Travels with Contemporary New Media Art
From computer-mediated poetry, read on a laptop computer while sitting in a wireless café in Paris, to touring works of performing arts, such as composer Pamela Z’s Baggage Allowance, an installation and performance based on her world travels, new media artworks are becoming an integral part of the global cultural environment.
International cooperation, which has empowered a spirit of collaboration and the sharing of ideas among the artists in this field, continues to be an important component in the creation and exhibition of new media work. And many of the artists who create in this field are bringing to maturity ideas and processes that they began working with more than twenty years ago. Partially because communications-based media are frequently integral to the process, the history of communications art — which includes the Electronic Cafe International, the Send/Receive project, Roy Ascott’s La Plissure du Texte, and the work of Bill Bartlett, Liza Bear, Willoughby Sharp, Carl Loeffler, Do While Studio, Jean-Pierre Balpe, and Hank Bull, among many others — continues to inform new media art, as American digital artists work with colleagues in other countries. Contingently, from Margaret Crane and Jon Winet’s America & The Globe, which focused on US presidential elections, to Nevada-based artist Joseph DeLappe’s use of the social networking environment Second Life to reenact Mahatma Gandhi’s Salt March to Dandi, politics and viewpoint are an integral part of the dialogue, while at the same time, with a greater presence of new media in art schools and universities, younger artists are bringing new ideas and technologies to the field.
This spring, working in collaboration with researchers at the US Department of State, students and faculty at the Berkeley Center for New Media (under the direction of Ken Goldberg) created Opinion Space: A Global Experiment in Open Dialogue, an experimental interactive website that uses data visualization models and statistical analysis to match and contrast participants’ opinions with the opinions of others around the world. Anyone can visit Opinion Space, where on a sliding scale from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree,” they register their responses to statements, such as “Climate change poses a threat to political stability around the world” and “The best way to empower a country's economic development is to empower its women.” How one’s personal responses to such statements correspond to those of other global participants is displayed in a visual “constellation” of viewpoints. Participants are also asked to imagine meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. What issues would they tell her are important?
Global participation enabled by increased Internet access also continues to inspire individual artists’ projects. For instance, in AlphaAlpha, South American artist Regina Pinto produced a World Wide Web work of visual poetry that was created by artists and writers from all over the world. Each participant contributed visual, audio, or animated representations of the letter “A,” resulting in “365 instances of the letter ‘A.’ ” The project, a vibrant contribution to the South American tradition of visual poetry, also focused attention on the importance of words and their visual representation on the Internet, a “place” where artists work collaboratively and virtually, side by side. Included in this work are artists and writers from Brazil, the United States, Canada, Chile, France, the United Kingdom, Argentina, Finland, Croatia, Serbia, Germany, Uruguay, Spain, and Mexico.
Pamela Z: Baggage Allowance
San Francisco–based composer, performer, and audio artist Pamela Z spends a lot of time traveling, taking with her on every trip an assortment of objects and equipment. For her new work, Baggage Allowance, she collected stories of things that happened to her on the road, as well as the narratives of other travelers.
“It has been (and still is being) quite a journey making this piece,” she observes.
Baggage Allowance incorporates elements of vocal performance with electronic processing, found text, recorded interviews, multichannel sound, interactive video, and sculptural objects, such as a “weeping steamer trunk.” In her words: “It is an old-fashioned steamer trunk that has embedded audio and video. When a visitor opens different drawers of the trunk, they hear different stories or sounds (including weeping in one drawer) and different video images are displayed in the lid of the trunk.”
Her narratives also include the contents of notes left by Transportation Security Administration agents in her bags that have been inspected and tales of sleepless nights spent packing before the day of flying. “My suitcase seems to increase in its level of stuffed-ness during the course of a trip, even when I don't think that I have acquired anything new, and this fact is alluded to in one section,” she comments.
Created with stories of travels, connected by a theme of carrying one’s belongings when traveling by plane or train, Baggage Allowance is a both a gallery installation and a live performance. In late 2010, it will also include a web portal. The gallery exhibition was mounted at the Krannert Art Museum in Champaign, Illinois, earlier this year. The performance had a world premiere in May 2010 at Theater Artaud in San Francisco and will have a New York City premiere at the Kitchen this September.
