Sunday, July 29, 2007

Americans in the Netherlands

I met quite a few Americans while in the Netherlands; that by itself isn't so surprising but I was startled at how many were from Californian universities, mostly the UC. At New Network Theory, Alan Liu from UC Santa Barbara spoke, and Ramesh Srinivasan from UCLA (discussed in my last post), and Warren Sack from UC Santa Cruz--there may have been others too. Then at Remediating Literature, Katherine Hayles, also from UCLA, gave a keynote. Apparently I need to go to another country to meet fellow Californian faculty. Well, I could make some kind of snide comment except I also met Nanette Wylde from California State University, Chico. She was very pleasant and is doing some very interesting work. I didn't realize it at first, but she's part of the group that created Meaning Maker, which I love. The conference edition is hilarious, and bitingly accurate. So I was actually rather thrilled to meet one of the creators, and to find out she is also at a branch of the CSU.

In addition to all the Californians, I also met Renee Turner, who originally hailed from Texas, but has been in the Netherlands for at least 10 years, I think. I mentioned her weeks ago now, but never got back to really describing her work or our meeting. Renee was making a presentation at Remediating Literature about A Seance with Guy Debord, one of the projects by De Geuzen (the three-woman artist collective of which she's a member). This was more a performance than an academic paper; I wished the panel had focused on that exclusively so we had more time for discussion. (Not that the other papers weren't interesting as well!)

Anyway, even before I saw her panel, Renee and I happened to start chatting during one of the tea breaks, and really hit it off. W e turned out to know some people in common because she has worked in the past (and will again come Sept.) for the Piet Zwart Institute and also just because she's been in the Netherlands since the early 90s. So she very kindly gave me the scoop on some people I'd met only recently on this trip, and we hung out quite a bit between sessions and during meals. I was really impressed to hear about how she balances her own artistic work with new pursuits in creative writing, along with her teaching. She doesn't have (or want) a steady connection with any of the schools at which she has taught, and that struck me, because it's so different from what I've chosen, which is is a pretty traditional journey down the tenure track. If I were single, with no kids, maybe I would feel able to take a less certain path, but Renee has a child, so I think she must be just more adventurous, or less risk-averse, or something. Anyway, I admire it.

--That's not to say I want to trade; I'm actually pretty amazed at well things are going for me at the moment. As grad student I sometimes felt I was most talented at getting in my own way, and for the past 12 months I've seemed to avoid my usual self-entrapments. I only hope I don't have a relapse!

After this conference was over, Renee and I connected again in Rotterdam, where it turns out she lives. We went to the Euromast tower, which is weird and campy, but does have a really nice view of the city. Renee was also nice enough to give me some chocoladehagl (chocolate sprinkles) to take home for my kids. These are a traditional Dutch condiment for breakfast toast, and of course the kids loved it. (And got really hyper!) So thanks to Renee for being so friendly and also interesting. I'm looking forward to doing some work with De Geuzen, related to their Female Icons project, because in addition to all the tech-y academic stuff I do, I also am a comic book fan and write about those quite a lot. More on that when it gets sorted out.

And now, off to a meeting about the next few grants I'll be writing. --It may sound boring, but it's a welcome interruption from the revisions to a book chapter I'm forcing myself through...

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Scholars and Artists

In the last couple of months I have enjoyed meeting a host of really interesting scholars and artists. I've written about those I was seeing or meeting in an official way--keynote speakers, panelists, interviewees, etc. But, I also met quite a few people in a more casual way who are also doing research and or art that ought to be getting some attention. Plus they were just cool and I enjoyed meeting them so much!

So, who did I meet...

Well, I guess it's easiest to go chronologically. At New Network Theory I met Matthew Fuller briefly; he was Course Director at Piet Zwart before Florian, and I had the fun of listening as they argued over the rough draft of Florian's talk. We didn't actually get to talk much, but I have just been informed by our library that his Media Ecologies book has come in, so I will probably write him about it later. And post more here, of course. Then I met Olia Lialina, whose talk on html style I enjoyed a lot. I don't think I posted about that yet--maybe by next summer I will have caught up. Anyway, she was nice, but I was so jet-lagged, I doubt I said anything remotely intelligent or memorable. Maybe next time. I spent a little more time with Jacob Lillemose when he and I and Florian had dinner on the first day. He's on the board of a Danish group called ArtNode, an independent Research Center for Digital Art and Culture. I should interview him! But when we met we talked more about his dissertation which if I recall aright, is about "Post-object Aesthetics." One thing I found really interesting about several of the people I met is that they already have a lot of authority in the field, have publish, are giving keynotes, directing things, all before they have even finished their doctoral work. Very impressive. We all shared Rijstaffel and it was delicious.

The next day I met few interesting people very briefly, but then met two again later at length. My panel was chaired by Ramesh Srinivasan who is in his own words an

Assistant Professor of Information Studies - University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), holds a M.S. Degree from MIT's Media Laboratory and a Doctorate degree from Harvard, and has focused his research globally on the development of information systems within the context of culturally-differentiated communities. He has studied how an information system can be developed to engage communities to develop their socioeconomic, educational, and cultural infrastructures. This has included an analysis of how the cultural practices specific to communities can manifest themselves into an information system's architecture, particularly with respect to how it represents, categorizes, and disseminates the information it stores. This research allows one to uncover mechanisms by which local visions and practices can converge with international development initiatives. His research has spanned such bounds as Native Americans, Somali refugees, Indian villages, Aboriginal Australia, and Maori New Zealand.

We spoke briefly afterwards and agreed we should stay in touch. I need to email him now that I'm home because I think the kind of work he's done would be really relevant to our students and community.

One of the most interesting panels I attended was the one actually titled "Network Theory" --why they got that title out of everyone, no one seems to know-- and I thought the most interesting speaker was Mirko Tobias Schäfer who was proposing a new metaphor, foam, for discussing social relationships. In this case online, but actually there's no reason to restrict it to that. Anyway, I spoke to Mirko a bit after the panel, but we were both rushing because everything was behind schedule and we almost missed lunch and the next session (which I was speaking in). Happily, we both were at the Piet Zwart graduation show where we were able to chat much more comfortably over beer and art.

Mirko has written numerous papers about opensource culture and communities, many of which are available at his website; about half and half English and German. (of course, not the one on Foam...) Right now he's writing his dissertation on "Bastard Culture! Competent Users, Networks and Cultural Industries". More to the point, he's a nice guy who has offered to let me grill him about his work via email and skype. And, he's another who seems to have accomplished a lot even while finishing his PhD. Coincidentally (or I suppose not, given our shared academic interests) Mirko is doing his doctorate at the University of Utrecht where he sees a fair amount of William Uricchio, whom I knew at MIT, and UU is where my other conference was.

Anyway, he's written quite a bit lately about how users of both software and hardware contribute to it's development through hacking, and how people actually learn to do this--that is, how naive users gain enough knowledge to even join communities in which they can learn more. Figuring out this second part will be crucial to the success of our new programs because our students may be as inexperienced a group of users as you can find inside a developed nation, so I'm glad to have found some people who are studying this, and who are so cool! It's lovely to have so many nice and grown-up conversations in such a short time--in fact, after 4 years during which the majority of my talk was with someone under the age of 4, such intellectually stimulating discourse feels almost an illicit pleasure. And I want to especially thank Mirko for our long talk at the graduation show; all the other people I already knew from Piet Zwart were obviously busy, so I might have felt a complete wallflower. (Not to mention that professionally interesting talk with charming people is the thing I enjoy most during conference trips, so I'm indebted to anyone who contributes.)

