Menu Close

What Is A Media Lab?

situated practices in media studies

An Interview with Piotr Marecki of UBU Lab, Poland

20/10/2017

What is your lab called and where is it?

UBU lab, Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland.

What sorts of projects and activities form the core of your work? Is there a specific temporal or technological focus for your lab?

1. Researching creativity in the digital age (e.g. Digital experiments, Demoscene, electronic literature, media art, creative computing, digital genres, DIY approaches to the platform).

2. Producing advanced digital works (mostly highly computational works).

3. Teaching digital cultures.

Who uses the lab? Is it a space for students, for researchers, for seminars?

The space is primarily meant for collaboration between researchers, artists and programmers. The exception is the creative computing summer school (10 students took part in the first edition.) The lab is also a place for selected classes, on digital genres or digital culture, for example. Lectures are organized on [a] regular basis, and one of the lab’s aims is [to create a] community of scientists, students, artists.

What sorts of knowledge does the lab produce and how is it circulated?

The lab primarily produces digital works that can function in a few fields of the demoscene: electronic literature, video games and media art. Our research focuses on, among other things, local phenomena in the digital media field [such as] strategies for cloning platforms in Central and Eastern Europe (especially the 8-bit computer ZX Spectrum), as well as digital genres and their specific features in Central and Eastern Europe.

Tell us about your infrastructure. Do you have a designated space and how does that work?

Our lab consists of five parts:

1. A retro space (with 10 workstations + retro hardware with contemporary peripheral devices: ZX Spectrum 128k Plus + Divide 2k11 + Wonder AY, ZX Spectrum 48k Plus + Divide 2k11 + Wonder AY, Timex 2048 + Divide 2k11 + Wonder AY, ZX Uno, ZX81 + ZXpand interface, ZX Evo 4Mb + Neo GeneralSound + TurboSoundFM + SD, ZX Delta, ZX Spectrum 48k + Divide 2k11 + Wonder AY, Atari 520STE + Ultrasatan, Atari 1200 XL + Side2 Compact Flash Interface, Atari 130XE + diskdrive, Atari 65 XE + SIO2SD (SD/SDHC), Atari Falcon 030 + GOTEK HXC-2001, Amiga 500 1Mb + GOTEK HXC-2001, Amiga 1200 +Blizzard 1260, 2 x Commodore C-64 + 1541 Ultimate, Amstrad CPC + GOTEK HXC-200, Apple II, Macintosh SE, Apple PowerMac)

2. A VR space (with a cave + 2 workstations, HTC Vive VR headset with VR ready PC workstation and Lenovo Phab 2 Plus augmented reality (Tango Project) smartphone.)

3. A workshop area (10 workstations)

4. A games corner (couch, consoles, coffee maker, consoles Atari 2600, ZX Spectrum Vega, PlayStation 1, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Pegasus – Nintendo NES / Famicom clone, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, Sega Dreamcast, PlayStation Portable (PSP), Soviet portable games Электроника (Elektronika), Sega GameGear)

5. An office (2 workstations)

What sorts of support does the lab receive?

The lab is financed by the program of the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education’s “National Programme for the Development of Humanities” for the years 2016-19. Our hardware and the lab’s library [is] also supported by the programme Ars Docendi, financed by the President of the Jagiellonian University, as well as Austria-based The Patterns Lectures project.

What are your major theoretical touchstones?

One of the most important approaches [we apply] is Platform Studies, [which takes] into account the role of material platforms in the digital media field. This methodology is very helpful in the area of creative works done in the lab, as well as [for] research projects that focus on studying original approaches to platform, especially cloning the original platforms and researching the demoscene or digital genres. [Our] research can be also seen in the context of the Decentering Digital Media trend present in today’s digital media.

What would you say is the lab’s most significant accomplishment to date?

The lab’s most significant accomplishments are probably the following: our pioneering research on the demoscene; research on the ZX Spectrum platform and its clones using the Platform Studies approach; the selected works produced by the lab, e.g. “Platform game Mysterious Dimensions” by the demosceners Yerzmyey and Hellboj for the ZX Spectrum 128K & ZX Spectrum 48K, AGD, Assembler platforms; or the iPeiper application by Jan K. Argasiński and Piotr Marecki, created thanks to the iBeacon technology in the Java SQLite programming languages presented at the Electronic Literature Organization Conference in Portugal 2017.

Could you briefly describe your plans for the lab over the next 3-5 years?

[We will be] producing digital works and technical reports [as well as] doing research projects with the help of collected tools. [We will also equip our] lab with [necessary] hardware (local consoles, platforms), [and build our] software archives.
[We will also initiate an] intensive development of the works already in production including [a work of] interactive fiction [called] In nihilum reverteris by Yerzmyey & Hellboj (in Assembler, c/c++ for ZX Spectrum 128K & Linux); “smog poem,” a web app by Leszek Onak in JavaScript; and an augmented reality work [called] Stilleben by Kuba Woynarowski [and] Jan K. Argasiński (in C#, Javascript, Java na PC VR & Android).

