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What Is A Media Lab?

situated practices in media studies

Tag / collaborative work

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.

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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.

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An Interview with Neal White of the Office of Experiments

Interview by Jussi Parikka

6/2016

Neal White runs the Office of Experiments, a research platform that “works in the expanded field of contemporary art.” The Office employs methods of fieldworks, works with a range of partners including scientists, academics, activists and enthusiasts, and is described as exploring “issues such as time, scale, control, power, cooperation and ownership, highlighting and navigating the spaces between complex bodies, organisations and events that form part of the industrial, military, scientific and technological complex.” White is also Professor at Westminster University, London.

This interview, conducted via email in June and July 2016, was set in the context of the What is a Media Lab-project and aims to address the questions of artistic practice, labs and the (post)studio as an environment of critical investigations of technological and scientific culture. Another interview with Neal White, conducted by John Beck, is published in the new edited collection Cold War Legacies (Edinburgh University Press, 2016).

JP: Can you start by describing what the Office of Experiments does? I am interested in its institutional form in the sense also Gilles Deleuze talks of institutions as “positive models for action” in contrast to law being a limitation on action. The Office also carries the legacy of modern institutional form par excellence – not the artist’s studio with its romantic connotations, not the laboratory either with its imaginary of science, but the office as an organizational site. Why an office?

NW: The Office of Experiments makes art through a process of collaboration in which all of those who undertake research, make or apply thinking to a project can be credited. We bring together artistic forms of research with experimental and academic research in the field, undertaking observational analysis, archival research, road trips, building platforms and prolonged formal visual studies that reflect the complexity of the subjects we approach. Our approach is to build a counter rational analysis or account of the world in which we live. To move this away from any poetic vision, we draw on ideas from conceptual art, and disciplines such as geography and science studies, architecture and political activism, as well as looking at physical space, data, and the material layer which connects the observatories, global sensors etc of our contemporary world; the interface between the technological and material world.

Having some formative education in Digital Arts, an MA in 1997 and then running a successful art and technology group in Shoreditch, London, in late nineties and up to 2001 (Soda), my experiences collaborating with others was critical to how I work now, and the work of others that interests me. As I wanted to deliberately move away from the hermetic space that media / digital art was creating for itself – the Lab, and to set up an independent contemporary art practice, that moved across spaces, enclosures, archives, in and out of galleries, often working in situ, and which was networked, I needed to find a way of working with others that was neither exploitative nor driven by serving another discipline or field.

Having opened conversations with John Latham in 2002-3, the now late British artist, I was introduced to Artist Placement Group. I was strongly influenced at this point both by Latham’s ideas of time/temporality (as applied to institutions) as well as incidental practices, and I applied those in an instituent form (Raunig) as Office of Experiments. The Office was therefore the solution to working collaboratively as an artist in a critical way, so that credit would be spread, and all those collaborating within each project get something out – whether as art or as an academic output/text, relevant to their individual discipline.

I was attracted to the term Office initially as it holds some idea of power, when thinking of a government department or Bureau, but is also instrumental – something that I felt was and is increasingly asked of art (evaluating audiences for funding etc). However, Office alone does not work, it is too close to that which it is critical of, so it is only when used with the term experiment, and the ideas of experimental systems (Rheinberger), which were also key to my work at this time, that an agonistic dichotomy comes to the fore. This works for me, as we could say the terms are counter-productive, the name undermines itself linguistically (i.e. As Robert Filliou put it “Art is what makes life so much better than Art’). In this respect, it serves the ideas that shape our research, to create a form of counter-enquiry that can hold to account the rational logic of hard scientific enquiry, ideas of progress, the ethical spaces of advanced industry and science.

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An Interview with Brian Kane, artist and creator, VuJak

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?

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