Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Love and New Media

If you're one of the 2.3 regular readers of this blog, you'll recall that I went to the College Art Association conference in Dallas in February, where I attended a number of sessions on New Media, as I have it in my head that I am keenly interested in New Media, although no one seems to be terribly sure what "New Media" actually is. (Or are. Whatever.) One of the people I encountered there was a fellow by the name of Pat Lichty. He's a performance artist, new media artist, academic, and nerd--like most of the other people attending those sessions including myself, frankly--and he has a really interesting, rock-star-like energy to him. (This is a description that I imagine would make him laugh in disbelief, but it's the honest truth.)

My interaction with Pat wasn't extensive; I shook his hand after the panel and said something fabulously generic like "intriguing presentation." And it was an intriguing presentation, on the part of all the panelists. But I am thinking more about something he said during his presentation that just popped out of his mouth almost a propo of nothing, which struck me as odd at the time but now makes so much sense it's almost prophetic:

"We don't talk enough about love in New Media."

At the time, I thought Of course we don't, why would we? And I still really have no idea where he was going with that comment, as there was no follow-up and no elucidation at the time; it simply was said and floated in the air like a hopeful fairy, then dissipated with no further discourse. But interestingly enough, my entire artistic practice has morphed and changed over the last few months to focus almost exclusively on love and new media as its thesis.

I am, as you may recall, all about boundary-challenging, and this is the ultimate boundary-challenger.

It began with the evolution of my "Sexy Delusions" collaboration to include people in the virtual world of Second Life: deconstructing marriage and relationships that develop in a place where there are really no legal, social, or cultural expectations around these things, and the questions I have about whether such unions, made purely on some kind of emotional commitment, are somehow different or the same as the unions that come about in so-called Real Life. I was interested, too, in the notion of "emotional commitment" in a virtual world. I had already met some people for whom getting "married" in Second Life was really a precursor to taking the relationship out of Second Life and into Real Life, as I mentioned in an earlier post, The Art of Romance. But equally intriguing were the people who married in SL but had no intention of ever transferring their relationship to RL for whatever reason. Why were these people pairing off, I wondered? What was the real context of this kind of role-playing?

The answer: they aren't role-playing. They're falling in love, getting involved in relationships, suffering the same stupidity and complexities and strangeness of Real Life entanglements. The expressions are digital; the emotions are real.

I had already figured this out intellectually. But then my avatar, Asimia, fell in love, completely out of the blue. And the gentleman in question ... his avatar has fallen in love with her. It's difficult and challenging and scary. There are hurt feelings and panics and more drama than there should be. But in the final analysis, they love each other; completely and utterly, with a blazing intensity and a stark realness of emotion that one would not expect (at least, that I did not expect) from two individuals who have a clearly stated intention of NEVER taking the relationship outside of Second Life's digital container.

And yet, it is not role-playing. It is as real as real gets.

This is probably not what Pat Lichty was thinking about when he said we don't talk about love enough in New Media. He may not even remember that he said it. But I have to thank him for saying it all the same; it's become the underpinning of what I hope will be an extraordinarily rewarding and rich artistic practice that will enable me not only to learn more about my fellow human beings and avatars, but also to better understand myself, both as an artist with an idea and as a woman with a heart and soul.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Art of Romance

This Second Life thing just gets more interesting all the time.

As I continue to plan out my (our) collaborative art project exploring the views and expectations of partnered avatars on SL and mixing it with the expectations of partnered people in RL, the universe is seeing fit to provide me with more and more data.

First, I came across an article on a study out of Stanford that seems to confirm that there's a lot of "leak" between SL and RL, and what you do in SL can have a strong positive effect on RL. You can read it in this issue of Time Magazine online.

Second, I began checking out the profiles of some partnered avatars and discovered that for many, getting married in SL seems to be a prelude to moving the relationship into RL. This is certainly not true for all, but I did find many cases in which people were planning on pulling up roots and moving hundreds of miles away to be near the RL owner of the avatar they'd married, because the emotional component of the relationship was very real, even if the physical aspect of it was a purely digital expression.

I was already fairly sure this was true, having experienced it myself in a variety of little ways. But I experienced it in a BIG way a couple of nights ago.

You see, on Tuesday night, Asimia had a date.

She met the gentleman involved the night before at a jazz club on the sim where she lives. She was actually dancing with someone else when this particular gentleman caught her (my?) eye, and despite having a very pleasant dance partner already, she couldn't take her (my?) eyes off this other gentleman. He walked across the floor, she (okay, damnit, I) almost got carpal tunnel running the camera controls around to watch him. He sat at the bar, she spied on him with an overhead view while chatting with her dance partner. He was stunning, and this is really saying something, because in Second Life, everyone is as attractive as they want to be. He was elegantly dressed. He seemed poised and just a touch aloof. And he had fabulous, thick, gorgeous, blond flowing hair almost to his waist.

He turned out to be friends with Asimia's dance partner, and tossed a few wry, witty comments their way. Delightful.

He was, in short, the man (avatar?) of her (my? our?) dreams.

Asimia's been in SL long enough to know that it frequently does mirror RL in one particular way: guys who make a fuss over you and say they'll call, frequently don't. Their profiles all say they don't want any drama, then they promptly set out to create it. Well, I truly don't want any drama, and the first time this happened I was surprised and a little hurt. But by the third or fourth time, I had adjusted and really felt that it didn't matter. Asimia is, after all, in SL for art and for art alone.

And then he showed up.

Long story short, Asimia's dance partner departed for another venue and she took a chance and went over to talk with Mr. Handsome. He was not very talkative at first, but he got her a drink and then asked her to dance. Asimia flirted hard, and at one point it crossed my (her?) mind that she was probably trying too hard. But, no matter. They had a little fun, then his friends IM'd him to come join them. They exchanged "friend" cards, she told him about her art party on the 22nd, and he left. And she (we) figured, that was that. As his avatar disappeared, Asimia tried to fan the virtual flush from her face and said to no one in particular, "It's a good thing I don't meet guys that look like that every day."

So the next day when he IM'd her and invited her to join him at the beach, she was very surprised. Very pleased, but surprised. And a little suspicious and more than a touch guarded. But she put on her beach wear, and accepted his offer, and found herself at a fun and people-filled beach club where they danced and drank and chatted (he's still not very talkative) until heading over to Asimia's house to hang out on the beach there for awhile. Evening came, as it does every four hours in SL, and they changed into more elegant clothing and headed over to the Jazz Club to hear the new DJ.

The new DJ was playing smoky, sensual soul. The dancing was close and slow. It was phenomenally romantic. After the sun came up again, I had to go, so that meant Asimia did too. Mr. Handsome escorted her home and said a proper good-night at her front door.

The point of all this is the next day, I—not Asimia, we're talking about ME—felt this pleasant calm lovely sensation of little endorphins sailing around in my brain. Asimia's highly pleasant SL experience with a handsome fellow avatar affected me exactly the same way as if I had had the experience with a handsome gentleman in Real Life.

People come into SL for a lot of different reasons. I think I'm beginning to understand that for me, SL is a tool for visualization. I have created Asimia very much in my own image, but at the same time she is a projection of my best and highest-idealized self. As she experiments, whether with furniture-making or crafting prims into NPIRL sculpture or romance, I reap the benefits in unexpected ways.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

... if a woodchuck could chuck wood ...

So in the last post I asked the musical question, "How big a bang will Berkeley Big Bang be?" For me, it was more like a *boink* than a bang.

Not to say it wasn't interesting ... it was. I especially enjoyed Bert Dreyfus, a professor emeritus from UC Berkeley's Philosophy department ... it never ocurred to me to wonder what Heidegger or Descartes would have thought of Second Life. He's been on Second Life, although he admitted it's been about six months since his last visit. I'm guessing, crusty old SL veteran that I am (today, in fact, is my rezzday ... all you terrans can go look up what that means), that he actually hasn't spent all that much time in SL, because he kept talking about shared mood and how you can't share mood in SL in all the subtle ways you can in person. Actually, I find it's pretty easy to pick up on and share mood in SL. It's a heavily intuitive thing, but it happens and it seems to happen fairly easily.

