The Ander Visiting Professor in Geomedia Studies, Pablo Abend2023-06-22
Briefly tell us about your background
- Academically socialized in media studies, last year I became a professor of design theory at Burg Giebichenstein University of Art and Design in the city of Halle, Germany. Before that, I worked as a scientific coordinator of the interdisciplinary research school "Locating Media" at University of Siegen that had a strong focus on researching location- and situation-specific media processes by means of location- and situation-specific methods. So I had a kind of career change that was more comprehensive than I expected it to be. At first glance design theory resembled media theory for me, but then it turned out to be quite different. For example, I was used to think about phenomena, do research, and then write about it. Now there is a certain expectation of putting theory into practice…
How did you come into contact with the field of geomedia?
- That was towards the end of my studies in media studies at the University of Siegen. The full name of the now discontinued program actually translates to Media planning, development and consulting. A wild mix or, to put it more academically, a multidisciplinary program, with parts of media sociology, pedagogy, history, politics, cultural studies and all that combined with media economics. As part of my major in media and cultural studies, I took a course on the Spatial Turn in media studies and theories of space. I was hooked. We read texts on space and place written by media philosophers, human and cultural geographers and sociologists. The transfer of these ideas to questions of media specificity and media use was so exciting for me that I wrote my thesis on location-based social networks and the georeferencing of media on the Internet. At the time, there were no smartphones with built-in GPS yet and this was all fairly new. But overall the Internet became increasingly tied back to geographic space, people started adding geo-coordinates to their photos, and neogeography became known as a practice. That fascinated me, because for me, media studies has always declared space to be a negligible analytical variable with media and technology being the means to effortless traverse space. I was then pleased to be able to continue in this direction after graduation with a PhD project at a newly established graduate school. All docoral candidates at "Locating Media/Situated Media" dealt with questions of media and space, either with a focus on the spaces of media, or on media in space, and we all tried to find adaquat methods to conduct location- and situation-based research.
Why is geomedia an interesting research area?
- It is interesting because media is not only a means to represent geographic space as the use of the term in the geographic disciplines indicates. Geomedia is also about dividing, layering and cotting across space. Media assemblages span their own spaces, they create hybrid spaces, that alter your perception of and our practices in space. The study of theses processes, the sometimes changed power relations that emerge from this mix is something I found extremely interesting and I am glad that geomedia is giving contour to this field. Geomedia is also a good catch-all term under which extremely exciting interdisciplinary things can happen. We have recently founded a working group on Media Geographies, which also primarily works with the Geomedia concept. The idea is to create a platform where people from media and communication studies, design, anthropology, human and cultural geography, and science and technology studies come together. The nice thing is that so many disciplines are once again addressing spatial questions and to exchange ideas and get to know different perspectives, Geomedia is simply a wonderful label for this
Tell us about your latest research project
- My relationship with research has changed a bit. At the art school where I work, students come from applied, practical subjects, such as fashion and textile design, industrial and product design, but also from the field of digital media design. The focus of my professorship clearly lays on teaching. But unlike the teaching in a media studies department, it is to a large extend project-based. This means I have to connect theory and research with creative practice and a lot is happing together with the students. So, you could say that the possibility and impossibility of a practice-based research itself is currently a field of study for me. I also try to combine questions of space and place with design. In the past semesters we started to engage intensively with our direct environment, with a particular focus on the structural change of the industrial landscape surrounding us that has been shaped by extensive mining operations and huge chemical plants. How did people deal with de-industrialization and depopulation? How can the transformation be successful? The question of how we will live in a post-fossil future and what a desirable future could look like also plays a role in this. Here we experiment with different forms of generating and transferring knowledge. But I also work on smaller projects, such as a cadastre of “non-places” in Halle, for which we documented and mapped different locations in and around the city.
In addition, my own research interest lies in the field of digital media practices. I am currently dealing with the history and present of “tagging”, which has originally been primarily a geomedia practice and emerged as one of the foundations for our access to and our handling of data and information online. Especially in view of the latest AI applications, there are several questions to ask: How much invisible human data work is actually hidden in these new worlds and universes of images and text? Which biases are (re-)produced and reinforced by these systems? Speaking of AI: The other big question at the moment is, of course, what disruptive effects AI will have in the creative industries and how AI can be meaningfully and sustainably integrated into design processes.
What expectations do you have of being a visiting professor at Karlstad University?
- First of all, I would like to say that I am really happy to be visiting professor at Karlstad University! I've been to Karlstad for the Geomedia Conference in 2019 and I'm looking forward to meet the wonderful members of the Centre for Geomedia Studies again and continue our conversations. I am, of course, also eager to meet new people and get to know novel perspectives on as well as approaches to geomedia in order to further stake out the field of geomedia. I quite optimistic, that the exchange of knowledge and ideas will be fruitful and that new opportunities to cooperate will emerge from it.