Interview by Lori Emerson For more than a decade, Patrik Svensson has been relentlessly documenting, imagining and, now, reimagining the physical and conceptual meeting places that bring together the digital and the humanities. Svensson’s work has been at the center not only of my own work to situate the lab I run, the Media Archaeology […]
Category / Interviews
1) What is your lab called and where is it?
It is called MEDEA LAB MALMÖ, and it is located in Malmö, Sweden, as part of Malmö University. It started in 2009. It grew out of the work conducted within the School of Arts and Communication, which started in 1998 when Malmö University was inaugurated.
2) What sorts of projects and activities form the core of your work? Is there a specific temporal or technological focus for your lab?
We deal with societal challenges through experiments and interventions. The focus is on what we term collaborative media, [as well as] on design, and public engagement. We combine critical and theoretical work with design and arts based practices.
3) Who uses the lab? Is it a space for students, for researchers, for seminars?
It is primarily a research lab. About 30 researchers from Malmö University are involved in the work. Researchers come from fields such as Media and Communication Studies, Media Technology, Interaction Design, Design Theory, Computer Science, Comparative Literature and Art History. The work is carried out in collaboration with students and with researchers from other universities, and with people from outside academia belonging to public sector organizations, civil society organizations, the culture sector, and the creative industries.
In addition to research, there is an outreach part of Medea. We have by now arranged more than 40 public lectures in our Medea Talks series, and more than 20 podcasts in our Medea Vox series. Speakers include Dick Hebdige, Lucy Suchman, Nick Montfort, Joanna Zylinska, Jay Bolter and Susan Schuppli.
An interview with Dr. Diego Cavallotti, Post-Doc Researcher, University of Udine, La Camera Ottica 03/2018 What is your lab called and where is it? Our lab is called La Camera Ottica. It is part of the Department of Humanities and the Cultural Heritage – University of Udine. It is located in Gorizia (Italy), a small […]
What is your lab called and where is it?
Our lab is called Bilkent Media Archeology Lab. It is located at the Fine Arts, Design and Architecture Faculty of Ihsan Doğramacı Bilkent University in Bilkent, Ankara.
The lab is one of the newest extensions of the Department of Communication and Design’s studios and production facilities called BITS (Bilkent Iletişim ve Tasarım Studuyosu or in English: Bilkent Communication and Design Studio). “BITS” was setup in 1999. Today the studio facilitates two sound stages, a Foley studio (which is under construction), a stop-motion studio, post-production facilities and a multi-camera production setup at the Bilkent Symphony Orchestra Hall.
What sorts of projects and activities form the core of your work? Is there a specific temporal or technological focus for your lab?
Right now the lab is collecting obsolete analogue and digital devices from all over the university, which means rescuing various video tape players and recorders, as well as older computer models and audio-visual devices from being trashed.
In the centre of the lab is a conversion or transfer setup to convert various video formats from analogue sources to digital file formats.
Most of the equipment reflects the department’s 20 years of history since it foundation in 1998, and the development of low cost media production tools.
The Bilkent Media Archeology Lab also collected and still collects various tape-based archives like Bilkent’s own PASO Student Film Festival Archive, the Bilkent Turkish Cinema Archive by Dr. Ahmet Gürata, the FADA Animation Archive, the Bilkent University Institutional History Archive, etc.
Undergraduate and graduate students volunteer in their spare time to check and register tapes of various formats from 8mm video, to Low-Band U-Matic, Beta, VHS, and Beta SP, and convert/transfer them to a series of digital formats with the goal of making them public and accessible again through servers hosted by BCC, the computer centre of Bilkent University.
Some students of the department have already started to curate screenings of Turkish student short films from the early 2000s on campus.
The MFA graduate program in Media & Design, also run by the department, uses also older computer platforms collected in the lab to review and exhibit obsolete CD-ROMs in an exhibition series on campus at the FADA gallery called “On Display”.
20/10/2017 What is your lab called and where is it? UBU lab, Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland. What sorts of projects and activities form the core of your work? Is there a specific temporal or technological focus for your lab? 1. Researching creativity in the digital age (e.g. Digital experiments, Demoscene, electronic literature, media art, creative […]
18/10/2017 What is your lab called and where is it? JH: We’re called Access Space, and we are located in the city centre of Sheffield, UK What sorts of projects and activities form the core of your work? Is there a specific temporal or technological focus for your lab? JH: We have three strands to […]
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.
Interview by Niki Tulk
“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.