Philip Rosedale (or, as we like to call him in-world, Castro Linden ... er, I mean, Philip Linden ...) is responsible for the company that has made Second Life possible. He spoke after Dr. Dreyfus, and was all excited about how webcams will soon enable you to reflect your facial expressions and hand gestures in SL in real time. Frankly, this sounds dreadful to me, because sometimes my avatar is feeling something completely different than what I'm feeling. I don't WANT my RL facial expressions to become pasted onto her; it will limit her expression. (And now, I'm sure there are some psychologists who want to talk to me ...)

Oh well, enough of that. Day One of BBB '08 was allegedly about "Embodiment." Ironically, I was suffering from bodily "interference" and wasn't 100% healthy on Day One, so I don't tend to remember many details from that day except for Dr. Dreyfus, Rosedale's kid-like nuttiness and enthusiasm, Kimiko Ryokai's real-time image capture "paint brush" (which everyone who was at the conference now wants to own, it's so cool), and introducing myself to Lynn Hershman and having her look at me like I'd just dropped a dead fish on her foot. In general, although I spoke to a few people in the audiences, it was an off day for me and I found myself feeling shy and stupid and annoyed.

Day Two was Art/Science day, co-sponsored by Leonardo. I was more focused on this day (generally feeling better), and loved the descriptions of the projects and collaborations between artists and scientists. Some presenters, like Camille Utterback, were one-person artist/scientist collaborations--she herself writes the software that she uses to produce her weird, lovely interactive video installations. Others like Melinda Rackham from the Austrailian Network for Art and Technology and the Exploratorium's Jennifer Frazier, were fun, enthusiastic and bright and really brought home the point that this kind of work, aside from the heavy political implications it can sometimes have, is also fabulous for highlighting that sense of mystery, wonder, and curiosity we so often mercilessly squelch as adults. I came out of it not quite feeling like I'd found my tribe, but also not like I'd been hit by a bus. Somewhere in between.

In poopy news, apparently I didn't get onto the CAA program for 2009; the deadline for responses has passed and I never heard anything at all about my paper proposal, which I thought was terrific. I guess maybe the panel chair wanted to pack the session with uber-successful theoretical SL artist-types and didn't feel like someone who is in the process of making her way and carving out her place who could make it all relatable deserved a voice. (See? I'm not bitter.)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

How Big a Bang Will "Berkeley Big Bang" Be?

It's almost here: Berkeley Big Bang '08. For me, that means two solid days of immersion in New Media art, in which (as the 2.3 regular readers of this blog will remember) I believe myself to be keenly interested. This may turn out to be the ultimate test, however; I'll either come out of this energized and motivated from two full days with "my tribe," or depressed and anxious about whether or not I'm really interested in moving in this direction.

It's such a big direction, you see. "New Media" continues to be wildly loosely defined. I was initially concerned when I felt like I couldn't accurately define it (see my previous post, What the Hell is New Media Now?), but it appears that slippery slope affects the organizers of this conference as well. Just scanning the program, it seems to be video, video installation, photographic installation, Second Life, "networked embodiment," film, alternative reality games, performance, music, digital design, and art/science interaction. There is a lot of emphasis on social networks and connection, sensuality, and experience. That word, experience, seems to pop up a lot.

The connection I'm making from all this is, maybe "New Media" is about how we experience the world in a new way that is unique to this particular technological epoch. I'm already lurching off in that direction to a certain extent. I'm either on to something, or I'm a day late and a dollar short. I suppose this conference will help me figure that out.

Day 1's theme is "Embodiment: New Media and the Body" and features a lot of talking about Second Life, including a presentation by Philip Rosedale, SL's founder. On Day 2, the theme is "Remix: From Science to Art and Back in the Digital Age." If you want to know more about the conference, you can check out the web site; the charge for attending is an incredibly measly $3 per day.

Immediately following Berkeley Big Bang is "01SJ: A Global Festival of Art on the Edge" in San Jose. If I'm not festivaled out, I might roll down that way Saturday or Sunday and check it out. San Jose seems to be working hard these days to position itself as a meaningful dot on the Bay Area art map. Even so, I'm not entirely sure who this festival targets. Ticket prices suggest that there's a "fundraising" focus in place: $75 for a day pass, or $125 for a "VIP Festival Pass." And it's not entirely clear what this covers aside from admission to all the arts venues you can make yourself get to during your day. Most broke artists, like myself, will probably go for the "Museum Pass" which covers admission to SJMA, the Tech and "Future Films" at Camera 12, and is a whopping $15. That works for me.

You can learn more about "Zero1," as the marketers are trying to get us to call it, by going to the official festival web site.

How big a bang will Berkeley Big Bang be? Well, I dunno. I'm still doing what I do and trying to expand it. Big Bang may indeed be a Big Bang for me, or it may just leave me feeling banged up.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Une Avatar d'un Certain Age ... Quoi?

I've spent more time hanging out in Second Life by this point, maybe more time than I should have, and I'm learning a lot. Namely, just like in real life, some people are just plain great to know, some people are jerks or weirdos, and sometimes a weirdo can turn out to be just plain great to know. (For example, the person with the best, most formal manners we've met so far also turns out to be a member of every S&M/bondage group or club in the Metaverse. It's not something he brings up with Asimia, though, so it's all good. They have mostly talked about international politics.)

Also in parallel to real life, people are damned hard to get to sign up for art projects.

I thought for sure I'd be getting a few takers for my project, Stroll. And I was hopeful to have a few for my other project, Une Femme. Although Une Femme has come to be based more on age rather than marital/relationship status, and it's hard to tell how old someone's avatar is supposed to be. The one constant is that everyone seems to be "not old." But there are plenty of "partnered" avatars (like Asimia's landlords, Jazzy and Hab), so perhaps for SL I'll shift the focus a little bit and make it about relationship-building in SL. Clearly, the metaverse makes hooking up for anything remarkably easy. What makes two people decided to "get married" in SL? And how do you stay married? Certainly in real life, there are decided rationales and advantages, both legal and social: tax breaks, the advantages of pooled incomes, inheretance issues, child-rearing, societal expectations, on and on ... (and some people say they don't see why gay folks want the right to get married!)

In SL, though, the motivations have to be different. The advantages, aside from the pooled income thing, are not the same and in fact are all but non-existant. So what makes a SL marriage desirable? And what makes it work? What are an avatar's expectations of this kind of relationship, and how are the different than expectations in RL?

And if those expectations and experiences were laid out for us, I wonder could we tell which was which?

*bing*. New art project ...

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

I.D., Please ...

Whoo-freakin'-hoo. Finally, an entire evening with a viable internet connection on the "new computer," which for the moment is fondly named "Hog."

Of course, I spent a lot of time "in-world" last night, picking up tons of free stuff and meeting people. I still don't have hair that perfectly suits me, but I do have a recommendation for a hair shop from someone whose hair I admired. I made a friend who gave me some really awesome skin and a pair of black leather bootie-shorts from her inventory. I've revised my clothes again; I'm becoming less of a watchful wall-flower and more of ... well, oddly, more myself.

This brings up an interesting point. Sometimes I feel a separation in my head between my avatar and myself; she's "her" and I'm "me." But sometimes there's no separation at all. In the middle of "Clothing Olympics" last night (which is something I seem compelled to do both in SL and RL) as I was changing tops, I had a look at my avatar half-naked in the new custom skin and thought "Wow, my boobs look fantastic." Not her, not those, but my.

This, I must say, is NOT a thought I've had about myself recently in RL, but that's not the point. Or, rather, that's a different point, and kind of an unintended one at that, and a pun to boot. But I digress.

