Performing History

Performing History

We’ve been away from blogging for a while because we have been developing a project called Performing History. The project uses a mobile phone and GPS application (or app) to help guide users across the urban terrain and to interact with it virtually throughout history. This app allows the user to choose an identity/avatar to embody and interact with a historical environment. The platform we intend to use is called ARIS, which was developed by the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The game requires players to have basic cell-phone knowledge, including how to upload a picture, tag an image, or record a video. Users will work their way through the game, utilizing creative problem-solving skills to overcome obstacles in the historical narrative. Sometimes the game will ask them to encounter a historical context as well as respond to it, and have agency in the story. By doing this, users will create possible histories and have more buy-in within the process of engagement with subject. Users will also be able to interact with each other, developing more complex narratives.
The game will deal directly with Lawrence’s rich history, from its origins as an abolitionist town to the early life of Langston Hughes and other prominent African Americans who lived here. Delving into this history will help users to see the time and place they currently live in with new eyes. The game will also make history more engaging for participants, giving them an entryway to further scholarship and a relationship with the past. One of the main goals for the project is to give users what the sociologist Victor Turner called a “liminoid” experience—an experience of personal and social ambiguity, with multiple possible outcomes. Role-play games often provide liminoid experiences for players, giving them an opportunity to consider life through the eyes of others.
Reference Link –

UC Berkeley’s Arts Research Center & Stanford University’s Arts Institute

UC Berkeley's Arts Research Center & Stanford University's Arts Institute

After being in lovely southern California I flew up to the Bay area for the fourth and final day of the ARC research visits. On March 13 at I met with Tony Cascardi, dean of the School of Arts and Humanities at UC Berkeley and founding member of the Arts Research Center. Tony talked about how practice-led research was being done there. They have created structures, led by faculty, which can be duplicated depending on the various subjects that they are engaged in at the moment such as ‘Global Urban Humanities’ and ‘Art + Time’. Each research unit has a team of faculty members and is driven by different members for specific projects under each research heading. He also talked about how they interacted with the university art space there, the David Brower Center.

Later in the day I met with the wonderful Sarah Curran, program director of the Arts Institute at Stanford University. Sarah, who started at the program’s inception, told me about its history and the importance that the university administration has placed on Stanford students engaging with the arts. The project was started because the arts were named as one of five presidential priorities in 2008. They are funded by endowments and will be moving into a new building that will also house the Anderson Collection; it is located next door to the Cantor Arts Center. Sarah emphasized the importance of faculty buy-in early in the project, with student buy-in closely following. They now feel that after initiating mostly faculty- and student-driven projects, they can move on to bringing in artists to work with other disciplines on collaborative projects. She talked about how Stanford now offers majors in computer science + music and computer science + dance. It was a really fitting end of the research journey that allowed us to see many different and exciting projects taking place in California around art, science, and technology. Please see the links below for more information on these projects.

UC San Diego – Arthur C. Clark Center for Human Imagination & Active Structures + Materials Research Unit

UC San Diego - Arthur C. Clark Center for Human Imagination & Active Structures + Materials Research Unit

On March 12 Steve Goddard and I drove down to the campus of the University of California at San Diego where we met with Sheldon Brown, who runs the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination and is professor and vice chair of the art department there. Sheldon also runs the Center for Hybrid Multi-core Productivity Research. He comes to the question of hybrid practice from a very interesting position. Although trained in the arts, he creates work through computing and has done so since the early nineties. He has written several grants to the NSF that have been funded, and he has been working with one foot in the field of art and one in the field of computing for some time. One of the things that Sheldon talked about was trying to get technologists and artists to work together on problems where they use imagination through technology. Some of his collaborative research projects have paired science fiction writers with technologists.

We also met with Lisa Cartwright, professor of communication and science studies at UCSD, who is moving to visual arts and works with Jordan Crandall, who is chair of the art department and director of the active structures + materials research unit. Jordan had kindly set up a meeting with us a few times but unfortunately was unable to make our meeting because of a scheduling conflict. Lisa told us that the research unit had been given a new space in the Structural Materials and Engineering building. She also told us about the great work being done by EMPAC and Patricia Olynyk at Washington University. Lisa was also kind enough to elaborate on her current work around wind turbines in Kansas. Both Lisa and Sheldon were fantastic and I recommend that you check out their work, and Jordan’s, via the links below.

