Monday, March 29, 2010

San-Studio, Closer to Home

Guest Blogger:
Arti Sandhu,
Assistant Professor at Columbia College Chicago, Art and Design Department, Fashion Design

As I write this piece on a warm sunny afternoon at my in-laws place in a small town in New Zealand, I can’t help but think how it seems rather strange to have traveled this far to try and write a blog post. And as expected all my previous ideas of how I was going to approach this post have since gone out the window…of a long haul flight. But in hindsight my attempt to cobble together this piece while I am at my husband’s (and now my) home, far from our current home and even further from my original home is typical of my relationship with a studio space and my work; that is being in between spaces and longing for an imaginary ideal space which I once had. I am still deeply nostalgic about it and in which I would like to be right NOW.
My choice to move from my home in India to live overseas was not a planned decision and came about through a number of happy accidents that led me from studying fashion design in the UK to teaching and settling in New Zealand then moving to Chicago. Through all the geographical displacement, my work, though evolving, always comes back and makes reference to an epicentric space situated somewhere in between my memory of India and its past. Together, they shape an idealized version of “home” that perhaps never existed and I’m sure I never even acknowledged in all the years I spent growing up there. 

The construction of a romanticized, ideal “home” space is a common symptom of being an immigrant and one often sees the collective construction of imaginary space within Diasporic communities where people share a common experience of home and migration. Appadurai (1990, cf. Rayaprol, 2001, p.174) suggests the creation of ‘imagined spaces’ within which immigrants dwell. This ‘imagined’ world relies heavily on memory and nostalgia to create a new cultural space. This nostalgia is both for the past (that was left behind) and the present (which they are missing currently); memories are a contested terrain as they tend to be ‘subjective constructions of reality rather than [an] objective fixed phenomenon’ (Gillis, 1994, cf. Rayaprol, 2001, p.165). The confluence of nostalgia and memory can lead to a cherishing of Indianness, which Russell refers to a ‘museumization of practices’, the roots of which go back to India that was (before leaving). The concept of belonging becomes a composite of being and longing (Russel, 2002, p.xiii) where home is a series of somewheres, a place of belonging, a utopian space, a plane journey between two cities or perhaps a landscape of a dream that is always there but difficult to reach (ibid, p.xiv). In this way, home is also elsewhere and not always ‘here’ whether it be the host country or back home. 

To begin with, the above notion of museumization of practices and places was not apparent to me. However I began to see my body of work evolve, from my Masters collection to my research on Indian fashion to my art making, I became highly aware of the way my desire to be back home in India was shaping my work, as was my lack of a fixed studio space. The former was also the case with my photographic practice where I would bypass the bright and shiny newness of modern India on my visits home by giving preference to the traces of the past that could still be found in certain street corners, in old parts of the cities, in small towns and local bazaars, on old signboards and in the peeling paint on old doors and windows. In 2005, I began working on what I called the ‘Alphabet series’ while I was visiting my family in India. The Alphabet series began as an exercise of making digital collages with photographs I had taken - to mimic an alphabet chart that could represent and perhaps even preserve for me the aspects of India I most cherished, as well as in danger of forgetting. Unlike the usual stereotype of exotic and ethnic India, I was (and still am) more interested in the mundane and its details like rickshaws, electricity cables, traffic, signposts etc. that I knew and recognized through my own experience of living in India that I could not take back with me. Subsequent to the Alphabet series, which was more sub-conscious in its reference to the aforementioned imagined space, my more recent explorations are deliberate in tapping into this concept of nostalgia and desire to be elsewhere. In Solan Paisley (2008) for example, I consider ways in which modern India with its large scale, unplanned urban development could be bypassed or viewed through rose tinted glasses - by taking images of stacked concrete constructions (photographed in small towns in the Himalayan foothills) and turning them into classic paisleys borrowed from Indian traditional textile motifs. Thus making them aesthetically more pleasing and in someway in line in with India’s past. 