He also offered to sightsee with me, which would have been fun, but we both ended up being too busy to coordinate very well. (In fact, given that I was visiting for 16 days, I didn't do so much sightseeing.) --Several people I met offered to let me stay with them if I wanted to visit their city during my trip, and I only wish I could have had more time to do that, and know these people better.

Finally, I also got to speak a few times with Kristina Andersen, who this year has been a tutor at Piet Zwart and who is an active artist connected to Steim. We had and interesting talk about being working moms, and gossiped a bit about other people in the field. She gave a very interesting talk a few years back about how artistic collaborations work (or don't) and hopefully we'll talk more about that some time. She's another PZI teacher who clearly has meant a lot to the students and who cares about them too.

I think that covers the first conference and the PZI events. Next time some people I met at Remediating Literature.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Big Picture

Early on I introduced this blog and why I was writing it, but didn't say much about the overall plan of which my trip to the Netherlands was part. Here's a brief summary:

last fall I started organizing faculty that were interested in New/digital media to talk about possible projects and to write grants. We really got going on it in January and now we are really picking up steam (except of course the first grant was submitted in late April and the rest are underway, so we won't know about money until Late Sept., at the earliest). Money aside, we all felt that students really needed far more experience using and thinking about computer technology and the ways it has changed almost every aspect of our culture. We want them to gain the skills they really need for future employment, which now go beyond sending email and making powerpoint presentations, but most of all we want them to be active creators and users of digital technology, not just passive consumers.

So we decided to create a center through which to develop projects and programs, but interestingly, it's hard to get money for a center and easier to get it for projects, so we are just trying to do the projects and say they are through the center so that at first it will just exist in name. Hopefully, if the projects and programs succeed, we will be able to convince our administration to give us structural support (meaning space and money) so that someday the center will exist as a physical reality and a line in the base budget. Or maybe we'll make a space like Worm did (see my second entry on them) where almost everything is salvaged.

Anyway, we are working on the following projects:

  • Running a series of workshops for faculty who want to incorporate technology or teach about it in their classes. We have funding for the fall portion and are seeking funding for the spring to offer small stipends to 15 faculty who actually create new classes or course modules and to bring in some visiting speakers.

  • Connecting with local organizations such as the Turlock Library, the local schools, and the Arts Commission to run public programs for, students and teachers and the public. We've already got a letter of support from the Arts Commission.

  • Creating a new minor in Digital Media--We just submitted a letter of intent to the NSF for a grant in support of this. --If the minor proves popular, I imagine in 5 years or so we might propose a major.

  • Creating a new Interdisciplinary MA in Digital Media (or Technology, the title is still up in the air)

  • As part of the new MA, we are proposing an international collaboration with the Piet Zwart Institute Media Design MA in Rotterdam, NL. This would involve an optional exchange program for students that would allow them to receive a Joint MA from our programs. I have been communicating with the Director of the Program and met with him and the of Piet Zwart this month and they are enthusiastic. I also attended the first-year student exhibit and the graduation exhibit, and spoke at length with students and staff, besides looking at student papers, class syllabi, etc. We are developing a plan that will be part of the MA proposal.

  • We are planning to create a lost cost wireless mesh network in Turlock to provide cheap high-speed internet access. Lack of high-speed access is a nagging problem for many students and resident in the area and certainly would hinder our efforts to provide more educational and cultural material via the internet.

  • I am conducting a study of cultural and academic institutions organized around new/digital media which will lead in the near future to articles and conference presentations and ultimately to a book. This summer I conducted a series of interviews with some directors of these kinds of programs in the Netherlands and will be continuing these over the next few years. --A lot about these interviews are covered in earlier entries.

As we work on all of these we are applying for grant after grant and I'm writing a lot of them. If I combine all the proposals, I'll have a book-length text by December. Too bad they don't count as publications!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Letters of intent (LOI)

Some granting agencies encourage (or require) applicants to submit a letter of intent before applying so the agency can decide on reviewers more easily. So, OK, coming up with a 2-page letter with one inch margins, 12-point font in an NSF approved typeface is slightly tiresome, but I write so many conference abstracts, it wasn't a big deal. Doing it while emailing drafts around with my colleagues while we are all on vacation and dealing with family stuff was a little more tiresome but still, it's only two pages. We got it done and sent it to our Office of Sponsored Research and Programs, and Nancy, one of our devoted pre-award staff, was to submit it through that delightful online Fastlane system.

Surprise surprise, when Nancy logged in she found that the Fastlane system had a different set of requirements than the program solicitation had listed. Since by then I was offline and we were up against the deadline, she and one of my other colleagues had to improvise, and they did yeoman work re-writing the letter to fit texts fields with very limited character-counts.

--I actually like character counts in one way; they force much leaner, more elegant prose. But trying to produce that on a short deadline is trying. To paraphrase something Henry Jenkins once wrote in his blog, I write long when I don't have time to write short.

Anyway, here's what we ultimately submitted:

Pilot: Increasing underrepresented groups in computer science through interdisciplinary and community collaboration

Historically, women and people of color have been under-represented in Computer Science. California State University, Stanislaus, designated as a Hispanic-Serving institution with an enrollment of over 50% female undergraduates, experiences this same under-representation. Faculty from an array of disciplines that span the physical and mathematical sciences, social sciences, arts, and humanities have come together to develop a new curriculum based on an inter-disciplinary and project-centered approach, and to connect with students and teachers at the secondary level in order to increase underrepresented student population in Computer Science. Our approach will emphasize creativity, teamwork, and the development of projects relevant to students and the local community. These have been shown to make computer science more attractive to women and paint a more realistic picture of the skills needed for a career in computer science. We are transforming existing courses and developing additional ones to create new routes into Computer Scie

nce for our undergraduates, and to create new connections with the community. We intend to develop a new minor in Digital Media and a variety of courses and outreach programs to attract our target student population. These will include workshops for local high school teachers and students; and visiting speakers, artists and industry professionals who will make presentations to both university and public audiences, strengthening ties to the community and to other schools. The visiting lecturers will reinforce the practical application and ethical implications of the projects that the students are learning within the minor, and will make those relationships explicit to the public.

The target population typically chooses majors in English, Art, Communication, and Gender or Ethnic studies. Our experiences in those classes and observations of other programs suggest that many of these students can learn how to use sophisticated applications and become skilled programmers if they are taught in a project-centered way and if the applications and programming skills are presented as tools rather than an end unto themselves. They are interested in the ethical, pedagogical, and cultural aspects of computer technology. Our students have strong ties to local communities, thus projects that benefit local communities will be far more compelling.

Minor in Digital Media Capstone course: The capstone project will focus on archiving regional living histories and will have a slightly different focus each year. The specific focus will be determined by the students and will be influenced by the contributing courses from other departments, allowing direct relationships between courses revealing the intricate and overlapping ways in which the interaction of technology and culture affects all parts of our community.

