Plastic Dialectics: Community and Collectivity in Japanese Contemporary Art — Miryam Sas at Digital Aesthetics Workshop

Sas Poster

What do we mean when we speak of “collectivity,” collaboration, and community? How have artists and theorists in Japan questioned and created experimental practices that reframe these terms, so crucial to discussions of the arts today? Sas will reflect on issues of collectivity and assemblage as manifested in Japanese contemporary art, drawing examples from 1950s art theory, late 1960s intermedia art, 1970s site-specific photography events, and post 3-11 sculptural installation. Through site-specific critique and new modes of engagement with local space, artists in each of these distinct moments engage in a subtle but powerful rethinking of the frameworks and practices of collectives past and present.

At the next meeting of the Digital Aesthetics Workshop, Miryam Sas, Professor of Comparative Literature and Film & Media at UC Berkeley, will discuss Plastic Dialectics: Community and Collectivity in Japanese Contemporary Art. As we have throughout this quarter, we will meet on Tuesday, Dec 4, from 5-7 at the Roble Gym. RSVP to – we expect there will be a paper that we will pre-circulate this weekend.

Sas studies Japanese literature, film, theater, and dance; 20th century literature and critical theory; and avant-garde and experimental visual and literary arts.  She is the author of Experimental Arts in Postwar Japan: Moments of Encounter, Engagement, and Imagined Return  (Harvard, 2010); and Fault Lines: Cultural Memory and Japanese Surrealism(Stanford, 2001).  Sas is currently working on a book on media theory and contemporary art in Japan, Feeling Media: Infrastructure, Potentiality, and the Afterlife of Art in Japan, for which she was awarded a President’s Research Fellowship in the Humanities (2017-18).  She has published numerous articles in English, French, and Japanese on subjects such as Japanese futurism, cross-cultural performance, intermedia art, butoh dance, pink film and Japanese experimental animation.

Nicolas Roeg’s Perversion of Suture

Nicolas Roeg has died at the age of 90. People will remember him for a striking form of vision embodied in the many films that he directed or filmed as cinematographer. For me, this vision is nowhere more poignantly indicated than in his uncannily self-reflexive masterpiece Don’t Look Now (1973), in which he undermines conventions of cinematic sight through subtly shocking POV shots that align the camera and our eyes with the perspectives of inanimate objects (such as the doll above) or sightless characters (the blind woman whose vision structures a crucial scene in the film, as I argue in my interactive video essay on it: “Don’t Look Now: Paradoxes of Suture”).



Embodied Interactions & Material Screens: Camille Utterback at Digital Aesthetics Workshop

Utterback Poster

After a refreshing fall break, the Digital Aesthetics workshop will return with sessions on November 27th and December 4th . First up, we are thrilled to host Camille Utterback, Assistant Professor of Art Practice and Computer Science here at Stanford. We have always wanted to host an artist in the workshop, and could not be happier to build a conversation around Camille’s fascinating work and current questions. We look forward to seeing you there – please consider RSVPing so we can supply refreshments appropriately.

Embodied Interactions & Material Screens

w/ Camille Utterback

Tues, Nov 27, Roble Lounge, 5-7

rsvp to deacho at

After an overview of her interactive installation work, Camille will present on current works-in-progress which examine combinations of custom kiln-formed glass and digital animations. Her goal with her new work is to explore the possibilities of dimensional display surfaces that address the subtleties of our depth perception. What can be gained from more hybrid analog/digital and less “transparent” digital surfaces? What is at stake when our display surfaces maintain the illusion of a frictionless control vs an more complex and interdependent materiality? Camille is interested in developing a dialog around this new work, and welcomes a variety of critical input as she attempts to with situate her artworks in a theoretical framework. She has recently been reading Sensorium (ed. Caroline A. Jones), and  Meredith Hoy’s From Point to Pixel.

