Poetic Computation: Detroit

by Taeyoon Choi

If you are a Detroit based practitioner interested in participating our program this summer, please fill out this survey.

We are organizing an Info-session at the Commons Detroit on June 4 and Hands-on workshop at the Allied Media Projects on June 5, 2019.

Since its founding in 2013, the artist run School for Poetic Computation (SFPC) has focused on organizing classes and community events with the motto of “More Poetry, Less Demo.” SFPC explores the creative and expressive nature of computational approaches to art and design. It approaches writing code like creative writing — focusing on the mechanics of programming, the demystification of tools, and hacking the conventions of art-making with computation.

Neta Bomani, SFPC Fall 2018, Photo by Filip Wolak
Lynne Yun, SFPC Fall 2018, Photo by Filip Wolak

SFPC consists of a small group of organizers and teachers, structured more like a collective rather than an academic institution. We are based in New York City, at a storefront location in the Westbeth Artists Community, a historic non-profit organization for artists. We offer 10 week immersive programs in the Spring and Fall, and shorter intensive sessions throughout the year. Our students are adult professionals with backgrounds in art, design, engineering and research. We aim to be an inclusive and welcoming space for people who are passionate about the intersection of art, literature, technology and culture.

In 2019, we received support from Knight Foundation to run an intensive program in Detroit. With this opportunity, we are excited to build connections with Detroit practitioners to foster a dialogue between the communities and develop profound friendships and collaborations. Although we have led various workshops and exhibitions internationally, it’s the first time SFPC has organized an official session outside of New York City.

Images from inside the pod at Beware of the Dandelions from On The Boards, Seattle, Washington, May 2015. Photo by Complex Movements. Source
Detroit Community Tech Project, Equitable Internet Initiative, Source

Inspirations

We respect the complex and rich history of Detroit as a city of resilient creatives. We are inspired by Detroit-based artists and collectives such as Complex Movements; an artist collective supporting the transformation of communities by exploring the connections of complex science and social justice movements through multimedia interactive performance work. We are inspired by the acclaimed Allied Media Conference for DIY media makers and activists. We are inspired by Raven Stubbs, whose project in Recess addressed “workshop series and ethnodramaturgical project exploring the role of class within contemporary Black life and community.” We are learning about the challenges of an outsider approaching a city like Detroit. Taylor Renee Aldridge writes “I urge you to consider the lives that have been lived here. The trauma experienced in these lives. Loss of homes, jobs, and other prized possessions. Consider these narratives as you aim to locate remedies for innovation. We, as Detroiters, welcome change but not at the expense of exploiting our own narratives and spaces for your personal gain.” in Transplant exploits: Detroit’s savior complex.

Project

We’ve been guided by the mentorship and support of the Work Department, a women-led, design for social impact studio in Detroit. In this blog post, we would like to share our plan and announce a call for support from Detroit’s communities. We are excited to collaborate with Pat Elifritz, Curator of New Media and Technology at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. We are also looking forward to partner with Ron Watters, Andrea Cardinal and Wesley Taylor of Talking Dolls, an experimental studio to prompt urban discourse in Detroit. From their participation in the New York Tech Zine Fair (Co-organized with Mimi Onuoha),we’ve built a partnership with the Detroit Community Technology Project (DCTP), whose mission is to “use and develop technology rooted in community needs that strengthens human connections to each other and the planet.”

Galen Macdonald, SFPC Fall 2018, Photo by Filip Wolak
Eli Muro, SFPC Fall 2018, Photo by Filip Wolak

Our initial proposal for the goals and intentions of Poetic Computation: Detroit include:

  • Produce a session consisting of workshops and events for Detroit-area artists and creators that explores coding and hardware as tools for artistic expression. The daytime workshop series will be for full-time participants who will be selected through an open call. In addition, there will be evening seminars and performances which will be open to the public and free of charge.
  • Work with local partners and collaborators who are deeply embedded in the community for planning, outreach and the execution of workshops.
  • Create a multimedia documentation of the workshops and presentations.

Our intention is to:

  • Participate in and contribute to cultivating an art and technology community in Detroit.
  • Create a curriculum that encourages engineers, designers and others to understand technology as material for self-expression.
  • Empower participants to use open source software and hardware tools.

Survey

We are interested in knowing more about what Detroit community members want to learn. We’ve created a survey form with five questions to get a sense of interests and needs. We hope to gather responses by May 30, 2019.

SFPC teachers including American Artist, Sam Lavigne, Lauren Gardner, Nabil Hassein, Taeyoon Choi, April Soetarman, Photo by Minu Han

Our teachers and organizers, which include Lauren Gardner, CW&T, Sam Lavigne, Nabil Hassein, Melanie Hoff and others, have been brainstorming a curriculum based on past programming, such as Code Words and Code Societies. We are hoping to collaborate with the Detroit community of artists, engineers and educators.

We had the opportunity to visit Detroit in early February to meet with local partners and are currently working with them to identify potential participants and confirm space. The project’s process will be published through blog postings and zines throughout the year. We are planning a visit in early June and extended residency in August of 2019. Sign up to our newsletter to follow along.

We’d like to share with you field notes from February’s visit written by Neta Bomani, a co-organizer of the project.

Workshop at the Build Institute, Photo by Taeyoon Choi
Study Group at MOCAD, Photo by Taeyoon Choi

February 2019 field trip

by Neta Bomani

Over the course of four days from February 6 to 9, 2019, Taeyoon Choi, Melanie Hoff and I, Neta Bomani visited Detroit, MI on behalf of the SFPC to find out if the community was interested in collaborating on and/or participating in a summer camp on poetic computation for the Detroit community including, but not limited to artists, engineers and educators.

We approached our visit with the intention of starting an ongoing collaboration between the community in Detroit and the SFPC community in New York city to share open source resources, curriculum and participatory pedagogy; collaborate with Detroit maker spaces, community (art, technology and grassroots organizing) groups, and STEAM educators to develop learning tools specialized for Detroit communities.

In effort to be clear about our intentions, we cautioned against first, entering communities and spaces without respecting and understanding the lived experiences of people who exist there; second, imposing needs based on our expectations; and third, excluding people based on their access. Moreover, SFPC’s engagement in Detroit will be about doing internal work to learn from and supporting Detroit communities, rather than SFPC coming in as an outsider and claiming to offer something new to Detroit.

We were fortunate to meet with a diverse group of artists, organizers and residents of Detroit such as Libby Cole and Denise McGeen of the Work Department; Cassie Coravos of the Build Institute; Jordan Butler of the Henry Ford Learning Institute; Simeon Heyer of the Jam Handy; Tawana Petty and Janice Gates of the Detroit Community Technology Project, Nora Khan and Joel Kuennen of the Process Park; Christin Lee of the Room Project; and Ron Watters of Talking Dolls. We also met with Ouliana Ermolova, Pat Elifritz of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, musician Lauren Gllapa; Aaron Blendowski of Omnicorp, student/researcher Sam Panter at the Cranbrook Academy of Art; and artist Andrew Schrock and educator Julie Schrock. We thank all of them for their generosity to share ideas and advices. We spent a lot of time driving around Detroit, meeting people, engaging in conversations, and asking ourselves the question: Who are we serving with our art and teaching?

To be continued. 
The field report will be published in series on SFPC blog.