Computer Science will develop a method to index and retrieve the content and the programming of the presentation. Art will contribute visual material and will
guide the design of the presentation created from the content collected. English and other participating departments will contribute interpretive content.

The presentation for the capstone course will be consistent from year to year, allowing for data integration and for the project to become more robust with time,
as each project forms part of a new digital library. During the capstone project exhibition, student creators will present and discuss their projects through public

Project-based courses and workshops for middle and high school students and teachers in digital media will be a method of outreach. These groups will collaborate on archiving the previous capstone project in an online format. In addition, we plan to have an ongoing speaker/exhibit series that brings prominent speakers from industry, arts, and academia to a university audience and also to forums in the community. These community lectures will be aimed at high school students in particular, as we work to attract new applicants to the program. The local city arts commission has already expressed interest in contributing to the realization of our projects.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Yet another cool institution in Rotterdam...

I realized that while I've written quite a bit about the Piet Zwart first year and graduation shows, and have mentioned them in connection with Worm, but I haven't said that much about what this school is or what my connection is. I'll warn you now that if my last post about Worm was alarmingly enthusiastic, well, this one is, hmmmn...ardent?

In brief, my school is developing a new Master's program, as yet untitled, but basically it's about media, technology, design...suggestions are welcome! So I've been working with other faculty on that idea since early last fall, and then I ran into Florian Cramer, an old friend from grad. school, at MLA 2007 . As it turned out, he is the director of the Piet Zwart Institute Media Design MA and they would be interested in working with us. They have been running this MA since 2002, but because they are part of a hogeschool (The Willem de Kooning Academie) instead of a university, their MA is recognized in the Netherlands as a special case, and so is a bit precarious. After talking a bit, we realized our programs each had something that would help the other, so we decided to attempt a joint MA. When our program comes online it will be for a regular accredited MA, so that helps PZI, while they have gained valuable experience pioneering a novel (and as it turns out really successful) approach to this kind of program and that experience will really help us.

This summer when I realized I would be coming to the Netherlands for conferences and other interviews, I arranged with Florian to soak up as much info about the school as I could. I went to the first year show and the graduation show; I went along with him to the final shows of the Willem de Kooning Academie BA programs to look for potential recruits, I talked to many of the students and some of the teachers as well, and met with officials of the Academie, and generally did all I could to learn exactly how they did things and how successful their approach might be.

It is extremely successful.

A lot of factors contribute to this success; several are structural. Students enter as a class of about 10 and proceed as a cohort through the program, all taking the same classes. This creates a strong community that can at least offer its members adequate feedback on projects, even in groups that don't have terribly good chemistry. When the chemistry is good, the students become really supportive of each other and are able to learn even more thanks to both the collective intelligence effect and the reduction of the affective filter (anxiety).

Further, rather than having several classes each day, classes are divided by days, so that students spend an entire day focusing on one topic which creates an intense immersion. It might sound daunting, but the students I spoke with were very enthusiastic, one saying that she had never liked school before joining this program, which she loves. In fact, because some of the students enter without much experience programming, this approach might even be crucial to their being able to become skillful enough programmers by the time they are done that they can realize their final projects.

I think the balance of theory, practice, and reflection also makes an important contribution to this program's success. Students get a thorough grounding in the critical theory relevant to Media Design; not just in aesthetic concerns, but also in the ongoing debates over licensing, privacy, and so on. They learn hardware and software hacking techniques, and they are required to produce a quantity of academic prose reflecting on these experiences. After seeing both the student exhibitions and reading the final papers each graduating student made available, I could see clearly how well all of these pieces had worked together and because synthesis is one of the hardest skills for students to learn, I was all the more impressed. Some students of course created more sophisticated projects or explored their ideas more thoroughly in writing than others, but all displayed competence and many were inspired. In fact, two were subsequently selected from a Europe-wide pool of students as part of a small group to display their work at V2, and another has been invited to Ars Electronica.

Also, this balance works on a cognitive level because it combines several different modes or intelligences (depending which educational psych theories you like best). The programming, writing, design work, hardware hacking, oral presentations, and performances pull in many different ways to learn material in a way that comes as close as I've ever seen to an optimal environment for learning (as defined by the various theories). I don't know if this was deliberate, based on these theories, or just lucky, but either way, students really learn.

Finally, the Media Design program succeeds because it has great teachers. I haven't had the chance to speak with all of them personally, and some change from year to year, but those I did speak to were intensely dedicated to the students, and all of them were very good at their jobs. One way the program enriches students' education is to have visiting tutors each that supervise that term's thematic project. These tutors are all active designers, programmers, scholars and artists; many are very well known and influential in their fields, such as Jodi, Geert Lovink, Lev Manovich, Peter Lunenfeld, Sandra Fauconnier....

I have to single one person out for recognition though he may find it embarrassing, and that is the Florian, the MDMA Course Director. Now I have known Florian a long time, since we were both in graduate school (yikes, since 1993!), and I've always known him to be a first-rate scholar, but this summer I had the chance to observe him as a teacher and director. Now that my friends and I have all been out of grad school for a few years, I keep having this weird experience of getting to know them all over as professionals. It's kind of like seeing a sibling on the job or as a parent, and realizing that in some way, there are parts of that person you never knew, though you might have known him or her for many many years.

Anyway, Speaking as someone who has made a study of pedagogical practice (it comes with the territory for people in Composition) and as someone who trains future teachers, I was mightily impressed with this "new" friend. Scholarship is no guarantee of good teaching or managing, and in fact sometimes (perhaps even often) really good scholars are terrible teachers and managers because they are so focused on scholarship. But I could see that Florian is one of those exceptional people who excels at all three.

Not only did I see him spending tremendous time and energy on the program, (that could just mean he was bad at time management, after all!) but I saw how the students and other staff felt about him. The staff I spoke with at PZI all had good things to say which they were apparently compelled to share since, I wasn't actually trying to solicit these comments, and the students I spoke with, especially those finishing their first year, were positively devoted. As if all this wasn't enough, Florian is a good manager. I have to say that this struck me even more than the rest because since I also direct a program at my school, I know how difficult balancing responsibilities can be.

Well, I've probably put him to the blush enough now. But it's a great thing to see my friends from grad school doing so well. I get a feeling I might put into words this way: I thought back then they were terrific, but it was all just gut feeling, easily marked down as the bias of friendship, but now I have proof; I was right about these people. They are really wonderful. --I've shifted to plural now because I've just learned that another close friend from grad school has been made dept. chair at her school. My friends rock!

I'm sure then it should be no surprise that we at CSU want to partner with this program and hopefully create an MA course that works as well for our students. More about that later; but your next treat will be "letters of intent--what the hell are they really?"

Friday, July 20, 2007

Worm invaded

Worm invaded
Originally uploaded by cuuixsilver
Not caring so much about Worm's status, being more focused on it's principles and goals seems to account for some of the biggest differences between this group and many of the others. For example, unlike V2, which is explicitly disinterested in having students trooping through, Worm has carried out what seems likely to be the first of many collaborations with the Piet Zwart Media Design MA program by hosting their graduation ceremony, final show, and celebration. After seeing that some other institutions were no so interested in working with schools in the way Worm has started to, I asked Hajo why he was. --This is important to me of course since we are creating a new program in digital media and design at my school, and because we are already working on a partnership with Piet Zwart.

