We started the week in our Critical Theory class with Morehshin who we hadn’t seen in weeks. Thankfully, since we’re on a regular class schedule now, we’ll be seeing her every week. We did a bit of catching up and then started on the topic of the class: “Art and Activism.” Morehshin introduced us to various projects that broadened and challenged our perceptions of what art activism could look like.
The first project we discussed was paraSITE by Michael Rakowitz. He built “inflatable shelters designed for homeless people that attach to the exterior outtake vents of a building.” The warm air from the vents inflates and heats the structure. He distributed about 30 of them in 3 cities in the north east.
The design of the structure was the topic of a lot of discussion. We wondered if he prioritized the design over the functionality, discussed what he was trying to say (especially with the name) and if he was trying to “solve homelessness.” The underlying question came to what activist art should aim to do — solve a problem or expose it.
We discussed “The Other Nefertiti” an artistic intervention by Jan Nikolai Nelles and Nora Al-Badri where they covertly scanned the bust of Queen Nefertiti (on view in the Neues Museum in Berlin), made the 3D dataset free and accessible by the public, 3D printed it and exhibited it in Egypt where it was stolen by German archeologists in 1912. Till today, The Neues Museum still does not allow access to the head of Nefertiti nor to the data from their own scan but they do sell it!
Another project we discussed was an installation piece by artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg. In collaboration with Chelsea Manning, who was undergoing a gender transition in jail at the time, she created “Probably Chelsea,” where she used cheek swabs and hair clippings Manning mailed from prison to algorithmically generate and 3D print possible portraits of her.
Based on those two projects, some of us concluded that one of the functions of art activism can be “making the invisible visible.” Other functions we brought up were breaking taboos, creating dialogue where there was none before (for example, Megumi Igarashi’s Vagina Boat).
Afterwards, we discussed if and how to measure art activism’s effectiveness and also what ‘art activism’ meant to us, disputing and referencing our reading for the week, Boris Gruys’ On Art Activism.’ SFPC student Johann wrote an extended response on the idea of “total aestheticization” which Groys’ argues is the objective of art activism.
“Think about activism from dystopia, not utopia.” — Moreshin Allahyari
For the rest of the day, we worked on our homework. For our code class with Zach, we had to recreate one of Muriel Cooper’s works. For our Craft homework, we had to design a flowchart adventure for a classmate and for the hardware class we had to finish up our 1-Bit computer with Arduino and play around with servos and making state machines.
For his craft homework, he worked with Sukanya to create a building to music converter.
Later, Lauren took us through the final showcase schedule and talked about how to prepare our ideas. Some of the students joined Taeyoon to plan his distributed web workshop at Rhizome as part of The National Forum on Ethics and Archiving the Web.
It was the first day of “Spring” and class was cancelled because of the snow. I would like to think we all spent the day working on our homework and brainstorming final project ideas. The day off gave us a chance to write and documents our thoughts. Sarah wrote about taking a slow approach to learning and Kelly wrote about her time at SFPC so far. Phil wrote about the John Whitney assignment. Inspired by Whitney, who like many artists of that time was involved with the military, he “set out to make a tool of war out of a tool of art.”
Zach started software day by asking us how we were feeling about the showcase. He encouraged us to think of it more as a display of our experiences at SFPC and not as “one shiny thing” that we have to make.
After oohing and aahing about the works of our classmates, we re-grouped for an introduction to the artist of the week — Ken Knowlton, a computer scientist who is most known for making computer-assisted mosaics of figures using physical objects (like dice or seashells), images or text.
We watched an excerpts of a PoemField No. 2, of one of the many films Knowlton created with artist Stan VanDerBeek and of Incredible Machine, a film detailing advancements in computer/digital technology that featured artwork and computer graphics by Knowlton.
After we did some collaborative research on him, Zach walked us through examples in openFrameworks that would be helpful in recreating his work like how to load and manipulate images in openFrameworks.
After the class Zach introduced us to Ravi Naidoo who he met at the Design Indaba conference. Ravi is the founder of Design Indaba and Interactive Africa. Ravi talked about his background, using design to serve the people and not to serve a brand and his desire to get the young generation inspired about technology.
We spent the rest of the day working on our homework assignments and then in the evening went for a family dinner at Dark Matter, a collective space for artists, engineers, designers, and scientists and the working space for a lot of SFPC members, alumni and friends. Tega Brain, former SFPC student and teacher took us on a tour of the space and hosted us for a delicious dinner.
It was the first day of our Artist Toolkit class taught by Taeyoon which introduces us to the basic tools and resources required to pursue a career as a practicing artist. Taeyoon described it as getting the balance between being an artist and a person who wants to be true to themselves. Going on the premise that we were all artists or want to be, we started the process of creating our artist statements. We wrote out keywords that drove us and used that as a foundation to write our statements — the overarching goal and narrative that anchors our work. After we wrote our artist statements, we broke up into pairs to give and get feedback on them. SFPC student Agnes wrote about her experience writing the artist statement as well as her thoughts on art activism and distributed computing.
“See the artist statement as a box you step on not in.”
Taeyoon brought a couple of guests for lunch: Casey Reas, Aron Sanchez, Megan Heuer and Isabelle Dow. After mingling at lunch, they formed an impromptu panel and the class got to ask them questions. Casey, who is one of the creators of Processing but is also an artist, teacher talked about how he balances it all and trying to make open source work sustainable. Aron and Casey discussed how their tools, much like them, grow. For both of them, the tools the create — Processing for Casey and for Aron the musical instruments he built for his band Buke and Gase and for the Blue Man Group, came out of need. Casey and his collaborators created Processing because they wanted for making computer-based art that had the experience of drawing sketches but was also fast. Aron would be approached with a sound that couldn’t be created using existing instruments.
Megan and Isabelle talked about their work directing of public programs and public engagement at the Whitney Museum. They’re reimagining what an experience at a museum could look like. “It doesn’t have to be one of contemplation and quiet.” They also discussed the politics and workings of museums and galleries in general — how to get in them, how pieces are chosen. Their advice was to remember that “Institutions are made of people” which Casey and Aron reiterated. Casey and Reas added that for them, it was important to be in spaces like New York and Los Angeles where they could easily be plugged into creative communities and they could find people who did similar work as them. While a lot of getting work out in places it can be seen is about knowing people, it’s also about making work that’s timely and creating those spaces yourself (and with others) if there are no options available to you.
Friday evening some students met up at bitforms gallery for the opening reception of Make Pictures, featuring four web-based drawing and animation tools commissioned by GIPHY Arts and curated by artist Jeffrey Alan Scudder. Our TA for the Artist Toolkit workshop Celine Wong Katzman, helped put together the show and it features work from Casey Reas, Andrew Benson, Harm van den Dorpel, and Withering Systems.
Thanks for reading and look out for an announcement about our showcase on April 21 and 22, 2018.