Interview by Melissa McDoniel
“…while the global digital humanities community is constantly defining and redefining itself, we embrace an inclusive understanding that respects and investigates the myriad of ways that digital methods and technology are opening an avenue to research, and the human experience.” – Meredith Martin, CDH Princeton
Melissa McDoniel: Can you say a little bit about your role in Princeton’s Center for Digital Humanities, and how you came to be involved with DH and also the Center?
Meredith Martin: This is the Center for Digital Humanities at Princeton’s second year with a physical location. We started last year officially, but before that, we were an initiative that I started with a number of faculty colleagues as well as colleagues from the University Library and from our Office of Information Technology. We began as a discussion group, bringing together faculty from across all divisions of campus — from computer science, from sociology, from all of the humanities departments. These discussions began in September of 2011. Over the course of the 2011-2012 school-year, we developed four focus groups after holding a a day-long meeting in January 2012. We decided collectively that we wanted to do some research on what Princeton could offer and was already offering, since we are so resource-rich. We wanted to investigate whether we needed to have a Center at all. The preliminary meetings in the fall of 2011 were primarily to talk about what other peer institutions had and what kind of possibilities there were to support digital work at Princeton. We talked about collaborative and interdisciplinary possibilities across campus. Then we thought about how we might develop a kind of white paper that we aimed to complete by the end of the spring term of 2012. We also started thinking about a mission statement for the initiative itself at that January meeting.
After our January meeting, we broke into those four focus groups that met separately over the course of the spring 2012. These were defined by the group as “teaching and research,” “infrastructure,” “funding,” and “programming.” Programming meant basically inviting people to campus to give talks, but also offering workshops Princeton wasn’t already offering. Infrastructure was tasked with thinking about what Research Computing, the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, the Library, etc., was already doing. At the end of that spring the four focus groups turned in a separate section of a vision statement to a steering committee that we had assembled. That vision statement was then put together by the steering committee over the course of the summer of 2012.
With the advice of what we called an “executive committee” including the Chief Information Officer, the Deputy Dean of the Faculty, the Executive Director of the Humanities Council, and the University Librarian we turned the vision statement into a document asking for a Center. This was their strong advice.
Over the course of the fall 2012 we revised the document and submitted it, and then I worked closely with the Provost over the course of that year, approved officially sometime in early 2013. In that approval process we were approved to hire an Associate Director, which is the first thing that we wanted so that it wasn’t completely grassroots, faculty run with all of us doing this volunteer work that was not recognized service.
Basically 2012/2013 was revising the proposal, and 2013/2014 was the year of the search for the Associate Director, and that was also the year that I was officially named the Faculty Director of the “Center”; however we didn’t yet have a physical Center. I spent most of that year (13/14) fundraising, and I raised half of the total operating budget with support from 25 different departments and divisions as a three-year commitment with a substantial amount of that support coming from Princeton’s Humanities Council. I took this broad-based campus support to the Provost’s Office and the new Provost (the former Provost had been named President) were very supportive when they saw the work we had done. The University Library took the Center for DH as an administrative home at the University and funded the search for the Associate Director, as well as helped us to become a fully-fledged academic unit (the first in the University Library). Being an academic unit rather than an administrative unit at Princeton means that we can have faculty teach, support research grants for graduate students and stuff like that. Jean Bauer was hired in the academic year in July of 2014, and 2014/2015 was her first full year, and now 2015/2016 is her second year.
We now have a temporary (they call it “swing”) space that we were given at the beginning of last year, Fall 2014. It’s in the former psychology department. Some of our offices are converted observation rooms that are more like small closets with one-way glass. We put some particleboard up so that they don’t look so horrible, but we have equipment, we have space, we have our stuff there. We’re in our official third year as a Center, but we didn’t have any physical space except the last two years so we really think of this as our second official year.
Interview by Elana Friedland
EF: How are you?
SS: I’m good, thank you. I’ve put video on, as you can see, just so you can have a look at my space and have some fun. Lots of printing presses, lots of stuff, yeah.
EF: It’s also been a real pleasure to see your space through the videos that you have on the website too, so thank you.
SS: Well, that’s good, because we just had a new website with the responsive template launched last week, so really good timing.
EF: I noticed that and I was curious: what prompted the change to the new website?
SS: They had rolled out a responsive template all across the university, and I’m one of the smaller centers so I wasn’t included in the first tranche, and then they had some extra money so three of the research institutes and centers were asked to rethink their websites. So it’s transitioning into a different mode, but there’s a lot more, shall we say, things to play with, to make it a lot more user-friendly, and to profile a lot more images and that, so that’s a first step, but it will be a growing thing.