Evolution of Worm

Now I will also finally finish writing about my meeting with Hajo, which I only half-covered before it was time for me to leave the Netherlands, and I'm anxious to get it all down. --I'm sure at least a few other people will write about the conferences I attended, but I'm the only one who spoke with Hajo and it was such a great conversation that I think it would would be much worse to leave that undone. Plus I enjoyed the conversation so much that I really want to get back to it--in fact I've sort of been saving it as a treat for myself. The more I think about it, I think I have a crush on Worm. --I realize that sounds perfectly stupid, to have a crush on an organization, but I was so impressed with it that I find my self wanting to prattle on in the most ridiculous way. Apologies in advance if my prose becomes tiresomely gushy.

In the first half I wrote a lot about how people-centered Worm (and Hajo) seemed to be, but he also describes himself as a Darwinist, saying that the situation for cultural institutions in Rotterdam and in the Netherlands generally is a war and that this is good; "it keeps a alert but it's not personal." Hajo also feels that the competition helps the whole scene to expand and attract attention. Of course people often say that things aren't personal when in fact they are, but in this case I was convinced that at least Hajo really felt it wasn't personal, because when I asked if there was anything we had discussed that should not be published, he said no, it was all ok. --I know, maybe our whole conversation sounds pretty tame, but he did make some comments about the other groups that might not perceived as very, ummm, flattering. But Hajo claims that he likes his counterparts at other institutions in spite disagreeing with their approaches and attitudes, and at the same time recognizes that he and Worm are not immune from those same criticisms. As he said, "those guys at V2, they are so smaakie; we are smaakie too, but we know it....ten years from now someone might be saying 'those guys from Worm...' but that's ok." --I haven't yet been able to find out exactly what smaakie means, but you get the picture.

In fact Hajo is trying to seed the next crop of contributors to the Rotterdam cultural scene by getting involved with the Media Design MA students from Piet Zwart, but it started pretty casually. As Hajo put it, they were working with Piet Zwart because of people. First of all because he and Florian [Cramer] had met, hit it off and decided they would like to work together. I've come to realize that many many collaborations start this way in both the academy and the art world, and I suppose it's no surprise. To succeed, people have to work very closely toward shared goals, so I think it's natural and helpful to work with people you like and with whom you share at least some ideas. Anyway, Hajo and Florian started talking and this is the first project. For Hajo it brings new blood into Worm; some of the students may decide to work or perform here later. Hajo is also always looking for new ideas, to see something new that they can combine with something old in public programs to inspire people. Hajo is always asking "what can we learn from past innovations to inspire new ones?"

To the right you see Audrey Samson's graduation project, 'spectres'? as it was installed at Worm, 7/7/07.

He goes on to say that "I want to contribute as much as we can...making it [new technology] into a social context, interesting, being an ambassador, making it[computers] into a normal field."

Hopefully in a few years the students can contribute something back to the field. This is a long term investment for Hajo because he believes you have to be a little older to be radical. At first this sounds counter-intuitive because young people are often assumed to be radical by nature, but I think he's right. It takes experience to know where the boundaries are and what would be a real innovation.

At this point in the interview, Marco, who does all the accounting, walked by and commented jokingly that the people at Worm are technocratic conservatives, but with love. Hajo laughed and agreed; they try to leave good things in place and alter the bad things. They don't follow trends just for the sake of them, so they are multidisciplinary not as a goal, but as a practice. Their experiments have taught them that a party can be a medium; so can a meeting. So they will use whatever media best let them explore a possibility and bring it to people--in this way they are "radically pragmatic." This holistic approach means that rather than regarding meetings as a necessary evil or parties as merely celebration after the fact, both are an integral of the discovery process.

This sounds like a productive way of working, but also perhaps more challenging. I asked Hajo what the biggest challenge was, especially when collaborating with another institution. After some thought, he replied that "dealing with really talented people means making a structure in which they can operate." In this instance of collaboration with Piet Zwart, some of the people working at Worm stayed up all night once or twice to help students who (proving that there at least some universals) needed to do a lot of work at the last minute. Hajo asked them how they felt about that, if it had been fun to work in that intensive way and apparently it had been.

Here Florian talks a member of Worm in the the Wormshop about possibilities for future collaboration. I was impressed by how open everything was; they all just did their business as usual, even though I was just hanging around snapping pictures, a stranger to everyone except Florian.

Worm is not a rich organization; they started as an artists' squat and now depend mainly on grants from foundations and the government to support more ambitious projects, so they have to think about their spending priorities. This is another way they work on providing a structure--"so the office is crap, but the performances are good. Eventually they will get fed up with the office and fix it." Again, it depends on what the people working at and with Worm most need.

The group has worked in several locations before moving to their current space in an historic building in Delfshaven that presented quite a challenge. Because it is protected as a historic monument, Worm could not make any structural changes except those required by fire codes, so they took a novel approach to constructing their space. Working with architects who followed the principle of "superuse," they constructed a new interior structure entirely from salvaged material, and all either free-standing or attached only to a metal frame made with clamps braced between the walls, floors and ceilings. This frame is held in place only by pressure, it is not fastened to the building's structure. (For more on the construction, read about it in the Superuse book, or visit the 2012 Architects' Worm set on Flickr.)

Hajo likes the space but is not especially attached to it and had thought that it would be fine if they had to move when the city finally decided what to do with the building. But, he discovered during the weekend of the graduation show that some of his colleagues had come to really care about the building, and didn't want to juts give it up. So now Hajo is working on a proposal to buy the building, because he wants the people he works with to stay and be happy, and to do that, they need to have a more permanent home.

Given his other beliefs, it's not surprising that Hajo prefers a DIY approach, but he also has pragmatic reasons as well. Superuse is not only environmentally sound, but is significantly cheaper, just as switching to Linux allowed Worm to operate with a collection of salvaged computers without having compatibility issues. But this also allows them to be "masters of new technology rather than slaves."

At the same time, Worm no longer works outside the system. When talking about the difficulty more radical groups have with a transition to working with the system as they become more established, Hajo exclaimed "don't complain about the system if you aren't taking part in the system." Worm maintains a balance between a DIY approach and being a regular institution. "If freedom is 0-->100, we are 85, and this is a success. That freedom allows them to present acts, artists, films, or speakers that might only attract a few people, and count them as successes if they are interesting, rather than measuring success only by numbers in the audience or money in the till. Measuring success also takes time; Worm started the practice of "Live Cinema" which is occurs in venues all over the world. In that way it was a great success, but no one remembers that it started at Worm. But in Hajo's words, "if you really do something, you make a difference and that makes it fun."

The transformation of Literary and Media Studies

Finally I have a chance to finish my report on Katherine Hayles; I'm sure you must all be relieved, waiting with baited breath as you were. Or weren't you? tsk tsk. Well, I will finish it for my own satisfaction then.

After laying out her argument for human-computer interaction being an example of intermediation, or emergent complexity (or at least having the potential to so be) Hayles then claimed that "consciousness is not the expression of a coherent unified self, but is the narrative that sutures together a fragmented collection of multiple agents working simultaneously." Based on my own fairly extensive research in neuroscience, I can say that this is indeed what is believed, and has been believed for since around 1997 at least. She cites Daniel Dennet.

