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Winter 2022: Conferences Update

It’s been some time since my last update, but for once I’ve been busy in a good way. While I spent most of 2021 between working and trying to find (stable) work, 2022 has been dominated by full-time teaching. Nonetheless, this year has definitely been much more productive in terms of research: it’s too early to give publications news (working on two/three at the moment), but I can at least touch base to discuss a couple recent conferences I participated in. For some strange reason, both happened in Aarhus, Denmark.

In September I visited the University of Aarhus for a 2-day event about AI and the Humanities, where I discussed my work on AR face filters and media art. I had already presented on a similar topic more than a year before, but this time I moved away from the concept of face capture and focused more on contextualising the format within the broader trend towards the commodification of the avatar. As you can see in the sample slides below, I try to frame AR face filter art — an inherently platformed format, necessarily embedded within the very proprietary environment of Instagram and the like — as potentially participating in critical traditions of media art (tactical media, phantasmal media, etc) as well as participatory art more in general. In so doing, I also put my research on tagging aesthetics (which deals with social media cultures in a slightly more sociological way) in dialogue with recent explorations of these new formats by media art critics like Valentina Tanni (whom I invited to participate in the event I organised at KCL earlier this year).

The conference was fun and it also gave me a welcome opportunity to reconnect with the good people at Aarhus, who organised the Transmediale workshop I participated in just before the pandemic madness started (and also led to this publication). It also reconnected some of the dormant synapses in my brain that used to channel thoughts about media art, and that hopefully will serve me well in the next couple months as I work on new writing (research proposals and papers, but you’ll see in due time). Art is never too far from my mind, but given the inherently sociological matters I spent most of my PhD years reading and writing about it is refreshing to finally be able to look at what people are doing in media art spaces more specifically, and going to art shows more generally (living in London has helped in this respect). It seems like a really long time ago, but I used to write about these things a lot.

The second event I recently participated in was an ECREA Pre-conference symposium about young people and cross-media storytelling. This was perhaps less “my scene” than the previous conference, but I did meet several people I knew from teaching and freelance writing in person for the first time, including someone who cited one of my papers (it does not happen often to me). I am always a bit uncomfortable at conferences since almost every time it feels like I am coming from a different place (in terms of discipline, methodology, etc) and I never know if I am a sociologist, a critic, neither, or both. At the same time, however, it is fascinating to enter these spaces of familiarity where people ask different questions than you, and yet are also interested in many of the same things. Not sure this is interdisciplinarity (I guess that depends more on how much of the above you eventually take in), but the sprawling of niches and networks and panels and tables that might communicate with each other or not is definitely part of why academia is so frustratingly rich — and one of the reasons I joined it.

As shown above, my presentation at the pre-conference built on ideas I have been writing about for a while, most notably in this book chapter about Instagram Stories compilations on YouTube that collect and comment on “gangsta” rappers “dissing” each other. While that publication and another in-progress chapter I am co-writing both focus on famous figures whose “criminality” is speculated about and collectively perpetuated by fans through derivative social media content, this more recent work is more centred on those intermediary figures that mythologise, stigmatise, or humanise the “criminal” as part of a systematic content strategy. The way social media influence the public making of the “criminal” as a collective performative process has been at the core of my interest in these types of media since the beginning, but given it is becoming more and more mainstream and problematic (at least in Italy, which I am following more closely) I am looking forward to delve deeper and hopefully do some interviews in the new year.

A picture I took in Aarhus, from my Instagram account.

That’s it for now. While the two research strands discussed above have been moving forward, unfortunately my newsletter on comedy has fallen behind a little. I have a very cool edition that is halfway ready to publish, but work has set me back quite a bit on that. I apologise to those of you who follow it.

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Nicola Bozzi

Afternoon person, eternal beginner. Research on #tagging + critique. Writing about arts, media & cities. Serious about comedy.