In response to a question about the challenges she faces in fund-raising for new media work, Pamela Z comments that because her work has become so hybridized, it is difficult to explain what it is in funding narratives and press releases. “But I still manage somehow.”
How New Media Artists Support Themselves
In the lives of contemporary new media artists, a continual theme is that when positions are available, teaching is a major source of income. Other sources of income related to the field include grants, awards, commissions, computer programming, arts administration, and art writing. New media writers and musicians also continue to distribute their work through publishers of electronic literature, such as Eastgate Systems; through publishers and distributers of new music, such as Other Minds Records; through artists book distributors, such as Printed Matter; and on the Internet.
At the same time, new media visual art is becoming more integral to the contemporary art market. This spring, at the Association of International Photography Art Dealers Photography Show, Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery in New York City showed a computer-mediated self-portrait by Shirley Shor. The gallery also exhibited Korean artist Airan Kang’s transparent, glowing LED-lit sculptural book objects and Jim Campell’s intuitively animated urban Street Scenes, created with grids containing hundreds of LED lights.
And pioneers in the field are receiving retrospectives. This summer, the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut, is showing Beryl Korot: Text/Weave/Line—Video, 1977–2010, an exhibition that includes both Korot’s new work and her seminal five-channel weaving/video installation Text and Commentary, exhibited at the Leo Castelli Gallery in 1977. Sonya Rapoport, who has been creating work that involves computers for more than thirty-five years, is working on retrospectives for Kala in Berkeley next year and for Mills College in 2012. She will be exhibiting both her early work created with words and images on continuous feed computer paper and her historic interactive installations, including a continuation of Objects on My Dresser.
Additionally, as new media art comes of age, artists who work in this field are being considered for and receiving major awards. Camille Utterback — whose work encompasses interactive installations in which the public’s discovery of how to interact with the work is part of the experience — was awarded a 2009 MacArthur Fellowship. Musician and composer Pauline Oliveros, who uses electronics to alter the sound of the accordion in her Deep Listening Pieces and Sonic Meditations, recently received the Columbia University School of the Arts’ William Schuman Award, given for the lifetime achievement of an American composer.
Indeed, commissions, fellowships, and grant funding have been instrumental in fostering the creation of new media art in the performing arts. Laurie Anderson’s Delusion, a work of everyday, mythic mystery plays, was initially commissioned by the 2010 Vancouver Cultural Olympiad. Pamela Z has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, in addition to funding from Creative Capital and Meet the Composer, and an NEA and Japan/United States Friendship Commission Fellowship. Mark Coniglio and Dawn Stoppiello have received funding for their dance company, Troika Ranch, from the Lied Center for Performing Arts, as well as from the Jerome Foundation, the Nancy Quinn Fund, and an Artist Resource and Media (ARM) fellowship at Dance Theater Workshop.
Troika Ranch: loopdiver
Named for the hybrid of dance, theater, and media that is the basis of its work, Troika Ranch, formed by composer and media artist Mark Coniglio and choreographer and dancer Dawn Stoppiello, creates live performances, interactive installations, and films. Their work has included the seminal In Plane (1994), which allowed Stoppiello to control sound and lighting, creating a duet of dancer and her video image, as well as The Future of Memory (2003), in which, with selective memories, four fictional characters re-create their lives, examining the role of memory in how individuals define and shape their characters and their relationships to community
In loopdiver, Troika Ranch uses a complex choreographic score to create a performance duality in which, engaged in a struggle to escape a technologically mediated loop that is a metaphor for technology-mediated lives and destructive repetitive behavior, dancers perform alongside a new media environment. The audience sits on both sides of a stage with animated sets that mediate the experience by functioning both as architecture and as video projection surfaces. At the core of the work is the difficult process for the dancers of memorizing and realizing a video choreographic score composed of looping computer-mediated repetitive actions, light, and music. The work is evocative yet disturbing, presenting audiences with a comparison of the databased score and the struggle of the human dancers to escape the loop.
