Anne Balsamo – Digital Experiences for the AIDS Memorial Quilt

By in Lectures on December 1, 2014

“Epidemics, like wars, mark a generation for life.”

The AIDS Memorial Quilt was created 27 years ago as a work of community activism to protest the appalling lack of attention by the US health agencies to an increase in improbable fatalities among gay men in the United States. Its first inception unfolded in October 1987 on the National Mall in Washington DC as part of the March for Gay Rights; it included 1,920 Quilt panels. In 2014, the Quilt now encompasses more than 48,000 panels, representing 60 countries and commemorating more than 93,000 names. It is the largest living memorial of its kind in the world.

The Quilt is also an “activist archive” of the late 20th century. The activities that gave rise to the Quilt in 1987 are part of the history of the campaign for gay and lesbian rights in the US. The Quilt literally stitches together a million memories, a million stories, a million lessons about the relationship between individual lives, public culture, and political activism. In its textile form, it is an unwieldy archive. If laid out in its entirety the Quilt would cover more than 1.3 million square feet. It weighs more than 34 tons.

Dean of the School of Media Studies, Anne Balsamo, presents a brief history of the creation of the Quilt as the context for a demonstration of three new digital experiences that are designed to extend viewing of the textile Quilt. As examples of media art activism, these digital memorial applications were created to extend the reach of the AIDS Memorial Quilt and to augment the practices of cultural remembering. Dean Balsamo will explore how digital technologies might assist the transformation of communities of interest into communities of participation, enhance practices of cultural memory, and contribute to innovation in modes of archiving works of cultural heritage.

This event is sponsored by the School of Media Studies as part of its weekly lecture series for “Understanding Media Studies.” This event is also in collaboration with “Reckoning with AIDS: The New School Events for World AIDS Day & the 25th Anniversary of Day With(out) Art” featuring programming across the University to honor and commemorate World AIDS Day.

The Talk


The Class Responds

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The Speaker

Anne Balsamo is a groundbreaking national leader in media studies, a scholar and media-maker whose work links cultural studies, digital humanities, and interactive media. She received her PhD in Communications Research from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and began her faculty career in the School of Literature, Culture, and Communications at Georgia Tech, where she published a distinguished book about the cultural implications of emergent biotechnologies, Technologies of the Gendered Body: Reading Cyborg Women. In 1999, having grown interested in the practical linkages between technology and culture, she accepted an offer to join the celebrated Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), collaborating in the design of media for reading, exhibition, public art, and cultural projects. In 2003, Dr. Balsamo moved from Silicon Valley to USC, where she had been jointly appointed in the Annenberg School of Communications and the School of Cinematic Arts. She directed the Collaborative Design Lab within the Interactive Design Division of the School of Cinematic Arts. She has been a leader in the growth of digital humanities nationally, serving on the Advisory Board of HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Co-laboratory) since its founding in 2003. In 2011, she published Designing Culture: The Technological Imagination at Work, a transmedia book (with accompanying DVD and web linkages to interactive media projects) that synthesizes and theorizes the links between her cultural studies scholarship and digital media projects.

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