SFPC Fall 2018: Week 5

Published in
8 min readOct 16, 2018


by Neta Bomani and Tomoya Matsuura

SFPC: Fall 2018 — Week 5 video by Tomoya Matsuura

Week 5 marked the half-way point in the 10-week program. This week, we were joined by dancer Cori Kresge and researcher in residence Jennifer Jacobs. Jennifer is a fellow at Stanford University. She is researching how to diversify participation and practice in computationally-supported creation by building new creative tools, software, and programming languages for creative expression. Both were interested in meeting the cohort and learning about how students learn at SFPC.

Recreating the past

On Monday, students showed off their Muriel Cooper inspired creations in Zach’s class. Some attempted to reverse engineer Cooper’s work, while other’s formed their own interpretations.

After show and tell, Zach introduced the class to Lilian F. Schwartz and Ken Knowlton. Both were experimental artists, filmmakers and programmers who came out of Bell Labs.

From left: Ken Knowlton and an untitled artwork by Knowlton using BEFLIX

Knowlton is known for his computational mosaic art as portraits. He developed BEFLIX (Bell Flicks), a programming language designed for bitmap computer generated films. He collaborated with several artists which include Stan VanderBeek and Lillian Schwartz.

Lilian Schwartz

Schwartz is a pioneer of computer-generated and computer-aided art analysis. Her work in this field was the first of its kind to be acquired by the Museum of Modern art.

Lillian Schwartz and Ken Knowlton, Olympiad

Schwartz’s work can be described as investigations into human visual perception which might look like the weird spots and patterns you see when you close your eyelids. Student Elizabeth described her work as “bright, flashy and hypnotic.”

Zach showed us how to create Knowlton style mosaics out of videos and images in addition to programming dilation and erosion to emanate Schwartz’s works.

For example, creating a mosaic involves the following code:

// declare img object in .h

ofImage img;

// load an image in setup


// draw over image in draw

// create grid

// for loop for rows

for (int i = 0; i < img.getWidth(); i += 10){

// for loop for column

for (int j = 0; j < img.getHeight(); j+=10){

// declare varibles pixel, brightness, radius

// get color & brightness data for every pixel at i, j

ofColor pixel = img.getColor(i, j);

float brightness = pixel.getBrightness();

// map brightness from black-white to radius ~2-3

float radius = ofMap(brightness, 0, 255, 2, 3.6);

// draw circles in grid

ofDrawCircle(i, j, radius);



For homework, students are assigned to recreate or respond to the work of at least one of the two artists.


Tuesday morning began with a few students showing their homework projects.

Elizabeth scraped Sephora foundation colors and sorted them. Ed scraped Billboard’s music charts for the number one hits during Augusto Pinochet’s 17-year Chilean dictatorship. Tomoya scraped Youtube and created a “pure” list of recommended videos not linked or personalized to a person’s Google profile.

A few people encountered some challenges while doing their homework. Sam explained how scraping is more of an art than a science and introduced students to other methods of scraping the web using natural language processing libraries and tools such as Text Blob, SpaCy and ConceptNet.

Natural language processing is a method to tell computers how to understand language, by extracting meaning from text and converting characters into data the computer can manipulate.

Natural language processing is useful for machine learning purposes that “train” computers how to extract sentences, select words, identify which part of speech a word falls under (e.g. noun, verb, determiner, preposition, etc.) or gauge the sentiment of a text and classify text. However, natural language processing is based on rules determined by the computer’s programmer and their intentions, which means there is room for biases, conscious or not.

Sam ended class by showing an example project that used ConceptNet by Darius Kazemi called Expanding Bot.


Wednesday’s hardware class involved time travel. Before the invention of computers, people played with electricity to make time-based waveforms. Taylor of CW&T demoed how an oscilloscope works. An oscilloscope is a machine used to display the flow of electrical voltage or current.

With the oscilloscope, Taylor introduced us to new concepts of clock cycles, inductors, capacitors; and how to switch waveforms.

Student Tim showing Taylor and the rest of the class his homework project

Tim: “Hardware, while challenging, is very rewarding. And the visit to CW&T’s studio was very inspiring!”

After Taylor’s lecture, the class went over last week’s homework assignment. Students made half adders, which are binary counters from zero to two.