LACMA’s Art + Technology Lab & the UCLA Art|Sci Lab

LACMA's Art + Technology Lab & the UCLA Art|Sci Lab

Day 2 of the ARC research trip took Saralyn Reece Hardy, SMA Director, Steve Goddard, Associate Director and Head Curator, and me to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. There we met with Amy Heibel the associate vice president of technology, web, and digital media there who is also running the Art + Technology Lab. Amy was kind enough to tell us about the private partnerships the museum developed to get the project started and how the museum was moving toward a more user based model. Amy took us to their space in the Balch Library and told us about some of their plans for the future. If you click on the link below you will see the start of what promises to be a great project in the spirit of LACMA’s seminal ‘Art & Technology’ exhibition. After our visit with Amy we saw a lot of great art including the James Turrell retrospective and ‘See the Light: Photography, Perception, Cognition’.

Our second visit that day was to UCLA again where we met with Christina Agapakis who has created a very interesting hybrid practice between visual art and synthetic biology. Christina was kind enough to show us her lab as well as give us a tour of the campus on our way to visit the Art|Sci Lab in the Broad Center for Art. Christina introduced us to the lab’s director Victoria Vesna who told us about all of the projects that they were doing. Victoria told us about how she felt that the core of a good collaboration was friendship and that a real collaboration was one that lasted years. She also told us about their Nanolab which is a summer school for young artist/scientists who work with various specialists over their term. The Art|Sci Lab is a really wonderful project and you can read about via the links below.

UCLA Game Lab

ucla game lab

On March 10th I started a weeklong research junket in California. The first of my visits was to the UCLA Game Lab where I enjoyed the hospitality of the Director, Eddo Stern, and the Game Lab manager, Tyler Stefanich. They talked to me about the origins of the lab and what it is attempting to do. Eddo talked a lot about creating a hybrid culture at the lab that combined DIY, Indie game, and commercial computer gaming cultures. The Game Lab is a fantastic place for artists who see games as a medium for expressing a multitude of ideas. I saw games that explored feminism, racial stereotypes, Animalia, etc. It was a great place for me to start thinking about how institutions are approaching research in California but also how new forms of culture and community need institutional support to thrive and grow in ways that we may never have thought possible. Check out their website to see all of the great work they have done.

Art, Research and the Practice-led PhD

Art, Research and the Practice-led PhD

A growing trend in American universities is the Practice-led PhD. This is a research degree attained through practice. For the purposes of this blog post we mean art practice but there are many forms of practice that can be used for generating new knowledge and thus creating research. The idea of creating research through practice has been around for some time in programs at the Royal College of Art and Texas A&M. It wasn’t until the Bologna process began in 1999 that research through art practice began to gain some real impetus. James Elkins has done an extensive but not exhaustive amount of work on the history and development of the practice-led PhD that is useful for mapping out the fast moving changes of the degree. Ultimately questions surrounding the practice-led PhD are questions about practice-led artistic research and its value to the larger corpus of academic knowledge. Many in the academic art community, still smarting from the wars over the MFA, dismiss it as a further professionalization of artistic practice or another level of academic gatekeeping. I would argue that since the massive proliferation of art students, which started in the 1980’s, there has become a need for the expansion of academic art just as there has been an expansion of community based practices. Research through art then brings us to another issue; what knowledge is generated through practice? As pluralist art practices flourish each practice is potentially a source of new knowledge. Questions related to sociology could be answered through ceramic practices or distribution system problems could be answered through social practice. Like any other PhD, research questions must be formulated with the means of answering those questions in mind. The outcomes will then be scrutinized by the researcher’s peers in the academy, just like any other discipline. This does not mean that all practice-led research is good any more than all theoretical physics research is. The most salient point though is that the arts have something to contribute to the larger corpus of academic knowledge and now there are clearer means for that knowledge to be shared. Below you will find links to some writing about practice-led research.