SFPC Fall 2018: Week 7

by Neta Bomani and Tomoya Matsuura

SFPC is ramping up for the student showcase on Nov. 9 and 10. The pressure is on and students are feeling exhausted and stressed out.

Recreate the past

On Monday, Zach shifted gears in class. Instead of focusing on pioneers of computational media, the class looked at recreating a specific code concept. Zach introduced students to Text Rain by Camille Utterback and Romy Achituv in addition to Myron Kreuger’s body base video interaction.

Text Rain was created in the late 1990’s by Utterback and Achituv who were students at New York University’s interactive telecommunications program at the time. According to the two artists, “Text Rain is an interactive installation in which participants use the familiar instrument of their bodies, to do what seems magical — to lift and play with falling letters that do not really exist.”

Similarly, Myron Krueger’s body base involved interactive body movements. Krueger is an American computer artist and pioneer of interactive art and virtual reality. He was interested in exploring interactions between humans and computers. The body base video interaction is a human-like figure drawn from human pose estimation points animating through a walk cycle. It has been used by Krueger to create interactive work such as “Videoplace” and reinterpreted by many artists, companies and institutions.

For homework, students are asked to manipulate the body base interaction.


Tuesday Morning was all about video. Jumping off from last week’s class about photos, Sam showed the class how to scrape the web for videos and which Python libraries to uses. Youtube-dl and ffmpeg are useful tools for this. He also showed the class methods of video manipulation and file conversion without any need for a video editing graphics user interface.

Hardware: On making things move

Che-Wei of CW&T led Wednesday’s hardware class again. This week’s main topics were how to make things move using analog sensors, solenoids and motors.

Before getting into new material, students showed off their homework projects from the previous week which incorporated sensors. Meg and Lynne made a birthday hat that plays “It’s My Party” by Lesley Gore when you put it on; Elizabeth and Marcus made an approachable whose light blinks at a faster rate as you get closer to it; and Eli made a game.

Student hardware homework projects by Meg and Lynne, Elizabeth and Marcus; and Eli.

Che-Wei started off by showing the class how to make a capacitor with graphite pencil. Capacitors are devices used to store electric charge. To make a DIY capacitor, simply draw a line on a piece of paper with graphite pencil and connect it to power.

Next he showed the class how to make a DIY solenoid. A solenoid is a cylindrical coil of wire that acts as a magnet when carrying electric current. Solenoids are the technology that make doorbells possible. To make a DIY solenoid, tightly coil a copper wire around a straw and leave two straight ends on both sides. Insert a small, metal nail into the straw, then, connect each end of the copper wire to power and ground of a battery.

Following the DIY solenoid tutorial, Che-Wei segued into motors by showing the class how to make their own motor with just a single copper wire, AA battery and magnet. First place the magnet on the ground end of the battery. Next, cut a piece of copper wire to the approximate length of the battery with a little extra room for padding. Then, coil the padding of the copper wire to the power side of the battery and extend the rest of the copper wire to the ground side of the battery such that it touches the magnet at the bottom. Lastly, watch your copper wire spin like a motor.

Homework for next class is to make something move and incorporate actuation into a previous homework or final showcase project.

Family dinner and feedback session

This week’s family dinner was centered around a private feedback session for students and their showcase ideas. A group of alumni and community members joined the dinner and offered feedback for the students.

Feedback dinner

Critical Theory: On basketball, brands and blackness

Artist Sondra Perry joined the Critical Theory class on Thursday. American also returned after two weeks of guest lectures.

This week’s reading was “B®randing Blackness,” the third chapter from Dark Matters by Simone Browne. In it, Browne discussed the history of brands and how the branding of people of African descent functions as biometric technology. Browne outlined the chapter as such:

“In order to understand the meanings of branding as historically situated, in this chapter I explore some early applications of this biometric information technology and question its role in the racial framing of blackness as property. What I am suggesting here is that branding in the transatlantic slave trade was a biometric technology, as it was a measure of slavery’s making, marking, and marketing of the black subject as commodity.”
Branding tool

American did a close read of the text in order to illuminate the core concepts of Browne’s work — which include, but are not limited to — branding, biometrics, epidermalization and commodity racism. Branding, according to Hortense Spillers via Browne, “was a practice through which enslaved people were signified as commodities to be bought, sold, and traded.” Brands denote the relationship between bodies and their respective owners. Biometrics are measurements that allow the human body to function as identification. Epidermalization is “literally the inscription of race on the skin,” according to Stuart Hall via Frantz Fanon via Browne. Commodity racism involves products that use racist stereotypes and caricatures to sell products.

Class then segued into a guest lecture from artist Sondra Perry. Sondra is an interdisciplinary artist who works primarily with video and computational media. Sondra explained to the class how Dark Matters has been influential to her most recent work. She did so by walking the class through her thought process in making “IT’S IN THE GAME ’17” and “Graft and Ash for a Three Monitor Workstation.”

“IT’S IN THE GAME ’17,” Sondra Perry, 2017. Photo by Constance Mensh

“IT’S IN THE GAME ’17” is a work Sondra made about her twin brother and his experiences as a college basketball player. Sondra’s brother was a part of a lawsuit against the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in 2009. The NCAA is the main governing body responsible for rules and regulations that prohibit college student athletes from getting paid to play professionally. The 2009 lawsuit involved a number of college basketball players against the NCAA and the video game maker Electronic Arts (EA) after the names, images and “likeness” of college athletes were used illegally by EA in video games without permission or compensation. The lawsuit culminated in a settlement of $60 million in 2014 which was significant for student-athletes rights because it was the first time they were paid for their likeness.

In the similar vein to Browne’s chapter on branding, “IT’S IN THE GAME ’17” explores how student athletes like Sondra’s brother were branded, marketed and consequently, exploited. Sondra’s work is by and large an extension and visualization of Browne’s chapter.

Similarly, Browne wrote about Keith Obadike, an artist who made a satirical art pieced entitled “Blackness for Sale” where he auctioned off his blackness on Ebay.

Apocalypse RN

After class, American invited students to check out “A Wild Ass Beyond: APOCALYPSE RN” at Performance Space. “APOCALYPSE RN” is a collaborative installation between Nora N. Khan, Caitlin Cherry, Sondra Perry and American Artist. The work will be on display until Dec. 16.


On Friday, students talked budgets with Lauren. The showcase is upcoming in two weeks. Lauren continued to help students prepare for the event. Together, the class created a Gantt chart for the showcase. A Gantt chart is a bar chart in timeline format that shows a project schedule in order to show interdependent relationships between events.

Make sure to check out the Fall 2018 Student Showcase on Nov 10 ~11


Apply to Spring 2019 program by Nov 17.