Camille Utterback is a pioneer in the field of digital and interactive art. Her work ranges from interactive gallery installations, to intimate reactive sculptures, to architectural scale site-specific works. Utterback’s extensive exhibit history includes more than fifty shows on four continents. Her awards include a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (2009), Transmediale International Media Art Festival Award (2005), Rockefeller Foundation New Media Fellowship (2002), Whitney Museum commission for their ArtPort website (2002), and a US Patent (2001). Recent commission include works for The Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, Santa Cruz, California (2016), The Liberty Mutual Group, Boston, Massachusetts (2013), The FOR-SITE Foundation, San Francisco, California (2012), and the City of Sacramento, California (2011). Camille’s “Text Rain” piece, created with Romy Achituv in 1999, was the first digital interactive installation acquired by the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Camille holds a BA in Art from Williams College a Masters degree from the Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She is currently an Assistant Professor in the Art & Art History Department, and by courtesy in Computer Science, at Stanford University. Her work is represented by Haines Gallery in San Francisco.

Desktop Horror at Merz Akademie, Stuttgart — Dec.18, 2018


On December 18, 2018, I will be giving a public lecture titled “Desktop Horror” at the Merz Akademie in Stuttgart, as part of the Welcome to the Real World lecture series organized by Kevin B. Lee. I’m very excited to share this work, and hope to see friends in Germany!

Desktop Horror

Shane Denson

The shift from a cinematic to a post-cinematic media regime has occasioned a great deal of anxiety for theorists and spectators alike, and the horror genre has been adept at channeling this unease for its own purposes, as is evidenced in movies that revolve around the proliferation of digital devices and networks as new media for ghosts, demons, and other forms of evil. In this presentation, I focus on “desktop horror” in particular and argue that the fears elicited in post-cinematic horror are deeply rooted in the upheaval that viewers experience in the face of a thoroughly computational lifeworld.

Seriality (Encyclopedia Entry)


I have an encyclopedia entry on “Seriality” in The Bloomsbury Handbook of Literary and Cultural Theory, which is scheduled to come out this week. I’m not allowed to post the final version, so here is an early version that includes references, bibliography, and a few other details that were cut from the text as it will appear in print.


Shane Denson, Stanford University


Seriality is a formal property and/or organizational principle that is commonly associated with ongoing narratives, recurring patterns, and periodic publication schedules. As a narrative form, seriality is perhaps most readily associated today with TV – especially the recent explosion of “narratively complex” (Mittell) television series, which inherit and adapt strategies from 20th-century film and radio serials and popular serialized literature of the 19thcentury. Outside of popular culture, seriality also characterizes a variety of tendencies or “attitudes” (Bochner) in modern art, exemplified by conceptual artists such as Sol LeWitt, Pop artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, or the twelve-tone music of Arnold Schönberg; in each of these cases, seriality refers less to narrative continuity than to aesthetic modularity and material repetition of visual, acoustic, or other elements. Critical discussions of seriality tend to focus either on popular/narrative or on artistic/non-narrative expressions, thus suggesting a split between “high” and “low” forms; however, there are blurrings and borrowings on both sides: e.g. Pop Art appropriates serialized comics and popular culture generally, while the discontinuous, episodic forms of sitcoms and procedural crime shows embody the modular and quasi-industrial repetition that characterizes so much post-War gallery art. At the root of seriality in all of these forms is an interplay, highlighted by Umberto Eco, between repetition and variation (or innovation).

Seen in terms of this formal interplay, seriality is pervasive across literary and cultural traditions, from the Homeric epics to J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations and beyond. However, serial forms have proliferated at an unprecedented rate since the 19thcentury, when technological advances like the steam-powered printing press enabled serialized publication to dominate the literary marketplace. As Roger Hagedorn has argued, 19th-century feuilletons, penny dreadfuls, and dime novels attest to close relations between seriality and media-technical innovation: serialized stories “serve to promote the medium in which they appear” and thus “to develop the commercial exploitation of a specific medium” (5). Moreover, this explosion of serialized culture corresponds to advances in serialized production more generally; the steam engine enabled not only the daily newspaper but also promoted deskilled factory work, leading eventually to the Taylor/Ford assembly line. Thus, both narrative and non-narrative forms of seriality find impetus in industrialization; Eugène Sue and Donald Judd alike owe debts to industrial technologies, which are inextricable from capitalism. According to Karl Marx, capital operates according to serialized processes of its own (not just factory production but the process of repetition and variation expressed abstractly as M-C-M´ chains of value-production). This grounding of modern seriality in industrial capitalism helps explain the suspicion and scorn heaped on the “culture industry” by the likes of Horkheimer and Adorno, but it also points to the necessity to regard seriality not just as a formal property of cultural objects but as a social phenomenon that is central to the contemporary lifeworld: both our collective identities (such as “the nation,” according to Benedict Anderson, or gender for Iris Marion Young) and modern subjectivity itself (in Jean-Paul Sartre’s pessimistic view) can be seen as products and expressions of seriality.



