Undisciplinarity (essay in book)

The book that resulted from the ‘inter_multi_trans_actions: emerging trends in post-disciplinary creative practice’ symposium at Napier University in Edinburgh, Scotland on Thursday 26 June, 2008 is nearing publication.

The book ‘Digital Blur: Creative Practice at the Boundaries of Architecture, Design and Art’ edited by Paul Rodgers and Michael Smyth will now be published by Libri Publishing following Middlesex University’s decision to close Middlesex University Press.

According to Amazon the book is due on 31 March, 2010.

The book contains an essay by John Marshall and myself that is preambled thus:

Marshall and Bleecker, in their essay, propose the term ‘undisciplinary’ for the type of work prevalent in this book. That is, creative practice which straddles ground and relationships between art, architecture, design and technology and where different idioms of distinct and disciplinary practices can be brought together. This is clearly evident in the processes and projects of the practitioners’ work here. Marshall and Bleecker view these kinds of projects and experiences as beyond disciplinary practice resulting in a multitude of disciplines ‘engaging in a pile-up, a knot of jumbled ideas and perspectives.’ To Marshall and Bleecker, ‘undisciplinarity is as much a way of doing work as it is a departure from ways of doing work.’ They claim it is a way of working and an approach to creating and circulating culture that can go its own way, without worrying about working outside of what histories-of-disciplines say is ‘proper’ work. In other words, it is ‘undisciplined’. In this culture of practice, they continue, one cannot be wrong, nor have practice elders tell you how to do what you want to do and this is a good thing because it means new knowledge is created all at once rather than incremental contributions made to a body of existing knowledge. These new ways of working make necessary new practices, new unexpected processes and projects come to be, almost by definition. This is important because we need more playful and habitable worlds that the old forms of knowledge production are ill-equipped to produce. For Marshall and Bleecker, it is an epistemological shift that offers new ways of fixing the problems the old disciplinary and extra-disciplinary practices created in the first place. The creative practitioners contained within the pages of this book clearly meet the ‘undisciplinary’ criteria suggested by Marshall and Bleecker in that they certainly do not need to be told how or what to do; they do not adhere to conventional disciplinary boundaries nor do they pay heed to procedural steps and rules. However, they know what’s good, and what’s bad and they instinctively know what the boundaries are and where the limits of the disciplines lie.

(Via Designed Objects.)

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Textual Landscapes at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery

It’s the “how’s it work?” gesture — one of the Top 15 Criteria of Interactive Media Art — so it must be interactive media. Jim Campbell’s work of low-res video illuminations. Again. These are of Grand Central Station looking unusually pacific.

Seen at the Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery in Manhattan on way-west 24th Street, a group show consisting of some favorites — Marina Zurkow especially, with whom I have had the great pleasure of collaborating in the past.

The show was in two rooms separated by this long hallway. In the first entrance room is Alan Rath’s “Flying Eyeballs” IV”. It’s are sort of the canonical retro cathode ray tubes peering at you with blinking eyeballs. The log line: Nam June Paik-envy seasoned with 12 Monkeys production design aesthetic. (I have no photo, but the gallery website will subject you to a medieval-style torture of web navigation if you should like to navigate to the artists’ exhibition photos/videos.)

In the main room I enjoyed Marina’s “Slurb”, seen above on the left. On the right is Airan King’s “109 Lighting Books” (indeed..) which is curious sort of literate, didactic sculpture. As a light source in the space, you draw to it like a moth and maybe feel some empathy because of the titles, or maybe some distance because of the titles. I don’t know.

Then there was Ben Rubin’s “Shakespeare Machine Study No 4” (on the left) and “Lolita 6” (on the right), two word-y sculptures from the guy who brought us the crucial internet sculpture “Listening Post” — the thing that collapsed the simultaneity of networks-conversations into physical form.

Why do I blog this? Just a bookmark to myself about an intriguing show using instruments, aesthetics and the setting of an art gallery. I also liked this gesture of someone looking behind a sculpture to see if they can figure out how it works — one of the “Fat 15” criteria that define “interactive media art.”
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Reality Augmented: Birdsong Identification Tour

Augmenting reality at The Forest, an installation exhibition at Machine Project here in Echo Park, Los Angeles. I attended the Birdsong Identification Tour.