Now global, with Mark based in Berlin and Dawn based in Portland, Oregon, the company comes together in various locales, recently to produce the premiere of loopdiver in the fall of 2009 at the Lied Center for Performing Arts in Lincoln, Nebraska. loopdiver was also performed in March 2010 at the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago, as part of a series that explores science, technology, and dance.
“We were very lucky to have such a robust commission for this piece from the Lied Center, which [provided] funding through Arts Presenters and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation,” Mark emphasizes.
But Dawn observes that “in terms of funding, for loopdiver our biggest expense is storing and shipping our set, which doesn’t really have anything to do with being particularly technological. It’s still a challenge to find funding for touring after the creation and premiere of a new work.
“Troika is kind of ‘globally’ based with Mark in Berlin and me in Portland and our dancers and designers scattered throughout Europe and New York City, so it’s a different landscape for funding for us now,” she notes, adding that “we have historically earned a good deal of our operating money from our teaching and will continue to do so.”
Authoring Software/Artists’ Code
New media works are created in an endless variety of ways, but one common denominator of works in disciplines such as dance and literature can be the authoring software, the code with which the work or a part of the work is created or mediated. Authoring software can involve the use of a commercial application or can be artist created. Examples of artist-created software are Merce Cunningham’s DanceForms; the programs that Jim Rosenberg and Andrew Culver created for John Cage’s work with text; Mark Coniglio’s Isadora; and Juan Gutierrez’s literary authoring software Literatronic, which adapts link paths to the text the reader has already read.
As the role of authoring software in the creation of new media becomes more apparent, code is receiving more attention. For instance, begun in conjunction with the 2008 Electronic Literature Organization Conference, my Authoring Software project was created as a resource for teachers and students of new media writing, with the mission of exploring what authoring tools are used by new media writers and poets — as a guide not only for new writers but also for writers who are interested in how their colleagues approach their work, and for readers who want to understand how new media writers and poets create their work.
Contingently, the differences in the use of code by scientists and researchers and the use of code by people who create in the humanities are the basis of newly formed programs, such as the work Noah Wardrip-Fruin is doing at the University of California, Santa Cruz to connect the arts, humanities, and computer science, including the Expressive Intelligence Studio; the work of MIT professor Nick Montfort; and University of Southern California professor Mark Marino’s Critical Code Studies, an online forum on code and art and code as art.
Jim Rosenberg: The Inframergence
Poet Jim Rosenberg, whose work is both intellectual and magically evocative, has been at the forefront of new media poetry for more than twenty-five years and is currently writing and coding The Inframergence, a large work in progress.
The creation of new media literature can be a complex process involving not only the selection of words, the writing of poetry, but also the writing of programs, the understanding of interface, and the visual presence of the work on the computer screen. Rosenberg, who supports himself by working as a computer programmer, has been working on The Inframergence for almost five years. Although he notes that the details could change, he describes The Inframergence at this point in the following way:
The outer interface of this work is a spiral of buttons, each of which leads to an interactive screen. Beginning at the outside, the screens consist of overlaid polylinear skeins. Each skein has an “obverse,” which goes in the opposite direction. As the reader proceeds through the spiral to the center, nonlinearity emerges. The skeins become more concentrated and are then replaced by clusters; the clusters then clump together into structures, in which some elements are dominant over others; and eventually a full diagrammatic syntax appears, in which any element can be connected to any other using the full complexity available to networks.
Like his other recent work — beginning with Diagrams Series 6 — The Inframergence is written in Squeak. In-progress excerpts from The Inframergence were shown at E-Poetry 2007 in Paris and E-Poetry 2009 in Barcelona.
Summer New Media Reading
Despite a decrease in news media attention, new media literature is coming of age and is now the subject of courses at universities from San Diego to Hanover, New Hampshire.
Readers of electronic literature can travel to a Montreal neighborhood in J. R. Carpenter’s Entre Ville, which — providing access to her poem “Saint-Urbain Street Heat” — opens with an artist-made exploratory graphic interface, or they can assemble a story with the puzzle segments Rob Kendall provides in pieces: “Put together the present from whatever pieces of the past and the future you happen to have on hand at the moment.”
