The Fabric of Urban Screens: Four Metaphors of Spatial Interaction Inspired by Surrealist Imaginings

By Claude Fortin.

Published by The International Journal of the Image

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Urban screens have been defined as the various types of dynamic digital displays situated in urban public space to support non-commercial forms of expressions. As physically imposing new media platforms, they exist in the form of architectural elements in the built environment. The human scale of urban screens poses a new set of questions in relation to new media technology: Do urban screens constitute a new ontological paradigm in which technology, the body and space intersect? Are urban screens a medium in their own right? Do they stand on the threshold of mutually exclusive virtual space and actual space, or do they constitute a liminal space of experience? This article attempts to answer this by posing the theoretical question: What metaphors of spatial interaction could be used to describe the experience of urban screens in an architectural setting? Arguing that urban screens must be studied as a unique phenomenological experience, this article sets out to explore the poetics of this platform by discussing four metaphors of spatial interaction that uniquely conceptualize hyperspace—that is, the non-Euclidean imagining of the fourth dimension of space. Drawing on surrealist strategies of representation including Marcel Duchamp’s musings on the haptic character of space, André Breton’s concept of convulsive beauty, as well as the device of mise-en-abyme and the Freudian process of inversion used in surrealist art, it is suggested that the way viewers experience computational technology substantially changes when portable devices or desktops are replaced by dynamic digital installations of architectural scale. Offering theoretical principles that could be applied to the design of this new media platform, this article is an invitation to imagine what urban screens could be from an ontological perspective by projecting the imaginings of twentieth century visionaries into the poetics of space.

Keywords: Multimodality, Phenomenology, Cognitive Science, Perception, Image, Architecture, Representation

The International Journal of the Image, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp.37-51. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.034MB).

Claude Fortin

Doctoral Candidate, School of Interactive Arts and Technology, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Currently, Fortin is a doctoral student at Simon Fraser University’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT) in Vancouver, Canada. Fortin’s doctoral research focuses on dynamic digital displays in public space. She is interested in the relationship between new media technologies, community-based spatial practices, and the production and dissemination of cultural heritage. Her approach is interdisciplinary and builds on academic studies in the humanities, social sciences and fine arts.