More photos from the Birdsong Identification Tour can be found on my Flickr site, or stream or whatever.

Further to augmented reality and its discontents, I wonder if this sort of augmented experience might not suffice in many situations. Human-to-human interaction of some sort, high-fi, low-tech, or material that makes rough use of digital interfaces and technologies without fetishizing the technology and its inevitable hiccups.

I suspect many people might not be prepared to count this sort of puppeteering as an augmentation of reality. There are too many “wires exposed”, as the saying goes. The magic disappears because you can see the lovely puppeteers moving the birds around — and the birds are cardboard cutouts attached carefully to bits of branch. There are no screens to oogle, or databases to query and extend with feed mashers, and the like. No intellectual property opportunities here. Just an opportunity to immerse oneself into an media experience where the only computational device is an iPod Touch playing bird calls.

Here I and my fellow tourists obtained, in an hour, a quite wonderful introduction to birdsong identification, given by the engaging Jordan Biren. Each of the birds to be identified were flown about the room by puppeteers dressed in stage blacks. The birds were quite obedient and almost tame because, of course, they were representational puppets. This made it quite easy to look at them closely and listen to their songs, which were high quality audio generated by an iPod Touch affixed to their backs. It was a bumper day for bird watching and birdsong listening. I didn’t have to put on goggles and gloves, nor look at a screen or some sort. I could move about and make jokes with our tour guide. I got a little itchy from the chips and shavings and dirt that made up our forest floor. There were some sort of flying insects lazily circling in shafts of sunlight, undoubtedly enjoying the augmentation themselves. There was a soft blast of air conditioning from the AC unit that hung above the entrance to Machine Project, which was welcome, especially given the scorcher LA day that Sunday.

Sometimes the birds morphed into other species when the iPod’s would run over into another track — hazards more of touch technology than anything else I suspect what with the bird handlers moving about amongst the trees and foliage. But, this is okay. There’s a larger story told in such instances of bird species evolution and so forth. Failure turned into opportunity.

Update: See Will Carter’s visual juxtaposition of the previously referenced WoW project by Aram Bartholl and this new weird, terrifically blundered visual design of a possible augmented reality meant to run on the appropriately named Android platform in precisely the ham-fisted seasick style that will cripple all of our eyeballs. It’s called Wikitude. May it die by cudgel. As the saying goes — we will get the future we deserve.


Why do I blog this? A real curiosity of the small (large for this blog) bit of boxing about on my previous post that was a liquor-store-hold-up style criticism of augmented reality. I’m also wondering what techniques make for more or less engaging or legible forms of augmentation. What sorts of arguments from the pro-tech crowd would be leveled on this curated experience? If money is being spent on creating augmented reality sorts of things — and I know it is — would this count as eligible?

Here, an art installation that becomes a learning experience augments the world. The gallery is far from any sort of woods, yet the vicinity is augmented to support the transformation into a woodland.

Further to another area of augmented realities I am interested in, for the maps-and-places augmentation of reality, what kind of mapping techniques serve to augment a place over and above its reality? If you take those tourist-y commercial maps — the free ones you can often find that highlight commerce zones, tourist sites, Starbuck’s and other things — is that an augmentation of reality? Is the Thomas Guides I have in the back of my car an augmentation — or is it the map of the place? What about the Not For Tourist’s guides I collect of Los Angeles? They parcel the city up into various neighborhoods and explicitly highlight the things that normal, human residents care about — dry cleaners, public libraries, hardware stores, etc.

The questions then are — how do we want our reality augmented? To what ends? With which techniques?
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Further to Chris’ post — I found Hans Ulrich Obrist & Olafur Eliasson: The Conversation Series to be last week’s best quick-read. (Actually, I guess it was last’s weeks only quick-read, if I don’t count reading 1/2 of Austin Grossman’s cleverly sardonic “Soon I Will be Invincible”. Anyway.)

