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What Is A Media Lab?

situated practices in media studies

Tag / interdisciplinary

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 Jason Nanna of the Synchroton Media Research Laboratory

What is your lab called and where is it?

I run the Synchroton Media Research Laboratory, located in Milwaukee, WI USA.  It is augmented by the Geographical Research Unit, a nomadic dwelling and testbed for alternative living and my personal R&D/performance activities.

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

At its core I view one of the primary roles of the SMRL is as an extra-institutional research/collaboration center for projects and people related to my personal fields of interest.  Located in an old factory building, it comprises a workshop and test bench for electronics design, modification and testing, and a large studio space suited to facilitating a wide variety of experimental endeavors, mostly alternative media production, forms of performance or creation that tend toward interdisciplinarity and are strongly non-traditional. It’s a direct reflection of my own attitudes toward prevailing and minor forms of creative production.

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

[The lab] is a loose resource network for those around me (perhaps a few dozen) with limited/nonexistent access to resources that might otherwise be provided by universities or makerspaces. The lab stocks, accumulates, and redistributes equipment and supplies (especially electronics components and such) to people around me — in particular the group of artists that occupy or regularly work in the building in which it resides, which is a large (broadly defined) artist studio space. I do everything I can to provide technical assistance, tools, etc. to those around me.

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

It is personally funded – the only real support it receives is rent-compensation in exchange for my own activities managing the artist space.  I believe its continued existence for over a decade to be one of the exceptional accomplishments of this space as existing outside of those institutional opportunities(which also entail certain demands and expectations) although it is largely owing to self-sacrifice.  It is not suited towards entrepreneurship, perhaps the opposite – rather towards encouraging those things that are incapable of surviving by way of mass appeal.  I have had bad experiences with grant-based funding in the past, and prefer to pursue a course of minimal financial requirements.

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

Much of the ‘research’ has lately been in the realm of analog audio/visual synthesis but it is one of many meanderings.  The studio has a vast array of obsolete and obscure technology and one strong focal point is an  attempt to discover lost technologies or re-contextualize old technology to new ends – a prime example being the large array of nuclear instrumentation modules which have been at one point used to design a computerless interactive audiovisual game. Although much work is done around the lab involving the state of the art as well, I believe that one of its strong focal points is taking a critical stance to the notion that technological progress invalidates and ‘obsoletes’ old technologies.  Also, working against the sense in which media production comes as the second half of a process which first involves consumption of corporate/mass-defined tools. A primary objective is to change the media landscape through an engagement with the tools themselves, crafting or modifying, prototyping, creating bespoke technologies, relying on and contributing to the open-source landscape. Technological engagement at a low level rather than buying a few apps and calling oneself a ‘media artist’.  On a related note I personally find the term ‘artist’ to be problematic and I believe my problem domain to be much wider than creating aesthetic works (that perhaps include some ‘commentary’ or something).

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An Interview with Lily Diaz and Philip Dean at Media Lab Helsinki

An interview with Lily Diaz-Kommonen and Philip Dean of the Media Lab Helsinki in Aalto.

Can you tell us about the background and emergence of the Media Lab Helsinki?

Lily Diaz: The Media Lab Helsinki came into being in 1994. It was formed by merging the existing resources of the Computer-aided photography lab led by Philip Dean and the IMI (Image Media Institute), an experimental unit created in 1992 to investigate high-end 3D animation and 3D computer-aided design (and provide master’s-level education in those areas). Because there was a need to create an academic unit that would concentrate on the potential of digital technologies to transform media and create new markets for new media content, a discussion ensued (involving the Ministry and other key players in the Finnish education scene) as to where to host such an environment. At the time there seemed to be a desire to focus on the education of new media content developers as well as to further develop collaborative applied research with Finnish industry. These orientations might have played a role in the decision about where to locate the unit, so that it was eventually placed at the University of Art and Design Helsinki (Taideteollinen korkeakoulu).

Originally the Media Lab project received three years additional funding from the ministry. This institution – that in 2010 became the School of Arts, Design and Architecture at Aalto University – has deep roots in the history of Finnish design, from having been the descendant of the School of Craft and Arts, initially based in the venerable Ateneum building during the late 19th Century.

The Lab opened its doors in 1994 and was a key partner is hosting the 4th International Society of Electronic Arts (ISEA) Conference. The Conference itself was a highlight, featuring the best and latest [research and innovations from] the international electronic arts/media culture scene.

The initial team at the Media Lab Helsinki [was] comprised [of] Philip Dean, Kari-Hans Kommonen, Isto Männistö and, later, Minna Tarkka.

Having [just] started the master’s studies program in the previous year, the Lab did not have a post-graduate program of studies when I arrived as a doctoral student and researcher in 1995. Post-graduate studies were done independently with tutoring by professors in the departments of Design and of Art Education where postgraduate programs and communities of researchers already had existed since the late 1980s.

Art and design research is certainly not a new endeavour. What is new is the growing trend by which artists and designers have become involved in research activities as part of their practice, cultivating and acquiring a voice as researchers and with an understanding of their role as creators of primary sources.

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Exploring Digital Ephemera: An Interview with The Digital Studies Center at Rutgers University

Jim Brown is Assistant Professor of English and Director of the Digital Studies Center at Rutgers University Camden. His research focuses on the ethical and rhetorical dimensions of new media technologies.

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What is your lab called and where is it?

JB: We are the Digital Studies Center at Rutgers University Camden. We attempted to put together a snazzier name than that, but our dean was keen to keep “Center” in the title. Like “lab”and “studio,” the term “center” has its own political weight (maybe suggesting size, research heft, etc.)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. I am the Director and Robert Emmons is our 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?

JB: 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). The R-CADE operates with much the same ethos as Lori Emerson’s Media Archaeology Lab. We don’t have an extensive collection of technology, but our primary focus is actually on providing scholars with software or hardware that they’d like to investigate, research, and/or repurpose. Our R-CADE Symposium features this kind of work.

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