by Haruka Kaneko and Izumi Hara, educators of YCAM.
This post is about the seventh 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, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5 and Day 6.
There are two authors on today’s blog. One writer is Haruka KANEKO, an experienced educator in YCAM. She is coordinating educational workshops that combine learning and technology together. She used to organize different educational workshops in Tokyo before working for YCAM. Another writer is Izumi HARA. Izumi is an educator in YCAM as well. After graduating from her university, she went on to a Ph.D.course in brain neuroscience and studied the relationship between arts and brains.
Gestures Inspired by Hand Sign by Richi Owaki[YCAM] and Natsumi Wada
written by Izumi
This movement and body workshops were divided into four parts. I was a facilitator of this workshop with Natsumi (One of the students in SFPC) and Richi(YCAM staff). We created body expressions by the four fundamental elements in the world, WIND, FOREST, FIRE, and MOUNTAIN. Then, participants would walk randomly and exchanged their hand signs with the one they met. What kind of messages could be conveyed when the body was used as media, and what reaction should we have while feeling signs from other parties. Richi, Natsumi, and I would be happy if they could experience the communication by using our body.
Garden mathematics by Robby Kraft
written by Haruka
In the morning Robby’s class “Garden Mathematics,” students learned about mathematical thinking and algorithms by using origami.
In the class work using origami, I was able to learn the fundamentals of mathematics through hands-on experience. Students were given a piece of paper which Robby had dotted several points on it. The paper was creased to find a line between the points struck on the square paper and the dots. When we folded the paper, a beautiful geometric pattern appeared, like a plant cell or an insect wing pattern. It was hard to reproduce the algorithms in nature as it was very complex.
We also learned about the L system by using paper and pencils. In this work, a line was drawn on the square paper. We rewrote this line as “two lines that made a right angle” and repeated this rule for each line. However, the direction in which the line was rotated when replacing was alternated between left and right. By stacking these simple rules, you could draw a self-similar fractal figure called “Dragon Curve” from a single line. We discovered this figure by drawing lines alternately in pairs.
“Dragon Curve” was one of the typical examples of the L system. The L system was a kind of formal grammar that describes and represents the structure of various natural objects such as plant growth processes. We learned this while moving our hands. However, we can reproduce complex structures by moving our hands according to simple rules.
In previous YCAM original workshops, we also created some complex structures by moving hands. It was a workshop called “Pasta Architecture”. In this workshop, we would make a huge structure using pasta and hot glue. Each participant was given order such as “Strengthen”, “Beautiful”, “High.”Participants became agents and made pasta architecture by moving them to the next desk every 5 minutes. Rather than making things based on individual sensibilities, complex structures were created by moving hands according to simple rules. Through this work, students would learn about emergence, including fractals that exist in nature and life games for computer simulation.
I felt we were learning about a similar theme. Noticing the mathematics or complex structures that exist in nature, we learned how to explore them in different approaches through the skill of pasta architecture. It was very interesting. I felt that this experience gave me a hint about how to do our workshops.
Distributed Web of Care by Taeyoon Choi
written by Izumi
Review for student’s homework
In this class, everyone observed the “minimal computer” that each participant created as their homework from the previous class. Looking at them, you could see that they were not simply made on a desk with a soldering iron. In other words, this “handmade computer” consisted of “connections” and “switches” of stories about the daily life of each student.
One theme of this lecture was “ethics”. Taeyoon gave a lecture based on this topic, and introduced art performances and art projects that he had done before. The rapid development of technology can rethink ethics, privacy and power. As an example, Taeyoon introduced the relationship between surveillance and power in “Panopticon (a prison structure born in the 18th century)” mentioned by Michel Foucault. It is also linked to the surveillance camera and monitor system at the casino table in Las Vegas, even today.
We asked to discuss two questions: “What is the role of artist in society?” And “What is the role of technologist in society?”
What is the role of artists in society?
Students sat in a circle and exchanged views on these two questions.
For example, the question “What is the role of artists in society?”
There was a positive opinion that “Artists inspired us to have deep thinking” and “Artists created a forum for us to have proactive discussions of various social issues.”
On the other hand, there was an opinion that “works in the art market were often bought and sold at such a high price that it seemed unnecessary.”