In Mahila Moments (2009 – current) I finally begin to unravel my own personal journey of growing up in a rapidly modernizing India where Punjabi aunties in polyester suits and saris co-exist with designer handbags. Through the central character – an over weight, slightly morose Indian woman who features in this series of illustrations - I am able to explore aspects of past and present scenarios of being Indian and experiencing Indian modernity. 

Like most of my artwork and writing (which includes this blog post) these were all made “on the go”, cobbled together in ad-hoc, sans-studio spaces at my parent’s house in India, on my great grandfather’s monogrammed sofa, on an ironing table, while shifting apartments in Chicago, on airplanes etc. using materials that were close at hand and not always ideal for archival art making. Though outwardly limiting, this lack of a fixed physical [read geographical] space to make work has never bothered me as it is through the process of making (and in my research – through the process of writing) that I am able to maintain a sense of permanence and fully indulge my sense of longing for “home” that I know I will never be able to achieve elsewhere.

Growing up in an Army family meant Arti Sandhu covered a lot of ground in India from a young age. A love of drawing and customizing of her Barbie doll led her to study fashion at NIFT in Delhi (India) and later in the UK. Since then she has taught Fashion Design in New Zealand and the US with frequent lectures on Indian fashion across the globe. Her artworks, which explore identity and migration, have been exhibited in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the Netherlands and India. She currently holds a position of Assistant Professor in Fashion Design at the Columbia College in Chicago from where she continues to pursue research and creative practice around Indian fashion plus global and local identity.


Reference List:
Breckenridge, C. A., & Appadurai, A. (1995). Ch.1: Public Modernity in India. In C. A. Breckenridge (Ed.), Consuming Modernity :Public Culture in a South Asian World. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Rayaprol, A. (2001). 'Can You Talk Indian?' Shifting Notions of Community and Identity in the Indian Diaspora. In S. S. Jodhka (Ed.), Community and identities: contemporary discourses on culture and politics in India. New Delhi, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Russell, E. (Ed.). (2002). Caught Between Cultures: Women, Writing & Subjectivities. Amsterdam: Rodopi.

Image Captions and Credits - from top to bottom:
Sad Farewell, Dull Reception, Sandhu, 2009
Laundry Park, Sandhu, 2010

Pah Sey Pani (Water), Alphabet Series, 2005, Arti Sandhu
Solan Paisley, 2008, Arti Sandhu, (Collage and pen on paper)
Modern Living, Arti Sandhu (Pen, acrylic and color pencil on paper)

Monday, March 22, 2010


Guest Blogger:
Stan Chisholm

I don’t have a studio in Chicago. I used to. And when I did, It was awesome. But I can say that since not having a specified space designed solely for work anymore, I have become brave with my decisions and have been forced to spend focused and specific time on the projects I have chosen. 

I’m “nomadic.” It’s the most relevant description I‘ve ever been given and with the most precise timing. I took it to heart. A few months after this, Michael X Ryan saw proof to his words -nomadic- as I returned to Chicago after a summer break in the back of a rented cargo van filled with insulation foam, panel paintings, printed vinyl, paint and my crammed body. Grandma and Grandpa steered the vehicle and left me behind. 

The solo show I had arrived for that August was the first time I had dealt with shipping large works and myself for the sake of site specific installations. Since then I have been aware of the design of my work for the sake of travel and shipping.

With the help of trains, buses and bummed rides, I’ve done a descent amount of shows between the rival cities of Chicago and St. Louis while living in both. My most recent strike of exhibiting work was for the Hyde Park Art Center which has been somewhere between a blessing and a gauntlet. For the month of January I spent time at HPAC producing all of the works for ThingsThatNeverReallyHappened, altering my exhibition space, doing interviews, kicking it with my college friends, finding food, not making any money from my hourly home job, dealing with it, and producing the biggest show of my career thus far. The space I was granted during my residency came with a projector, floor and wall space to trace out my prefabricated drawings and a kitchen; that’s all I really need. The student visits and close proximity to the people I trust most were added bonuses.

