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What Is A Media Lab?

situated practices in media studies

Tag / robotics

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 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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An Interview with Edward Kim of HICapacity, a Hackerspace in Hawaii

Interview by Laurel Carlson

LC: Can you say a bit about who you are, your position within HICapacity, and how you came to be involved with the hackerspace?

EK: My name is Edward Kim and I’m a Senior Software Engineer at Slickage Studios, a local consulting firm in Honolulu, Hawaii. I am a graduate of the local university (University of Hawaii at Manoa) with a Bachelor of Science degree in Information and Computer Science. I have been working in the tech field for about 10 years now. I’m also the main point of contact at HICapacity. HICapacity consists mainly of professionals, and most of our members hold employment outside of the organization. Being that we serve a community and don’t really see ourselves as a business, our members typically hold no real titles. I call myself the main point of contact mainly to share a common ground with people that are not familiar with our structure. As for the things that I do at HICapacity, I handle most of the logistics within the organization. This includes but is not limited to planning and coordinating events with both members and outside talent, handling membership fees, rules, and disputes, and general outreach with regards to our organization as a whole and as an advocate for the tech industry whether it relates to STEM education or tech awareness in regards to other industries here. I became involved with the hackerspace thanks to a old college buddy that was already aware of the organization. Through this connection, I quickly became involved with event-related duties and worked my way up through our old structure (typical business hierarchy – president, VP, treasurer) as leadership continually moved to the mainland for better opportunities.

LC: How do you define the goals of HICapacity?

EK: HICapacity’s goals are really hard to define. We constantly grow and evolve as the community evolves and we try to meet the needs of the community as that happens. We were originally a makerspace with the intention of focusing on both traditional hardware topics like arduinos and other microcontrollers but also shared a focus on a lot of software related topics like JavaScript and Ruby on Rails. Having grown in many directions at once (carpentry, t-shirt making, robotics, and more recently fashion tech and wearables), we tend to rebuild our organization and our goals as is needed. As of right now, we more broadly define ourselves as an advocate for technology within the state of Hawaii. This is a very broad goal and was intentionally picked to be so. We want to focus on both the sharing and increasing the knowledge between professionals within our community and general advocacy of technology as a viable industry in Hawaii, whether it be through STEM education outreach or setting up events that highlight the technology sector here.

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