EF: Thank you for explaining that. And thank you too for taking the time out to talk to me about the press.
SS: Well, it’s sort of cool that you were here for a semester. When was that?
EF: Back in 2010. I took a survey course on New Zealand literature through the English department.
SS: Yeah. Who was your lecturer? Jane Stafford, or Mark Williams, or Lydia Wevers, or —
EF: I think they all took turns lecturing, because I remember having a rotating cast of lecturers in there.
SS: Great. Yeah. So, small world. So thank you so much for connecting with me, and yeah, it looks like this is a great project, and I love the way that Lori sort of framed the whole course, so it’s been a real inspiration for me to dig down a bit into that too.
EF: Awesome. I’m glad there’s been a value in this for you too.
SS: Oh, absolutely. We’re talking the same language, so I was really excited to see that not only she got her media archeology lab, but some of her inspirations are mine as well, so yeah, I’ll be interested to see how the class goes, and particularly with whatever creative work that you end up producing as a result of your, you know, intersections with all these worlds.
EF: To shift gears a bit, I was wondering if you could tell me a bit about the work that you do in your role as the director and the printer over at the press. Since it seems like you encompass a wide range of things in that role, how do you find the balance between the different aspects of your role?
SS: Yeah, it’s a bit of a juggling act, as you can imagine. I inherited the space, and the three pillars, which were the research, the teaching and learning, and the printing and publishing, were an important marker of what Wai-te-ata Press was all about.
So I retained all three of those, and in the world of accountability and administrivia, there’s a lot more to do in terms of the back end administration stuff as well. But it doesn’t mean that I can juggle all the balls all at the same time, it means that according to the rhythms of getting external funding for research projects, funding or commissions for printing work, and then the schedule of teaching through the year, it’s quite a flexible kind of space where, depending on what comes in the door and what’s on the menu at the moment, able to weave things in and out.
I’m a sole charge director, which means it’s just me, and I run my own budget center, so I’ve got a level of autonomy, because I’m not associated with the school or a department, but I am under the faculty of humanities and social science, so I do have a kind of academic affiliation, but it’s more a facility that is available to anyone in the university. So a lot of what I do is not only work within the existing spaces that I have, but also reach out to across the university and a lot of external engagement.
So in order to help execute all the stuff that I really want to do, that relies upon me getting funding, generally external funding that then I can hire research assistants. So that’s easiest when it comes to research projects. So at the moment I’ve got four research assistants working on my project on William Colenso and the Victorian Republic of Letters.
We also have something called Performance-Based — PBRF, Performance-Based Research Fund, which is a government-organized census of all individual and university research outputs that are then, every five to eight years, collated, and universities are then ranked, and based on their ranking they get a lump sum from the government, and based on then how the university wants to distribute that lump sum, it will go back to the schools or the departments, not necessarily to the person who has earned it through their research portfolio. So because I’m a single unit and because I’m the one doing the declared research in the census, they’ve made an accommodation for me, and I get the research fund money directed to Wai-te-ata Press, which means then I can hire publication assistants as well to help with that component of the operation.
And then with teaching, depending on what’s going on, that’s a revenue stream, so it gives me a bit of latitude to be able to cross subsidize other stuff that we do.
So I try and keep a healthy balance, because in a world of accountability, if you’re down below the line too often, people start to look askance at you, but I’ve got lots of support from the university which likes the idea that this is quite a unique facility for Australasia, that it does a lot of things, and that it has a lot of street cred and profile in the wider community. So as I say, it’s a bit of a balancing act, but it’s — and juggling the balls all the time for survival in a way, but you can never be complacent in one of these spaces, nor can you be complacent in academia anymore anyway.
EF: I’m interested in how much the community outside of the university is able to get involved with or does get involved with the goings-on of the lab. Is it easily accessible to the wider community, or are most of the folks who come in affiliated with the university?
SS: If we look at the research side of things, we do have partnering with externals, and that can be people who are working on specific research projects themselves, people who have expertise that we want to buy in or collaborate with.
So in digital humanities work, in digital history, which is where I locate our research platform, you can’t always times compared to that within the university, just because in New Zealand we’re about 10, 15 years behind the thrust through North America and Europe. So we don’t have the skill space and we don’t have the density of people who have graduated through DH programs, because we only really have one in the country, and it’s not a fully rendered one. So we’re always looking outwards for expertise. Always looking out beyond the subject area and the individual faculty to alliances within the university.