What makes your lab a lab?

People, space, [and] a lot of hardware and experiments!

An Interview with Jake Harries from Access Space, UK

18/10/2017

What is your lab called and where is it?

JH: We’re called Access Space, and we are located in the city centre of Sheffield, UK

What sorts of projects and activities form the core of your work? Is there a specific temporal or technological focus for your lab?

JH: We have three strands to our work: arts, education & technology. Usually our work is a mix of two or all three. We also have a maker space. Our main focus is maker skills education, creative technology workshops to help artists develop new practice mediating technology into the arts, work with the wider community in Sheffield (including those at risk of exclusion such as people with autistic spectrum disorders), partnering with universities for research projects, and helping entrepreneurs develop small scale prototypes.

Who uses the lab? Is it a space for students, for researchers, for seminars, the wider community?

JH: We have a wide range of people using the space for different purposes. Hypothetically anyone can use Access Space, but it is mainly for creative people to learn new skills and develop ideas. Currently we welcome the public in on Wednesdays for Repair Days where we help them to intervene in product life cycle and give their possessions longer life (keeping them out of land fill).

What sorts of knowledge does the lab produce and how is it circulated?

JH: We’re not great at producing publications! Probably because we’re too busy. We have produced two books: Grow Your Own Media Lab (how to create a media lab from recycled and donated computers) and CommonSense (writing and art about the commons). We occasionally give presentations, but now our main focus is social media.

Tell us about your infrastructure. Do you have a designated space and how does that work?

JH: We have had the same space in the city centre for 17 years, and in 2011 we expanded it to create our maker space, Refab Space. We also now have two more small spaces on the other side of the city centre for exhibitions, meetings and offices. As far as staffing structures go, we try to be as non-hierarchical as we can.

What sorts of support does the lab receive? 

JH: Access Space is an independent UK charity. We apply for funding every year to various bodies including the Arts Council England and various small trusts and charitable foundations. We also have had success partnering with universities on research.

What are your major theoretical touchstones?

JH: Open source, knowledge sharing, re-use/recycling, diverse community participation, the value of the arts in creating a more empowered society, the importance of the permeable boundaries around technology and the arts.

What would you say is the lab’s most significant accomplishment to date?

JH: When we closed temporarily for a period of transformation in 2015, we had been the longest continuous internet inclusion project in the UK. We have remained inclusive for all the years we have been open.

Could you briefly describe your plans for the lab over the next 3-5 years?

JH: We are currently planning to move to a larger space as audiences to our events have often been at capacity, and we want to expand our maker space to include a welding shop.

What makes your lab a lab?

JH: The creative and enquiring activities people carry out here.

An Interview with Marcel O’Gorman of Critical Media Lab

19/06/2017

What is your lab called and where is it?



MO: The lab is called Critical Media Lab. It is located in the downtown core of Kitchener, Ontario, amidst a burgeoning tech hub with multiple tech incubators and a Google headquarters. The lab is off the UWaterloo campus. Kitchener and Waterloo are technically one urban area, but for political reasons, each city has kept its distinct name. Waterloo is traditionally a university town. Kitchener is a grittier place rooted in a history of manufacturing.

What sorts of projects and activities form the core of your work? Is there a specific temporal or technological focus for your lab?



MO: In the lab, we create digital projects that reflect on “the impacts of technology on society and the human condition.” That is not entirely accurate, however, since we study more than mere “impacts” (e.g., the human is always-already technical) and more than “humans.” Still, this is what we tell the public. We create projects that are somewhere between digital art and hardware hacking experiments: sensor-based environments, public video projection, small gadgetry, software, wearables. Often, we will take an off-the-shelf kit or product and hack it to make an argument. In general, we create projects that embody specific concepts from media theory and the philosophy of technology. I have called this Applied Media Theory in my published work (see Necromedia form 2015 or “Broken Tools and Misfit Toys” from 2010). I often use the term “objects-to-think-with.”

Who uses the lab? Is it a space for students, for researchers, for seminars?



MO: The lab is used for graduate seminars, research by grad students and faculty, workshops, public exhibitions, and public speaker events. Students have their own cubicle/workbench space in the lab, so they are the main occupants. We have relationships with community arts and culture groups, including a local makerspace called Kwartzlab. The lab hosts regular exhibitions, and so it is also a gallery of sorts.

What sorts of knowledge does the lab produce and how is it circulated?

