#techaffect: on the Curating Affective Technologies Un-conference

At one of those temporary junctions where the lines of life start to intersect, the first week I started as DWIR was also the week I attended the Curating Affective Technologies un-conference at the Flinders in the City campus in Adelaide. Organised by Julia Erhart, Sonja Vivienne, Tully Barnett, Alice Gorman and Julian Meyrick with the Flinders Institute for Research in the Humanities, the un-conference forms part of a year-long investigation of the theme ‘Technologies of Memory and Affect’.

What is an un-conference? I had no idea. How do you curate affective technologies? Also no idea, but I wanted to know more. It turns out that an un-conference is a collaborative, open structure, in which participants are encouraged to suggest and guide content, making for a warm and interactive forum. At our un-conference, participants were not passive, but asked to nominate key themes drawn from the ideas presented and discuss, in groups, the possibilities for collaborative articles.

After a day of intriguing ten-minute presentations, I am still working on a description of what ‘affective technologies’ are and how you curate them. I saw it happening; I contributed to it, but the topics spoken of and disciplines represented were so varied and the ideas connecting technology, affect and memory so many that for now I’ll slot in an explanation supplied by the Technologies of Memory and Affect blog:

Memory and affect are notoriously subjective and transitory concepts. Technology, from the printing press to the camera to the internet, affords opportunity to make these notions discernible and sometimes even material, in objects, words, images and a digital trace. However, while communication in the digital domain is searchable, persistent, replicable and scaleable, memory and affect remain ephemeral and contested.

Intersections between technology, memory and affect can be–and were–emphasised through diverse topics; pulled in multiple directions. Larissa Hjorth, RMIT Distinguished Professor and digital artist/ethnographer, guided the un-conference with her talk on ‘Visualising the Mundane: Technology/Memory/Affect’, discussing ways in which technology forms and deforms structures, reaches audiences and can, in the case of mobile phones in particular, tell stories of intimacy across cultures, become tools for mobilisation and create networks of witnessing. Alicia Carter, describing the technology of the Kodak Super 8 as a tool for familial forms of remembering; Martin Potter, pointing out that familiarity with media enhances rather than enslaves, and Ruth Vasey, declaring the Trove database a means of building multiple narratives within history, also drew on this idea of technology as witness and collator. For Carolyn Lake and Petra Mosmann, talking respectively about cultural memory as represented by the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives and the feminist movement through (the symbol of) Faith Bandler’s gloves, public records became issues of affect; for Susan Bruce, who showed several of her short films, technology preserves the personal, tactile and textural. Listening to Deb Matthews speak about curating memory within the remix community CCMixter; Catherine Adamek on the performance of dance; Gillian Dooley giving renditions of gender ambiguous songs from Jane Austen’s manuscripts, and Daniela Kaleva discussing cabaret and the transmission of cultural memory, performance was also explored as a way of evoking and creating memories.

To capture moments of the un-conference as it unfolded, tablets, laptops and mobile phones were used to upload fragments to Twitter and Instagram. The event of the symposium–or the rarer occasion of an un-conference–was amplified through digital media recordings of discussion as ritual; through a simultaneous exploration and performance of curation to create, distribute and enhance memories, contributing to present and future perspectives on the fascinating and expanding field of technology and affect.


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