Or, when it is completed, they can explore M. D. Coverley’s new work, Tin Towns, which she describes as a “flash piece that juxtaposes ancient and modern stories about loss and illumination — a kind of ‘alloy’ of image and story.”
There are interesting works available on the Internet by writers both new to and continuing in the field. They include hyperfiction pioneer Stuart Moulthrop’s “textual instrument” “Under Language” (Iowa Web Review, 2008), which explores how writing intersects code; Stephanie Strickland and Cynthia Lawson Jaramillo's slippingglimpse, which superimposes animated and layered text on videos to create, for instance, poetry related to locations of movement in water; and Inanimate Alice by Kate Pullinger and Chris Joseph, which uses photographs, graphics, sound, and video to produce a narrative of the global adventures of a young game designer, whose own interactions with new media devices reflect the role of social networking in youth culture.
Work in this field has been slow to attract funding, perhaps because it does not have a large-scale physical presence. However, Eastgate, which pioneered publishing and selling literary hypertext, continues to make writers’ work available in CD editions. Second editions of my own works, its name was penelope and Forward Anywhere (with Cathy Marshall), are in progress. Eastgate has also published the works of Michael Joyce, Jim Rosenberg, Stuart Moulthrop, Carolyn Guyer, Deena Larsen, Rob Swigart, Shelley Jackson, M. D. Coverley, and Roderick Coover, to name just a few.
Computer-mediated literature continues to be a focus of international conferences. New media poetry was featured last year at the E-Poetry Festival in Barcelona, a cooperative effort between the Electronic Poetry Center in Buffalo, Hermeneia Research Group in Spain, and the Laboratoire Paragraphe at the University of Paris 8. In early June 2010, the Electronic Literature Organization’s biennial conference was hosted by Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, with international representation in the program by 150 presenters and artists. And this November, the Third International Conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling will take place in Edinburgh, Scotland, hosted by Heriot-Watt University.
The Role of Internet Social Networking in Promoting Literacy
On the Internet, digital social media may also be helping to bring back print reading and writing, as postings on Twitter and the desire to convey knowledge of what one has read in online discussions foster a more literate culture. This point was recently underscored by The Future of the Book, an installation created by Judith Donath, Gilad Lotan, and Martin Wattenberg at the University of California’s Berkeley Center for New Media Commons (the work was originally commissioned by the Boston Book Festival and exhibited at the Boston Public Library in 2009). Small display screens with social networking feeds — conversations about what people are reading, from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series to Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and the Bible — flashed by on one of the screens, while animated literary references were displayed on top of a sculptural installation of white books. Celebrating the dawn of electronic literature, the installation also illustrated how Twitter has fostered literacy.
Additionally, there are connections between print books and websites, such as the print book British cyberwriter Sue Thomas is creating from her website The Wild Surmise, which explores the relationships between nature and cyberspace. Other writers, such as Cale Kenney, who skied competively with only one leg and wrote a book, Have Crutch Will Travel, about her experiences, create interest in their books by making words and photographs from print works available on their websites.
Zach Poff: Enchanted
New York area–based digital media artist Zach Poff has created a series of “chant boxes” — musical instruments, spiritual sculptural objects — that are based on Buddhist chant boxes. Available in Chinese temples to assist in meditation, creating a spiritual experience through the use of repetition and meaningful words, Buddhist chant boxes are audio devices containing short musical chants. To create Enchanted chant boxes with altered pitches that heighten the impact of the repeated sound and — for those who speak Chinese — the message, Poff used circuit bending — a way of altering the electronics in ready-made toys and electronic devices to produce different sounds and effects.
“I enjoy less intentional approaches, like setting up multiple boxes with different pitches so they slowly lose sync with each other,” he explains. “I’ve also put them in windows so they change pitch as the sun changes throughout the day. I find these ambient applications much more interesting because they create diverse sounds through simple gestures.”