MO: The lab produces objects that get shown in exhibitions (some we own, some are elsewhere) and discussed at academic conferences. We also publish about our work in academic journals, the press, and in social media.

Tell us about your infrastructure. Do you have a designated space and how does that work?



MO: Space has always been key because I wanted to be off campus. This has caused many problems, including the problem of moving four times. The lab started in my office in 2007, then moved to a glorious building across from City Hall in Downtown Kitchener in 2008. The building was a bank for several years, and before that it was the Public Utilities Commission building, which first brought electricity to the city. Unfortunately, rent was too high for our Faculty of Arts to manage. In 2009, we moved into a space at the local museum of ideas called THEMUSEUM, but that only lasted for one year due to security issues that limited our access to the space. In 2010 I signed a lease with the City of Kitchener for an unused retail space with a highly visible storefront on the main street. We were there for three years until the building was condemned. I decided to stop signing shady lease agreements, and worked with the university to find a more sustainable location. We ended up at what the city calls the Creative Hub, which is in an old mail sorting facility. We share space with several start-ups and some arts groups.

The problem with moving so many times is that each move destabilizes the culture that was developed in a space. It is difficult to get things to “stick” when you keep shaking the petri dish.
Continue Reading

An Interview with Caroline Bassett and Sally-Jane Norman at the Sussex Humanities Lab

Interview by Niki Tulk

11/2017

“We plan to maintain our breadth across performance/music media arts, history, everyday life and mediated life, critical theory—but/and we also want to push our critical edge. So much work in DH hasn’t been critical in orientation, and we do many of us, in different ways, come out of that tradition. So we’re intending to keep asking questions about gender, power and digital technology, automated epistemologies—and their supposedly ‘neutrality’, and to integrate those into our more material work more deeply.” – Caroline Bassett and Sally-Jane Norman on the future goals of the Sussex Humanities Lab, UK

NT: What is your lab called and where is it?

We are the Sussex Humanities Lab (SHL), based at the University of Sussex, in the Downs outside the City of Brighton, UK. We are a research centre/programme and we span a series of Schools of Study—with a strong base in media and film (School of Media, Film and Music), and in HAHP (History, Art History and Philosophy) also in Education schools and in informatics and engineering (E&I) (computer scientists). ‘We’ are (i) the programme (SHL), (ii) the named and supported members of the team—academics at all levels, technical support people, project manager, admin (iii) we have a physical ‘lab’ space – we call this the ‘Digital Humanities Lab’, It is at the heart of our work, although its not always where we do things…

NT: What sorts of projects and activities form the core of your work? Is there a specific temporal or technological focus for your lab?

We are initially funded for four years—so this means our tempo needs to be pretty rapid. We are tasked with providing enough evidence of some form of sustainability at the end of that time, to become a permanent research centre within the University—in some shape or other. We don’t necessarily think we should simply seek to ‘do the same again’, at the end of our project time. We have a bunch of official KPIs (performance indicators) and the plan we bid for the funds with also sets out a series of targets (for engagement, impact—look up the UK meaning of that term…, and for grant capture). Those are rather official though. I would expand all that to say that we want to:
*Generate new forms of thinking and new forms of research—both in the humanities in general (where digital transformation produces new possibilities and opens new perspectives) and in relation to the computational as the subject of inquiry. That’s the big goal really. To do that we need to:
Intervene into the fields that together constitute digital humanities (lower case), by which we mean both traditional DH areas and also cultural, media, digital media, code studies, areas which have been exploring digital transformation in different ways for an equally long time. We think DH can become broader, more diverse, more multi-mediated—and that it needs to become more critical. We recognize the tension between critical theories of DH that can just produce abstraction, and the need to engage materially with new possibilities and new methodologies arising through big data, various forms of automation, and other new computational technologies. We think it can be productive—and that it’s fine if it sometimes produce antagonism. Actually in our lab we argue all the time. We are superb at arguing … including about our name: we deliberately adopted the “Sussex Humanities Lab”—rather than “Digital Humanities Lab”—name, precisely to demarcate ourselves from technical servicing- oriented DH bodies that have spread over the past couple of decades. The frequent mobilisation of big digital infrastructure funds as a rationale for developing (otherwise poorly supported) humanities research has resulted in a lot of projects where the (funded) tail wags the (confused) dog. We did not want to be identifiable with these countless, very similar organisations that have jumped onto the DH/ “cyberinfrastructure” bandwagon (e-science in the UK), simply to
develop new kinds of insufficiently conceptualised and critiqued demonstrations of technical prowess and gimmicky computational affordances doomed to swift obsolescence. We want the dog to wag its own tail – happily and excitedly, and in ways that can energise and contagiously enthuse others.
Continue Reading

An Interview with Professor Meredith Martin of the Center for Digital Humanities at Princeton

Interview by Melissa McDoniel

17/11/2015

“…while the global digital humanities community is constantly defining and redefining itself, we embrace an inclusive understanding that respects and investigates the myriad of ways that digital methods and technology are opening an avenue to research, and the human experience.” – Meredith Martin, CDH Princeton

Melissa McDoniel: Can you say a little bit about your role in Princeton’s Center for Digital Humanities, and how you came to be involved with DH and also the Center?

