by yeli (Student of SFPC Spring 2018)

Spring 2018: Week 1

It’s rare that within days of meeting each other and after spending 14 hours in the same room, a group of people decide what they want to do next is spend even more time with each other. But that’s what happened at SFPC during the Onboarding Week. Two days in, the class was already making plans to cook together and meet each other at Jazz clubs and gardens when we weren’t in class. I imagine that like for the previous classes, at the end of the program SFPC will feel more like a home than a school.

Day 1: Introductions, hopes for SFPC, and Human Fax machine activity with Taeyoon.

Day 1 opened with introductory lectures by Taeyoon and Lauren. Everyone created a name badge for another person with a sketch of their face. Then, students were given sheets of paper and asked to list all the questions they had about their time at SFPC, and what they wanted to get out of it. After they finished writing, they broke into small groups to discuss and categorize the questions.

Name cards with sketches

After discussing in the groups, they all sat together in a circle to discuss. Some themes that came up were:

  • What happens after the program? How to make a living as an artist?
  • How much time to spend learning vs making? Also how to choose what to focus on when they are learning so much.
  • Learning to learn and to teach.
  • How to develop a creative practice.
  • Building empathy, learning to be honest with ourselves and to share our work.
  • Growing in a reflective way.
  • Creating interactive experiences, using data creatively and making things with their hands.
Students discuss their goals for SFPC

Lauren gave her ‘Meet the teachers’ talk where they went over how to best use their time and what to expect going forward. Lauren is a game creator, educator, and community builder. After falling in love with broadcast journalism in grade school, Lauren went on to build enterprise software for companies including Turner, Time Warner, and Thomson Reuters. More recently, she has focused on bringing people together and supporting underrepresented artists as a co-owner of babycastles, a co-organizer at SFPC, and the Associate Director of Education at Eyebeam.

Next, the class played the Human Fax Machine Experiment. Students created an aural system for transmitting and receiving code using a ball, a glass and a pen. They formed makeshift barriers using small whiteboards and tried successfully (and unsuccessfully) to re-create the shapes their teammates were transmitting instructions for. Afterwards, they united to discuss how they approached the experiment, what worked, what didn’t and what they learnt.


Day 2: Intro to Critical Theory and Artist Talk with Amit Pitaru

The students began the day with Morehshin Allahyari who is teaching a critical theory class titled, “The Radical Outside.” She started by giving an artists talk on ‘Addivitism, Digital Colonialism and Monstrosity.’ She gave a brief history of herself and talked about her self-identification as an art activist, saying, when you grow up in a place like Iran, it is a privilege to make work that’s not political. She explored questions she’d been thinking about like “Can there be radicalism without violence?” and “How can you use technology in a more provocative way?” while demoing about her work with the 3D Addivist cookbook.

She talked about her project Material Speculation: ISIS, in which she recreated as 3D printed objects 12 original artworks (statues from the Roman period city of Hatra and Assyrian artifacts from Nineveh) that were destroyed by ISIS in 2015. She warned students that working on a political project comes with a lot of complications and of the danger of oversimplification (seeing the world as black and white, good vs bad when a lot of it is shades of gray). For example, a lot of press articles about Material Speculation ran with titles like “Artist Battles ISIS with a 3D Printer,” neglecting to talk about the role of the US military in the Middle East and the problem with conflating ISIS with muslims.

She brought up issues of historical colonialism and imperialism in reference to a collaboration between the UN and tech companies to reconstruct the Palmyra Arch in Trafalgar Square.

What does it mean for the West to have ownership and make profit of reconstructions of objects destroyed by ISIS when the existence of ISIS cannot be separated from Western intervention?

She stressed that information and reconstructed artifacts need to be shared openly but carefully and to pay close attention to who owns what and who gets to have a voice.

