Code as Substance over Spectacle

Processing is more than a means to code, it is a community that is shaping how we create technology in more inclusive ways.

by Kawandeep Virdee, PCD@LA Participant

Processing Community Day @ Los Angeles — a day to celebrate art, code, and diversity — took place on January 19, 2019, at UCLA. This week we’ll be posting a series of reflections and interviews with the day’s participants and contributors.

PCD@LA brought together people from all backgrounds to explore code, art, and diversity as a community. [image description: More than 100 people are seated and standing in an auditorium.]

Living and working in the Bay Area, I find myself in two worlds that rarely overlap. There is a world within the tech industry, which emphasizes process, skills, growth, influence, and power. In this world, there are connections to be made and skills to learn in order to grow your profile and career. Even in the arts, technology is used to create spectacle to sell either for entertainment or for brands. Then, there is another world more rooted in the local art scene, with strong discussions around activism, identity, and societal awareness. The spaces are far more POC- and queer-friendly. What I’m excited about are the strong possibilities at the intersection of these two worlds, something that feels attainable in the Bay Area. We’re at the leading edge of technology, and the leading edge of justice and activism.

Last month in LA, Processing Community Day was hosted at UCLA. What I’ve felt has been missing in the broader digital art conversation, and more broadly in tech, was fully present at PCD. This was explicitly expressed right in the introduction, which framed the event not as being at the “intersection of art and technology,” a phrase often used with little substance behind it, but as between “art, technology, and activism.” The talks did not dwell on the technical details of projects; rather the focus was on relational, social, and political themes of the works — on the why of what we create beyond simply experimenting or creating something flashy.

An artwork made during a Racial Pedagogy workshop called “Monsters, Synths, and Future Gods” by Angela “Mictlanxochitl” Anderson Guerrero and Jason Wyman. [image description: An artwork consisting of different kinds of plant and flower materials arranged in a mandala-formation around three lit Catholic candles.]

Throughout the day’s talks and conversations, I deepened my understanding of these topics and how they intersect. How might we think beyond making tools that are more inclusive, to creating spaces and processes that are more inclusive? How might we better share otherwise overlooked experiences and the works they inform? How can I interrogate more deeply how I understand the world, and the assumptions I make?

A.M. Darke described teaching in a way that would emphasize process over perfection, that would encourage experimentation and learning without anxiety. She co-creates her class with her students with the anti-syllabus syllabus, and this leads to lively, valuable discussions for her students.

Johanna Hedva shared common phrases that reveal ableist ways of thinking. Words and phrases that are unfortunately used often, without realizing the underlying stigma that they support — as the way “crazy” is often used with a negative connotation, that stigmatizes mental illness. I am far more aware of ableist language and ways of thinking after this talk, which is especially important for me in working to be more inclusive in my works and events.

Lark VCR explores the possibilities of computing and the unknown, using code to create divination tools, leading to works that were whimsical and personally meaningful, and also works that would help process trauma and heal. This connection of using new media works for personal and collective growth is immensely inspiring to me.

By the end of the day, I realized that the Processing language is not about programming graphics. It’s not about making it easier for artists and designers to start coding. It’s about fully rethinking and growing a better relationship with technology and how we make it, emphasizing ourselves and our relationship with each other.

Attendees of Processing Community Cafe, a lunchtime discussion platform, where people can form groups to discuss their own topics. [image description: Three people smile at the camera while about a dozen talk in small groups behind them. There is a sign with a hand-drawn labyrinth.]

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The Processing Foundation promotes software literacy within the visual arts, and visual literacy within technology-related fields. Our publication posts articles about and by members of our community.

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Kawandeep Virdee

Kawandeep Virdee

Author of “Feeling Great About My Butt.” Previously: Creators @Medium, Product @embedly, Research @NECSI. http://whichlight.com.

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