Interview by Erin Cousins
Note: This interview was conducted after Brian Kane’s visit to CU Boulder’s Media Archaeology Lab, where he demoed VuJak, the world’s first video sampler, for faculty and students. Attendees included members of Lori Emerson’s graduate English class, “Theory & Practice of Doing // From Digital Humanities to Posthumanities”. References to both the demo and the Digital Humanities class are included in the interview.
Information about Brian Kane’s current and past projects can be found at http://briankane.net.
EC: Our course this semester began with discussions of digital humanities, and while we’ve focused a lot on the role of the digital in academia, we haven’t talked about the role that it plays in art. I think that’s one place where the interaction between the digital and the human is most visible. Looking through your work it seems that there is a through-line of the interaction between the human and the digital, and how they create subjectivity…
BK: Well it’s all people to me, but you know, that’s just because as an artist, what you’re doing is talking to people. I mean, do you feel like you have a definition of what digital humanities is?
EC: Oh, the whole first quarter of the semester was trying to figure that out! We never got to a single answer…
BK: Maybe you’re best without an answer.
EC: One of the questions we got to was, “Is it really worth asking this question still or should we just be making stuff?” Should we just be doing the work, and we can worry about labeling it later?
BK: So it’s kind of project oriented?
EC: It’s turned out for a lot of us to be about making something or doing something for the final project. Jillian Gilmer and I are creating a virtual reality tour of the Media Archaeology Lab, some people are writing essays, some people are creating digital visualizations of lab spaces, and others are making creative projects like digital poetry websites, so we’re sort of covering a whole range of “What is the Digital Humanities”? But so far I don’t think anybody has gone into visual art, and I think only one project is tactile.
BK: With a lot of the students I work with it is kind of the opposite, they get lost in the digital, and you pull them out and get them working with their hands again to straighten them out.
EC: So it acts as a balance?
BK: Different people are different, and you start to get a read on people after a while and learn where they are coming from. This one amazing student, she is just this incredible fashion designer, but she was really struggling with everything electronic and digital and in the end I sort of pulled her out and I said, look, you focus on your strength and this is what you’re good at…and she made this fairly simple piece, just stunning. It defaulted back to her eye and her sense of design.
EC: With your students or with your own work, do you ever find that the only way to do the work is to collaborate? For example, if you have this person with skills in fashion and this other person with skills in tech, can putting them together be a solution?