Some E-lit takes a form that enacts this view: for example Slipping Glimpse by Stephanie Strickland, work by Cynthia Lawson, and by Jaramillo.

Hermeneutics alone can't do the bridgework needed for E-lit (I know of one friend who might disagree...) and this has led to a profound transformation of traditional disciplines under the pressure of electronic media. Here we ran out of time, so unfortunately rather than elaborating on the above examples or explaining further about this transformation, Hayles said only that Literary and Media studies should be part of this conversation, rather than being shunted aside by new fields or by the sciences themselves.

And lastly a plug for the new E-Lit Anthology.

Of course there were a few questions, but the most interesting was from Samuel Weber who asked if meaning had to equal unity--what about the 7 types of ambiguity, for example, and isn't hermeneutics all about interpreting? (refering to here early point that meaning depends on the device doing the interpretation). Hayles answered that there has been a shift in (or an expansion of) "interpretation" from high level cognition to machine interpretation. She then quoted Emo Phillips: "I used to think the brain was the most wonderful organ, but then I thought about who was telling me this."

It was a funny response, but I don't think Weber is so easily answered as all that, and while ultimately I could imagine possibly agreeing with Hayles, I really need to hear or read more about the latter stages of her argument.

Overall this was a good talk in the clarity of explanation and competence of its delivery, but I really wish we had gotten farther than just laying the groundwork because of course it's her last claims about hermeneutics and the transformation of the disciplines that really need to be argued, rather than just explained. Better yet if she had a paper out somewhere that went into more detail. But so far she doesn't, that I could find, and I checked. If anyone knows of one, please tell me!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Makedo project 1

Makedo project 1
Originally uploaded by cuuixsilver
Another cool project from the Piet Zwart students, this time from the first year show. This phone has on the first eight options statements from each artist in the first-year show, and then on the ninth, a chance for visitors to leave a message commenting.

It's a really cool interface I think! Far better than the usual leaflets or little white cards--though you can see one of those in the picture as well...Created by Annemieke van der Hoek. Now I have to leave this cafe and get the stuff we need for dinner.

A brief interruption...or maybe a long one!

I'm back in the US now and only have time for a very quick post. I'm at my parent's camp in Maine where there is no phone, no tv, and no internet! So I'm in town at a cafe with free wireless for a short span...anyway, I hope to have a chance to post more in a few days; finish up the reports on Hayles and on Worm, and catch up with other conversations and experiences from the trip. Then we move on to a delightful journey through academic paperwork as we try to get some new programs developed, approved and launched....

In the meantime I'll post one more picture.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

More on Hayles

Ok, so having introduced the idea of emergent complexity and it's requirements, Hayles next started talking about analogies as pattern recognition. She reminded us of Douglas Hofstader's claim that all "cognition is recognition." If recognizing patterns is what leads to understanding analogies, well so what? She gave some examples first of human ability to understand analogies.

then WXY=>?
of course WXZ.

But then what would the next term be? everyone in the audience immediately suggested WXA, because we know that typically lettering starts over (or possibly doubles, but I guess we all assumed only three-letter combinations were allowed).

The machine comes up with:


So it eventually reached the same solution--Hayles didn't say exactly how they "learned" or whether it was just random, and now I wish I'd asked... Then she gave an example of Morse code which combined digital (substituting dots and dashes for letters) with analog (using spaces to represent pauses) so that space=time. By contrast, binary code is all digital in which space (absence) must be represented by an actual term. She brought up Morse code to demonstrate that we all understood the spaces to represent spaces or pauses between words because of implicit assumptions based on homologies between Morse code and our everyday experience of speech.

The invisible assumptions we make about one medium are made visible when we change to a media that doesn't support the homology behind the assumption.

Next she refers to Ed Fredkin's notion that "the meaning of information is given by the process that interprets it." By interpretation she means for example the way an MP3 player interprets digital information and interfaces with some other device to produce sound, but we can also say this about cognition. --Question, is this a metaphor, or a model? I think she means it to be a model.

We experience sensory input which activates neuronal groups that then activate maps, which activate larger cognitive structures, which eventually add up as cognition (recognize this pattern?).

If we go along with Fredkin, then we shift our emphasis from product to process (of course we did this in Comp. Theory years ago), from intentionality to consciousness, to "aboutness" as a spectrum....meaning is de-anthropomorphized. I hope I didn't miss something important in that ellipses in my notes.

Having said all of this, humans and computers interacting meet the conditions for emergent complexity or intermediation. Certain works of E-literature foreground this as content as well as process. The evolution of E-literature also exemplifies a dynamic heterarchy (see the outline of conditions in my previous post)as we adopt new media. So the codex book was for storage and transmission of ideas; iit was a vehicle for cognitions. The computer though is an active cognitive agent--that is, it acts upon data and doesn't just store or transmit it.

Ok, I only have one more page of notes, but it's the most complex, so it must wait until tomorrow. At the earliest!

I leave tomorrow and while I'm mostly packed, I may need the morning to make sure everything is organized before I leave around 9:30 to get the tram, to get the train, to be at Schiphol by 11:30 for my 2pm flight. Tot ziens!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A brief interruption of the timeline...

Before I finish reporting on Worm, I have to pause and catch up on some earlier stuff, before I forget everything, so this entry will be on Katherine Hayles' keynote speech at the Re-mediating Literature conference that I covered very generally a few posts back.

Ok, she had a really clearly laid out talk with started with an explanation of emergent complexity and what conditions produce it. Here is an overview of her points, closely paraphrased from her slides (finally, someone who did a simple PPT presentation with no bugs):

--The universe is fundamentally computational (Wolfram)
*examples of cellular automata, fractals
--Emergence, complex behaviors arising spontaneously and unpredictably from simple computational rules
*example cute program with 24 independent agents to which various rules can be applied (I wonder if she coded that herself?)

But, digital mechanisms can't be the whole story; digital and analog cooperate, for example in DNA strand replication, which is digital, only creates a practical or concrete result when it is expressed through protein-folding, which is an analog process. Analog is good at transferring information while digital is good at error control and both are essential in the case of DNA.

But these two processes affect each other and we see evolving complexity across levels--"dynamic heterarchies."

Feed forward and feedback loops in dynamically interconnecting media. In other words, First level primitives interact and the results of those interactions become second level primitives, and so on. For example, the interaction of sub-atomic particles make atoms, the atoms interact to form molecules, and the molecules interact to form proteins. But, activity on any level reaches not just those right about or below, but may reach through levels as well.

Another example is pregnancy; the mother is producing the fetus, but at the same time, the fetus is re-engineering the mother. --This example really struck me because it's really quite interesting the way developments in the fetus trigger further changes in the mother, and at the same time the fetus is reacting to changes in the environment (the mother) who mediates changes in the external environment, such as what is present in the air or the water or the food she takes in.

So intermediation has these crucial components:

--Different levels of complexity
--Different media
--Heterarchical dynamics

all of which lead to emergent complexity. Damn, still 4 pages of notes left, but I will pause here. So remember, emergent complexity comes from dynamic intermediation.