The point I'm trying to make without cracking myself up is that I am beginning to identify with her. The more detailed she becomes, the more customized she becomes, the more I feel she is me. Oddly, I can sense that I'll be seeing parts of myself emerging through her that I thought were long-dead or discarded, things I would be if I had her freedom, her physical attributes, her mobility. She may even choose a different artistic path than me; she may become a rock star or a dancer, choose to be in front of the camera rather than behind it as I might have done if things, if I, had been just a little bit different.

I am thinking Second Life should perhaps change its name to Second Chance.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Horsie Wisdom

Last night, I could have spent more fruitless hours wrestling with the Operating System that is Trapdoor Panorama. Instead, I did something different: I drove out to the barn and rode my horse.

This is not to say that I have mastered Trapdoor Panorama; although it has features I really like, I am actively considering "rolling back" to its predecessor, which we'll just call "YQ". This would not be a long-term solution, however, as that operating system is allegedly not going to be supported by the manufacturer any more after this summer ... but considering the amount and quality of "support" I've gotten from them trying to work out the bugs between Panorama, my DULL computer, and our home LAN, the notion of an absence of manufacturer support seems almost refreshing. a picture of my big paint horse

But there is only so much grinding through bug reports and blog posts on lost network connections and stupid problems with Service Packs that a person can take in a week. Yes, it will put me behind even a little bit more. It means I will miss another Second Life Haiku SpeedBuild, a regularly-scheduled event that I am very keen to take on. It means the web site for my friend's campaign for Georgia appellate court judge will have to go un-updated for another day or two, and his stationary will remain undesigned until at least Sunday. But here's the deal: I needed to relax and be happy. And not much relaxes me and makes me as happy as riding my horse.

This might seem odd to the 2.3 regular readers of this blog, who may know from reading it that I had a serious horseback riding accident a couple of years ago—not on the horse I now own, as I had not even met her then. Those of you who are horsepeople will not be shocked that my response to an accident that resulted in four broken ribs, a fractured xygomatic arch and a subdural hematoma was to go out and buy myself a horse, and a fairly big horse at that. I admit to some degree of nervousness when I am thinking about riding her, but once I get on, all that disappears. She is delightful, even when she is being a complete pill.

I am trying to figure out how to turn her into an art project; if anyone has any novel suggestions, I would love to hear them. I think the most interesting thing is our relationship, the inter-species communication that happens, and all the ways she has of making her opinion very clear to me, even without benefit of a shared spoken language. There is also something about women of about my age and horses, maybe my "Femme d'un Certain Âge" project goes beyond the idea of women and relationships with human partners. Maybe I can write a proposal and get some funding. It's worth thinking about.

I will get back to the computer soon enough. In the meantime, riding is a good way for me to keep it real.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Faith-based Computing

Well, I thought I had done it.

I began this post with a heady sense of optimism, full of myself because of some significant victories in computing over the last few days. It didn't happen without a lot of work and a lot of smarts and a lot of yelling at my husband (which seems to help me, although it doesn't usually help the computer problems very much). But after a full 24 hours in the land of milk and honey (and fast connections and working applications and seamless network connection), I guess I got too cocky. Or maybe somebody who is more in charge than I realize got annoyed that I was giving all the credit to the deity of my new religion, New Media. Maybe that "it's not a genre, it's a theological construct" comment in the last post pissed off, er, somebody.

Of course, I began this post during my lunch hour at work. I came home ready to finish the clean "from disk" install of my Major-Applications-That-Would-Not-Work, but almost immediately encountered a compatability issue. No matter, I thought, since I wasn't going to run that program anyway and was just installing it to serve as the baseline for the Very Expensive Upgrade I had purchased, which was hanging out in cyberspace waiting for me to download it.

And then, Big New Computer misplaced our household LAN. And then it misplaced the Internet. And finally, it misplaced the Network screen in Windows Explorer altogether.

Holy. Moly.

Well, it took a little swearing and a little Googling and a little more yelling at my husband, but I found a trick online, posted in response to someone who was experiencing basically the same thing as me (without all the religious overtones). I stood at my "old" computer (where I am standing now) and read off the instructions I had located on Wikipedia to my husband who was kind enough to sit in front of Big New Computer and follow them. And the trick worked. The network screen came up with all three computers identified and happy. The Internet connection came up, and not in the dreaded "limited connectivity" mode.

So now I stand here at 10:14 pm, when I had planned to be in-world blowing Linden Bucks on even more new hair and some great clothes in 1900 Paris. Instead, I'm writing blog entries and playing solitaire on my "old" computer, waiting for 685 MB of program upgrade to download. I'm tired, I'd rather be asleep, but I want to get this at least downloaded before the trolls strike again. Maybe it's because I made fun of some of the poor hapless software customer support people I found myself dealing with over the last week or so; among my many conclusions about software customer support people was the notion that as a general rule they are just not very clever to begin with. I was feeling smug, because I didn't yell at anyone and instead forgave them.(Poor Bapshar, Indra and Kevin, I wish you many blessings and hope you are forever protected from the mantra, "would you like fries with that?")

But maybe I stepped on someone's toes there too. Seems I remember something about forgiveness being someone else's territory as well.

Well, alrighty then. I'll abandon all religious metaphors immediately. I've learned a lot in the last few days, not all of it about computers. And I'm still devoted to New Media, but in a less ecclesiastical sort of way. Maybe in a more ontological sort of way? Or is that actually the same territory?

Yay. My download is at 73% and it's only 10:30. I might make it into bed sometime tonight.

Monday, April 28, 2008

New Media ... It's Not Just a Genre Anymore

It's been a rough couple of weeks, here, as you'll know if you're one of the 2.3 regular readers of this blog.

It began with a dead monitor and some unceremonious lack of cooperation by my "old" CPU, just before my new computer was scheduled to arrive. Or so I thought. The dead monitor turned out to be a dead power source, and $25 and a couple of days later, I have a new one and the old monitor is happy and working just fine.

The uncooperative CPU, which I thought might be a fried motherboard, was in fact a bad drive. Good news: the failed drive was an external hard drive I have been using to store video and new projects--remove the drive and all is well. Bad news: the failed drive is the external hard drive I have been using to store video and new projects--there's a sh**load of stuff on there that I absolutely cannot lose or I will go postal. The drive was nowhere near full and purchased much more recently than my old, full exterrnal drive (which connects up without a fuss and works just fine, as long as you don't plan on trying to squeeze more stuff onto it ... and yes, I had managed to fill up one 250 GB external drive and was working on a second one.)

Then there's the new computer. My first bit of, er, excitement is actually how I discovered that a failed drive was causing my old CPU's problems; I hooked it up to my new computer and got the same result. But of course I didn't put two and two together until I fired up the old CPU, now sans problem drive, and it came up just fine. I only had to suffer the negative excitement of thinking my NEW box had a fried motherboard as well for about 10 minutes, so this was not as bad as it could have been.

I shall spare you the intimate details of my fourth through eighth bits of excitement, all having to do with my new compupter and its accompanying accourtrements. Suffice to say (with names changed to protect the innocent) that they include:

4. a DULL computer manufacturer that actually shipped my new computer preinstalled with bloatware that actively conflicted with the operating system, also preinstalled in the factory.

5. the same DULL manufacturer shipping the computer loaded with an incorrect driver for the graphics card they installed

6. a third-party file transfer software recommended by both the computer manufacturer and the maker of the operating system that took 22 hours to migrate the contents of one computer to the other, and proceeded to overwrite CPU and OS settings on the receipient machine, even though its documentation swore it would not do this

7. the same third-party file transfer software boasting "most applications will work fine!" but then noting in very small print "*except (fill in name of company responsible for 2/3 of my actively-used software)"

8. the inability of the exciting new operating system (a product we'll call Trapdoor Panorama, by a company we'll call MacroSquish) to maintain connection to our LAN, to the Internet, or to its own DVD drives for more than a few minutes at a time.

So, with all these challenges, mostly still not resolved, I have come to one conclusion:

"New Media" is testing me.

