After the Screen: Array Aesthetics and Transmateriality

The screen is the ultimate general-purpose infrastructure of media culture: an array of uniform elements composited to form a transparent substrate for media content. Screens continue to proliferate, spanning scales from the intimate to the architectural. At the same time however a number of tendencies in media art and design resist the omnipotence of the screen.

Custom “arrays” mimic the grid structure of the screen but drastically lower its resolution, emphasising the material opacity of the substrate as well as its transmaterial capacity to articulate varying patterns. Structured light and projection-mapping experiments deploy “images” tailored to a specific, non-uniform physical environment; here in fact the video projector acts as a dynamically configurable light-source, rather than an image transmitter. In a growing wave of light-based work, the pixels of the digital image peel away from the screen, to be embedded in the environment; again these arrays expand or explode the screen, and always rematerialise it. They are concrete objects in the world, rather than windows to somewhere else.

Using examples from across the media arts and design, and developing the author’s work on transmateriality, this paper will theorise a post-screen practice which strives for presence over meaning (to use Gumbrecht’s formulation), and for specificity over generality.


Mitchell Whitelaw is an academic, writer and artist with interests in new media art and culture, especially generative systems and data-aesthetics. His work has appeared in journals including Leonardo, Digital Creativity, Fibreculture, and Senses and Society. In 2004 his work on a-life art was published in the book Metacreation: Art and Artificial Life (MIT Press, 2004). His current work spans generative art and design, digital materiality, and data visualisation. He is currently an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Arts and Design at the University of Canberra, where he leads the Master of Digital Design. He blogs at The Teeming Void.