, artistic and technological formations of media screens; media and video art; media infrastructure; and public, urban and global media geographies.
Since receiving tenure as associate professor at Indiana University in 2014 (I came to IU as assistant professor in 2008), my research and creative work has turned to investigating the material, poetic and political dynamics through which public screens have been situated to craft mediated urban experience. I am now writing the manuscript for my second book, Infrastructures on the Edge: On the Material, Poetic, and Political Valences of Screens in Urban Space, which focuses on the situations of public urban screens in Hong Kong and Shanghai. Over the past two and a half decades, urban screens – a category that includes not only architectural screen displays, but also media facades, projection mapping and emerging interfaces with mobile media – have been increasingly present in metro, bus and transit corridors and incorporated into architectural surfaces of all scales in a variety of cities in the Asia Pacific region and beyond.
The approaches to urban screens that undergird my work are multiple, triangulating among interviews with commercial, state and media art and screen practitioners; archival research on the discourses through which urban screens have been addressed; as well as participant observations engendered through the collaborative creative and curatorial projects linked to public screens with which I have engaged over the past several years.
These latter activities speak to the practices, networks and platforms that have supported my development as a theory-practitioner and curator as well as my understanding of the competing practices that have enacted (and might yet enact) public urban screens for a variety of distinct locations – including that of the IU campus. The following are such examples of my work:
In collaboration with artists and curators in Hong Kong and Shanghai, including my 2015+ co-convening – with Petra Johnson, alongside SHAW Xu Zhifeng and Taqi Shaheen, among others – the Shanghai based “Screens Collective,” a research-based arts collective that addresses fundamental questions concerning the potential of urban screens as sites of public contact. As co-organizer, with Kristy H.A. Kang and Anne Balsamo, of the 2018 “Emergent Visions” symposium at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, which invited artists, curators and scholars to come together to address the concerns, possibilities, and problems of public urban screens. As co-convener of “The People of IU: Moving Image Portraits and the Public Screen.” An ongoing creative and curatorial project conceived, directed and produced with Susanne Schwibs, IU professor and documentary filmmaker. With the students of P335, we create 45-second moving picture portraits of “The People of IU,” and document, curate, display and project these portraits on a variety of public screens and surfaces on the IU campus.
Q: What do you see as the importance of this fellowship and related project?
A: I applied for the IU Presidential Arts and Humanities Fellowship for the Program’s ability to support my work on public urban screens and media art as my project engages with both the arts and humanities, consisting of critical writing and curatorial practices which inform one another. But I also applied to the Presidential A&H Fellowship for the community that it would garner. One of the things that first drew me to the academy as a basis for my career was its possibility as a platform for engaging with interesting and interested people, ideas and practices – ideas and practices that could enable insight and even intervention into the workings of the world and our understanding of it. I’ve found that the university, of course, is not always this – it is a bureaucracy beholden to many other interests. This fellowship, however, is one context of the university that can possibly support these things. I also appreciate that the fellowship works to develop and expand this community into the larger campus, as it asks each of the fellows to bring a speaker to campus and share their interests with the university.
To speak further about my own work, the Presidential Arts and Humanities Fellowship offers me the support to dedicate my time to writing my book within a community of interdisciplinary scholars and artists who can respond to and encourage its ideas. The work, vision and presence of the other fellows this year are inspiring – and are already inspiring me to consider my work and practices in new ways. As I am beginning to sense other ways of addressing some of the central concerns of my project. For example, the ways in which my book, "Infrastructures on the Edge," might reflect on the ways in which public screens and facades are sites for co-constituting the ways in which we live, work, play, commute, commune and create in the city – in addition to the practices through which they might become arenas for engaging with the contested negotiations that produce public space.