Combining art, technology, and Lake Merced
A hidden art department creates everything from robots to user interfaces
Technology at SF State shows itself most prominently through design projects, business students creating the latest app and other companies coming to SF State. But some of the most interesting pieces turn out to be coming from the art department.
More specifically, the conceptual information arts department, or CIA. Classes in this department learn to use technology to express different forms of art.
“It’s basically electronics and sensors and physical computing for artists,” said Carlos Castellanos, an SFSU alumnus and visiting professor in the CIA department. “(We) show them the work of other artists, and also try to get them to use these things creatively in an arts context.”
Currently, Castellanos is working with Professor Paula Levine to combine their classes, one on electronics and one on artists as cartographers, to create a large set of group projects. Using Lake Merced as the cartography landscape, student groups were able to create projects that fit for a variety of interests using technology.
“Some students are interested in sound, others say, motion or gesture, so they could sort of do what they want, but within the context of the technology we’re using and the general ideas of bringing aspects of research and human computer interaction, and using those again in an arts context,” said Castellanos.
The group on sound included broadcast electronic communication and arts students Kyle Bray and Leslie Ngo, who had the opportunity to work with everything from user interfaces and sound manipulation for their project. As a group, they all created their own segment of the project — Ngo using readings of how clean Lake Merced is to create filters to put with the Lake Merced sounds to see how much it changes it, and Bray who manipulated field recordings to create specific sound compositions — to get their hands onto the projects and technology they were interested in.
“I realized I wasn’t really doing anything for the group, at least what I wanted to do,” said Ngo, a 22-year-old senior. “I took this class because I wanted to learn how to make shit and code and stuff. but we weren’t really doing any of that.”
Through the various projects and class lessons, students were learning everything from Photoshop to small-scale computing.
“A lot of the technologies they teach here, the actual software, hardware is not radically different from, let’s say design, industrial design or even engineering might use,” said Castellanos. “But we’re teaching them in a way the core isn’t so much the technology, but a way of using the technology and generating ideas.”
The only real roadblock, according to Castellanos, for the department has been budget cuts, which have affected numerous departments and areas.
But even the access to plenty of programs and technology doesn’t necessarily put SF State on the map as a campus of technology — even if the campus is in the heart of the gentrification and tech boom of the Bay Area.
“It’s really great that we’re learning about it, but I do feel like State has become some sort a guinea pig for all this tech that’s coming out of Silicon Valley,” said Ngo.
In comparison to campuses like Stanford, Ngo and Bray felt like the difference wasn’t what students are learning, but the atmosphere and the available funds in comparison to CSU budget cuts and the commuter campus label SF State holds.
“I learned tons of things that I hadn’t before, especially concerning Arduino and stuff, I didn’t even know what an Arduino was before coming to this class,” said Bray, a 21-year-old junior. “I do think that State is in the position to prepare us for, you now…the coming reign of terror of Google.”
“For me,” said Ngo, “if there was an exact clone of me attending Stanford for as long as I’ve been at state, who would be doing better? I wouldn’t be able to answer that question.”