Blogs Media Lab Sam Wisneski

Sam Wisneski is a graduate student in the MA Art History program at the University of St. Thomas, with interests in global contemporary art, critical theory and South Asian art. Originally from South St. Paul, Minn., Sam has interned and worked at several Twin Cities museums, including the Minnesota Museum of American Art, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Walker Art Center. She’s on Twitter, Tumblr, and LinkedIn.

A Quick Chat with Superscript Keynote Speaker James Bridle

For artist James Bridle, technology is the means of examining the invisible in social and political domains, such as the locations of drone strikes and the technical systems that mine our data. In his most recent project he reflects on citizenship—its relative fixity as well as its instability. Sam Wisneski: In the past, you’ve written that the New Aesthetic seeks to make […]

James Bridle, writer, artist, publisher and technologist based in London, UK. Photo credit: Steve Forest, Workers’ Photos

James Bridle, writer, artist, publisher, and technologist, and one of the Superscript15 keynote speakers (photo by Steve Forest, Workers’ Photos)

For artist James Bridle, technology is the means of examining the invisible in social and political domains, such as the locations of drone strikes and the technical systems that mine our data. In his most recent project he reflects on citizenship—its relative fixity as well as its instability.

Sam Wisneski: In the past, you’ve written that the New Aesthetic seeks to make the invisible—insidious systems and assumptions we take for granted—visible. Would you say this guides most of your work?

James Bridle: Yes, but it’s also the part of my work that I have the biggest problem with, actually. In hindsight, it’s been the kind of a defining principle of it. I come from a technological background, and one of the things that learning tech does is teaches you to read the structures of things, to break them down and figure out how things are made. (It’s engineering, basically.) If you start to widen that a bit, you start to see it in everything, not just inside of technology, but inside of politics, too. And so, it seems necessary if you’re going to be representing stuff, to represent those things that lie behind it in some way. That turns out to be really useful, because once you apply that skill to one domain, you can start to apply it all over. Invisibility seems like such a built-in principle of our politics and technologies today—they’re kind of designed to disappear from sight. The critical job is to make them visible so that they can be articulated, discussed, and contextualized. The flip side is that I’m not sure it’s working; that’s what I’m trying to figure out at the moment.

SW: How did you decide what to talk about today?

JB: This conference has gone in various interesting directions. After yesterday morning, I was like, “What am I doing here? This seems quite focused on the business of criticism.” There was a bit more critical discussion in the keynote yesterday afternoon that sort of opened it up to the questions of “Why do we have art criticism?” and “What are we doing here?”

I thought some of the talks this morning addressed really serious issues, so I’m going to desperately try to pull a few of those things together. I don’t know if I’ll be at all successful at doing this—at trying to bridge a gap between them. “How do we do criticism today?” — that was essentially the question that was raised by the keynote. “What is it that we’re looking at and how do we articulate it?” Figuring that out seems like part of what critics do and get paid for, which was the question yesterday. Equally, we need to address the sorts of issues that were raised by the speakers this morning. All of those seem part and parcel to the same debate and discussion. Ultimately, I didn’t want to talk about my work because I talk about my work all the time, and I don’t want to just talk about my personal journey. But at the same time, my work is how I think through these things.

SW: Speaking of your work, do you want to talk about your new project Citizen-Ex?

JB: I’ve become really interested in citizenship. The thing about this visibility/invisibility thing is that it assumes these things are fixed categories, that there is something here that will magically make it visible and magically make it okay. But that denies the underlying precarity of these situations. “Citizen-Ex” is based on quite a materialist analysis of the Internet. It talks about the physical installations of these things and that whole discourse, because that’s a useful way of bringing it to bear on other things that feel fixed—like serious laws and human rights issues and stuff like this.

By taking this and then building an algorithmic citizenship concept out of it, the project points, hopefully, to the instability and gets across the fact that these things are unstable but also kind of controllable—at the moment they’re being controlled and dictated by corporate power, political power, state power… If we were to understand them on different terms, we might actually have some parallel understanding of that instability.

The Superscript Blog Mentorship program, a partnership with Hyperallergic, is presented as part of

Superscript in Context

Superscript is touted as being the first conference of its kind, but that doesn’t mean the role of arts journalism in the digital age hasn’t already been explored. Recent lectures and panels, as well as calls for proposals from the College Art Association and the European Society for Aesthetics, demonstrate an anxiety—or excitement—about the contemporary art critic. While there doesn’t […]

Grumpy Cat Critic

Superscript is touted as being the first conference of its kind, but that doesn’t mean the role of arts journalism in the digital age hasn’t already been explored.