Monday, July 9, 2007

The heart of the Worm

Having caught up everything about the graduation show, now I'll get to the meeting I had this morning, with Hajo Doorn, director of Worm. I'll start by saying that of all the meetings and conversations I've had about how different institutions work here in the Netherlands, this was by far the best. In addition to offering me a wealth of information, Hajo let me really see inside Worm, as if I wasn't some random person dropping by, but somehow part of things. I'll explain that a little better later, but let me go in order.

Worm really is unique--of course every place wants to think that, but usually it's not true. In this case though, I can't think of any other cultural or arts organization I've ever seen that runs exactly like Worm. First of all, the range of activities is amazingly broad. Events held there include dance parties, film screenings, live bands, sound art installations, electronic/computer art installations, lectures, and educational activities like the recent Piet Zwart graduation. Worm also stands out because of the way they balance their growing role in the community, which gives them more chance at funding and at shaping the local conversation about art and culture in Rotterdam, with still maintaining the freedom of an outsider to take risks and to do things a little differently. That last is no small feat when dealing with civil servants and funding agencies. Finally, Worm is focused on people, inside the organization and those they collaborate with or invite in, rather than on their own institutional status.

This last characteristic was what Hajo most emphasized. But before I expand that point let me back up a bit and first say something about Hajos' take on the whole scene. The Netherlands is a small country, so it's not so hard for a group to get started and get some attention. They all compete with each other, which Hajo thinks is productive because it draws more attention to the scene as a whole. But, established institutions try to claim the discourse, which shuts out groups; this means they have to work hard to find a niche and show how they are different. Taking V2 as a contrast for example, according to Hajo, "V2 is big in their scene, but it's very small scene." He also commented on how they were not very connected to the local community, or to the open source community. I had noticed the latter when talking to Alex and everyone seems to recognized the V2 is very narrowly focused, the only question is whether they think the narrow focus is a deliberate strategy, or something that dooms V2 to shrinking relevance. Other organizations also seem far more hierarchical; both V2 and de Waag have a clear and seemingly rigid hierarchy with the people on top exerting very firm control over everyone else and having set guidelines for how they do everything. I'd say de Waag is not as rigid as V2, and maybe they need more structure since they have so many community stakeholders.

But Hajo and the others at Worm take it as a principle that they "design for people, not for systems," which means they have often asked their funding organizations or the civil servants they work with if they really want this kind of report or that kind of procedure, because it will cost so many thousands of Euros to produce. Often, the answer is no, and they find a different way to provide what the funding agency or civil servants need. In fact, while the other organizations I visited explained their goals and criteria, which were all about art, culture, and sometimes the community, I didn't get as clear a statement from them on their operating principles. Worm has several worth listing here:

  • Energy is the most important quality [of a work or project]
  • It's all about people
  • Let's not pollute
  • Design for people, not for systems
  • Challenge the system
  • Try to pay people, even a little
But they try to challenge with a smile, not in a nagging way. Also, note that the Netherlands has worked for a long time with the "polder" model of consensus, which is very different from the way government works in most other countries. Because just about the entire country is below sea-level, and because so much of it is made of reclaimed land, or polders, people had to agree on managing the dikes--at least that's one story. Regardless of its origin, the polder model basically means that all stakeholders consult and cooperate, even if they are competitors. In the case of arts/cultural groups this has pros and cons. On the one hand, it encourages collaboration and sharing resources, but it also means that no one group can get very much money, so it's hard for groups to grow beyond a certain point or become international.

In fact, Hajo wasn't too concerned about this. He thinks that art should be local, and also he's really into a do-it-yourself (DIY) approach, which doesn't require huge chunks of money and isn't really consistent with international ambitions. Because he's always trying to do a lot with a little, Worm uses Linux running on computers that were salvaged, and Worms physical space is made with 80% recycled materials, mostly industrial salvage from the port (of Rotterdam). Along with the Polder model, the Rotterdam context is also very "flat" compared to other cities in the Netherlands, meaning that it's pretty easy to get access to officials, which helps groups to get started.

Hajo shared a lot of other information--it was a three-hour meeting, including coffee and the chance to listen in as he talked over the success of the Piet Zwart graduation show with Florian (who was there with students making official documentation) and as he talked about possible future collaborations, plans for the building, how to spend out the remaining budget--I've never seen another group be so casual, except maybe my own department--maybe that's why it was so comfortable. Anyway, I'll post more tomorrow because it's getting late!

Other interesting graduation projects

There were other good projects too; I posted the too that most captured my attention, which had to do not only with the project itself, but how much the student was right there as part of it, demonstrating or performing. Also, I don't have good pictures of the others because of how the space was lit and (more often) the way people were milling around and (most often) my open lack of experience trying to take photographs in conditions with high contrast lighting...

But, Piet Zwart is making extensive documentation that I believe they put into both Flickr and Youtube, so I will point to that when it's posted.

So, after seeing all this and staying really late, I just spent most of Sunday resting and taking the Spido tour, but today it was back to my research. This morning I went back over to Worm for another interview.

Andre Fiore's Cookie Census

This was another cool project, the Cookie Census. It lets you go to a website and identify what cookies are there and who placed them, and it will also show you the javascripts and little tracking bugs in the page. Right now it's not so robust, but once Andrea get's it working just a little more reliably, I think will be a great tool for data-mining. He says he will make it into a Firefox plugin, and I hope he does soon because I would love to see what is going on at the sites I most often visit.

I guess I should have taken my beer out of the picture; oh well...That makes it so much more authentic as being taken at a real event, where I sat with this project long enough to drink a beer while I talked to Andrea about it.

Appreciative crowd watches Nancy perform "Paraphernalia"

And here you see some reaction to Nancy; this is before we all started singing along with her karaoke of A-ha and Tiffany songs...

The point though is that people were really interested. And those who know them will recognize who is watching, but I guess I will leave them anonymous since this is a candid picture, shot without asking.

Nancy Mauro-Flude presents Paraphernalia

OK, this is Nancy's performance which I mentioned already. I can imagine a lot of bands or performers that would really like to have something that is not only wireless, but responds to gestures, to position, rather than being just some keypad. And Nancy has personalized the interface for herself, but that also could change, which I think might be even more interesting to performers, to use a tool that really matches their style. Also, Nancy made these tools herself with (I think) just a little help with programming, which means that other musicians and performers could make their own tools as well, without needing an a degree in software or electrical engineering, which to me seems a very liberating development.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Voorhaven, clouded over

Voorhaven, clouded over
Originally uploaded by cuuixsilver
Even on cloudy days, it looks dramatic. Of course this stretch is essentially the historical street left in the city, so any post card that shows and old building is almost certain to have been shot on this street!

A lovely place to walk, and has several cafes, antique stores, and the industrial scrap shop from which the students got a lot of stuff for the show.

Worm bar

Worm bar
Originally uploaded by cuuixsilver
Here is the bar inside Worm; the whole thing is constructed inside a historical building, the structure which couldn't be touched. So, everything is attached to a free standing metal framework and is all made of industrial scrap from the harbor. It's amazing. About 4-5 projects were set up in this room later in the day, and they fit in really well.