I added-to-cart like a ‘droid without a restraining bolt..So, running Chris’ dog-ear algorithm..

This leads to the question about your collaboration with architects. It seems to have become a more important aspect of your work recently.

..In the same way that artistic practice has rediscovered its ability to constantly re-evaluate its own platform, architectural discourses have opened up a bit, engaging in matters other than their own formal setup. This is why including architects — and engineers or scientists — is crucial for bringing me to places I couldn’t reach on my own.

Let’s talk about public art.

..When you show in a gallery, you’re quite concerned with what came before and what will follow in the gallery program because there’s certain overlap in ideology. So if the shows before and after yours are nonsense, then your show takes on that agenda, whether you like it or not. The case is different with public art because, like architecture, it has been extensively compromised. But I see a great potential for art in public space because theres always the possibilit that people might not rrealize that it’s art. It’s as simple as that. People might enter a plaza and think a piece is something functional or something they don’t understand, but it’s there. And that intrigues me — the fact that such pieces are not immediately recognizable as art.

..I’d like to ask you about an edition projects of yours I once saw the beginnings of. The was to map the whole of Iceland using found images

..The Icelandic Cartographic Institute used photos to make maps of the country…They photographed the whole country from aboe by plane. And these photos were made with an unusually good photographic system. What’s interesting about this, besides the idea of mapping things completely, is that we are now in an era of satellite images, so aerial photography has disappeared..the airplane is only one kilometer up in the sky and that means that the view of one squar kilometer of ground is completely different than the view from a satellite, which is 600 kilometers high. There’s a spatial issue an airplane photo deals with that a satellite photo doesn’t have to deal with. A satellite photo involves another coneption of cartography; this is quite interesting because our eyes and the way we relate to space are in a limbo between aerial and satellite perspectives.

p. 62

..the idea of a “parliament of things” is something I’ve also engaged with through a text by Bruno Latour that he wrote while preparing for his exhibition Making Things Public..in which he describes the idea that all things are relative and to be debated and evaluated. I like this, and it’s something I’ve focused on in much of my work — the notion that we all perceive things differently even though we’re engaging with identical physical objects or environments. For Latour, it’s not a question of universal rules that would define things, but an emphasis on negotiation.

p. 73What about specific projects of yours in relation to the urban situation?

Yes, through the idea of an unbuilt city, I’ve slowly realized how all of my work forms a sort of spatial language. I’m also developing this idea of how to construct and deconstruct at the same time: you can say something and both evaluate and critique it simultaneously, like in an endless loop.

p. 75My last question is about the inadequacy of some of today’s museums that become less and less experimental

..Currently artists are obsessed with dematerializing, recontextualizing, or reevaluating the object. I’m referring to the whole disappearance of the object and everything now being based on relations — the quasi-object. That’s not a problem in itself, but unfortunately museums are moving in the wrong direction. Their approach to it remains highly conservative: they’re trying to institutionalize the object — and not just the object’s physical qualities, but the experience of it. In fact, museums tend to commodify, or at least objectify, the experience of the object. And as this is played out, they narrow down the way the public sees things. To be frank, I think they’ve become producers of “seeing-machines”; they not only produce the art, but they dictate the way art is to be seen thanks to their event-driven and conservative perspectives on the object. So they’re losing the socializing potential of art..

p. 88

The reason I do these interviews is to learn more myself; it’s a way of saying to people that I’m not the mastermind of the project, at least not in the classic genius kind of way. There’s no reason to pretend that I’m doing this all by mself; I’m going to involve various people in the project.

p. 100
The next question is about the micro and macro aspects of landscapes. I know that you maintain this ongoing project of attempting to photograph the entire topology of Iceland — a mapping project..

One aspct about my excitement with this project is that it constantly varies, it changes a lot. To cover and document the whole surface of Iceland is actually more about the impossibility of creating an objective map … but equally about how cartography has fostered a third-person point of view on our inhabited space. At some point, for instance, maps began to be so precise that one could actually relate to them as a kind of time dimension, enabling us to say: “From here to Rome is a half year on horse-back.” A map thus also became like a clock, a temporal calibration. So in my project the idea of mapping everything from the air, documenting minutiae, all the glaciers, all the waterfalls, the crevasses, the routes, curved roads and straight roads, all these mappings serve to destabilize our usual conception of time. When documenting things, you also apply a new dimension to them; I apply what we talked about before — the different ideas of space — and question the dimensionality of things.