Meredith Martin: This is the Center for Digital Humanities at Princeton’s second year with a physical location. We started last year officially, but before that, we were an initiative that I started with a number of faculty colleagues as well as colleagues from the University Library and from our Office of Information Technology. We began as a discussion group, bringing together faculty from across all divisions of campus — from computer science, from sociology, from all of the humanities departments. These discussions began in September of 2011. Over the course of the 2011-2012 school-year, we developed four focus groups after holding a a day-long meeting in January 2012. We decided collectively that we wanted to do some research on what Princeton could offer and was already offering, since we are so resource-rich. We wanted to investigate whether we needed to have a Center at all. The preliminary meetings in the fall of 2011 were primarily to talk about what other peer institutions had and what kind of possibilities there were to support digital work at Princeton. We talked about collaborative and interdisciplinary possibilities across campus. Then we thought about how we might develop a kind of white paper that we aimed to complete by the end of the spring term of 2012. We also started thinking about a mission statement for the initiative itself at that January meeting.

After our January meeting, we broke into those four focus groups that met separately over the course of the spring 2012. These were defined by the group as “teaching and research,” “infrastructure,” “funding,” and “programming.” Programming meant basically inviting people to campus to give talks, but also offering workshops Princeton wasn’t already offering. Infrastructure was tasked with thinking about what Research Computing, the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, the Library, etc., was already doing. At the end of that spring the four focus groups turned in a separate section of a vision statement to a steering committee that we had assembled. That vision statement was then put together by the steering committee over the course of the summer of 2012.
With the advice of what we called an “executive committee” including the Chief Information Officer, the Deputy Dean of the Faculty, the Executive Director of the Humanities Council, and the University Librarian we turned the vision statement into a document asking for a Center. This was their strong advice.
Over the course of the fall 2012 we revised the document and submitted it, and then I worked closely with the Provost over the course of that year, approved officially sometime in early 2013. In that approval process we were approved to hire an Associate Director, which is the first thing that we wanted so that it wasn’t completely grassroots, faculty run with all of us doing this volunteer work that was not recognized service.

Basically 2012/2013 was revising the proposal, and 2013/2014 was the year of the search for the Associate Director, and that was also the year that I was officially named the Faculty Director of the “Center”; however we didn’t yet have a physical Center. I spent most of that year (13/14) fundraising, and I raised half of the total operating budget with support from 25 different departments and divisions as a three-year commitment with a substantial amount of that support coming from Princeton’s Humanities Council. I took this broad-based campus support to the Provost’s Office and the new Provost (the former Provost had been named President) were very supportive when they saw the work we had done. The University Library took the Center for DH as an administrative home at the University and funded the search for the Associate Director, as well as helped us to become a fully-fledged academic unit (the first in the University Library). Being an academic unit rather than an administrative unit at Princeton means that we can have faculty teach, support research grants for graduate students and stuff like that. Jean Bauer was hired in the academic year in July of 2014, and 2014/2015 was her first full year, and now 2015/2016 is her second year.

We now have a temporary (they call it “swing”) space that we were given at the beginning of last year, Fall 2014. It’s in the former psychology department. Some of our offices are converted observation rooms that are more like small closets with one-way glass. We put some particleboard up so that they don’t look so horrible, but we have equipment, we have space, we have our stuff there. We’re in our official third year as a Center, but we didn’t have any physical space except the last two years so we really think of this as our second official year.
Continue Reading

An Interview With Sydney Shep of Wai-te-ata Press at Victoria University (Wellington, New Zealand)

Interview by Elana Friedland

EF:  Hi.

SS:  Hello.

EF:  How are you?

SS:  I’m good, thank you. I’ve put video on, as you can see, just so you can have a look at my space and have some fun. Lots of printing presses, lots of stuff, yeah.

EF: It’s also been a real pleasure to see your space through the videos that you have on the website too, so thank you.

SS: Well, that’s good, because we just had a new website with the responsive template launched last week, so really good timing.

EF:  I noticed that and I was curious: what prompted the change to the new website?

SS: They had rolled out a responsive template all across the university, and I’m one of the smaller centers so I wasn’t included in the first tranche, and then they had some extra money so three of the research institutes and centers were asked to rethink their websites.  So it’s transitioning into a different mode, but there’s a lot more, shall we say, things to play with, to make it a lot more user-friendly, and to profile a lot more images and that, so that’s a first step, but it will be a growing thing.

