Spring 2018: Week 6

by yeli

Day 1

Monday was all about imagining the future. Our guest speaker for Morehshin’s Critical Theory class was Ayodamola Tanimowo Okunseinde, an artist and designer whose “works range from painting and speculative design to physically interactive works, wearable technology and explorations of Afrofuturism.” He clarified early on in class that he prefers to think of his work as “reclamation” not Afrofuturism even though the term “Afrofuturism” is helpful for communicating easily the kind of work he does.

“The way one sees oneself in relation to technology and projects oneself into the future.” — Ayo on what Afrofuturism means to him.

Ayo talked about “wicked problems” in the world of design which are problems like race, overpopulation etc that are too complex to address by designing a single object or product. He likes to address those wicked problems not head-on but by doing “an end-run around them.”

An example of a project where he does this is The Rift: An Afronauts journey which tells the story of an Afronaut from the future, Dr. Tanimowo, “who travels back in time collecting archeo-biological artifacts in hopes of finding the reasons for the collapse of his culture.” The suit he wears is made of African patterned fabric and other materials and features a communication device, a food device, and a breathing device that sustain him during his expeditions.

The Rift: An Afronauts journey

Ayo talked about his experience wearing the suit in different areas and countries. He wore it to jury duty and ultimately was not chosen. Outside the courthouse, an officer ran up to him and took a picture. His experience with the officer while he had the suit on was a stark contrast to another experience he had with an officer where he was tackled for no reason. The reason behind this, he says, is that for black people, nuance is flattened. Every black person is seen as the same. And with his work he aims to “blow up the flatness of blackness into nuances.”

Another encounter he recalled was while he walked the streets in the suit, a black man distributing books accused him of being a spectacle instead of educating the masses. Ayo ended up having a pleasant conversation with the man and they came to the conclusion that they were both taking different approaches to the same problem. We discussed the role performance or spectacle can play in protests and activism. Often, performances are seen as not serious or directed but as Ayo said, “Protests can be a performance.”

Lastly we talked about the importance of “thinking of the future as 10 seconds from now and dealing with that” rather than making changes for a future 100 years from now. We concluded that Elon Musk’s future is too far and discussed Martine Syms’ Mundane Afrofuturist Manifesto which talks about futures that connect to the mundane.

Afrofuturism is too grounded in spectacular technology and not in the mundane. — Ayo

After Ayo’s talk, the class read out their speculative fiction assignments. The assignment was to “Imagine a catastrophe/problem in the future and invent a technology or resolution through a device that would respond/solve that catastrophe; keeping race and class struggles in mind.” Reading our visions of the future incited discussions about “staying with the trouble” (instead of trying to colonize mars), the idea of kinship as described by Donna Haraway, disaster communism and caring for one another, steganography (hiding things in plain sight), and what makes life worth living when disaster strikes.

In the evening, we were joined by SFPC alumni for a lovely dinner made by Taeyoon and a few students. Some of us presented our final project ideas and got feedback from the alumni and teachers. SFPC student Gonzalo wrote about some ideas he’s been exploring for the final showcase.

Making dumplings
Ailadi presenting her final project idea

Day 2

We started out going over our Craft assignments with Kelli Anderson who taught the first craft class which was to design a flowchart adventure for a classmate. The reason for the assignment was that there’s a difference between a “human and a computer paying attention to an experience.”

“Having a map as an artist is helpful so you don’t have an existential crisis about every little decision.” — Kelli Anderson

While we discussed with Kelli, our teacher for the Craft class that day, Pam Liou was setting up the materials we would use. She gave a presentation titled “Weaving to the moon” about the history of weaving and how it’s intertwined with computing.

Weaving to the moon
“Technology should open up potential in craft.” — Pam

Then we got to weaving! Our assignment was to make a friendship bracelet that could send signals. Later in the day SFPC student Sukanya taught a workshop on shaders.

Weaving with Pam
Shader workshop

Day 3

This week’s software class was all about computer vision and working with images. First we talked about interesting things we saw during the past week. It was a big film week. A few of the students went to the Ken Knowlton screening at MoMa, one student finally saw Black Panther, and a few saw Isle of Dogs. We broke up into groups and demoed our assignments for the past week, to recreate or make a response to the work of Ken Knowlton.

Paola made a mosaic of Knowlton with the faces of the SFPC students.

Paola’s mosaic

Syd played around with taking brightness of one image and putting it on another.

Yeli made a mosaic of her baby picture with stills from Nigerian movies.

Phil has been playing around with colourizing in the frequency domain.

Zach showed two books he said we should check out — Beyond Photography, The Digital Darkroom by Gerard J. Holzmann and Artificial Reality II by Myron W. Krueger.

The first project we looked at was Romy Achituv & Camille Utterback 1999 project, Text Rain. Myron W. Krueger, whose book Zach showed, did work tracking the body in the late 70s. We talked about using images as a data source and working towards being able to identify algorithms used by programs like Photoshop. Zach defined computer vision as “taking a lot of information and bringing it down to a small amount of information.” Then he showed how to do background subtraction and motion detection in OpenFrameworks, creating a simple prototype of Text Rain.

Text Rain

While there is a library in OpenFrameworks called OpenCV with computer vision algorithms implemented, Zach believes it’s a good exercise to try and come up with those algorithms ourselves. He ended the class by giving challenging us to solve two problems in computer vision — connected components and chain code.

Later in the day SFPC student Johann taught a workshop on making music with Ableton.

Ableton workshop

Day 4

We met at the MoMA Education Building for Taeyoon’s Artist Toolkit class. Jennifer Tobias, Reader Services Librarian at the MoMa gave us a tour of the library. Her and the staff at the library, help people find and use materials for their projects, research or simply for inspiration. They work to “document the art of our time” and spotlight alternative voices and context in modern contemporary art. SFPC student Sean wrote about his experience at the library. The first line of his post? : “THE MOMA ARCHIVES AND LIBRARY IS INCREDIBLE.” I have to agree.

SFPC student Rachel made some really cool animations from the works we saw at the archives.

Rachel’s animations of the archives

Afterwards we went to check out the Thinking Machines exhibit which features a few of the artists we researched in Zach’s software class like Vera Molnar and Ken Knowlton.

Thinking Machines

Later in the day SFPC students Ailadi and Kelly led a drawing workshop.

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