I say it in that particular way, giving it a sort of Godlike animation, because that's what it seems to be. It had a certain appeal, but I initially thought it was not for me. It continued to call to me--I resisted, but then responded, and then abandonned myself to it entirely. And now, it's testing my faith, challenging me to see how badly I really want to do this. I'm the modern-day net.art equivalent of Job. New Media isn't just a genre, it's a theological construct.

How strong is my commitment? Let's just say the one thing I'm grateful for over the last week is that I finally got enough time "in-world" to repair my hair and improve my shoes. My next task will be looking for land for a nice little studio and art-park ...

Monday, April 21, 2008

TGI Monday

Well, thank Goddess it's MONDAY. I'll bet you haven't heard that in awhile, if ever. It's just that I had one of those weekends that makes my 9-to-5 job seem simple and easy-to-manage.

First, we'll talk about my adventures in technology. My new computer arrived Saturday afternoon. The good news: I'm sure you'll all be relieved to know that I've been able to repair my Second Life avatar's hair and have even gone so far as to improve her shoes. Dealing with the Perpetual Mystery that is the Vista operating system has not been too torturous, although it also hasn't been anything I would call "fun." And my cats like the new computer very much, the CPU is nice and high and wide and just right for putting chilly little paws, behinds, and bellies on.

But the bad news--and further proof that machines are already more intelligent than we think--is the fact that my old computer committed hari kiri Saturday morning, well before I was done with it.

The CPU went first. I turned it on early Saturday to complete the software upgrades and file organization I had planned to make everything easier to move to the new system, and ... uh oh. It won't move past its BIOS scan. The black screen with its big green corporate logo just sat there and mocked me, silent, unmoving. Damn.

So I powered down and got a cup of coffee and went back to try again (the conventional geek wisdom being, if at first you don't succeed, turn the damn thing off and reboot).

This time, I could tell by the sound of the CPU that it wasn't making it past the BIOS scan. Good thing, too, because I couldn't see anything. The monitor was black. Everything was black. And everything was cold except the 12v power source, which felt just short of meltdown, which it was. I must admit that this is not the first 12v power cable this monitor has destroyed, but I found the timing, er, interesting.

I spent a significant portion of my Sunday dragging around to places that were unlikely to have this particular power source, which for some reason features a hard-to-find four-pin connector. I was variously treated to interacting with sexist goats who were sure that a 40-something female couldn't possibly have any idea what she actually needed; with sympathetic-but-unable-to-help salespeople who had less than a modicum of real knowledge about any aspect of computers aside from having a MySpace page; and at least one complete moron who never got past believing somehow that I was trying to hook up a television set--this despite my having the product in my hand, holding it out to him, and saying very clearly in a language that was clearly the first language for both of us, "I NEED ANOTHER ONE OF THESE, ONE JUST LIKE THIS ONE, SEE?" Said moron then pretended to "look it up" on the company's inventory and announced that potential replacements would "start" at $80. Interesting, since the last one of these I bought cost $25, delivered, so he might also have been a crook; however, without further evidence, I'm placing all my money on the "moron" option.

In the end, I was unable to come up with a solution for any part of the downfall of my old CPU in the brief period of time I had to focus on it. We'll order another power source online, just like we did last time this happened. I have a friend who has proposed an interesting solution for the CPU issue (which could be a fried motherboard, and yeah, I really want to have the motherboard replaced on a computer I was just about to stop using altogether), so all this will be solved soon. But not as soon as I would ideally have liked. Harumph.

The other part of my weekend that made things less than fabulous kind of took me by surprise. I received the expected "thanks but no thanks" letter in response to my application for a position at Berkeley City College. I can't say I didn't expect this particular bit of rejection; the position was full-time tenure track and I have no teaching track record. My exhibition record is good, but not astonishing--I'm definitely an "emerging" artist, as much as I hate that term. So I figured I would not even get the chance to interview for this position, and I was right.

But for some reason, expecting rejection didn't make it any easier to take. I was really, really disappointed and depressed that I hadn't gotten at least an interview.

It's not because I need a job. I have a job, and even though it's not an art teaching job, it still has elements of art in it. It's really flexible and I work with great people. And it pays about $11,000 more per year than the full-time, tenure track position at BCC paid (and that's another blog entry right there).

But it sounded like a great position, teaching things that are right up my alley, and I KNOW I'm a great teacher. I had a brief stint of teaching when I was working on Master's Degree #1 back in the 1980s, and students loved me--not because I was an easy grader (because I definitely WASN'T), but because I was a good teacher and they actually learned things in my class. I also had a history of calling out troublemakers and the kinds of students who take up class time trying to show off or be cute or otherwise just draw attention to themselves, and my serious students really appreciated that. I had students who came back after the end of the quarter and thanked me, who told me they'd told their roommates and friends to make sure and get the section of the class that I was teaching. And I have to tell you, this meant more to me than any compliment I've ever had in my entire life, before or since that time. It was incredibly rewarding.

Unfortunately, there is nothing in my official paperwork that can convey this to Berkeley City College ... or any other potential academic employer, for that matter. I was teaching as a GSI, and it was 20 years ago. Hiring entities don't care that, while working on my MFA far more recently, my fellow students frequently came to me with their questions and discussion points instead of the instructors. There's no way to document that in some classes I was as much the instructor as the instructor was, and not because I took on the role myself, but because my fellow students recognized something in me that was clear and grounded and approachable. Someone is going to have to take a chance on me, on something not unlike blind faith. It is unlikely that chance will be a full-time, tenure-track position.

So I don't begrudge Berkeley City College the decision they made; from a pure business standpoint it makes sense, although I personally know they blew it and missed out on someone really terrific who had all the bells and whistles they were looking for and who would have done them beyond proud.

Somehow, though, that doesn't make it less disappointing.

Ah well. I'm trying to view it as an opportunity, as the "right thing" happening. I have a lot of art projects ongoing right now, and if I'd gotten that position, I'd have lost lots of art-making time to curriculum-preparation time. I'd be making a lot less money and would be trying to figure out how to make ends meet. Things would be very, very stressful and difficult and hard.

And yet. And yet ...

TGI Monday. See what I mean?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Going (for) Broke in New Media

... and kids, I mean BROKE. As in, "where did the money go?"

It's my own fault. I never get interested in anything cheap that you can do with, say, a pencil and a napkin. My noble experiment in drawing failed not because I cannot draw (and let me be the first to say I cannot draw, when it comes to drawing I really put the "not" in cannot), but because I couldn't make myself be interested enough in doing it to reel off even one attempted alleged drawing per month.

Now some of you might argue that my lack of ability, whether real or perceived, was the actual reason I couldn't get interested in drawing. But ah-hah, you would play innocently right into my hands with that argument. Because the reason New Media is currently costing me lots of money is exactly that: I discovered I wanted to do things that I didn't have the abilities to accomplish.

So of course I did what any respectable uber-geek academic-under-the-hood intellectual smartass would do: I decided to teach myself. Don't get alarmed, it's a geek thing, we spend all our lives laboring under the illusion that given enough time and enough code borrowed from someone else, we'll figure it out. It's not false confidence; we come at things this way because it generally works for us. Plus, we tend to have little patience with exercises that don't mean anything to us: let it be said here that I have never asked my computer in any form or fashion to say "Hello, World!" (Er, sorry, that's a bit of an in-joke, all the geeks just laughed and all the rest of you are now staring blankly at your monitors.)

What I discovered, unfortunately, was a fairly dramatic external barrier to my success. Namely, my computer is almost five years old, and was purchased back when the most processing-intensive thing I did on a regular basis was run a Microsoft operating system (oh dear, all the geeks just laughed again, sorry, sorry ... I'll get to something for the rest of you in just a bit, I promise.)

But now I'm doing a lot of video editing. I'm spending a lot of time on Second Life. And I'm trying to drag a lot of my "public art"-type projects into dual existence in both the real and virtual realms.