EF:  Thank you for explaining that.  And thank you too for taking the time out to talk to me about the press.

SS:  Well, it’s sort of cool that you were here for a semester.  When was that?

EF:  Back in 2010. I took a survey course on New Zealand literature through the English department.

SS:  Yeah.  Who was your lecturer? Jane Stafford, or Mark Williams, or Lydia Wevers, or —

EF:  I think they all took turns lecturing, because I remember having a rotating cast of lecturers in there.

SS:  Great.  Yeah.  So, small world.  So thank you so much for connecting with me, and yeah, it looks like this is a great project, and I love the way that Lori sort of framed the whole course, so it’s been a real inspiration for me to dig down a bit into that too.

EF:  Awesome. I’m glad there’s been a value in this for you too.

SS:  Oh, absolutely.  We’re talking the same language, so I was really excited to see that not only she got her media archeology lab, but some of her inspirations are mine as well, so yeah, I’ll be interested to see how the class goes, and particularly with whatever creative work that you end up producing as a result of your, you know, intersections with all these worlds.

EF:  To shift gears a bit, I was wondering if you could tell me a bit about the work that you do in your role as the director and the printer over at the press.  Since it seems like you encompass a wide range of things in that role, how do you find the balance between the different aspects of your role?

SS:  Yeah, it’s a bit of a juggling act, as you can imagine.  I inherited the space, and the three pillars, which were the research, the teaching and learning, and the printing and publishing, were an important marker of what Wai-te-ata Press was all about.

So I retained all three of those, and in the world of accountability and administrivia, there’s a lot more to do in terms of the back end administration stuff as well.  But it doesn’t mean that I can juggle all the balls all at the same time, it means that according to the rhythms of getting external funding for research projects, funding or commissions for printing work, and then the schedule of teaching through the year, it’s quite a flexible kind of space where, depending on what comes in the door and what’s on the menu at the moment, able to weave things in and out.

I’m a sole charge director, which means it’s just me, and I run my own budget center, so I’ve got a level of autonomy, because I’m not associated with the school or a department, but I am under the faculty of humanities and social science, so I do have a kind of academic affiliation, but it’s more a facility that is available to anyone in the university.  So a lot of what I do is not only work within the existing spaces that I have, but also reach out to across the university and a lot of external engagement.

So in order to help execute all the stuff that I really want to do, that relies upon me getting funding, generally external funding that then I can hire research assistants.  So that’s easiest when it comes to research projects.  So at the moment I’ve got four research assistants working on my project on William Colenso and the Victorian Republic of Letters.

We also have something called Performance-Based — PBRF, Performance-Based Research Fund, which is a government-organized census of all individual and university research outputs that are then, every five to eight years, collated, and universities are then ranked, and based on their ranking they get a lump sum from the government, and based on then how the university wants to distribute that lump sum, it will go back to the schools or the departments, not necessarily to the person who has earned it through their research portfolio.  So because I’m a single unit and because I’m the one doing the declared research in the census, they’ve made an accommodation for me, and I get the research fund money directed to Wai-te-ata Press, which means then I can hire publication assistants as well to help with that component of the operation.

And then with teaching, depending on what’s going on, that’s a revenue stream, so it gives me a bit of latitude to be able to cross subsidize other stuff that we do.

So I try and keep a healthy balance, because in a world of accountability, if you’re down below the line too often, people start to look askance at you, but I’ve got lots of support from the university which likes the idea that this is quite a unique facility for Australasia, that it does a lot of things, and that it has a lot of street cred and profile in the wider community.  So as I say, it’s a bit of a balancing act, but it’s — and juggling the balls all the time for survival in a way, but you can never be complacent in one of these spaces, nor can you be complacent in academia anymore anyway.

EF: I’m interested in how much the community outside of the university is able to get involved with or does get involved with the goings-on of the lab.  Is it easily accessible to the wider community, or are most of the folks who come in affiliated with the university?

SS:  If we look at the research side of things, we do have partnering with externals, and that can be people who are working on specific research projects themselves, people who have expertise that we want to buy in or collaborate with.

So in digital humanities work, in digital history, which is where I locate our research platform, you can’t always times compared to that within the university, just because in New Zealand we’re about 10, 15 years behind the thrust through North America and Europe.  So we don’t have the skill space and we don’t have the density of people who have graduated through DH programs, because we only really have one in the country, and it’s not a fully rendered one. So we’re always looking outwards for expertise.  Always looking out beyond the subject area and the individual faculty to alliances within the university.

Continue Reading

An Interview with Robert Emmons of the Digital Studies Center at Rutgers University-Camden

What is your lab called and where is it?

