With Jonathan Sterne, Mika Tajima & Hua Hsu
The following presentations and discussion were recorded at Compatibility Issues on September 28, 2016. Participants spoke about the technological infrastructures underlying our media. How do engineers and technocrats devise obscure protocols that end up shaping our senses, our memories, our expressions? What do we hear when we listen to an MP3 or cassette tape? What do we see when we turn on an old-fashioned color TV or cutting-edge OLED display? What do we fail to hear and see, and why? Presentations by Jonathan Sterne and Mika Tajima were succeeded by a conversation with Hua Hsu about how certain technologies of representation enable some people to hear, see, and speak for others.
The world that we perceive is an elaborate artifice, produced in the past century through tests that seek a universal model of human perception and decisions to emphasize particular kinds of information: the timbre of a chord being struck on a piano, the tawny hue of Caucasian flesh. Compatibility Issues will address the technological infrastructures underlying our media. How do engineers and technocrats devise obscure protocols that end up shaping our senses, our memories, our expressions? What do we hear when we listen to an MP3 or cassette tape? What do we see when we turn on an old-fashioned color TV or cutting-edge OLED display? What do we fail to hear and see, and why?
In an article on the development of the National Television Systems Committee’s 1953 color standard, scholar Jonathan Sterne observes that engineers required a workable theory of perception, which allowed them to conjure typical viewers and tailor televisual images to their liking. In order to be useful, and to provide the groundwork for cementing the color of color and the sound of sound, such a theory does not need to be accurate, it simply must be “within the true,” according to Michel Foucault. Artist Mika Tajima’s recent work speaks to the broader history of models of the body and mind being used to regulate laborers and maximize profit, from ergonomic office designs to algorithms that analyze the emotional content of Twitter posts. How can we meaningfully represent—and perhaps disrupt—the opaque processes that turn our most natural gestures and intimate communications into generic bits of data to be harvested?
Brief presentations by Sterne and Tajima will be followed by a conversation with critic and scholar Hua Hsu, whose new book, A Floating Chinaman: Fantasy and Failure Across the Pacific, details the role of writers from Pearl Buck to unsung novelist H. T. Tsiang in cultivating an image of China in the United States. Hsu, Sterne, and Tajima will speak about how certain technologies of representation enable some people to hear, see, and speak for others. Compatibility Issues is part of Standard Evaluation Materials, an issue devoted to harmonizing bodies, regulating speech, and fixing time.
Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. In order to ensure that events are accessible and comfortable, we’ll open the doors at 6:30 p.m. and strictly limit admittance to our legal capacity. Please check Triple Canopy’s Facebook and Twitter accounts for updates, as we’ll indicate if events are sold out.
Triple Canopy’s venue is located at 264 Canal Street 3W, near several Canal Street subway stations. Our floor is accessible by elevator (63" × 60" car, 31" door) and stairway. Due to the age and other characteristics of the building, our bathrooms are not ADA-accessible, though several such bathrooms are located nearby. If you have specific questions about access, please write at least three days before the event and we will make every effort to accommodate you.
- Hua Hsu is a writer living in New York City. He is a staff writer at the New Yorker and an associate professor of English and director of the American Studies program at Vassar College. Hsu has contributed to Artforum, the Atlantic, Slate, the Wire, and Triple Canopy, among other publications, and has been a fellow at the New York Public Library’s Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center and the New America Foundation. In 2019, he co-curated “The Moon Represents My Heart,” an exhibition about music and Chinese-American life at the Museum of Chinese in America (New York City). He is the author of A Floating Chinaman: Fantasy and Failure Across the Pacific (Harvard University Press, 2016), and is working on a book about identity, grief, and listening to music with friends.
- Jonathan Sterne is a professor and James McGill Chair in the Culture and Technology in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University. He is the author of Diminished Faculties: A Political Phenomenology of Impairment (2021), MP3: The Meaning of a Format (2012), The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction (2003), and numerous articles on media, technologies and the politics of culture. He is also the editor of The Sound Studies Reader (2012). He is currently working with Mara Mills on a book titled Tuning Time: Histories of Sound and Speed.
- Mika Tajima is an artist living in New York City. Her work explores the way that the built environment shapes the body and our activities and has been exhibited at Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Aspen Art Museum; Bass Museum of Art, Miami; the Kitchen, Dispatch, and Swiss Institute for Contemporary Art, New York; the Mori Art Museum and Taro Nasu, Tokyo; South London Gallery, London. Her ongoing series Negative Entropy was first exhibited at 11 Rivington in New York and is currently on view at the Gwangju Biennial. Tajima is part of the music-based performance group New Humans.