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.

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