Ok, back from dinner and more on the party at Worm. I have to say it was a blast, not least because I haven't had the chance to go out dancing like that in years. First one of th Piet Zwart graduates did a performance, which was really cool. --Nancy Mauro-Flude did a final project:

'Paraphernalia' consists of self-built controllers for audio/dance performances that free performers from operating laptops on stage, giving them back their gestural mobility, and allowing both a technical and artistic feedback between music, vocals, dance and technology. (Realized with joystick interfaces, analog motion sensors and modified gamepads in conjunction with the real-time signal processing software Pure Data.)
She did a performance singing with these tools and it was a lot of fun. After that, there was a DJ for awhile and people danced hard, including both the PZI MD staff and the students--how many grad students celebrate with their faculty that way? I drank rather a lot of Budels Honig Bier, but not too much to be ok today.

I got to bed quite late, but got up in time to shop for souvenirs and take a Spido boat tour of the harbor--that was really cool and I will post some pictures from the whole weekend soon. I think tomorrow I might finally have time to catch up on more conference reporting...

After a busy few days, here I am again. The conference in Utrecht was mixed; I saw several interesting key note speakers, including Katherine Hayles and Joanna Zylinska, and I met some very nice, interesting people, including Renee Turner, an artist from, Yasco Horsman, from the University of Leiden, and Manuela Rossini from the University of Amsterdam. I think though that at both this conference and at New Network Theory, many of the panels would have been better as roundtable discussions.

Let's see, I'll comment on the best of the talks tomorrow when I'm not so tired. I still feel pretty washed out because I spent most of yesterday (and last night) at the Piet Zwart Media Design graduation, final show, and opening/graduation party. That was all at Worm, a music/art/cultural space here in Delfshaven. I'm interviewing the director, Hajo Doorn tomorrow, about the Worm is organized. The graduation was really great. Worm is a great space for the students to install their projects, and the projects themselves were quite interesting. Kristina, one of the tutors, made a speech full of advice, and then Florian spoke, starting with the hope that they didn't regret working with him, since he took over as Course Director half way through their program and had been a hard-ass. It was a startlingly candid statement for a graduation speech! The nicest thing though was how personal the whole event was. There were only nine students graduating so each was individually addressed--maybe it was too personal for some of the students who seemed really embarrassed when Florian made (positive) comments about each of their work and personalities. Then we had some lunch, and then Florian gave another general speech opening the show, and then we all hung around for a few more hours. I talked to several students about their projects; one of my favorites was by Andrea Fiore, called Cookie Census. This project is:

A software platform for the collaborative tracking and annotation of web cookies. Considering them identifiers and actuators of user control, the Cookie Census provides a distributed system for their survey and annotation. (Realized as a combination of a web browser plugin, MySQL database and web site.)
Finally around 7 or 8 I went to dinner with Florian, Josephine Bosma, and her daughter Jasmin. Because the good place we wanted to go was too crowded, we instead had some Roti, which was also good, but my duck had a ridiculous number of little broken bones in it. Anyway, Josephine is an interesting person; I've enjoyed reading her articles about digital media, and the art/theory scene in Europe and was happy to meet her in person. Jasmin is also really cool--I hope my girls are as much so when they reach her age.

So, we went back to Worm and the party opened at 9pm. I looked at more projects and had a chance to talk again at length with Mirko Schaefer whom I had seen and briefly met at the Network theory conference. he's a really nice guy who does a lot of research about open source communities, and is finishing up his dissertation at Utrecht University where he's a lecturer. Now I'm going to dinner, so I'll write more later. --and damn, the blockquote has messed up my spacing.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

De Waag

De Waag
Originally uploaded by cuuixsilver
And here is de Waag building, originally constructed in the 13th century, now home to the Society for Old and New Media, and a pretty nice cafe.

at de Waag Society for Old and New Media

Today I went to visit de Waag and met with Bart Tunnissen and Sher Doruff who are finance manager and head of the research dissemination program, respectively. This was an interesting meeting because de Waag takes a very different approach from either Piet Zwart or V2; though they conduct research they are not academic and they have a very broad target audience, and have many community connections. Though they have not been around for so very long--11 years, they have become very important in shaping the agenda for the "creative industry" in the Netherlands, in part it seems because their founder and director general, Marleen Stikker earlier created the "Digital City" in Amsterdam, and so has been a real pioneer in this area. Also, like V2_, they have established a reputation for good practice and innovation.

So where to begin, well Bart gave a brief run-through on the history, but that's on the website so I won't repeat it. Mostly they talked about how they go about connecting with the community, choosing projects and carrying them out, and then some about funding and those challenges. They get 6-10 proposals per week and make a first pass through them to look for those that will a)match one of the 4 domains and 6 programs they have chosen to focus on, and b) appear to have a good chance of really succeeding--I'm not sure how they measure that though, except it may mean they can create new knowledge that eventually leads to a new product heading to market.

Bringing products to market seems to be one of the bigger challenges for de Waag, because the Netherlands doesn't have so many venture capitalist types (comparatively). --After the tech crash I'm not sure how easy it is anywhere, really. This is one way the are really different from PZI and V2_ though, in having this as a goal. But they also emphasized that you can't start working with a partner and have profit as a goal, or why would that partner trust your intentions? Intellectual Property issues are thus a double concern for them, both in theory but also in their practice. --In fact I think this must be quite tricky and I will have to email some follow up questions because de Waag really emphasizes what they call a "user as designer" approach, so if something does eventually end up being developed for the market, then what? Who is the designer and to be blunt, who profits? I admire the approach for its Freirean quality, and I think it certainly would strengthen the commitment from community groups to a project, and strengthen ties between them and de Waag, besides of course being more educational for everyone. I appreciate though how balancing different concerns takes real skill.

Well, there is more to say, but today Remediating Lit. starts and I have to get ready for the trip to Utrecht.

Monday, July 2, 2007

On Oude Binneweg

On Oude Binneweg
Originally uploaded by cuuixsilver
I've walked up and down this street a couple of times, but haven't yet had a chance to really explore the shops there--this section has only pedestrian traffic, which I love. Yesterday I at least made it into a cheese shop and it was amazing. The light on the street was good too, so even though I was rushing, I couldn't resist a few pictures. This was taken around 5:30, so there aren't so many people and many shops are closing-- a lot aren't even open on Monday and those that are close early. This city is SO not aimed for tourists! It's great to be somewhere that isn't all designed to extract the maximum in tourist dollars, but instead is focused on the people who live there.

What We Expect of Students

I started this last night, but now it's morning...

I've just returned from another set of student exhibitions connected with Willem de Kooning and with Piet Zwart, the BA-Fine Arts graduation show from WdKA and the first-year MA-Fine Arts from PZI. I must say I didn't think the first year MA show looked much better than the BA show, and didn't even come close to the Media Design First Year MA show. It was almost all just formalist stuff, very little evidence of reflection on the media, and even though both exhibitions were not in formal gallery space, they looked as if that's where they belonged, in a white cube.

Also, one of the Media Design MA students was at the BA show, helping out. She happens to not yet be ready for her show that opens on Saturday, so why she was out at this other event...Students!

Tomorrow (I mean today, now) I meet with people from De Waag Society for Old and New Media, so I'll save more comments until after that.

Alex Adriaansen at V2_

This afternoon I had a lengthy meeting with Alex Adriaansen, director at V2_ ; he could not have been more generous with his time or forthcoming with his views about the context for New Media studies in the Netherlands or the challenges they face. So I will note it all down before I forget!