Poff began distributing the chant boxes by giving them away as gifts and using them in demonstrations for his sound art classes at Cooper Union School of Art. Then he was able to find a wholesale source, and he made an edition of ten for a 2008 New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) fund-raising event. He made another edition in 2009 for the free103point9 table at Printed Matter’s book fair. He also sells them through his website.
“Unfortunately I couldn’t attend either event, so I don’t have firsthand knowledge about how they were received,” he says. “But since then I’ve sold some on my website and noticed that the buyers are mostly musicians who intend to use them like instruments.”
Zach Poff, whose work has also involved media theory, collaborative performance, film, and video art, was the recipient of a 2007 NYFA Artists’ Fellowship and most recently a free103point9 Fellowship.
Artist-Researcher Collaborations and Artist/Researchers; In the Public Realm
Because art and technology meet in the creation of new media art, collaborative ways in which artists and researchers can work together have been explored in efforts such as Xerox PARC’s PAIR program that funded and studied the work of artists collaborating with researchers, including filmmakers John Muse and Jeanne Finley’s collaboration with PARC’s Work Practice and Technology group and my own creation of new media literature with researchers Pavel Curtis and Cathy Marshall.
Paul Allen and David Liddle’s Interval Research Corporation employed artists and musicians, including Brenda Laurel, Michael Naimark, and Tim Perkis, as a part of its research team, which also included computer pioneers Lee Felsenstein and Bill Verplank.
And there are researcher-artists who have founded labs for art-centered computer-mediated projects. For instance, Sha Xin Wei is currently director of the Topological Media Lab at Concordia University in Montreal, where his work involves, among other things, the creation of computer-mediated environments that incorporate gesture-sound coactivity and/or responsive wearable fabrics in social interactivity situations. The Topological Media Lab has received support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Sony, the Rockefeller Foundation, Intel, IBM, Hexagram, among others.
Sha Xin Wei’s work creates “responsive spaces” — interesting installation environments that involve the audience as performer and invite the public to explore computer-mediated spaces.
Indeed, works that explore public issues and/or invite the public to participate are among the memorable contemporary experiences in the realm of new media art.
For instance, in Boston, the Institute of Contemporary Art recently invited MIT professor Krzysztof Wodiczko to create a project focusing on veterans returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Using audio and multichannel video, the projection-based installation was composed of stories told to the artist by medics, soldiers, and refugees affected by the conflict in Iraq, creating a layered narrative intended to give the public a greater understanding of the experience of war. On view from November 2009 to March 2010, OUT OF HERE: The Veterans Project was supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. The project was also made possible through the support of the Nimoy Foundation, LEF New England, Artist’s Resource Trust of the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, Galerie Lelong, New York, and the Polish Cultural Institute in New York.
And at the Shanghai Biennale in 2006 and at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki, Finland, in 2004, A Light Rain, created by Paul DeMarinis in collaboration with Rebecca Cummins, allowed people to walk into a rainbow, carrying an umbrella. Music was created and heard when rain-simulating streams of water met the umbrella.
Jacalyn Lopez Garcia: Life Cycles: Reflections of Change and A New Hope for Future Generations
New media artist and photographer Jacalyn Lopez Garcia has been creating work on the World Wide Web since 1995, when she began working on Glass Houses, a website that uses the metaphor of a house plan to explore immigrant experiences based on her own life and the life of her Mexican immigrant mother.
Lopez Garcia’s recent installation, Life Cycles: Reflections of Change and A New Hope for Future Generation, uses photography, video, audio, and text to explore the lives and families of immigrant and migrant farm workers who settled in the Coachella Valley of Southern California. Life Cycles was shown this winter in the California Inland Empire at the Temecula Valley Museum in Temecula.
An associated website is an important part of this work, which looks at the motivating factors that, in Lopez Garcia’s words, “cause individuals to embark on a journey to places of incredibly harsh living conditions in the hope of someday achieving a better life.
“As a web-based artist, I enjoy integrating traditional and nontraditional artistic practices — photography, computer art, short stories, and video — because they each serve as catalysts of memory that allow me to conjure up a variety of social and cultural contexts,” observes Lopez Garcia, who is retired as director of the UC Riverside/Communities for Virtual Research and now teaches art and photography in Riverside and Los Angeles. “And this project does exactly that in both English and Spanish versions alike. More important, the website reveals the personal histories/stories in the form of text and audio files for a global audience.”