I knew I was in trouble when the installer for the last update of Second Life informed me that my system specs suggested I would soon have issues with my graphics support. No kidding. I found myself basically inhabiting Second Life alone. Buildings flickered and dissolved and changed textures disconcertingly. In a breathtaking "art-imitating-art" moment, I began to have trouble with the script that runs my hair (oh, more geek laughter ... at least some of you non-geeks who happen to enjoy the occasional foray into cyber-punk literature will have gotten that one also, unless it's been a darned long time since you read Snow Crash).

I further knew I was in trouble when, in preparation for a course I'm taking in Berkeley's Summer Sessions this year, I tried to download a particular 3-D modeling program ... and the installer wouldn't even let me download it.

This is all a very long, roundabout way of telling you that I've bought myself a new computer. Dell 630 computer, vroom-vroom!
It's quite a computer, too, with enough under the hood that I think it will probably go "BLUMBLUMBLUMBLUM ... VROOM, VROOM!" when I boot it up for the first time. It will be the most powerful thing I've ever had under my desk, although I once had something almost as powerful in the back seat of a Camaro, ha-ha (now all the rest of you are laughing, and a good many of the geeks may feel puzzled and left-out).

Was it expensive? Well, yes it was, stupidly so. But thanks to tips and reminders from my sneaky (that's "sneaky" in a good way) friend Seth, I wound up paying significantly less for it than the posted price, although one could argue that anybody who pays the list price these days is either not trying hard enough or simply has too much money anyway.

I'm still kind of in "I got a new computer" high, although "o god I have to move my stuff and all those applications" horror is beginning to set in. But I'm going to enjoy myself a little while longer. I feel sorry for those poor hamsters I can hear laboring in their wheels in my current set-up. They'll no doubt be happy to be set free.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Kill the Messenger

This originally began as a post about the San Francisco Art Institute's decision to shut down Adel Abdessemed's exhibition "Don't Trust Me." However, the furor around this exhibition has created a kind of a perfect storm for me, as it touches on almost everything I find abhorrent: inhumane treatment of animals, censorship, knee-jerk alarmist reactions by those who don't appear to know (or don't want to know) anything beyond their own alarmist reaction, threats of violence against human beings, the notion that anyone should be permitted to force their viewpoint on a larger group through intimidation or violence, artistic "critique" of the impoverished, and blind stupidity/groupthink.

I find myself so spun around by this that I have trouble pinning down which of these things is most distressing to me. But perhaps worse is the way in which I found that I was nearly ready to censor myself, and the reasons thereto. I will address those issues in a future post, perhaps tomorrow. But for now, I want to focus on the controversy surrounding Abdessemed.

I want to start off by making it clear that I did not see this exhibition, nor do I know very much about this artist, although I am a little familiar with some of his other work. And although I spent the morning looking for it, I was not able to find a great deal of information directly from him about his intentions for or his process in creating this particular work. I suspect this may be intentional. What I do know is that the exhibit included video footage shot in Mexico of five individual animals being slaughtered, apparently by being hit in the head with a sledgehammer.

Some descriptions of the video called it “surreal” and suggested it left the viewer confused as to what had actually happened. Still others called it “visceral” or “disgusting” or “horrifying.” Clearly, it is, at the very least, profoundly affecting and disturbing.

What is not clear to me is whether the artist physically participated in the killing of the animals or orchestrated it in any way other than operating his video camera.

A press release from the San Francisco Art Institute quotes president Chris Bratton, saying Adbessemed “participated in an already-existing circuit of food production in a rural community in Mexico. The animals were raised for food, purchased, and professionally slaughtered. In fact, what causes the controversy is that Abdessemed, an artist, entered this exchange, filmed it, and exhibited it.”

I am a bit disturbed by not knowing what is meant by "participated in …" or "entered this exchange …" but I take this statement overall to suggest that the killing of these animals in this particular way was going to happen whether there was a video camera present or not. As a horse-lover, I have made it my business to learn a little bit about how the large livestock slaughterhouses work in Mexico, where most of this country’s cast-off equines wind up. Let me tell you, their primary objective is not the humane dispatch of the animal, it is getting as many of them through the kill box and onto the meat floor in as short a period of time as possible. This sometimes involves use (sometimes expert, sometimes not) of a captive bolt, but also sometimes involves use of a large knife to stab the horse multiple times in the back in order to damage the spinal cord enough to render the horse paralyzed. At this point its throat is cut and the animal is hung up by its hind legs to facilitate “bleeding out.” This is not a peaceful death, nor a death free of trauma or pain.

There is video of this process available on the Internet; all one has to do is Google “horse slaughter” and “video”. And yet, there is no mass letter-writing campaign to the SHARK web site to remove its slaughterhouse videos immediately, no movement of radical animal rights activists calling for the vet who filmed the work to be killed to secure “revenge” for the animals. No one is phoning or emailing the slaughter houses threatening to rape the workers’ children or blow up their homes.

Yet this is what occurred when word about Abdessemed’s piece got around. Why? What was the difference in this case that made “kill the messenger”—sometimes literally—an almost universal response, among both “radical animal rights activists” and groups of “deeply offended” soccer moms, most of whom had not seen and were unlikely ever to see the exhibition?

The only difference I can find, given the informaton that I have (aside from art being an easy and frequent target; like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart and obscenity, most people can’t define art but believe they know it when they see it)—is that of the context of a clear intent. The slaughter videos on the SHARK (SHow Animals Respect and Kindness) web site have a very clear context, there is no ambiguity in what they hope to achieve by making these videos available. Although the videos are what they are, they are presented in a framework that clearly articulates SHARK’s point of view.

In an art gallery, the viewer is oftentimes invited—or abandonned—to calculate his or her own point of view, without clues as to what the artist “wants” them to think. Adbessemed’s intent for—indeed, even his level of participation in—the “kill” videos remains ambiguous. And as we are often afraid of what lurks in our own heads, human beings are generally not comfortable with ambiguity.

Am I defending the work? I’m not sure. As I said, I didn’t see it before the Art Institute pulled the exhibition, and I don’t have much information to go on that hasn’t already been filtered through multiple layers of hysteria. If Abdessemed orchestrated the killing of these animals in any way differently than the fate they would have met had he not been there, then I definitely have a problem with it. If he was videotaping something that simply was the norm in that community, even as much as I might disapprove of the act itself, there is nothing in videotaping it that I can find to criticise, nor with including it as a piece in an exhibition.

When we get right down to it, however, it is not the artist nor the work that upsets me. It’s not that the Art Institute caved in the face of what it called “credible threats of violence” (although we all know that some circles might read that as “credible threats of negative publicity among potential donors.”).

Instead, there are two things: one is the fact that some people believe they have the right to impose their will on others through intimidation and threats of violence. I find this idea completely appalling, whether we are talking about a 6th grade schoolyard bully or a religion or a government. I also think it particularly offensive that groups that insist humans have no dominion over animals can so easily make the leap to taking on for themselves dominion over other people who hold opinions (or in this case, are assumed to hold opinions, or are even related to the expression of assumed opinions) that differ from their own. This is supposed to be America-Land-of-the-Sort-Of-Free, not a fascist state. And the last time I read through some of the message boards on the "kill video" issue, the comments there certainly did not support any notion that the posters were somehow operating from a position of superior intellect, insight, or moral character.

The second thing: if this video footage is, as the President of the Art Institute has suggested, a representation of the way things are in “a rural community in Mexico,” is this not just again another instance of a resident of a priviledged nation (Abdessemed is Algerian-born, but lives and works in the U.S.) pointing up a fictive “otherness” among those who ultimately are not less human but instead merely less priviledged? Perhaps again we meet with ambiguity for a reason, perversely unsettling, but unsettling with a purpose that we ourselves must determine from within.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Spring, Sprang, Sprung ...