We are the Digital Studies Center at Rutgers University-Camden. Rutgers-Camden is one of three campuses in the Rutgers system, the State University system of New Jersey. Camden is in South Jersey, just across the Ben Franklin Bridge from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Jim Brown is the Director and Robert A. Emmons Jr. is the Associate Director.

What sorts of projects and activities form the core of your work? Is there a specific temporal or technological focus for your lab?

We are two years old, so we’re still fairly “young,” but our main research project is the Rutgers-Camden Archive of Digital Ephemera (R-CADE). Our primary focus is providing scholars with software or hardware that they’d like to investigate, research, and/or repurpose. The R-CADE makes digital technology available to scholars for research and creative activities.

Scholars are free to take apart, dissect, and repurpose artifacts in the R-CADE as they attempt to understand their historical and cultural significance. While the R-CADE does not preserve in the sense of keeping objects in their “original” condition, the archive is in fact an exercise in the preservation of digital culture. By allowing for the study and exploration of digital ephemera, the R-CADE aims to ensure these digital artifacts a place in our histories and our various scholarly conversations. Each year the DSC hosts a symposium during which scholars share research and creative work. Scholars and artists work over the course of many months by researching and/or repurposing an object of study, and they share this work during the symposium. Our R-CADE Symposium features this kind of work.

In addition, we have a series of mini-grants that we award to people on campus, and this has funded a range of projects: a journal that publishes undergraduate biology research, an R user group for people in the humanities and the social sciences, various video projects (Robert Emmons is a documentary film maker, so we do a lot with digital video). Finally, we have a fellows program that allows scholars to do research and teach without any residency requirement. Fellows can teach online and attend fellows meetings via Skype. This year, we have an exciting group of fellows, including Judy Malloy, Claire Donato, Quinn DuPont, and others.

Who uses the lab? Is it a space for students, for researchers, for seminars?

We have two rooms. The ModLab is our research space, and the CoLab is our teaching space. Both are designed to be reconfigurable (moveable furniture, technology at the edges of the room, etc.) and have large flat screens that enable collaborative work. The ModLab is an open lab that hosts many events and is available as open lab and maker space, the CoLab is primarily for courses but also has some open hours. Both rooms are open to anyone on campus.

What sorts of knowledge does the lab produce and how is it circulated?

Our R-CADE project produces creative work and research; we also host a number of workshops. The lab has helped produce a number of digital video projects and also some websites (including a site for the Israeli Visions of Place art exhibition).

Our biggest project to date was an Electronic Literature exhibition called “A Matter of Bits.” This ran in the Stedman Gallery on campus, and we exhibited more than 50 works of e-lit. Some of that work was displayed on vintage equipment (for instance, a C64 for Nick Montfort’s translation of Amílcar Romero’s Poema 21, a Mac Classic to display John McDaid’s Uncle Buddy’s Phantom Funhouse). We also displayed work on a Kinect, on iPads, and other equipment. This was a large undertaking, and the exhibition ran for three months. We also hosted the launch of the Electronic Literature Collection Volume 3 during that exhibition.

Continue Reading

An Interview with Erandy Vergara of Studio XX in Montreal, QC

Interview by Maya Livio

6/4/2017

Photo credit for images above: Studio XX, Electronic arts for families, 2016. This project receives financial support from the Ministry of Culture and Communications and the City of Montreal as part of the Agreement on the cultural development of Montreal. Photo: Stéphanie Lagueux.

*

In this interview, Maya Livio, PhD Candidate at University of Colorado Boulder and Curator of MediaLive and the Media Archaeology Lab speaks with Erandy Vergara, Program Coordinator of Studio XX in Montreal, Canada. The interview was conducted via Skype on April 6, 2017, and edited for clarity.

Maya Livio: Thanks again for speaking with me, Erandy. Tell me about Studio XX, its mission, and how it came to be.

Erandy Vergara: The studio was created twenty years ago, its anniversary was last April 2016, by four women artists working in academia and in art and technology. Their idea was to create a space where they could learn how to use different media and also share what they knew. So the idea came from sharing knowledge, sharing space, sharing technologies, and sharing the resources they had—you know, at the time not everyone had a computer. So the basis was this idea of a lab. They didn’t have a gallery in mind, it was more about creating a space where things could happen, where projects could be developed. They started at a public library which let them hide away, and they brought their own computers and gave workshops to the community which could be as basic as how to navigate the internet.

ML: Wow.

EV: This is how it started and eventually the project started taking shape. It was always a feminist organization because they believed there wasn’t enough space for women to raise their hand and say “I want to know how to use this, I don’t want to feel stupid, I want to know.” It was clear to them that if women did not have a foot in cyberspace from the beginning, the gaps that were already very present in society in general and in art in particular were only going to get larger. This is how it started.

