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What Is A Media Lab?

situated practices in media studies

Tag / media lab

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 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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An Interview with Rob Duarte, director of the REBOOT Laboratory

REBOOT operates at the edge of visual art and something akin to scientific inquiry. We exist in a research university and part of the concept of the lab is to have our work creep into traditional research venues. In this way, we might be able to subtly inject critical, subversive, political ideas into contexts that might otherwise be driven by the apolitical pursuit of strictly technical knowledge.

In addition to founding the REBOOT Lab, Rob Duarte is an artist and an assistant professor in the Department of Art at Florida State University.

What is your lab called and where is it?

REBOOT Laboratory lives in the Facility for Arts Research (FAR) at Florida State University. In addition to directing the lab, I’m also an Assistant Professor and Digital Media area head in the FSU Department of Art.

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

From the website:

REBOOT is a laboratory that looks toward our culture’s production of waste as a point of departure for a critical engagement with technology. Our approach is rooted in the visual arts and is driven by our collective knowledge of process, materials, and experimentation; as well as a commitment to revealing the social, political, and cultural aspects of technology.

Through collaborations with artists and researchers at FSU and beyond, REBOOT projects cast a critical eye on technoculture and the logical consequences of the ways in which we produce, consume, and discard technology. This examination of the political components of technology occurs through a hands-on process of thinking and making, with the goal of provoking discussion and action that will bring about alternative, preferred futures.

The lab has two projects at the moment: FixShop is an art project that takes the form of a repair shop storefront. Through the theatrical play of a repair shop and its employees, we accept “broken”, outmoded, and obsolete designed objects from individuals. We discuss the owner’s relationship to the object as well as their expectations and desires for the “repaired” object. The objects are rarely restored to their former function, but are instead transformed / redesigned / reinvented to become alternately humorous, contemplative, or poetic reflections on our consumer culture, the value of mass-produced vs hand-made objects, etc.

The other project is called DIY Resource Recovery and is driven by experimental research into waste products. The aim of the project is to discover low-tech ways of converting waste into useful materials for making. The focus is on finding low-tech, personal or studio-scale methods that provide a sustainable alternative to municipal recycling. The goals for this project are not related to technical efficiency or commercialization, but pure experimentation and materials-based discovery.

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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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An Interview with John Vallier of MediArcade at University of Washington

mediarcade

John Vallier is Head of Distributed Media Studies and an affiliate assistant professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of Washington.

What is your lab called and where is it?

It’s called Media Arcade (aka mediArcade) and is located in Suzzallo-Allen Library at the University of Washington, Seattle. We landed on “arcade” for a few reasons:

– it provides access to a number of gaming consoles;
– we wanted to draw undergrads into the space (they were primarily the ones who paid for it), so we aimed to make it sound “fun”;
– it’s closed to the public, so it is not a commons;
– we already have a Media Center, which houses our main video collection;
– it’s a roundabout reference to Benjamin’s The Arcades Project.

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Post-Studio Practices: An Interview with Neal White of Office of Experiments

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 was networked and moved across spaces, enclosures, archives and galleries. Therefore I needed to find a way of working with others that was neither exploitative nor driven by serving another discipline or field.

Neal White runs the Office of Experiments, a research platform that “works in the expanded field of contemporary art.”

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Jesper Olsson on The Media Archaelogy Lab

the point of the Media archaeology lab is to historicize and critically investigate digital media and technologies…not to underwrite the myth of constant progress, but rather to complexify the history of media. In tinkering with old, forgotten, and dead media it opens our eyes to mistakes, waste, and failure […] in order to sharpen our understanding of what media are and how they operate, of their specific temporality, of their impact on perception and thinking, on cultural practice and art and everyday life.

An interview with Jesper Olsson on the concept of the media archaeological lab.

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