SFPC in Yamaguchi Day 4

Sep 17 · 9 min read

by Toru Urakawa, artist, researcher, student of SFPC 2014 Fall, TA for SFPC Summer 2019 in Yamaguchi

This post is about the fourth day of the School for Poetic Computation’s SFPC Summer 2019 in Yamaguchi at YCAM. You can also read Taeyoon’s introduction, and recaps from Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3.

YCAM Foyer.

I am in the SFPC camp(intensive workshop) again. The last time I was in this camp around five years ago. I missed this atmosphere which inspired us to get back to ourselves. Why did we get ourselves back? Did we get lost? Maybe. In my opinion, “Getting Lost” meant the moment you went to a place where you had never been before, or you received information which you had never heard before. In SFPC camp, we all got lost at the beginning of the camp.

NAND circuit made by students. Probably the first experience for everyone.

“What is Poetic Computation?” It’s a tough question for us, and that was the moment I got lost five years ago. I met students who came from different countries and teachers who had different backgrounds, while I received many kinds of answers to the question of “What is Poetic Computation?”. Today, I had the same feeling. All teachers and teacher assistants, including me, gave presentations to visitors in Yamaguchi where was the place we’re all strangers and were just about to be getting lost.

Students working on Handmade Computer.

Earlier in the afternoon, Takayuki Ito (R&D Director of YCAM), led a Bio Workshop for the students. We learned the basic concept of biotechnology and made our own “DNA strawberry cocktail”. As you might know, biotechnology was a trendy term in recent years, and DNA barcoding was a method to know the names of species from DNA. DNA was one of the key elements to bridge life and digital information which we could handle with code. In this workshop, students learned the basic concept of how to handle DNA information using a computer with the DNA cocktail.

Making DNA strawberry cocktail. The finished cocktail.
DNA workshop held by Takayuki Ito.

We were watching the DNA of strawberries that was floating by alcohol with interest and taking photos with our smartphones. Unexpected, excited and sometimes confused, we both had the same feelings during the workshop, but we both finally found out the DNA from strawberries.

Participant Yuki Horikawa and peers.

In SFPC camp, it was very interesting that we always had such a feeling. Nevertheless, the main difference between this SFPC camp in YCAM and previous SFPC camps was that there were a lot of professional staff from YCAM to stimulate the teaching’s process. All YCAM staff were willing to share their experience with the previous media art events they have held in YCAM. Unfortunately, when every student was enjoying to look at the strawberries’ DNA in cocktails, I was preparing the presentation at this time. I was facing my laptop displaying old Japanese poem which I would share for tonight’s talk session.

The theme of that’s night event was ‘What is “poetic computation”?’ It was a discussion forum with all SFPC instructors, teacher assistants (who were previous SFPC students) and some YCAM staff. Each speaker would present their own definition of poetic computation. There were no model answers, so the stories we told that night were diverse.

We were watching the DNA of strawberries that was floating by alcohol with interest and taking photos with our smartphones. Unexpected, excited and sometimes confused, we both had the same feelings during the workshop, but we both finally found out the DNA from strawberries.

Talk event venue filled with audience from Yamaguchi, Kyushu, Tokyo, and others.

The door of the talk session opened at 6 p.m. on that day and the seats were filled immediately. Keina Konno, the session organizer and a Video & Device Engineer at YCAM, gave everyone a kind introduction. Then, our talk was going to start.

Taeyoon started talking (center). From the left, Kazuhiro Jo (Associate Professor at Kyushu University. He did the interpretation this time), Keina Konnno, Tomoya Matsuura.

Taeyoon started his talk about Poetic Computation: Detroit, a ten-day education program just like SFPC in Yamaguchi. The Detroit session’s primary mission was offering learning opportunities for Detroit-based practitioners to explore the possibility of technology in their practice and community. Taeyoon talked about the concept of modularity in computing, taking UNIX as an example. While modularity enables an efficient division of labor, it also leads to segregation. Since computing reflects the society that created it, Taeyoon argued for the importance of studying code and culture together. He quoted Tara McPherson’s words “We must understand and theorize the deep imbrications of race and digital technology even when our objects of analysis (say, UNIX or search engines) seem not to “be about” race at all.” He emphasized the idea of modularity to be considered as a global issue, saying “if this issue of modularity and segregation relates to Japan, its relation to technology, environment, and neighbors, at all. If not, what types of ‘social program’ are we experiencing now?”

Melanie Hoff

Melanie Hoff, an artist organizer and teacher, shared her critical views on technology. She reckoned “Poetic computation is about how technology organizes society and reinforces existing systems of power.” She pointed out that our lives are shaped through codes of many kinds; digital, social, legal and that we are ‘always already programing’ just by using computers. Melanie is teaching a class called “Peer-to-Peer Folder Poetry”, encouraging students to write poetry with folder structures and showing us how to network our computers so we can communicate with each other without uploading anything to the cloud.