The project’s focus began when she was overseeing a Housing and Urban Development grant to develop and implement technology training centers in the eastern Coachella Valley, in order to help improve the living conditions of colonia residents. “Part of the process also involved gathering personal histories of the immigrant and migrant farm worker families which ultimately led me to apply for a California Council of Humanities grant,” Lopez Garcia explains. “And as the recipient of this award I was granted an opportunity, as a photographer/multimedia artist, to produce a documentary project that could critically examine the relationship between some of the ‘past’ and ‘present’ approaches used to improve lifestyles for the migrant farm worker families.”
In the process of gathering stories from the residents of the colonias, she discovered “how improvements in living conditions resulted from either an individual process or action that was inspired by the desire to pursue the goals of solving human problems. In turn, this process helped me realize that California’s history is the story of immigration, but most of California's immigrants have not been allowed to tell their own stories. Thus, my artistic vision was fueled by my desire to create a documentary project with the intent of examining, reflecting, and commenting on a community’s desire — through their own voices — to change life cycles and increate the quality of living for themselves and generations to come.”
In response to a question about the challenges she faces in fund-raising for new media work, Jacalyn Lopez Garcia observes that she is interested in finding places to fund museum presentation of the work, particularly on a large scale or as part of a permanent collection. But time is an obstacle in continuing to raise funds, and she does not always know where to find information about grants and commissions.
Speaking of the website, she notes that “as a public art project on the Internet, this interactive documentary project is intended to serve as an advocate for social change, inspiring a need to promote cultural sensitivity and engaging the viewer in global dialogues that can address social/political concerns in an art context.
“In a larger context, this website is designed to promote a global audience,” she emphasizes, “and this is an integral element in all my web-based work.” She points out that the Internet reaches people who may not have the opportunity to visit museums or galleries and that it can also serve as an addition to the experience of seeing the work in a museum or gallery.
Indeed, the creation of websites as a new media component of other art forms continues to be important in the new media landscape. For instance, James Luna’s (Luiseño and Mexican American) website, which vibrantly documents his performance works, such as We Become Them, based on American Indian relationships to dance, spiritual traditions, and respect for animals; William Wiley’s innovative use of his website to document his paintings and assemblages; Judy Chicago’s web documentation of both her historic and her contemporary work; composer Eve Beglarian’s “mulling over” pieces in her Book of Days; performance artist and gay rights advocate Tim Miller’s web documentation of his new work, Lay of the Land; the memorial website for performance artist Spalding Gray; and Yoko Ono’s Imagine Peace website.
Global Social Networking; International Travel
This July, electronic artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer will be creating a work of public art at the Light in Winter festival in Melbourne, Australia. Pamela Z — whose 2010 journeys included/will include New York City, Champaign, Illinois, Indianapolis, and Linz, Austria — traveled to Berlin this spring to participate in a celebration of women composers in electronic music at the 2010 Internationales Musickerinnen-Festival that also included, among others, Maryanne Amacher, Pauline Oliveros, Laetitia Sonami, and Angie Reed.
Virtually, using the OPEN_Borders networked performance system — developed with Web-based video conferencing tools by telecommunications media artist Adriene Jenik and intermedia artist Charley Ten — people from all over the world enter a virtual dance floor in the OPEN_Borders Lounge and are asked to imagine themselves “carefree and swaying to the music at your favorite local nightspot” when, from a distant location, suddenly someone “joins” the dance. Performed by many artists from different places, including San Diego, Arizona, Spain, Portugal, Mexico, and Argentina, this social networking project encourages collaboration between “local” and “distant” performance spaces.
And this summer, as do many other visual artists, dancers, writers, theater artists, and musicians, new media artists will travel around the world to present their work, whether it is to Interactive Screen 1.0: Beautiful Lives at the Banff Centre in the Canadian Rockies this August or to Archive & Innovate, the Fourth International Conference & Festival of the Electronic Literature Organization, at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, in June.