So it’s a feminist art and technology space. Eventually—you know, in Canada we have organizations which are called artist-run centres—so eventually they got funding to create an artist-run centre with the mission to support women artists in the development and production of art and technology. It all started as a lab—as having computers that people could play with, and eventually they got a gallery space. And, you know, as technology has changed the lab has changed. The equipment and the practices have always been changing based on new technologies and their new uses.

Continue Reading

An Interview With Dene Grigar from the Electronic Literature Lab & MOVE Lab at Washington State University

Interview by Ryan Ruehlen

1/4/2017

Ryan Ruehlen: Let’s just dive right in. Why don’t you tell me what your two labs are that you run in Vancouver, WA?

Dene Grigar: I have two labs, the Motion Tracking Virtual Environment lab (MOVE lab) and the ELL, which is the Electronic Literature Lab. MOVE lab I have had since 2004 and I brought that with me from Dallas, ELL is relatively new, that on I began building around 2008.

RR: How do those two branch off of each other, and distinguish from one another?

DG: Well if you think about it, if you’re making things that are motion tracked, that are virtual, the MOVE lab has been developed to do performances, installations, games using sensory based technologies and virtual reality and augmented realty, you’re making these things and then they die. They go away they become obsolete, and so the impetus and the connection of those two is that the ELL seeks to preserve those things. So you make this stuff over here, and as I’m making it I’m thinking about what do I need to do to preserve them, what I am going to have to do to keep them for all time? So ELL serves a purpose for all artists in general, or for any kind of making, so that you can keep things alive longer, right? That’s the idea. So the MOVE lab first and it really did spur the idea, “Hey were making this stuff and its incomplete” and so the example of that was when I was doing “When Ghosts will Die” with Steve Gibson. It’s a great piece, it’s an awarding winning piece—we have a nice video documentation of the piece, but the piece itself is gone. It was built on Macromedia Director, and then “8” came out; 2 wiped out Reason 1—all technologies orphan previous technologies. Reason 1 was totally wiped out by Reason 2. There was no back up compatibility whatsoever. We knew that but we really didn’t want to do any updating but you can’t update after a while because the computer gets old. We’re talking years past, right? Macromedia gets knocked out and the rest in general, they’re just gone. Nobody uses Macromedia Director anymore. So you’re making these things, as you’re making them, you’re thinking this is great, it’s going to be a great piece, win an award and then four years later it’s gone, and all you have left of it is the documentation. Thank god we documented it well.

But not everybody does that. I’m not just talking about artists. I’m talking about people who are producing VR for industry, you know, it’s all throw away. And that’s not a good thing. It becomes digital trash, and that’s not healthy.

RR: There are a lot of artists that in the last 10-20 years have been drawn to a more ephemeral way of working, you know? Sort of embracing it, and there is something that is interesting about that form of non-attachment, but I almost wonder if that’s a good thing or not, how do you feel about that?

DG: It’s deadly. So my background is Greek scholarship right? Homer was my thing. Then I studied Sappho, and Aristotle and Plato, all those folks; Euripides…when I was studying Greek language, literature and culture, they’d say, “This is all they have left of Euripides plays; we know he did this many.” And you only have this many to study, the rest of them are gone. It’s theater, it’s ephemeral. They’re not documented, ok great—you sit there and think, “Gee, I really love Medea, I would have liked to have had more experiences with stories like Medea.” And then there is conjecture about Aeschylus’ plays, that he was more conservative…what if we had more Aeschylus plays, would we have been wrong about that pronouncement? You know were missing works by Aristotle, we know he wrote something on comedy; we don’t have it. That whole Umberto Eco “Name of the Rose”, is based on that idea that the work has been preserved by the monks, and its a dangerous work and its going to upend society as we know it, and so they’re keeping it away from human beings in the middle ages.

I love ephemeral things. I started with the idea that ephemerality is interesting. And there is something beautiful about the death of a thing, but it’s not healthy for a culture to have no record of the thing. Someone like Sappho is really important; the bee in my bonnet when I was younger was taking World Literature at 12th grade and there were four women in the entire book, it was four inches thick. The guys in my class would say, “You know if women were smart they written more.” And one of the women in the book was Sappho. My teacher said it was the only one we had by Sappho. And the answer was that she wrote no more than that—but the answer is that she did right more than that. We know she had eight books of poetry. This young man’s argument was, “See women aren’t as smart as men because women don’t write.” Well that’s a stupid argument, and we know why they aren’t in that book, but I was in 12th grade and I didn’t have the language to articulate that argument back at him, I just stormed off furious and knew he was wrong.