“It matters which stories tell stories, which concepts think concepts. Mathematically, visually, and narratively, it matters which figures figure figures, which systems systematize systems.” — Donna Haraway

Before the class discussed the readings they were given, she discussed her latest project “She who sees the unknown” in which she researches dark goddesses, monstrous and Jinn female figures of Middle-Eastern origin. With that project, she is focusing on building an archive of the underrepresented and reimagining a future where those figures are known and celebrated.

After lunch the class talked with Amit Pitaru, one of the co-founders of SFPC who is currently working at the Google Creative Lab. They talked about the need for really important things to happen slowly, his work in the Google Creative Lab and shift of focus to accessibility, bias in machine learning and how to best spend their time at SFPC. He talked about his start with Flash and how he gradually transitioned to OpenFrameworks by taking tools beyond their comfort. Then he demoed some projects from the Creative lab like Quick Draw and Teachable Machine.

“We don’t know what a medium is until an artist breaks it.”
Amit demoing Teachable Machine

Before he left he gave the students some great advice.

  • Gain a contextual understanding of yourself. Identify what’s interesting to you. Look at what other people are working on and see what excites you.
  • Find the best tool for learning to code regardless of what you want to create. (He recommended Processing if you’re just getting started) There are so many tools out there now but it’s best to restrict yourself and choose one.
  • While in the past the learning curve for coding looked much like that for a guitar, (hard at first and then easy much later), coding now is more like the learning curve for a piano. When you start it’s a plateau and at some point you hit a wall but you’ll be ok as long as you know the wall exists and keep pushing.
  • Hardware is hard.
  • For hardware and software, try and get to a place where 80% is familiar and 20% is not. To do that, use what other people make and write, and use tools (like Processing, Arduino) that provide abstractions for the more difficult or thorny concepts.
  • He learnt how to create from writing the same code over and over again.
  • There is no prerequisite to helping. Teach when you can.
  • It’s ok not to aim for 100% performance all the time. “If things work 80% of the time I’m happy.”
  • Trust your learning process.

Next, Taeyoon gave a brief history of the Westbeth Artists Community Complex, which has been home to SFPC since 2013. Westbeth was the original site of Bell Labs, where it was a world-leading research center and the site where the first transistors were demonstrated. After Bell Labs relocated, Westbeth was reimagined as a live-work space for artists and their families. It has housed a number of iconic cultural institutions such as The Martha Graham Center for Contemporary Dance and Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, the first LGBT synagogue in New York.

The day ended with a scavenger hunt around the West Village. Gonzalo made a posting about mapping.

Scavenger hunt

Day 3: Binary Numbers and Meet the teachers of the Craft track!

Teaching binary numbers

Taeyoon kicked off day 3 with a lecture on binary numbers. We learnt how to convert decimal numbers to binary numbers, binary addition and then individually came up with physical games about binary numbers. Then we paired with other students to test out our games.

Game by one of the students

The binary game exercise was followed by a talk by Kelli Anderson, who will be teaching the Craft track this semester, about Lo-fi Magic. She talked about concepts that are easier to understand in paper rather than on paper and how she often has no clue how something works until she makes something physical about it. She showed the students some of her projects like the existential calculator, the paper record player wedding invitation, and her book series (‘This Book is a Planetarium” and “This book is a Camera”). She talked about discovering the appeal of lo-fi, especially in a time where people complained about slow wifi. Through her process, she learnt that paper connects to the human experience which is still very much grounded in touch.

Next up was the second craft teacher, alumni and former TA, Robby Kraft who started out by talking about the history of counting and how different cultures converge or diverged in their development of number systems. For example, while Babylonian and Chinese number systems both created placeholders to mark the nonexistence of a digit in a certain place value, the Greeks were using picture maps. Then he showed some of his Origami Art on his instagram, some of which were developed using his Origami creative coding library.

Robby Kraft demoing his Origami creative coding library

At the end of the day, the students worked together building new chairs in preparation for the SFPC salon on Wednesday.

A…chair?

Read more posting by students.

Syd: Feeling out our potentials

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