I was given a week to actually work in the space I exhibited in. That week included constructing my new paper drawings, cutting / painting relief landscapes, and mingling with the visitors I encountered. I loved it. I’ve always been one to work fast but the HPAC show raised the bar for me. Now having a temp space to work in and show at the same time had to be worth it.  The definition of “worth” fluctuates, but my sense of it has changed over the past few years as my studio space in Chicago also changed. From dormitory, to street, to granted personal studio, to temporary institution space, to out of town, I have developed a sort of design for my work to always be on the move. It’s fun in the way that I get to experience my work in different states and more importantly get to plan in advance for travel.  The imaginative works that I plan don’t fully exist until it reaches its destination. Now that I’m used to moving around, I have coped with the idea of creating attentive and specific works for unsanctioned public spaces. Treating them as if they are exhibitions. It’s unfair to break myself over ideas for high profile gallery shows but not the ideas that can only truly work in outdoors public space. I have learned this from the joy I reach in spending time installing shows at my own pace (god I wish there were no deadlines.) In being away from Chicago (sorta) with no shows booked for a few months, I finally see the opportunity to purge my home apartment studio of supplies and materials for the cause of pubic works wherever I see fit. 
Stan Chisholm (a.k.a. 18andCounting) is an emerging interdisciplinary artist from St. Louis, Missouri who studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His drawings, paintings and mixed media installations reveal a growing cast of over 700 characters or mascots that serve as a visual lexicon for the moods, personal attributes or feelings explored in his work. Chisholm is a nomadic pack rat who kind of lives and works in St. Louis & Chicago.

Image Captions & Credits:
FireworksForTiredFolks, 2010, Constructed Paper & Cardboard, Ink, 
“______”, 2010, Ink & constructed paper
KillinIt, 2010, Unsanctioned Public Piece

Monday, March 15, 2010

Factory as Studio as Art as

Guest Blogger:
Diana Nawi
Marjorie Susman Curatorial Fellow at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago

Much of the discourse surrounding the studio focuses on the notions proposed by the phrase “studio as X” or, conversely “X as studio”: studio as site, studio as laboratory, studio as workshop, studio as utopia and so on.1 This impulse to create a parallel or figurative stand-in for the studio as something else, something perhaps more familiar or everyday, points to the unfixed function of the studio, both historically and in the contemporary moment. This text is a proposal for an expanded version of studio as X model, one suggested by Caroline Jones in both her book and her recent lecture at the MCA.

In her book Machine in the Studio: Constructing the Postwar American Artist, Caroline Jones’s suggests that the 20th century proposed both a model of the studio as it is commonly mythologized through the Abstract Expressionists (site of tortured loner genius men who experience fits of creative energy)2 and through the practices of artists like Andy Warhol and Robert Smithson, which offered new or changing paradigms of the studio (the Factory and a representation of “post-studio”). In a talk she gave at the MCA in mid-February, Jones picked up on some of the themes she had introduced in her book, developing a complex metaphorical relationship between artistic practice, new media, production site, recording, physics, and laboratories (admittedly, things got hard to follow). Before she took a turn for the specifically scientific, Jones went beyond Warhol’s factory model, extending it to the use of actual factories as spaces for the creation and display of artwork (DIA and MASS MoCA were examples). Although I found her conclusion, in the realm of physics data, unclear, what I would propose are recent historical and contemporary groundings for her exploration of factories and factory models—studio as factory.

The following is a brief discussion of a few of the projects that came to mind as Jones elaborated on the role of the factory and production in her talk, something I have been thinking about since first encountering her work a few years ago. A larger project would perhaps extend an exploration of the studio as factory into the many related issues that this suggests—labor, gender, race, technology, production/productivity—and trace a history of this in the 20th century that begins with Jones’s analysis of Warhol’s Factory and creates a network of related historical and contemporary paradigms that fortify and interrogate the way in which studios mimic the structures of existing economic and industrial models.3

