Attentional Economy and Multi-Screen Architecture – interview with Beatriz Colomina


[This interview was originally commissioned by  Theory, Culture and Society]

In November, 2010, Professor Beatriz Colomina gave a talk in Goldsmiths entitled ‘Multi-screen architecture’, where she suggested that ‘The state of distraction in the metropolis, described so eloquently by Walter Benjamin early in the twentieth century, seems to have been replaced by a new form of distraction, which is to say a new form of attention.’ (program abstract 2010) We recall Benjamin wrote in The Work of Art at the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, ‘Architecture has always represented the prototype of a work of art the reception of which is consummated by a collectivity in a state of distraction…. Architecture [is] appropriated in a twofold manner: by use and by perception, or rather, by touch and sight. Such appropriation cannot be understood in terms of the attentive concentration of a tourist before a famous building …[Buildings are appropriated] not so much by attention as by habit.’ How then is Benjamin’s conception of the ‘state of distraction’ is further transformed today in the multi-screen architecture? What is the nature of this new form of distraction, which is widely known as Attention Deficit Disorder? How can we make sense of it, not as a symptom?

Professor Colomina approached the multi-screen culture from a very different perspective compared with authors who wrote on technology and culture,
her investigation starts with the 1959 US-USSR joined Exhibition in Moscow titled “science, technology and culture.” In that exhibition, the designers Ray and Charles Eames were commissioned to produce a multi-screen installation titled ‘Glimpses of the USA’. This installation on the one hand embeds the cold-war ideology: an American style of life; on the other hand it also anticipated a new form of attention and creative process which was already theorized by the Eames. Yuk Hui interviewed Professor Colomina on mult-screen architecture tracing this historical trajectory and the questions concerning attention deficit disorder, cold-war ideology, architecture and subjectivity. The interview was conducted on 14th January 2011 during her trip to London (where she delivered a talk in Architecture Association)

[Image 1 and 2: they are captured from the video: The design genius of Charles + Ray Eames]

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Professor Beatriz Colomina is an architecture historian, she is also the Founding Director of the Program in Media and Modernity at Princeton University. She is author of Privacy and Publicity: Modern Architecture as Mass Media (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1994), Sexuality and Space (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1992), Architectureproduction (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1988)

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