First, V2_ has been around for 25 years and that means that by now they have established a reputation as doing interesting, edgy things and also having good practices. Alex emphasized how important it was to them to be truly interdisciplinary themselves, and this brings it's own challenges because scientists have one way of doing things and, people concerned with business have another, and artists still another, and so on. But he felt this was something they had succeeded in working out over the years, and now these other groups respect their way of doing things.

Another characteristic of the Dutch context is the focus on projects rather than on structural funding schemes for the long term. Alex attributes this to politicians and business people tending to take a short view that always judges success by some concrete result, rather than on what is learned or on long-term possibilities. The problem for V2_, (or any organisation, because I see this in the US as well) is that you have to always follow whatever trend the funding agency is hot for, which means first that you may not be able to really follow through on ideas that need more time, and, perhaps a greater problem, you can get caught up iin the hype so that you lose your critical perspective. I've heard this from Florian at Piet Zwart as well, and I will be sure to check on it at De Waag tomorrow.

But Alex felt that they were navigating these challenges successfully. I think V2_ audience may be less prone to falling for hype as well, because most of their programs are aimed at the "creative class" meaning artists, designers, theoreticians, etc. Except for the DEAF Festival, they aren't very concerned with reaching a wide audience. However, they have decided to strengthen their ties to some educational institutions. They have a pretty strong connection to Piet Zwart MDMA already, and now they are pursuing a PhD programs with some universities (he didn't say which). I think that sounds like a great idea, and it makes me wish I had time to take on another degree!

The biggest challenge Alex sees ahead for V2_ is reorganizing itself so that it can on the one hand strengthen it's artistic focus, but on the other build on the more "practical" possibilities suggested by their research. So I look forward to seeing what happens in the next year. --Or rather the next four, as these things go in the Netherlands.

In addition to talking about V2_, we also talked about the program under development at my school, CSU Stanislaus, and the challenges we face in being rather isolated from any big cities or cultural institutions. He suggested looking at the IAMAS program in Japan; from their website, IAMAS is:

AMAS consists of two schools: the Institute of Advanced Media Arts and Sciences and the International Academy of Media Arts and Sciences. The Institute is solely a graduate school (for obtaining a Masters Degree) and has one faculty and one course, namely Media Creations. There are 20 students in each year of the course. The Academy is a vocational college accepting 30 students each year who must have at least graduated from high school.
That sounds like an interesting program to investigate.

In addition to thanking Alex for his time, and for sharing of the electronic proceedings of DEAF with me, I also have to thank him for being so gracious about my being almost an hour late! On my way there I got completely loast in the tram system and every time I thought I figured it out, I went even more wrong. Finally I just took the Metro, which I seem to understand better. Lucky for me I had already purchased an OV-chipkaart, which iis a smart card for the metro, buses, and trams. My strippenkaart would never have lasted through that maze, and then I would have had to search for a shop to buy one... But anyway, all's well that ends well.

I may edit this later if I realize I've forgotten something.

Reflections on New Media/Cyberculture studies

During the first conference and in many of my conversations with people connected to Piet Zwart, the question keeps coming up about what exactly we are all doing in this field. Should we be studying the technology? The creative practices? The sociology? Thank God I'm in rhetoric--there's nothing like a meta-field to happily encompass interests (like mine) that might generously be described as broad...maybe fragmented is more accurate...

But back to the question, why do we study these things? I think that's the big question, and while we don't have to have the same answer, I don't see many people talking about the question at all. There seems to be an idea that we all have already agreed that computer tech, the internet, the web, are worth studying by definition. --Well, you could argue that anything produced by people is worth studying, certainly that's a long-standing view of cultural studies. But I think we have to make the case a bit more clearly than that. Maybe I will make this a central question in my interviews.


Originally uploaded by cuuixsilver
Another oft photographed view. The nicest part (I think) is that the bridge has a walkway, so you can stroll across and enjoy nice views of the city.

I had been at the graduation show for the Willem de Kooning Academy, which is connected to Piet Zwart and houses the BA programs. It was an interesting show with very high qualities of craftsmanship, especially in the graphic design section. What most struck me though was that though several students in different sections were doing web design, their approaches were often very conventional. They didn't seem to be experimenting in the same way as even the first year MA students in Media Design are doing. That surprised me since only one year of work separates them, in many cases.

The students all had business cards and most had websites, which struck me as very useful and created a very professional image. I'll have to remember that for later.

Kijk Kubus

Kijk Kubus
Originally uploaded by cuuixsilver
Ok, first Rotterdam picture, possibly the most photographed buildings in Rotterdam, the Cube Houses on the Overblaak. I think they deserve the attention just for looks, but I've been told by someone who lived in one that they are pretty inconvenient living spaces. Now the collection of business that occupy that space is a bit weird; a massage parlor, a hair salon, a nail salon, and until just a few months ago, Piet Zwart Media Design. Now that space will become a backpacker's hostel, so I guess more people can now see what it's like to live in a cube house. Personally I think it's a silly idea and likely to leave that space pretty well trashed, I'm afraid.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Later last Friday

So those first parallel sessions ran so late--well, the whole schedule was already running behind--that when we got down to lunch there was almost none left, and by the time it was refilled, I had about 5 minutes to eat before I had to find the session where I was speaking. But I did find it. I did have a nice if brief chat with Mirko Schäfer before/during that abbreviated lunch. He says he'll be at the Piet Zwart graduation show; I hope we meet up there and can talk further. Anyway. My panel was ok; the other talks were interesting, and mine went fine, but we each only had 15 minutes, which is a nuisance, and our moderator didn't cut people off, so we lost most of the time we could have used for Q & A. We still had some, but a couple of people took all of it up...

Anyway, then I had to dash in order to catch the 5:26 train back to Rotterdam, so I could be in time for the opening of the Piet Zwart MDMA first-year show at V2. Except that there was some big accident on the line right outside Rotterdam Centraal, so no trains could go through Rotterdam... Well, after scrambling around trying to figure out another route, finally it's announced that anyone bound for Rotterdam should go to this other I get that train and get to R'dam at 7:15 instead of 6:30. The show was scheduled to start at 7, so I run through the station and grab a taxi, and get there at 7:30. Luckily (for me) they are running late too, so I didn't miss anything. --But it was strange because I thought the Dutch were so punctual!

The show was really good, an impressive demonstration of hardware hacking and in some cases reflection on the web/internet, or on our relationships with "new" media. I had the chance to speak at length with a student about to graduate, which was really informative and gave me a very good impression of the program. --Also good to see that graduating students would come to the first-year show. I will post pictures or links to others' pictures later.

At the show I got to meet Jaromil, which was an unexpected treat. He's a hacker/artist/activist from Amsterdam who has released a lot of free software specifically designed for media artists and also has been a teacher at Piet Zwart. We had a really good conversation about teaching; what students need or don't. So I ended up staying until about 10 or 11, and then I was starving because I never really got any dinner during my mad dash back to R'dam. Luckily some people, including Jaromil and Florian, were going for Roti around the corner, so I went along. It was yummy, and we all talked more about US politics and political activism (or lack thereof). A bunch of the students wandered in and it was like the show was spilling into the neighborhood. Good thing I could sleep in on Saturday.

More on Saturday later. Now I need food.