The most relevant, and surprisingly unmentioned projects that came to mind during Jones’s talk were two 1960s programs that married technology and art and which Pamela Lee describes in the introduction to her book Chronophobia: On Time in the Art of the 1960s (MIT Press, 2000). Lee discusses Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.), a program inaugurated in the mid-1960s that desired to help any artist with “a technical problem, or technologically complicated and advanced projects be in touch with an engineer or scientist who could collaborate with him.”4 Lee also writes of the Art & Technology Program (A&T) created in 1966 through the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) under the guidance of then curator of modern art, Maurice Tuchman. Although Lee uses these (difficult if not somewhat failed) projects to introduce one of the major themes of her book–anxiety surrounding changing technology—her brief history of the four-year A&T project, which like E. A. T. paired artists with corporations in residencies of sorts in order to make art using new technology, seems relevant to Jones’s invocation of the factory as studio model. Jones’s discussion of particle acceleration or increased data-collecting capabilities on the part of scientists, while interesting as regards the introduction of new technologies and as a conceptual counterpoint to art history-only arguments, would have benefited from an exploration of E.A.T. or A&T as real-world (and concurrent with her era of focus) models of her metaphorical parallel.5

Tuchman’s introduction to the report produced on A&T explains his conception of the project and his motivations for pairing artists with giants of Southern California technological and industrial production including IBM, Lockheed Aircraft, Hewlett-Packard, Twentieth Century Fox, and RAND Corporation among others. He states “I became intrigued by the thought of having artists brought into these industries to make works of art, moving about in them as they might their own studios.”6 Some of the projects functioned as intellectual or critical residencies within corporations (John Chamberlain at RAND; definitely worth reading about for the artist vs. squares tone of the whole project), while some clearly made use of (or tried to make use of) the technologies and resources available (Richard Serra at Kaiser Steel; not surprising…). But it appears, in keeping with Tuchman’s original conception for the A&T, that all of the projects reinterpreted their host companies as studios, new contexts and sites for experimentation and production.

In the contemporary moment, a 2005 project based out of Artspace in New Haven, Connecticut titled Factory Direct: New Haven employs a similar model to A&T.7 Organized by Denise Markonish, then curator of Artspace, the project placed ten artists in residencies at Connecticut businesses. The artists were given access to the technologies, materials, and specific histories of these diverse companies, ranging from a company that produces coin-operated binoculars to a commercial rose grower to a fire alarm manufacturer. This project not only referred to the history of artistic production within the construct of another site or entity, it challenged the discreet role of the studio and allowed for works which extended a notion of site-specific into a production-based model. 

Similarly, the studio as factory model seems applicable to a number of works and projects by artists who are interested not only in the exploration of a factory model as a means of production, but also as content for their work, both formally and conceptually. Embedded in the metaphorics of the factory is a rich history of industrial development, politics, and socio-economics, as well as a commentary on the function of labor in artistic practice. 

Mika Rottenberg’s videos feature women in constructed sets that mimic a (typically uncomfortable and counter-productive) workspace engaged in some form of production. Often a play on a Ford-like production line, Rottenberg’s videos toy with the aesthetics, gender, and product of factories having the women in her video do and create things in highly convoluted, unreal, and inefficient ways. Likewise her contemporary, Phoebe Washburn has employed ramshackle constructions filled with strange, almost scientific looking tools, to suggest the spaces as the site of alchemical production. In a 2008 show at Zach Feuer Gallery, New York, Tickle the Shitstem, Washburn indeed made something: branded T-shirts and brightly dyed-sea urchins and pencils. Moving through what appeared to be many steps, including resting in jars of dye, the sea urchins were attended to by interns who ran the “assembly line,” selling the finished sea urchins in small plastic ziplock baggies marked with stickers reading “ORT” (a deal at only $5!), while the T-shirts were elaborately washed and then also marked with the word “ORT” and sold (less of a deal at $25). In a similar manner, in a 2008 exhibition also at Zach Feuer Gallery titled Stripe Factory (also held at Sister Gallery, Los Angeles - now Kathryn Brennan Gallery - , and Kavi Gupta, Chicago) Danica Phelps had artist assistants in the gallery making striped paintings. Reinterpreting an ongoing painterly vocabulary Phelps had been using for a number of years, this project, which lasted beyond the construct of the show itself, allowed a buyer to call in and order one of her stripe paintings (priced at fifteen cents per stripe).8 The work would then be made on the spot, turning the gallery into both a made-to-order factory and a studio and later turning her studio into a made-to-order factory. 