If we had done a better job preserving the women writers of the period we’d have more. We knew there were more, there’s evidence of it. People were throwing things away—they burned Sappho twice. Books that we don’t have now were burnt twice, in 389 by Christians who didn’t want people reading Pagan female writers and in 1089 for the same reason. And were seeing the same kind of thing happening right now with the Taliban and now ISIS, where they have destroyed this city, which was the city of Zenobia, the warrior queen. It was also a city of great religious tolerance. Knocking out that city wipes out the memory of Zenobia. It wipes out the memory of religious tolerance.

What we have left is ISIS and their dogma. I like to think of human beings as making creatures. The whole point of us is that we make things, and we don’t just make one or two things, we make a lot of things. But we are also creatures of our unmaking and we make things and then we forget about them, we don’t value them, or we value these but not those. So as we make those things we aren’t thinking about what’s going to happen to them once they’re made. What is someone going to do with this once I make it? People makes games, mostly computer games where they go around and kill women or black people and they just put it out there to make a bunch of money not realizing that the thing that they made has a life beyond their hands, and there’s an ethical issue involved here in the production of the things we make. How we make them, and take care of them—how we husband them—how we disseminate that so people understand the point of them, and not making things are are pointless or that are hurtful.

Continue Reading

An Interview with Jason Pace, Executive director of Digital Future Lab at University of Washington Bothell

Interview by Kolby Harvey

What is your lab called and where is it?

Digital Future Lab (DFL), University of Washington Bothell (Bothell, Washington).

What sorts of projects and activities form the core of your work? Is there a specific temporal or technological focus for your lab?

DFL is an interactive media production studio developing narrative experiences and non-violent video games, and offering internships in coding, narrative design, game mechanic/systems/level design, project management, art & animation, marketing, and other disciplines. The focus of the lab, however, is on student professional development and modelling the power of what we refer to as “transformational diversity” to make teams and products more innovative and inclusive. We use game development as our sandbox because it brings together such a wide range of disciplines and allows students from all university majors and programs to deeply participate in R&D without requiring extensive domain expertise.

Research has shown the many benefits of diverse teams, but that research isn’t necessarily translating into business practice. DFL recruits to maximize diversity across the widest possible spectrum (including typical markers such as race and gender, and adding neurodiversity, educational background, and many other forms of difference).

DFL has perhaps one of the most diverse teams in the technology industry, and we apply theoretical content drawn from queer & feminist sources to our culture and team development. Students are expected to actively interrogate issues of race, class, gender, and ability as those concepts relate to the work they produce in the lab. DFL models intersectional approaches to equity and inclusion and has seen exceptional results (e.g., DFL was only the second university studio to meet the quality bar for Microsoft’s Independent Developers Program).

Who uses the lab? Is it a space for students, for researchers, for artists, for seminars?

DFL is primarily used by undergraduate and graduate student interns.

What sorts of knowledge does the lab produce (writing, demonstrations, patents etc.) and how is it circulated (e.g. conference papers, pamphlets, books, videos, social media)?

DFL produces both original commercial IP (we recently launched our first game Ghostlight Manor on the Steam distribution platform and will soon release an updated multiplayer version as a Microsoft Windows 10 app store release). Proceeds from the sale of the game are split between the program (funding paid student positions, purchasing equipment) and the students who contributed to the project (we use a points-based system  to determine student profit sharing that includes length of service and type of contribution).

Most of our projects originate as research prototypes designed to teach introductory programming concepts to high school and university students. This work has been published in journals such as the IEEE journal Computer and featured at conferences such as SIGCSE and FDG.

We’ve also begun operationalizing our approach to diversity and creating workshop content to help academic colleagues and industry leaders integrate transformational principles into their daily cultures and hiring practices.

Tell us about your infrastructure. Do you have a designated space and how does that work?

It’s important that our highly diverse teams are able to work together in the same physical space to develop the exceptional interpersonal skills required to execute high-level tasks while they’re also building domain competence. DFL is located in a secure 1000 sq. ft. studio in a central location on campus and can be accessed by interns 24×7. There are currently about 50 student interns working in the lab and our space can hold a max of 25 at a time (we’ve capped student participation at 50 due to space and staffing constraints).

What sorts of support does the lab receive? (e.g. government grants, institutional grants, private donors)

The lab has historically been funded by institutional grants, although we’re working to move to a self-sustaining model via external grants and donors.

What are your major theoretical touchstones?

The development work in the lab draws from a broad theoretical base that includes fields ranging from human-centered design to digital poetics, but all work is conducted under the umbrella of intersectional feminism.

Going off of that, your lab seems deeply committed to social justice, equity, and inclusivity. Can you speak to this? How has this affected how your lab functions and the kinds of work your lab produces?

Continue Reading

Older Posts