Students Susie, Meg & Lynne, Sonia and Tomoya’s homework projects

Students used an integrated circuit in the form of a NAND chip which contains four NAND gates, a necessary component in making the seven other logic gates, and useful for building a half adder which is made of of an XOR and AND gate.

Family dinner

Ed and Galen chefing it up in the kitchen.

This week’s family dinner was organized by Ed and Galen. The two made ceviche and pisco sours (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic).

Happy SFPC birthday, Ilona!

Critical Theory

Melanie Hoff teaching Critical Theory

Thursday morning’s Critical Theory class was run by guest lecturer Melanie Hoff. Hoff is an artist and SFPC alum. Hoff’s class entitled the “Cybernetics of Sex: Technology, Feminism and the Choreography of Culture” discussed cybernetics or how to design intelligent, self-correcting systems. The three texts that informed the class were Audre Lorde’s “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” and “Uses of the Erotic,” in addition to Donna Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto”.

In the spirit of cybernetics enthusiasts who are interested in how people relate to one another, Hoff led an activity in sharing stories about the origins of everyone’s name in the class.

Hoff then transitioned into a deeper unpacking of the course title. Following their definition of cybernetics, they defined sex as the literal act of reproducing or the positive feedback loop of increased births and population. But also how sex becomes gender in society. Hoff posed the question of: How did you first come to learn you were perceived as a woman/man? They suggested gender developed as a social technology to signal which bodies possessed which genitals in order to optimize sexual reproduction.

The class listened to Paul Preciado speak about how an awareness of the social gender assignments as men and women opens up the possibility of rejecting compliance within that social framework, and a critical understanding of how women and sexual minorities are objects of pornography as opposed to the subjects who are men.

Hoff then talked about different types of feminisms such as womanism (a term coined by writer Alice Walker), xenofeminism (coined by Laboria Cuboniks) and cyberfeminism (coined by writer/theorist Sadie Plant).

100 antitheses of cyberfeminism

Compared to the choreography of culture or constructed situations, social sculpture and a form of interactive artwork where the interaction comes through the agency and social responsibility of an audience. Think being a body in relation with other bodies. Hoff showed the work of Tino Seghal, an artist who constructs situations alongside the work of performance artist duo FLUCT who question the boundaries of sexuality and femininity.

Melanie left the class with the question: Is forming a trusting, intimate relationship with artificial intelligence possible, or is software necessarily a context for control?

Neta: After the class discussion, I have even more questions. In the Cyborg Manifesto, Haraway said “the cyborg is our ontology; it gives us our politics. The cyborg is a condensed image of both imagination and material reality, the two joined centers structuring any possibility of historical transformation.” Who is the ontology of the cyborg for? What does it mean to be given a politics as opposed to have a politic racially and oppressively inscribed on you? How does the manifesto’s generalization of gender as non-binary differ from white feminist’s generalization of “gender” as “female?” Haraway’s analysis, like a lot of speculative sci-fi, failed to articulate a sensical continuum from a racially historical perspective and instead jumped to a post-racial (read: racially ambiguous, but white passing) and post-gender (read: androgynous, but masculine-leaning) future. I would argue to be black is to be a cyborg. Black bodies are policed within the white imagination, and this white imagination is the source of our fucked up reality. How is the cyborg manifesto radical from a non-white perspective? Haraway acknowledged her privilege as a white middle class woman, but doesn’t consider oppressed identities (read: black, queer, trans, disabled, etc.) whose experience fits the definition of a cyborg. Is any subversive act under the current hegemonic systemic structure truly subversive given Lorde’s argument that the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house?

Ramen Lunch

After class, students organized a ramen lunch which involved bringing in either a beef or veggie top ramen along with their favorite topping.

Students enjoying their ramen lunch. Photo by Susie.

Dance class with Cori Kresge

Friday evening featured dance class comprised of several movement exercises with dancer and teacher Cori Kresge.

Cori Kresge teaching dance class

Most of the exercises were done with a partner and demonstrated the experimental, improvisational approaches. Cori showed students how to get comfortable in a space by turning their bodies into cameras; the difference between blended versus interface touch and the social accountability and responsibility of observational dance.

Meg: “Dance class showed me how techniques of generative art can be applied to fields beyond computation.”

If you’re interested in joining the next cohort of students, applications are now open for the Spring 2019 session. You can learn more and apply here.

Class will run from March 11th — May. 17th, 2019.



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School for Poetic Computation—since Fall 2013.