I'm glad that spring is officially here. However, my Vernal Equinox did not go as I had planned. I envisioned getting my web site completed, doing a brief blessing ceremony for it within the context of a more formal Equinox ritual, launching it with the pride of a gardener planting the first seeds of the season (notice appropriate metaphor), and going to bed happy and fulfilled and getting a good night's sleep. Instead, I was extremely tired when I got home, I dramatically underestimated the amount of work that remained to be done on the site, I goofed around watching TV and playing with cats, and then I decided to be a good wife and make dinner for myself and hubby instead of resorting to frozen pizza. Which, of course, took significantly longer than the insanely optimistic 30 minutes quoted by the recipe. Which I knew, having made this dish before, but of course which I just ignored because ... well, why? I can't really say why. That's just the way the evening played out.

In the end, I started working on the final "details" of the site around 11 pm with not the hint or shred of any kind of ritual blessing in sight, and managed to load it at around 2 am. And it's still not done. Someone looking at it who didn't have any idea of how much work I actually put into it would think "gee, there's sure a lot of stuff that's not done here." Gah.

So you might think my Spring Equinox was a disaster. But I would argue with you that's not the case at all.

It didn't fit my plan. But it fit my life. I didn't plant any little vegetable seeds, like I had thought of. But I planted all kinds of other seeds;really everything I did last night was a tiny blessed seed.

I did a lot of work on the site, and incomplete or not, I got it up. There are still plenty of bugs: occasionally someone else's video shows up in my installation viewer, for example, and there is a lot of writing to get done. But it's up. A LOT has been done. And it's so much more than I had before, and it has a LOT of my work on it. With this web site, I'm really putting myself out there. Maybe I'm sliding in a little sideways, but I'm getting there. It's a little seed of my professional artist life.

Making dinner was actually a seed as well. There is something really affirming about cooking, about chopping fresh ingredients and sorting out seasoning. It's both literal nourishment and figurative nourishment. It's feeding my body, feeding my soul, and feeding my relationship with my husband. Making dinner from scratch means there's extra care going in there. It's a little seed of my personal life.

And everything I did last night, even watching TV and playing with cats, I did in a spirit of gratitude. I enjoyed myself. And I tried not to stress. And I understood I was getting in my own way of my "plans," but I also understood that they were just "plans" ... and plans change.

All in all, it was a very nice vernal equinox. And now it's the first day of Spring, and I'm ready to nurture those seeds and make sure good things happen.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Time for a Do Over!

I found out recently that a collaborative project I'm part of didn't land the show slot we'd applied for with a local gallery. I have to admit that I wasn't all that disappointed; although the space was nice, it wasn't exactly a locale known for hosting cutting-edge work. And the more I've been thinking about my part of the project, the more interested I've become in taking everything to the next level. So this alleged "setback" really comes as more of an opportunity I'm ready to take.

Basically, it's a big old "do over!" That seems to be the theme of my life at the moment, to the point where it's almost an art project itself and I'm wondering if some grantmaking agency would give me money just to live through it.

A few of the things I'm doing over:

1. My late mother's co-op, so it can become someone else's co-op. Actually, a very talented stager friend of mine is doing it over. But it's going to look great and be very appealing to Baby Boom buyers who want a reasonably-priced little retreat in a gated "55-and-over" community just up the hill from said community's golf course. (Said community also has three pools, two clubhouses, tennis courts, bocci ball and lawn bowling, fully-equipped fitness facilities, cafes, its own bus line, and a farmer's market every weekend. And that's in addition to the 200+ social clubs for everything from line dancing to travel abroad.)

OK, so that felt a little bit like a pitch; it was, what can I say? But if you're interested, have a look. This is the place in its lovely, prettily-staged condition.

2. My web site. This is big for me, I've put a lot of time into it and I hope it will pay off. It involves all kinds of techie improvements—image galleries and dedicated video viewers and an eventual file uploader and all sorts of stuff. I'm setting Thursday, March 20 as the official "go-live" date, and I hope you'll visit and let me know what you think. (Yes, that's the first full day of Spring. I did that on purpose.)

3. My artistic repetoire. I'm thinking more and more about 'net.art, what it is and what it means ... I'm thinking about how to integrate that "other world" with everything I work on, and how to use it to its highest potential.

4. My toolset. Good god, people are actually looking at my videos on YouTube. Why? And one of them seems to be going viral, a little bit ... goodness. I only put them up there as an adjunct to my web site. I never imagined anybody would be interested. (Although now I'm a little bit worried that it's going a little bit viral because people are making fun of it ...)

5. My optimism. I've feel sort of under a cloud for awhile now. Things are starting to feel better; I'm pretty sure that bit of light over there is the sun rather than an oncoming tractor-trailer rig aiming right for me.

6. My finances. Once my mom's place sells, things will improve dramatically.

7. My commitment to art. But hey, you've been reading about that (if you're one of the 2.3 regular readers of this blog) for the last week or so anyway.

What do YOU want to "do over"? Hm, that sounds like an art project ... !

PS: Happy St. Patrick's Day. But don't kiss me, I'm SCOTTISH!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

pulling it all together

I seem to be highly motivated these days, and since coming back from the College Art Association conference I have been immersed in a flurry of art- and art academia-oriented activities. I'm beginning a couple of new projects and reinvigorating an existing one. I'm redeveloping my web site (and seeing as this is what I currently do all day for money, it's extremely challenging to make myself continue to do it once my work day has ended). I'm writing a paper proposal for the 2009 CAA conference, and sending out my work to a whole new series of publications and juried exhibitions. I'm reviewing art teaching opportunities on a weekly basis—and trying hard not to get completely freaked out by how little they pay. But I even have plans set in motion that would enable me to live on an art academic's salary without working a second job or freelancing, and am even ready to work both my full-time job and add a couple of part time teaching jobs on top of it if those plans don't pan out.

I am, in short, determined to reclaim art—not just in my life, but as my life.

What set all this off?

Well, I could be romantic and say I was inspired by Yoko Ono. And really, I was inspired by her, she's incredible, but I think that answer would give her too much credit and myself too little.

I once told a favorite professor that he reminded me of who I really am. I don't think he understood what I meant by it, as the comment seemed to make him nervous (but then everything I said to that particular professor seemed to make him nervous, I couldn't wish him a good evening without getting the "deer-in-the-headlights" face). Anyway, my point is that the CAA conference has had the same effect. Just having four days of basically thinking, talking and hearing about nothing but art reminded me who I really am. I'm an artist. And an academic. And an intellectual. All these things come to me as naturally as breathing. But it's easy to lose them in the shuffle of doing what one has to do to survive.

I'll let you know when the new web site is ready, and I hope all 2.3 of the regular readers of this blog sign up for at least one of my new projects!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Everything Old is New (Genres) Again ...

Ask five people about "New Genres," and you'll get ... five different blank stares.

Oh. Wait.

OK, now ask five artists about "new genres," and there's no telling what you'll get. If you ask Google, you'll get 6.6 million responses, one of which is a "working paper" by a researcher at the National Bureau of Economic Research, and one of which is a very fine 13-year-old book about public art by Suzanne Lacy. But nowadays (and from a perspective perhaps different than that of the National Bureau of Economic Research), "new genres" seems to be used to mean "conceptual" or "many-media" or "interactive public art" or "Photoshop, Flash, Lightroom and Dreamweaver" or, sadly, "this is what we call all the stuff that's not painting and sculpture."

The San Francisco Art Institute has an entire New Genres Department, yet manages on their web site to be vague about what genres it thinks might actually be new. One eventually gets the impression that it's all about hybridity, mulitple modes of expression, and conceptual ideas ... although SFAI has a nice shiny new Center for Interdisciplinary Study that is supposed to be all about that (to which, SFAI's web site notes, the New Genres Department "contributes and builds bridges". Hmm.)

UCLA, in grappling for its definition of New Genres, mentions installation, video, film, audio, performance, digital, hybrid and emerging art forms, and suggests "New Genres is a practice which begins with ideas and then move to the appropriate form or media for that particular idea, sometimes inventing entirely new sites of cultural production, new methodologies, technologies, or genres in the process."