The work of Rottenberg, Washburn, and Phelps blurs the line between production and reception suggesting a strategy that employs a factory model as means to clarify, fabricate, critique, or expose their own labor. 9 These works constitute a small sampling of what is out in the world, not simply representing the studio, but challenging our relationship to it while pointing to its economic, social, and creative function. The idea of the studio as factory seems as good a simile as any through which to understand many of the underlying theoretical implications of artistic production of the second half of the 20th century through the present moment. The factory as studio opens not only onto art itself, but more importantly moves away from self-reflective representation to the much broader context for the making of artwork, pointing to the economic, social, and political forces which shape production. 

Diana Nawi is the Marjorie Susman Curatorial Fellow at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Prior to her position at the MCA, Nawi received her MA from the Graduate Program in the History of Art at Williams College and worked for two years in the curatorial department at MASS MoCA. Nawi’s exhibition, This is Killing Me, focused on the relationship between artmaking and anxiety is currently on view at MASS MoCA through April 15. 

1 Much of the MCA’s promotional material for their current exhibition Production Site employs this phrasing. Studio as party!
2This triumphing and mystifying of the studio is perhaps best embodied in Hans Namuth’s photographs of the New York School painters and his much reproduced film and photographic representations of Jackson Pollock at work in his East Hampton studio from 1950. See Caroline A. Jones, Machine in the Studio: Constructing the Postwar American Artist (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996).
3The studio as factory is by no means a new model or one excusive to the 20th century. In fact I would argue that medieval and Renaissance workshops functioned in the same way, mirroring the economic, technological, and social of the means of production of their moment. My argument in this text is confined to a small sampling of late 20th century models, but a more comprehensive exploration of this model would extend into a much longer historical timeline.
4Experiments in Art and Technology, E.A.T. News 2, no. 1 (March 18, 1968) as cited in Pamela. M. Lee, Chronophobia: On Time in the Art of the 1960s (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004), 13.
5 Lee writes that “the move from studio to industry was hardly new to the annals of modernism: witness the Constructivists, the Bauhaus, the pretensions of the Futurists…” Lee 12. The model of studio as factory could be extended to studios throughout art history, but here I sight the A&T program because of its use of actual factories and its technological relevance to Jones’s project.
6 Maurice Tuchman, A Report on the Art and Technology Program at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1967-71 (Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1971), 9 as cited in Lee 11-12.
7  Factory Direct: New Haven, Curated by Denise Markonish, Artspace, New Haven, CT, 2005.
8 See “Stripe Factory, Danica Phelps” on the website for Kathryn Brennan Gallery for a comprehensive explanation of the project. 

Image Credits and Captions from top to bottom:
Mika Rottenberg. Dough (video still), 2006. C-print. 16 x 20 in. Edition of 7 + 2AP. Image from Nicole Klagsbrun website.
Phoebe Washburn. Tickle the Shitstem (installation view). 2008. Mixed media. Overall dimensions variable. Image from Zach Feuer Gallery website.
Mika Rottenberg. Dough (video still), 2006. C-print. 16 x 20 in. Edition of 7 + 2AP. Image from Nicole Klagsbrun website.
Danica Phelps. Photograph of Stripe Factory workers. 2008. Image from Kathryn Brennan Gallery website.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Studio Chicago blog-essay

Guest Blogger:
Jon Cates
Experimental New Media Artist

i have mixed feelings about this. i am very happy to be included in this conversation. still, the 'blog essay' format that i have been asked to work within is a bit counter intuitive to me. the solidity of an essay feels different to me than the small scale thinking and feeling out loud of blogging. a cloud of instantaneous status updates, posts, uploads and streams of (often hyper confessional) consciousness feels very different to me than the carefully considered coherency of an edited essay which conforms to given (i.e. academic) standards. but here goes...

