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What Is A Media Lab?

situated practices in media studies

Category / Interviews

ACTLab, or, Make Stuff! An Interview with Allucquere Rosanne Stone

The program started in a literal broom closet across the hall from the department’s offices.  [Myself], my TA, and five students could barely squeeze in.  Between the first two semesters, most of our equipment was stolen.  It was not an auspicious beginning.

June 2018

You had already a long career before establishing the program at ACTLab, which in many ways seemed to crystallise your different interests in sound technologies, computing, performance and not least, in radical cultural theory. Could you tell us more about what led to the formation of ACTLAB and also about its early phases? Who was involved and how did it develop?

ARS: 
I came to the ACTLab by way of the History of Consciousness program at UCSC (at which I took my doctorate while studying with Donna Haraway) and just about every department at UCSD, where I taught for several years while I was still ABD [“all but dissertation”].

Donna had suggested that I visit UCSD to sample their new Science Studies program, and perhaps to act as a bridge — to be a kind of representative of HistCon, and to try to establish some sort of exchange program whereby Science Studies students might spend some time in HistCon to broaden their understanding of subjects like Critical/Cultural Theory which were absent from the UCSD program, while HistCon students might spend some time at UCSD getting a better grasp of how traditional Science Studies worked.

This began when I cold-called the Science Studies program from Donna’s office, and was surprised when the director of the program answered.  I told him my name, and said that I was interested in being an exchange student for a year, and he asked me what department I was in at UCSC.  I looked at Donna, who shook her head and mouthed “Not HistCon”, so I said “What department are you in?”  “Sociology,” he said, and I came back with “What a coincidence, I’m in sociology too.”  This wasn’t a complete lie; I’d been taking sociology courses and working with a sociological research institute, and HistCon students were encouraged to develop a disciplinary interest more intelligible to the everyday academic than HistCon was, as a kind of epistemic camouflage.  So the next thing I knew, I was in San Diego.

The part which is relevant to the ACTLab begins there, because through a series of missteps and unfortunate incendiary interactions with the Old White Men of Science Studies, I managed to get myself thrown out of the program and instantly rehired as faculty.  From that felicitous position, over the course of the next few years I taught a variety of courses across many departments — anthropology, sociology, political science, English, history, an experimental program called The Making of the Modern World — I was like a kid in a candy store, and when I wasn’t teaching I was hanging out at Don Norman’s nascent Cognitive Science program or the physics labs, or [witnessing] the wonderful things being done by the Border Art Project.  There were rumors of a tenure line opening up for me, and it was in that heady climate that I suddenly found myself being headhunted by the University of Texas.

 

Donna was in close contact by email, and, as my advisor, was counseling me on what to do.   Being Donna, her comments were measured, meticulous, and thorough, and my fellow fledgling scholars seemed to be unused to similar levels of attention.  One evening while I was responding to one of Donna’s emails, a colleague came up quietly behind me and began reading aloud her instructions off the screen.  “Weigh carefully each of these alternatives,”  he intoned, in his best epic cinematic tones.  “My god, it’s Jor-el instructing Kal-el!  Why don’t I ever get this level of caring from my advisor?”  Why, indeed.

I didn’t want to leave San Diego.  Donna said “If they offer it, take it”, and while I was mulling that, I received a call from an old and highly respected academic friend who said bluntly that if I didn’t take UT’s offer, she would personally fly down to San Diego and strangle me.  With that kind of incentive, I didn’t have much choice; so the next thing I knew, I was in Austin.

Various departments there had hired some very interesting people, taking some risks in the process, since those people didn’t yet do things that were intelligible to a traditional department.  Gradually we discovered each other with help from Yakov Sharir, the head of the Dance program, and we discussed starting an interdepartmental interdisciplinary thing of some sort; Yakov encouraged us and arranged for us to have common office space so we could rub up against each other more often.  We studied each other’s work and thought about how we might bring about some modification of the university’s teaching structure, which, as it stood, was quite hostile to people from different departments co-teaching courses.  We began to discover other academics at other institutions thinking along similar lines.

Then came the purges.  Every single department that hosted one of those promising but untenured young scholars kicked them out.  It was a shock of seismic proportions.  Within a year, I was the only one left standing.  We had gone from a campus peppered with young brilliant faculty doing weird interesting things, to… me.  I surmised that I escaped only because no one bothered to notice that I was there.