So "New Genres" is starting with an idea and picking the most appropriate mode of expression for that idea ... er, silly me, I thought that was the basis of almost all Contemporary Art and postmodern expression. But I see too that New Genres might also be defined as anything containing something new, although that idea is qualified by the expression "sometimes," and so means you could be looking at New Genre work and not actually see anything new, and in fact, you might actually be looking at a new genre that is not itself New Genres, but could be contained within New Genres! Hey!

Sure, that makes sense ... NOT.

All this comes up because I've been perusing job postings, and several of them want someone to teach "New Genres." They are very emphatic about this fact, they are "especially" interested in having someone teach "New Genres." And while I have an idea what I mean when I use the term, I have no idea what they might mean by it, and these job postings frequently offer no further clues. This comes most likely not from ignorance or an interest in being difficult, but instead from the very well-known tendency of academic institutions (especially large ones, like the one that currently employs me) to talk to themselves in their own secret code, and to expect everyone around them to understand.

I wouldn't mind this so much, but in an academic job search, every little advantage is crucial. Not being able to pin down quite what they want makes it very difficult to craft one's cover letter to show off one's most relevant skills, if you see what I mean. In addition, although I possess the insane bravado necessary to feel certain I can teach "it" no matter what "it" is, my enthusiasm definitely wanes somewhat if we are talking about teaching college sophomores "Photoshop 1" or "Web Design Basics", as opposed to, say, teaching college sophomores "Introduction to Net.Art" or "Artist as Activist" or "Exploring Site-Specific Installation."

New Genres as an art term was coined quite some time ago; I've even seen it used in reference to late 16th and early 17th century Italian painting. I think it's safe to say that every genre was a "New Genre" at one time or another, and the category is not fixed but fluid. A number of "genres" that I first encountered massed under a "New Genres" heading have grown and expanded and are now their own genres, but may often still be found categorized as "New Genres" (video and public art come to mind). And the next "New Genres" remain hidden, lurking just below the horizon of public consciousness, waiting to be identified, to further conflict and confuse us all.

Monday, March 03, 2008

What the Hell is New Media Now?

I just got back from the College Art Association Conference in Dallas, as I think you may have figured out if you're one of the 2.3 actual readers of this blog, and I spent a lot of time there attending sessions on New Media. This is in part because I am a member of the New Media Caucus, and also because I have it in my head that I am keenly interested in New Media. But in truth there was another more nefarious reason lurking in the background, driving my participation. Namely ...

... I was hoping to figure out what New Media actually is. Er, or are. Whatever.

I recall a time when "New Media" generally seemed to mean video, which has not exactly been "new" since about 1967. Then for awhile it seemed to include anything that was a hybrid of other forms; that definition seems to have been co-opted for now by "New Genres." For another little while, it seemed it was anything having to do with site-specific or time-based art ... which nowadays seems to mostly be called "site-specific" or "time-based," or which sometimes gets called "New Genres" too. Duh.

Wikipedia helpfully defines New Media Art as "an art genre that encompasses artworks created with new media technologies, including computer graphics, computer animation, the Internet, interactive technologies, robotics, and biotechnologies." Which sounds solid, but then unfortunately it continues, "The term differentiates itself by its resulting cultural objects, which can be seen in opposition to those deriving from old media arts (i.e. traditional painting, sculpture, etc.) This concern with medium is a key feature of much contemporary art and indeed many art schools now offer a major in "New Genres" or "New Media." New Media concerns are often derived from the telecommunications, mass media and digital modes of delivery the artworks involve, with practices ranging from conceptual to virtual art, performance to installation."

So is the label "New Media" entirely dependent upon the framework of the delivery of the artwork? May it or may it not include media that are not at all "new"? And does "New Media" really produce "cultural objects that are in opposition to those deriving from painting, sculpture, etc."?

In my own way of thinking, all artwork is in some way deriving from that which has gone before. Joseph Beuys labeled his community artwork "social sculpture," and early computer graphics work got called "digital painting." The concerns are still very similar in terms of whether or not a piece "works", the aesthetic concerns are also there. In Dallas, I heard alarms being sounded about archive-ability and stable documentation of New Media art, and speculation about where New Media art lands us on the trajectory.

While I was busy trying to pin down "New Media," the super-wonderful people at Rhizome.org expanded their definition of it. For their 2009 call for proposals, they note: "Rhizome has expanded our scope, formerly focused strictly on Internet-based art to encompass the broad range of practices that fall under new media art. This includes projects that creatively engage new and networked technologies to works that reflect on the impact of these tools and media in a variety of forms. With this expanded format, commissioned works can take the final form of online works, performance, video, installation or sound art. Projects can be made for the context of the gallery, the public, the web or networked devices."

Well alrighty then. If even Rhizome.org is having to shift around to get it right, I think it's safe to say "New Media" is nothing if not a moving target. Which it should be; it wouldn't be very new if it didn't change now and again, would it?

Next post, maybe I'll take on "New Genres."

Monday, February 25, 2008

Yoko Loves Me

Now back in Berkeley, fully caffeinated with an appropriate number of cats "assisting" me, I want to step back a couple of days and revisit Friday, Day 3 of the College Art Association in Dallas. In particular, I want to try to describe the experience of seeing Yoko Ono.

I'll start by saying I've always loved Ono's artwork. The sense of outreach, of inclusion, was a huge hook for me; her works always make you, the viewer, not just an audience but a co-creator—sometimes in a sly way, sometimes more overtly. This is, of course, a core principle of the movement that came to be called Fluxus, of which Ono was a central figure along with John Cage, Joseph Beuys, Allen Kaprow, and many others. But rather that mosey off on an art history tangent, I want to take a more personally meaningful one. On Friday afternoon, I got to be in the same room with Yoko Ono, and it was nothing short of a spiritual experience for me.

I was about two-thirds of the way back in an enormous ballroom that was packed to standing room by those of us who had come to hear her. She graciously came to Dallas to accept an award from CAA for her "Lifetime Body of Work," and to participate in a traditional post-award interview, but the atmosphere was more like that of a rock concert. When she came out onto the stage, I was struck by how tiny she is--an incredibly petite figure in black pants, black hat, dark glasses and a bright red jacket. The only camera I had with me was my pathetic cell phone camera, yet I got this picture of her, which I think is incredibly representative: she's a very small woman with an almost impossibly large spirit.

I can't adequately describe this experience; after writing and re-writing this blog entry many times, it seemed too journalistic (well, I was a journalist for 10 years, so don't hate me for that, it's kind of second nature at this point), but worse, it sounds trite. This was anything except a trite experience, and all I can do is say that.

Her capacity to give profound answers to mundane questions was astonishing. She discussed her early years as an artist, and the "naming" of Fluxus. The interviewer noted, "You were a very young artist at that time, weren't you?" and Yoko turned thoughtful for a moment, then replied "I know I am 75 years old, because you all keep telling me I am. But I have no sense of being 75, I only have a sense of being me. It is the same sense of being me that I have always had. So if you were to tell me I was a very young artist then, I would be surprised!"

Her conversation, comments and work shared with us that afternoon struck me like pure love with an optimism so strong that it was irresistable. She brought gifts for us all, to include us in two of her ongoing projects. The first, "Onochord," asks us all to participate in "covering the world with love" in order to save it. We all got a tiny penlight and a postcard with the Onochord poem and sequence to use to make our lights say "I love you," over and over again, as often as we can, to everyone we can, from everywhere we can. She showed a brief video of the project being introduced in large arenas all over the world, to a soundtrack of "Give Peace a Chance." Within a few seconds, the whole conference audience was flashing their penlights at Yoko and each other, whispering with delight; Yoko had her own penlight and flashed back at us. I held mine as high as I could and sent her a heart-felt "I Love You," and in return I felt her light hit my face and flash back the same message.

She talks about her family and friends with great affection, talks about John Lennon with enormous love in her voice as if she just left him in the other room. She is energetic and bright and profound without any thought to it at all. She is modest and playful and funny and so optimistic ...