What is the role of technologists in society?
A student in response to this question said, “A person who had a big influence on society.” One student also said, “A person who created a kind of solution to social issues.”
On the other hand, there was a negative opinion that “there was a little technology for minorities living in today’s society” and “technology development was often used in a harmful way”.
In terms of “ethics”, one of the themes of this class, I thought about this argument was “where is the life of art?”
For example, YCAM has established a biotechnology laboratory since 2015. There is some equipment that can analyze DNA from different species. There are also some biological engineers in YCAM, and I always talked with them about the relationship between art and biotechnology. DNA is one of the most important personal information. The technology surrounding this DNA would continue to evolve, but most people who used the technology didn’t know about the latest bioethics (including me).
Similar things had happened in Japanese art education. Japanese students were taught how to use paint, but many did not know how to appreciate the artwork.
Were artists and technologists the only people who bring life to art and technology?
I didn’t think so. When thinking about the life of art, I would like to refer to an exhibition held here last summer at YCAM. The title of the exhibition was “Reincarnation of Media Art” curated by exonemo + YCAM. (Special website: https://rema.ycam.jp/en/)
YCAM created media artworks using computers, sound, and video. However, most media artworks often got stuck due to OS updates, for example. The life of a media artwork was very short. The exhibition hosted large-scale “Media Art Spiritual Features” that housed non-functional media works by various artists. The voices of these artists encouraged exploring new ways to creatively communicate artistic expression and other “cultures”, considering the life and future implications of artwork.
Nevertheless, would the media artworks end when the source code stops working?
Both technologists and artists were common in the sense of creating something for people. However, I thought that art and technology were communication that can only be realized if someone receives it.
What is the theme of this SFPC in Yamaguchi?
That is “Technology as a gift”.
What I thought through this discussion was my work as an educator.
Art isn’t just for artists, technology isn’t just for technologists. Not only technologists but also the general public must know about technology, both good and bad. Because if we don’t know about it, we can’t talk about ethical issues. That’s why I don’t talk about technology alone, I think it’s important to explain it to everyone.
On the other hand, I think artists have a role to ask us questions about the current situation and society. It is clear that we have different ideas and opinions about our society when we see the artist’s work and discuss how we feel. But I think it’s important to think about how people with different ideas can live together instead of breaking up there.
We hold workshops to think about communication with others through experiencing new technologies at YCAM, and gallery tours to discuss how we felt about the exhibition. Through this program, I think that the mission as an educator and YCAM is to create a place where everyone can think about technology, art, and our society.
At the end of the discussion, the essential word was thrown: “We were talking about the ideal artist or technologist now or were they talking about them in a different situation than the ideal?” Students felt that Taeyoon’s questions with this dilemma would be continued to study after the SFPC program. It’s the last day of SFPC camp, but it also became another starting point for us to further explore the poetic computation.
We often had a dilemma before the program started; “Technologists were the people who solved problems. Artists were the people who posed problems and ponder. Then what were the duties or responsibilities for the people who were working in a new media art center? That’s the question I would like to figure out after the camp. For example, the technology used in the YCAM original workshop will become obsolete in about five years. So instead of learning the technology itself, we must design them to use technology to learn about communication with others, physical expression, and the complexity of nature. Even if the technology is out of date, the workshops we create must always provide new questions and learning.
This was the same mindset to think about whether poetry and computation are opposite or not.
However, Taeyoon said in the lecture, “those who seem to have opposite roles, such as artists and technologists, are not so different if you examine their roles deeper.”
Not only the people who display their work in the gallery are artists.
Not only the technologist is the person who enters the code into the computer.
Various people work at YCAM. And every day various people come.
For example, an old man who wears nightwear and reads a library book and then experiences the art with VR goggles on display at YCAM. Children come to invent new play every day and report to us.
We think it would be more fun if there were artistic technologists.
And we think the world will be more fun if there are artists who are close to technology.
These are people who can always cross the border between the two poles.
We want to be a person rowing through a deep lake between the two concepts, surprised by the things that live in that lake.
This posting has been edited by Felix Lo and published by Taeyoon Choi.
Photo: Naoki Takehisa
Courtesy of Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media [YCAM]