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Infrastructural Imaginaries with artist and researcher Jamie Allen

[Photo of Jamie Allen by Samantha Moss]

On Thursday March 2nd, community members packed Traill College’s Bagnani Hall to hear from Canadian artist and researcher, Jamie Allen. A fascinating cross-section of the Peterborough and Trent communities had been compelled to come and see Allen speak. From the community there were researchers, artists, musicians, and novelists, while representation from the university ranged from professors, undergrads, and PhD candidates in the sciences, English, and Cultural Studies. No matter their faction, each attendee found themselves enthralled with the presentation Allen brought with him. In anticipation of his appearance, Allen provided a ‘suggested readings’ page so that those looking to engage in active discussion might have something to reference. The document was over 300 pages long, however Allen playfully chuckled when a member of the audience voiced their regret that they did not get a chance to get through the whole thing, saying it was not necessary to do so.

Allen’s goal for this discussion period was to tease out how the audience felt when thinking about the way media and communications technologies dynamically link perception, individuals, and communities to global ecological and geological effects and phenomena.

However, the roller coaster ride of this session kept the conversation leaping from one topic to another by the minute.

Born in Canada, and working primarily between New York, the UK and now Copenhagen, Jamie Allen has been involved with emerging technologies as a designer, researcher, artist and teacher for over a decade. Allen says he likes to make things with his head and hands through a variety of different channels, including investigations into the material systems of media, electricity, and information. He has been exhibited internationally, with projects from Eyebeam in NYC, to the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology in Liverpool, to SIGGRAPH Asia in Yokohama, Japan. Allen has hosted lectures all across North America, Asia, and Europe. He is currently working on Shift Register, a research project that is dedicated to investigating how human media technological infrastructural activities have marked the earth. He also curates an online journal called Continent, an open platform for discussion and thought exercises on how our current age of media is effecting traditional operations of society such as politics, art, film, and philosophical thought.

Allen led the lecture in a casual, unorthodox manner, fostering a welcoming and seminar-like atmosphere in which attendees felt like more of a panel than an audience. Allen enthusiastically encouraged challenges, criticisms, or new ideas from the group and listened with great interest.

With honors degrees in both mechanical and electrical engineering, coupled with a Bachelor of music and composition, Allen is an unmistakable lifelong learner. His appreciation for all fields of knowledge helped him connect with many of the different types of people in attendance that evening. To kick off his presentation, Allen took the audience through a few of his artistic passion projects that aim to provoke critical thinking about how, and more importantly why, our society works the way that it does.

When trying to illustrate this point, Allen used the example of water coming out of our taps as an acknowledgement of our ignorance about how things in our everyday life truly work, despite our fluent capabilities in using them.

“[These types of things are] transparent in terms of how we use them but opaque in terms of how they work.”

Simply put, we know that if we turn on the tap water comes out, but we have no idea why or how and most of us likely never will.

After a few hours of stimulating conversation and some seriously abstract thinking at times, organizer Michael Eamon invited all who attended back to The Trend for finger food and beverages, with the added bonus of a chance to pick the brain of Jamie Allen in an even more casual and relaxed setting.

Jamie Allen has been involved with many different projects in his over twelve years of developing emerging technologies.

These can be found on his website at

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