Which brings me to our other gift, the second art project. The other gift is a shard of a shattered enormous Japanese vase. She brought the pieces out in a large box and tumbled them out onto the edge of the stage, and invited everyone to come up and take one. "In ten years," she said, "we'll all get together again and we'll reassemble the vase."

Ten years, meet Yoko. I have it on my calendar, I'll be there. And I have every faith that Yoko will be there too, one way or another.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Coming Soon: Love in New Media, Clandestine Affairs, and I {{Heart}} Yoko ...

I'm finishing up a hectic and full fourth day at the College Art Association Conference today, taking a break between extraordinarily good sessions to utilize the hotel's pathetic Wi-Fi to let everyone know what's coming up ...

1. Reflections on the state of new media ... hell, on the definition of new media.

2. Veiled and mysterious reports on notable Clandestine Affairs that have been shared with me. I could tell you more, but Mel Chin would have to kill you.

3. Yoko! Ono! We were in the same room. I am still affected ...

All this written wisdom and pictures too when I find myself back in Berkeley, the land of good coffee, comfy chairs, and high-speed internet connections.

So, 'til then!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Day 2 in Dallas: More Pieces of the Puzzle

Today has been a very interesting day; I've learned a lot. First the mundane things:

1. Apparently, almost everyone has either lived in, knows someone who lived in, or wants to live in Berkeley.

2. Dallas does not adhere to the same coffee standards as Northern California.

Now. On to the more esoteric lessons.

The day started off with an interesting conference session entitled "Photography After Photography," in which exactly two of the seven panelists identified themselves as photographers. This I can easily forgive the art historian on the panel, as art-making is not really supposed to be the baileywick of historians, and she certainly knew volumes about the history of photography. But I wondered what exactly was being said by the composition of this panel. Is "Photography After Photography" doomed to be nothing more than documentation?

Some of the panelists made the argument that the real "photography after photography" is collaboration. But even so, it appeared to be a sort of "after the point" kind of collaboration with photography playing a subservient role to performance or social practice or some other mode of artistic endeavor. This worried me a little bit. I work in a variety of media, but I AM a photographer (and not a digital one, either); I don't want to believe that my most-loved medium is unimportant, subservient, or doomed.

This is not to say I didn't enjoy the session; I certainly did enjoy it. And I got ideas from it about ways I'd like to work (which means I'm nicking one panelist's process, but I'm sure she won't mind) and arenas I'd like to explore. All of the presentations were uncommonly engaging, and even those panelists who simply stood up and read their presentations did so with a certain amount of vocal animation. So "Photography After Photography," once blended with an appropriate amount of espresso and a tasty breakfast pastry, turned out to be a good way to begin my day.

For the afternoon, I headed up to the 37th floor for my 20-minute meeting with my assigned "mentor" to discuss my potential as an art educator.

My "mentor" turned out to have no photographic, video, social practice, or net-art background; he was formerly the chair of the sculpture department at a large East Coast university. He was, however, an extraordinarily nice man and we discovered a shared appreciation of Sophie Calle that ate up at least six of our allotted 20 minutes. And I learned several key things from talking to him.

He confirmed my concern that my lack of classroom time would be seen as problematic in seeking out full-time postions, especially those that are tenure-track. But he also thought my past non-art experience in writing, editing, and web development made me a rather more valuable commodity than the average person, which I had not expected.

"Artists need to know how to write," he said simply. "In the past, they didn't generally understand this, or thought it didn't matter. But now, they do." So my writing ability gives me a leg up both as an artist and as a future art academic; cool, all my years as a professional writer and my journalism degree are not going to waste after all.

He encouraged me to find a way to combine my "working life" resume with my exhibition record so potential employers get a fuller picture of who I am and what I can do for them. And he suggested that I just go right ahead and tell some potential future employers what I can do for them. "Propose a class," he said. "Find a hole in an academic program, and approach them with a solution. You might turn out to be the answer to a prayer, or at least be remembered positively when an opportunity opens up."

And last but not least, he emphasized that in an academic interview, personality counts much more than it might in the "other" world. "If you're applying for a tenure-track position, the interviewing committee could find themselves working with you for 20 years," he said. "Are they going to want to be around you for 20 years? Or are you going to be perceived as a pain in the ass?"

Well, good. That part I think I already have in the bag; people tend to like me and I am generally perceived (and indeed AM) easy to get along with, flexible, pleasant, and with a good sense of humor. And I know I have a lot to offer. Now, if I can just get myself in the door...

And as if by magic, I have an almost immediate opportunity to test these ideas and concepts; there is an opening at a local community college that I plan to apply for. Predictably the pay is rather less than I'm making now, and we're only just getting by as it is, but it's a great chance to see if I can present myself as the highly-desirable commodity my mentor believes me to be, and it's also a chance to edge open the door to those course proposals that could give me the classroom time to make other organizations interested in bringing me on-board.

Tomorrow there are more compelling sessions to attend, plus the interviews with Yoko Ono and Adel Abindin. Not to short-shrift Abindin, but Yoko! Ono! ... And I'm awash with ideas for my artistic practice; the art juices are flowing again. Being here has been good for me in many different ways.

There's a lot to look forward to, I think. A lot to look forward to.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

CAA Day One: The Next Big Piece of the Puzzle

This art life of mine, it's something of a puzzle. It reminds me of all those badly-behaved boyfriends I went through in my 20s; you know in your logical mind that life would be a lot simpler and a lot more straight-forward without them, but you miss them when they're not around, despite the complete and utter lack of any positive reinforcement for your patience and dedication. Art can be like that. It's problematic, it's tricky, it's not always reliable, it's sometimes reluctant to "give back." It sometimes makes me sigh and scratch my head and wonder why I'm bothering. But in the end, the answer is the same as it was for the badly-behaved boyfriends: I stick with it because I love it, because something in me needs it, needs it worse than I'll ever need anything else.

I'm at the College Art Association conference in Dallas right now, in a massive beige hotel that makes me wish I'd brought along my GPS and maybe a sherpa for good measure. I'm not here for the kind of big "social reunion" that these conferences can be; there don't seem to be any people here whom I know, and this is only my second time at the conference. And I'm not here just to soak up the sometimes-great, sometimes-brain-killing programming and presentations on the schedule (although I'm pretty excited about the interview with Yoko Ono happening this Friday).

I'm actually here for the next big piece of the puzzle, you see. I'm here to get ready to start looking for work. Not just any work; "art academic" kind of work.

Notice that I didn't say I was here to look for work; that's a different thing altogether. There definitely are a lot of people here with just that objective; I saw plenty of nervous faces and bodies clearly uncomfortable in suits and skirts and dress shoes milling around the Candidate Center (where actual job interviews take place) from the moment it opened this morning. I witnessed a friend of mine interviewing for jobs at a CAA conference a few years ago, and when I ran into him he was so stressed out he couldn't even manage to talk—and this was at 9 o'clock in the morning.

I'm not quite ready for that; hence, "getting ready" to look, rather than "looking."

I've landed lots of jobs in my life. I'm good at it. I know what my strengths are, I know how to write a cover letter and re-craft a resume to show my experience at best advantage for each job I apply for. I'm a good interview; presentable, personable, professional and prepared. I know how to do my homework, and I know how to follow up. So that much is not a mystery to me.

But the rules are different when it comes to academia. Exhibition records are important. Slides and CDs and printouts are important. And there are all kinds of arcane things for the job-seeker to consider: part-time, full-time, ladder rank, tenure-track, union or non-union, anticipated semester load, load relief, sabbatical, resources.

So I have a 20-minute appointment with an assigned "mentor" tomorrow. I don't know who this mentor is, but assumably he or she has been assigned to me because of some degree of overlap with work or philosophy or maybe it's all really just based on who's available. Who can tell? I have a list of questions to ask, and I have a plan in mind that I want advice on. I think there is probably a lot I need to do to enhance my appeal as an academic job candidate, and I think it will probably take me a year.

But maybe next year, you'll be reading a post about how I'm at the CAA conference to actually look for work. That's what I hope, anyway.