Art-science talk on memes
Memes are everywhere in digital culture: small creative contents, often put in a hybrid format of diverse media (text, image, audio, video), and shared through various digital channels within multiple social communities. While the cultural significance of memes is sometimes questioned in more conservative media (the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung observed in 2019 that memes are “trash” but important), they are receiving increasing attention not only from the side of artists, but also from different scientific disciplines. Indeed, it seems that it is exactly the ambiguous and unstable nature of memes, their communicative potential and intermediality that makes them travel so well between different recipients.
Moderated by Federica Patti, the author Berit Glanz, the linguist Thomas C. Messerli and the artist Jiajia Zhang discuss the significance of memes as a pop cultural digital object. What insights do they take from their confrontation with memes? What significance do they attribute to them for their respective fields of work? Is there any common ground in the different approaches to memes, and how are memes “read” differently?
Berit Glanz is an author, essayist and literary scholar. She studied in Munich, Stockholm and Reykjavík and was then a research assistant at the chair for modern Scandinavian literature at the University of Greifswald. Her debut novel Pixeltänzer was published by Schöffling Verlag in 2019 and was awarded the Hebbel Prize 2020, among others. Her first volume of poetry Partikel was published by Reinecke & Voss in 2020. Her second novel Automaton is published by Berlin Verlag in spring 2022. She is an editorial member of the digital feuilleton 54books and regularly writes the memeculture newsletter Phoneurie.
Thomas C. Messerli is a research and teaching fellow in English linguistics at the University of Basel, where he completed his PhD on Repetition in Telecinematic Humour in 2018. He also works as a lecturer and researcher in English at the PH FHNW, the School of Education at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland. His research is mainly dedicated to linguistic pragmatics, but he is also active in digital humanities and digital social reading. Current research interests include participation frameworks of (subtitled) film, community subtitling and active viewership, humorous, aggressive and persuasive communication in online social networks, including memes and communication on Reddit, and evaluative discourses online, such as evaluation in online book reviews. As part of his research on online communication, he has also published two studies on memes: Multimodal construction of soccer-related humor on Twitter and lnstagram (2018, published in the edited volume The Aesthetic, Poetics, and Rhetoric of Soccer, co-authored with Di Yu) and On a Cross-Cultural Memescape: Switzerland through Nation Memes from within and from the Outside (2020, published in the journal Contrastive Pragmatics, co-authored with Marta Dynel).
Federica Patti is an independent curator, lecturer and art critic. Her research focuses on contemporary art movements, with a particular interest in live media, liminal practices, digital humanities, music and science. Thanks to the support of the Italian Council IX, she is investigating On Posthuman Performativity. For a trans-disciplinary definition of live media performance with a peculiar eye to the performing arts on the Metaverse. She actively collaborates with several institutions, galleries and festivals (CUBO – Centro Unipol Bologna, Romaeuropa Festival among others) on the presentation and development of her research topics curating exhibitions, screening, talks and workshops. Since 2020 she is a tutor of the “Residenze Digitali” project and a member of the juries of numerous international New Media Art awards (p. e. STARTS prize Piedmont, RE: Humanism 2021). She is part of LaRete Art Projects curatorial collective and IKT – International Association of Curators of Contemporary Art. Since 2013 she has been a frequent contributor for Exibart and Creativeapplications.net.
Jiajia Zhang’s rigorous and moving artistic practice moves deftly between film, writing, sculpture, and installation and mediates between common materials, relational and representative space, myriad political perspectives, and the diaristic poetry of the everyday. Recent exhibitions include La réforme de Pooky (2022, Kunsthalle Friart), If Everyday would be a holiday, towns would be more mysterious (2021, Coalmine, Winterthur) and Summer of Suspense (2020, Kunsthalle Zürich).
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