i was born in the Late Analog Era in the middle of the midwestern wastelands, on the edges of the economically constricted rustbelt.

i am an experimental New Media & Noise artist-academic-organizer based in Chicago. i am what LAMPO has referred to as a 'multihyphenate', a person working at intersections and defined by a set of associations between disciplines or approaches. Art Games, experimental Machinima, Computer Witchcraft, digitalPunk and Noise music are some of the unstable categories that i play with and move through. these movements trace Digital Culture, a term i take seriously. in other words, i believe in the possibilities and potentialities presented by digital networks and Digital Art. i understand New Media Art as a shifting set of technosocial concerns.

in advance of the Ahh. . . Decadence! Exhibition at the Sullivan Galleries at The School of the Art Institute, Lisa Wainwright, the curator, asked to visit my studio so that she could select work for the show. as we discussed and arranged which work of mine would be shown (a collaborative realtime artware noise project i do with Jake Elliott called 0UR080R05) i initially wrote via email to Lisa that we did not have physical studio space to visit, but that we 'work digitally and have all previous documentation online.' then we exchanged many links (to photos, videos, images, sites, etc) and emails. at different points in this process Wainwright, Elliott and i were all in different countries, communicating digitally, online about the exhibition. Jake and i organized the work that was shown while he was in the US and i was in Austria. i fabricated documentation from previous materials and used artware that he wrote/programmed while we were in/on these various points of the globe/global nets. we uploaded and downloaded files for authoring the exhibition/installation version of our 0UR080R05 project, checking in with each other via email, chat, Skype, etc... this approach was also consistent with our project because we have always developed 0UR080R05 performances themselves as (temporary or temporally-situated) studios for the production of this self-reflexive and recursive project.

this distributed and decentralized asynchronous approach to the networked studio practice that we share is not unique to this project or to our theorypractices. we have done many other collaborative projects in even more distributed and decentralized ways. also, this type of approach is normal in terms of internationalized New Media Art, the flow of transnational global capital, resistance movements to Intellectual Property regimes, the Free & Open Source Software movement and/or any other thoroughly digitized human activity that has incorporated computing into itself as an environment as well as a tool set. the computer is a syncretic device/environment and a context for creativity. computational space is also technosocial, a term that arises from the field of Science, Technology, and Society Studies (STS) in discussions of the social construction of technology as related to the histories and sociologies of the Sciences.

the concept of working in/on a 'digital studio' may invoke associations to applications and software packages such as Adobe Creative Suite. this is not how i have meant the phrase in the past but i think it would be useful to think/feel through why and how this is not what i mean. Adobe refers to their Creative Suite as "a comprehensive cross-media creative environment"... this 'cross-media creative environment' attempts to cover almost all possible techniques or tools for the production of New Media Art, listing options for 'print, interactive, web, film, video, and mobile content.' with the exception for me of print, this list reads as an inventory of categorical or format-specific aspects of my own New Media Art practice. my own list that i enumerated earlier in this text reads more technopoetically and expansively (listing 'Art Games, experimental Machinima, Computer Witchcraft, digitalPunk, realtime audio-video and Noise musics'). still, in my field, Abode has captured the imagination of a known range of possibilities. they have in many ways historically contributed to and/or created that range of possibilities with their closed source commercial software. their software products and services have in many ways defined artistic activity in the realm of the digital with examples such as (the former Macromedia) Director being a case in point for the transitional or even fleeting conditions of 'newness' in New Media.

the repeated use of physical metaphors of spaces within Adobe's description of their digital products and services (i.e. Photoshop, Soundbooth, Adobe OnLocation, etc) is relevant here. in particular, the well known metaphorical naming of Photoshop underscores the digitalization, virtualization and/or conversion into software of a previously physical place/space. much has been made in the discourses of Digital Art of these transitions from physical to digital and back again. i will return to those points soon but for now i simply want to say that this is certainly not the type of 'digital studio' i have intended to invoke as my own studio practice.