Recent lectures and panels, as well as calls for proposals from the College Art Association and the European Society for Aesthetics, demonstrate an anxiety—or excitement—about the contemporary art critic. While there doesn’t appear to have been a conference before this one devoted to arts writing in the digital age, there have been several discussions about the future of arts journalism and criticism. The following instances might provide some context for situating Superscript.

A year ago, British film critic Mark Kermode chaired a panel at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, entitled “Who Needs the Professionals Now That Everyone’s a Critic?” It took on the future of criticism, with a myriad of arts writers addressing music, film, visual art, theater, and literature. They focused primarily on the reviewer and the audience, though, and according to at least one critic, barely problematized the word “professional.” And that writer’s recap is pretty much the only record of the panel accessible online.

Just a week ago, the Sydney Writer’s Festival featured a panel entitled Everyone’s a Critic, But Should They Be?,” again bringing together a range of arts writers to consider the question. “In a noisy digital age, making your opinions heard is a rare skill,” says the event page. “How do our best critics keep the cultural conversation classy, while competing against the world’s most clickable cat videos?” (I might add that the Walker developed the first ever Cat Video Festival.) But like the previous example, this panel lacked much in the way of a digital life, which raises some key questions: Who are these panels really for? And how can we harness digital media to extend the reach of these gatherings, so that we don’t silo conversations but open up space for collaborative inquiry?

Superscript is searching for an answer. Although the focus of Superscript isn’t entirely novel, its efforts to engage audiences beyond the physical and temporal space of the conference are not only forward-thinking, but self-referential. Unlike previous panels, where digital hasn’t been prioritized, Superscript is attempting to inhabit the digital, playing with some of the issues it seeks to explore, namely: sustainability, connectivity, and community. Hopefully Superscript’s digital life will better enable others to pick up where it leaves off.

The Superscript Blog Mentorship program, a partnership with Hyperallergic, is presented as part of

Meet the Bloggers: Sam Wisneski, St. Paul

Greetings, Superscript-ers! I’m incredibly excited to be a part of the Superscript Blog Mentorship program as one of three “enterprising” bloggers, especially as a Twin Cities resident. I’m a graduate student in the MA Art History program at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., with a BA in Communication & Journalism and […]

what_nextGreetings, Superscript-ers! I’m incredibly excited to be a part of the Superscript Blog Mentorship program as one of three “enterprising” bloggers, especially as a Twin Cities resident. I’m a graduate student in the MA Art History program at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., with a BA in Communication & Journalism and Art History (also from the University of St. Thomas).

As an undergrad, arts writing opportunities felt scarce to me. The state of the arts at my college seemed bleak when I first started. By that I mean the theater program and theater proper were both dissolved and demolished shortly before I began, and there was no studio arts program to be found. To be clear, I didn’t intend on majoring in anything arts-related, but writing about art appealed to me, yet it didn’t seem like we had much art on campus. Moreover, the student news publication rarely published reviews about art, let alone criticism. Despite this, I found a home in the art history department, where I could write about visual culture to my heart’s content. Still, I yearned for a broader audience.

With limited opportunities to write about art on campus, I turned to Google in search of internship, freelance, and networking opportunities. Google “Twin Cities arts criticism” and the first results are tabloid-style entertainment publications and mainstream local news — both of which are important for getting the word out, but generally lack the critical edge I was looking for. Among the other Google results, I learned about Artpaper (1981–1993), the Visual Arts Critics Union of Minnesota (VACUM) and Art Review & Preview (ARP!) — the latter two of which dissolved around the time I entered college. I quickly learned that what appeared to be a recent problem with Twin Cities arts criticism wasn’t a recent problem at all, it was just the latest decline in a historically volatile trend.

In a sense, I wrote off critical arts writing in the Twin Cities, albeit prematurely, in part because I wasn’t familiar with some of the great work already happening in places like the Twin Cities Daily Planet or Mnartists.org. What got me interested in arts journalism again, though, was social media — Tumblr specifically, and projects like Kimberly Drew’s Black Contemporary Art in particular. Reinvigorated, I’ve begun to explore community-based arts projects and post-disciplinary approaches to arts criticism. Spaces like Tumblr are only part of the answer to what seems like a Minnesotan ambivalence to arts criticism, so at Superscript I’ll be thinking broadly about sustainable, inclusive platforms for fostering independent arts criticism and amplifying the voices of other local writers and artists, in spaces that don’t already exist. I’m eager to connect with those already actively writing and thinking about art, and I can’t wait to witness and be a part of what’s next for arts journalism in the Twin Cities.

The Superscript Blog Mentorship program, a partnership with Hyperallergic, is presented as part of

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