Tomoya Matsuura

Tomoya Matsuura, a “SoundMaker” and also an alumni of SFPC camp in 2018, gave his talk from a Japanese / former-YCAM intern’s perspective. I felt it was a reaction to the critical side of SFPC. Telling his experience about the class called “Critical Theory of Technology.” He mentioned that it was his favorite class as a student because “it’s so new” to him. Nowadays, we were biased by techno-determinism and we seldom study the relationship between technology and human beings critically. He also pointed out the value he found in ‘being alien’ and ‘building community’ while he was a student. That the experience of putting yourself in a new surrounding and coming away with a new group of friends is a common thread between his time as a student in New York and a TA in Yamaguchi.

Jane Friedhoff

Jane Friedhoff, a game designer and one of the teachers of SFPC, gave a definition of “Playfulness”. Playfulness wasn’t just about games. It was a spirit of experimentation, a spirit of curiosity, a spirit of connection and soon. In Jane’s classes “Playing The World”, she was exploring what game design and play studies could bring to participants’ practices of poetic computation and design. All participants could make their personalized analog games, multiplayer games for public spaces in their community, and more.

Robby Kraft

Robby Kraft, an origami artist, engineer and one of the teachers of SFPC, introduced the way of algorithmic and mathematical thinking like recursion existing in nature without using traditional methods but with origami and coding to build an embodied experience. “We’re often asked to define what “poetic computation” in SFPC camp, I was not sure I could articulate it well, but I believed the answer for me lies in how there are no limits to the level of intimacy you can achieve with something simple.”

Brian Solon

Brian Solon, an engineer and TA in SFPC camp, was born and raised in Ireland and spent most of his 20s in Dublin., He now lives in New York but shared how important the DIY culture established during the 2008 recession in Dublin was in forming his career and worried what it means for future technologists since many of those spaces are going away.

Lauren Gardner

Lauren Gardner, a co-organizer and one of the teachers of SFPC, shared a story about how her career path developed because of access to using technology creatively from the time of her childhood in Texas to her current jobs in New York. In SFPC camp, she worked with the students to develop the final showcase but shared her inspiration as a community organizer. “I hope we all remember that we are able to change things surrounding us. Don’t forget we have such an ability”.

Yumi Nishida

And Yumi Nishida, a student of SFPC in 2017 and TA at SFPC camp, shared lovely daily moments she spent in SFPC, with a lot of photos taken by herself. She also mentioned that current technology was new to her. She thought this was the biggest difference between SFPC and other communities, especially the tech scene here in Japan, focusing more on technical aspects.

Toru Urakawa

Last but not least, in my sharing, I introduced that old poem on the slide I was editing while smelling strawberry and alcohol in the DNA bar CODING workshop. It is from Man’yōshū, the oldest collection of Japanese songs compiled from the late 7th century to the late 8th century, and it is a tiny poem that remembered the moment when the season changes from spring to summer.

I really loved quotidian moments in everyday life, these are ordinary moments that happen everyday life like a moment you noticed seasonal changes as you leave to go outside. I read this poem when I was junior-high and got really shocked at that time. Since I was 6–7 years old, every year I’ve had a moment I noticed that something in the air changed at the turn of the season, and I felt like that was my tiny secret discovery. The poem rebuilds that moment and makes me feel it in a more sweet way like the poem “coded” the feeling I had by using the Japanese language.

I was always surprised by this, until today, about how a 1400 years old code still affected our lives. For me, “Poetic Computation” was something like this — it’s about making things by using the most advanced technology of that era, for or from our quotidian moments in everyday life.

Binary Card Game

As my experience in SFPC, I introduced my work, “Binary Card Game” which I made during a class to teach the concept of binary numbers. This was a card game which had only 2 patterns, black and white to represent 0 and 1. Just with these cards alone, you can express anything you want like actual computers do. I printed the cards first, then during the my time in SFPC as a student, I consulted several artists and game developers who based in New York. On top of that, I had a golden opportunity to play with people in the New York community.

Meeting super low-level but important concepts of creative technology, creating artworks like games that everyone could join. Creating works with people inside / outside of the community… these kinds of creative processes wouldn’t have happened to me if I didn’t come to New York, SFPC. I thought this was my very first practice of Poetic Computation.

What do you think, after listening to these talks? Are you getting lost right now? If so, I’m glad about that because you take the first step to get closer with the Poetic Computation.

Kazuhiro Jo, YCAM advisor who translated the event.

This posting has been edited by Felix Lo, Lauren Gardner and published by Taeyoon Choi.

Photo: Naoki Takehisa
Courtesy of Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media [YCAM]


School for poetic computation


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School for Poetic Computation—since Fall 2013.



School for poetic computation

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