Anderson, Benedict. “Nationalism, Identity, and the Logic of Seriality.” The Spectre of Comparisons. New York: Verso, 1998.29-45.

Bochner, Mel. “The Serial Attitude.” Artforum 6.4 (December 1967): 28-33.

Eco, Umberto. “Innovation and Repetition: Between Modern and Post-Modern Aesthetics.” Daedelus 114 (1985): 161-184. Rpt. as “Interpreting Serials” in The Limits of Interpretation. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1990. 83-100.

Hagedorn, Roger. “Technology and Economic Exploitation: The Serial as a Form of Narrative Presentation.” Wide Angle: A Film Quarterly of Theory, Criticism, and Practice 10.4 (1988): 4-12.

Horkheimer, Max and Theodor W. Adorno. “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception.”Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments. Ed. Gunzelin Schmid Noerr. Trans. Edmund Jephcott. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2002.

Marx, Karl. Capital, Volume 1. New York: Penguin Classics, 1990.

Mittell, Jason. Complex TV: The Poetics of Contemporary Television Storytelling. New York: New York UP, 2015.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Critique of Dialectical Reason, Volume One. Trans. Alan Sheridan-Smith. Foreword by Fredric Jameson. New York: Verso, 2004.

Young, Iris Marion. “Gender as Seriality: Thinking about Women as a Social Collective.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society19.3 (1994): 713-38.


Further Reading:

Allen, Rob and Thijs van den Berg, eds. Serialization in Popular Culture. New York: Routledge, 2014.

Denson, Shane and Andreas Jahn-Sudmann, eds. Digital Seriality. Special issue of Eludamos: Journal for Computer Game Culture 8.1 (2014): <;.

Kelleter, Frank, ed. Media of Serial Narrative. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2017.


Life to Those Pixels: Imag(in)ing Future Bodies of Film and Media — Dec. 14 at University of Zurich

Screen Shot 2018-11-12 at 9.02.12 AMOn December 14, 2018, I will be giving a talk titled “Life to Those Pixels: Imag(in)ing Future Bodies of Film and Media” at the University of Zurich, as part of the Imag(in)ing Future Bodies series hosted by the Doctoral Program of the English Department and organized by Morgane Ghilardi and Hannah Schoch. The lecture will be followed by a workshop in which we will discuss related work on post-cinema and discorrelated images.

For more information, see the program website here, or register for the event here.

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“Unstable Interface” at SLSA 2018 Toronto

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On Saturday, Nov. 17 (3:30 – 5:00pm), I will be presenting alongside Beth Coleman, Jacob Gaboury, James Malazita, and Patrick Keilty on a panel titled “Unstable Interface” at the 32nd Annual Meeting of the Society for Literature, Science, & the Arts (SLSA) in Toronto.

Here’s the panel lineup:

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Videographic Frankenstein Lives On at the Library of Congress

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The Videographic Frankenstein exhibition at Stanford came to a close today, but like any good monster its demise is only temporary… On November 8, 2018, the show will be resurrected in the form of an augmented reality pop-up exhibition at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., as part of an event called “Playtest: An Open House for Emerging Media in the Digital Humanities” organized by Tahir Hemphill.

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Incidentally, the Library of Congress has just made a beautiful new restoration of Thomas Edison’s 1910 Frankenstein available here.


Check it out!