when i think/feel of my own digital studio practice i think/feel of the type of a collaborative distributed and decentralized asynchronous approach to a network-based practice. this approach often involves Free & Open Source Software as well as techniques, strategies and systems more generally inspired by the Free & Open Source Software movement. collaborators and contributors are often connected via asynchronous communications networks online, in chatspaces or working together in realtime despite being physically located in various cities/networks. but unlike previous Studio Chicago Guest Blogger Karsten Lund, i don't connect these ideas to 'the virtual' nor can i relate to the use of the phrase 'virtual studio" as is found (in quotes) in the Studio Chicago project's description of itself. the reason i want to distance myself from these suggestions of virtualization is that i feel very grounded in Digital Culture. it is not a virtual third nonplace in my experience but rather an integrated part of my everyday existence as an artist-academic-organizer.

Lund wrote previously that: "With new technologies, the wider world starts to creep into the home and office more and more; people head to the airport and out along the highways; artists leave the studio." reading this line i remembered how i was able in the summer of 2007 to pack my studio into my backpack as i departed Chicago for Vienna then Linz Austria, Mexico City, Prague and other points of interconnections in the international networks of experimental New Media Art and Digital Culture which i referred to earlier in this text. my backpack contained: 2 laptops (an Apple Mac and a Sony Vaio for Windows and Linux), a digital video camera, a still camera, a mic, headphones, a Behringer 6 channel mixer, analog audio effects pedals, a sketchbook, a journal, pens, colored pencils, cables and adaptors. i had very carefully reduced down and was excessively happy to have been able to have gotten this studio inside my backpack.

i also took a self portrait photo of myself (wearing the studio backpack) in an airport along the way. this photo is often the image that i use on social networking sites as my profile picture. in Mexico City, i found and purchased another backpack, the kind worn by vendors on the Mexico City subway system, that contains a sound system within itself, a remarkable addition to the conceptechnic of this backpack studio.

Lund also wrote that being an artist who travels "requires a steady flow of money." while this is true in terms of the literal costs of airfares, train tickets, etc. it is not necessarily accurate to depict involvement in international networks of (in my case experimental New Media) Art as requiring affluence or participation in what Lund refers to as the "circuit of biennials and site-oriented commissions." i operate internationally in many different contexts. as my friend and colleague Faith Wilding has observed, international conferences were an early (decentralized) home to New Media Art. therefore, these conferences and related events, particularly in Europe, became important nodes. Lund recognizes the nodal network in the close of his essay, suggesting that a physical artist's studio could be understood as a node. it is certainly possible to work with and between these modes as well as connecting internationally with self-consciously alternative and experimental cultural spaces.

which reminds me of a position/quote which olia lialina wrote on nettime in 2001, in the "net art history" conversational thread: "Net art failed, in some critics and researchers opinion, because it didn't take over institutions as was expected. Curators, museums and magazines didn't disappear (sorry). But don't you see that net art and net artists changed the landscape of contemporary art? Now, art institutions have to learn to act as nodes (not as a center). And they do. Those who are really open become part of complex networking projects." this position/quote has been and remains very important for me, especially as delivered by lialina, whose work, such as her The Last Real Net Art Museum project, has been and continues to be so influential and inspirational to myself and so many others in New Media Art.

recently Alex Galloway was in Chicago presenting in The Material and the Code conference at the University of Chicago and he underscored that in his Media Archeology research he is interested in parallelity in terms of the technological developments that have occurred (i.e. in artists' studios). this is precisely the position that i have taken and have vocally advocated for over the last 10 years: multiple Media Art Histories co-exist. they overlap, intersect, break with, rupture, leak and inform each other. as lialina said, established art institutions did not disappear. the artists' studio has not disappeared. there is no single art world. there are many art worlds. or in my own more encoded/expressive way of writing it: there are mini art worlds. we intersect. we co-exist. we constantly move through each other.

as Jane Veeder said to me in a criticalartware interview that we did in 2003: "Multiple histories are great; the problem you have is when there's no history."

i feel many more hyperthreads pulling at me that need teasing out from these issues but i am already over my 500 words and my '2 or more images with captions/credits' in the JPEG compression format which are 'around the size 400 x 500 pixels.' i will continue thinking/feeling through these issues out loud via my sites:

i would be love to hear from anyone in response to these thoughts/feelings and again would like to thank Studio Chicago for the opportunity to contribute to this ongoing conversation.

jonCates is an experimental New Media Artist and digitalPunk based in Chicago. His art and research projects are widely shown, presented and performed internationally and available online. He has developed the New Media curriculum at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the Film, Video & New Media department where he has been teaching as an Assistant Professor since 2004.