Let me back up slightly.  When I was hired, my department gave me a brief: word for word, to “drag the department, kicking and screaming, into the twenty-first century”.  For a junior faculty member still wet behind the ears, that is a very large order. For the first year or so I simply mulled it over, and allowed myself to become caught up in the general excitement of those promising scholars who were discussing the future of media and pedagogy and were about to be sacked.

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An Interview with Professor Bo Reimer of Medea Lab

March 2018


1)   What is your lab called and where is it?



It is called MEDEA LAB MALMÖ, and it is located in Malmö, Sweden, as part of Malmö University. It started in 2009. It grew out of the work conducted within the School of Arts and Communication, which started in 1998 when Malmö University was inaugurated.

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



We deal with societal challenges through experiments and interventions. The focus is on what we term collaborative media, [as well as] on design, and public engagement. We combine critical and theoretical work with design and arts based practices.

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



It is primarily a research lab. About 30 researchers from Malmö University are involved in the work. Researchers come from fields such as Media and Communication Studies, Media Technology, Interaction Design, Design Theory, Computer Science, Comparative Literature and Art History. The work is carried out in collaboration with students and with researchers from other universities, and with people from outside academia belonging to public sector organizations, civil society organizations, the culture sector, and the creative industries.

“Living Archives”: opening the process of archiving so that it embraces contemporary practices associated with open data, social networking, mobile media, storytelling, gaming, and performance.

In addition to research, there is an outreach part of Medea. We have by now arranged more than 40 public lectures in our Medea Talks series, and more than 20 podcasts in our Medea Vox series. Speakers include Dick Hebdige, Lucy Suchman, Nick Montfort, Joanna Zylinska, Jay Bolter and Susan Schuppli.

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An Interview with Diego Cavallotti of La Camera Ottica Lab

An interview with Dr. Diego Cavallotti, Post-Doc Researcher, University of Udine, La Camera Ottica 03/2018 
What is your lab called and where is it?
 Our lab is called La Camera Ottica. It is part of the Department of Humanities and the Cultural Heritage – University of Udine. It is located in Gorizia (Italy), a small […]

An Interview with Andreas Treske of Bilkent Media Archaeology Lab

02/2018


What is your lab called and where is it?



Our lab is called Bilkent Media Archeology Lab. It is located at the Fine Arts, Design and Architecture Faculty of Ihsan Doğramacı Bilkent University in Bilkent, Ankara.

The lab is one of the newest extensions of the Department of Communication and Design’s studios and production facilities called BITS (Bilkent Iletişim ve Tasarım Studuyosu or in English: Bilkent Communication and Design Studio). “BITS” was setup in 1999. Today the studio facilitates two sound stages, a Foley studio (which is under construction), a stop-motion studio, post-production facilities and a multi-camera production setup at the Bilkent Symphony Orchestra Hall.

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



Right now the lab is collecting obsolete analogue and digital devices from all over the university, which means rescuing various video tape players and recorders, as well as older computer models and audio-visual devices from being trashed.

In the centre of the lab is a conversion or transfer setup to convert various video formats from analogue sources to digital file formats.

Most of the equipment reflects the department’s 20 years of history since it foundation in 1998, and the development of low cost media production tools.
The Bilkent Media Archeology Lab also collected and still collects various tape-based archives like Bilkent’s own PASO Student Film Festival Archive, the Bilkent Turkish Cinema Archive by Dr. Ahmet Gürata, the FADA Animation Archive, the Bilkent University Institutional History Archive, etc.

Undergraduate and graduate students volunteer in their spare time to check and register tapes of various formats from 8mm video, to Low-Band U-Matic, Beta, VHS, and Beta SP, and convert/transfer them to a series of digital formats with the goal of making them public and accessible again through servers hosted by BCC, the computer centre of Bilkent University.

Some students of the department have already started to curate screenings of Turkish student short films from the early 2000s on campus.

The MFA graduate program in Media & Design, also run by the department, uses also older computer platforms collected in the lab to review and exhibit obsolete CD-ROMs in an exhibition series on campus at the FADA gallery called “On Display”.

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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 […]

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 […]

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.
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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.
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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.
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