Image captions & credits from top to bottom: 
jonCates self portrait "selfairportrait" (2007) 
midwestern wastelands photographed by jonCates (2007)
Jake Elliott and jonCates at the Ahh. . . Decadence Exhibition (2008)
0UR080R05 Artware Operating System - Jake Elliott and jonCates (2012 - 2007)
Alexander Galloway presenting during The Material and the Code conference at University of Chicago (2010)
Jane Veeder points out alternative Media Art Histories to jonCates (2003)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Motion Capture: Reality Enhanced

Guest Blogger:
Brian Tyler Wright
Technician, Columbia College faculty

Brian Wright works as the technician in the Motion Capture Studio which is one of the features of the new Media Production Center at Columbia College Chicago. This blog post walks us through a day with Brian. More information about the Media Production Center can be found at

I sneak into the studio early in the morning. It’s still silent, before the buzz of the day starts. The heavy concrete walls are cool and distant in the darkness before the snap-flicker of the studio lights reveal them as the benign monoliths they are. A spider’s web of cables crawls along the floor, climbing like cybernetic ivy to the dozen cameras mounted high above my head. Their lens peers around my studio from above missing nothing.  

Every day in my motion capture studio starts in quiet mediation. It’s a ritual practiced alone to perfection in the red glow of the infra-red lights. The cameras must be warmed up, the suits laid out, and markers checked for imperfections. Calibration of the system is a quiet dance through the capture volume, waving a wand with three reflective balls. I await judgment. Did I do well enough this time, or must I try again?  

Silence is broken as the door slams open and I hear the jovial banter of the actors arriving for the shoot along with the directors, students, and hangers-on. They bring warmth and life to an otherwise stark space. It’s time to review and prioritize what they’d like to do today. Each actor must don a spandex suit and submit to having forty-two rubber markers covered in reflective tape strewn over their body. It looks random at first, but there is order in the chaos; each marker defines how we will track every body part. The only thing left is to teach the machine to read. 

The capture itself is a synergistic process blending the artistic with the technical. The eye of the director, the performance of your actors, and the requirements to make everything work to animate later all combine to make something new. Most actors are awkward and stilted at first in fronts of the multitude of cameras and uncomfortably revealing suit. The director must calm them and coach them to a natural, repeatable performance. Even the best performances can be rendered naught by technical gremlins; we always shoot at least twice to ensure that we get what we need. The motion capture techs must always push the agenda of what is possible or efficient to capture in their space. Certain motions, though extremely similar to the naked eye, can differ by many times in the time and complexity when it comes to cleaning the data. It’s a tug-a-war to come to a agreeable medium. 

When the day of the shoot is done, the other half of the work begins. Its reality augmented for me. I strive to capture events as they should have been. The actor provides a good base for realistic motion. The animator provides vision and a Hollywood shine to what might otherwise be a mundane move. Harder, stronger, faster, it’s all possible once you start editing. Do you need to jump 20 ft into the air? No problem. Did your actor not quite hit all there poses? No problem. You get to combine the reality of a live person with the fantasy of a purely animated character. 

Motion capture is an interesting blend of film and animation. I like to think that it combines some of the best qualities of each. It’s flexible in moving between games and feature film without much adaptation. Its’ diverse live studio and computer based formats provide a vital change of pace to keep from getting burned out on the same workflow everyday.

Brian Wright worked for 13 years in the games industry. He currently works for Columbia College Chicago as the Technician for the Media Production Center. He also teaches the Motion Capture 1 classes at Columbia College Chicago.

All images by Brian Tyler Wright