The weather is one of the few really public domains..we might say that the weather is in a constant dialogue with the landscape..if it rains, it becomes completely black and shiny; if it’s super-dry or if there’s a sandstorm, it changes color; and if the sun is radiant, the glacial melt is so intense that the rivers rise enormousl. So the landscape and the weather function as an ensemble and your body is reciprocally isolated.

p. 131

The idea is to establish an interdisciplinary school that focuses on spatial issues. It will do so primarily from the perspective of art and artists, but it should also have a group of architects and perhaps several scientists working on, for instance, psychophysical issues. The school should offer some sort of post-graduate degree; I think it would be nice to have a group of PhD candidates affiliated with it..In other words, the school is not about producing artists in the traditional sense, but about introducing a vocabulary through which artworks can become much more integrated into society, social structures, and scientific and architectural discourses.

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Theory, Practice — Art Design — Technology

I did a Pecha Kucha style presentation on some developing thoughts on the relationships between theory and practice, and the role of a hybrid, multiple art-design-technology approach to creating and circulating culture and knowledge. “Making things” can happen in lots of ways. I’ve tried two — engineering and art. And now design. It’s interesting for me to reflect on the different approaches to “making things” each discipline takes, as well as the core principles that guide doing what they do.

How do these practices deal with creating material that engages people? (Related to Nicolas’ recent post on a similar topic — how do different practices talk about people? How are they referred to, and how does that shape the nature of the research? The questions that get asked? And, then, what the outcomes mean, or how they materialized?

I think engineering as one of the preeminent, late-capital means of making things, with an operational and instrumental focus. The closest it gets to involving itself in people-practice is a rather instrumental language about “humans” and their measured abilities and tolerances. (Think, the British originated Human-Computer Interaction and Computer-Human Interaction.) Perhaps the worst description of people is as “users.” Referring to people as “users” may likely be the reason that the product of engineering work that is intended to be, well..products for people fail in their interaction design. Users are definitely not people with a large set of expectations, practices and characteristics. Users are singly-focused entities with a set of expected pre-existing knowledge and a very constrained range of possible actions based on the way engineering principles create options (opportunities) for interactions.

Art, best as I can describe in this context, is a practice that materializes dreams and engages social practice at that level ‚ fears, ambitions, aspirations, represented as “art” of some fashion. Recently, there has been some interesting collaborations amongst art and technology practice. It is in these collaborations that you find indications of that hyphen in art-technology — the places where the boundary between the practices becomes clear. Like, when an art-technology piece has you asking “how’s it work” — that’s a clear indication that there’s more techie-fetish than art or design.

Design seems to have a deep comfort and history with talking with and about people and their practices. In recent experience, this kind of helps make a few things clearer, like why there are so many chairs and lamps in the design canon. Thoughtful designed chairs that take into account not only the ergonomics of people, but the practices they engage in through a larger, richer vocabulary of possible activities that have to do with sitting (and standing from sitting) will likely do better than purely functional (engineered) objects.

What are the possibilities for a hybrid “making things” activity that takes into account the best of each of these broad knowledge and practice communities?

Pixel Pour (By Kelly Goeller)

Pixel Spout

(By Kelly Goeller — http://www. kellotron.com)

A wonderful instance of hybrid realities. Here, of course, the pixels are materialized through some medium that is not electronic and the hybridity is more about a semantic cross-over from pixel worlds of electronic games to the real world.

Why do I blog this? We normally think of first-life/second-life hybrids, or mixed realities or virtual-physical cross-talk, as connected mixes. For example, augmented realities wherein you see digital overlays through glasses or a screen that are perfectly registered to first-life. As in — hold up this special augmented reality viewer and see digital “heads-up display” indicators of data that has location or place-specific relevance to whatever you are looking at. Hold it up to a supermarket and you can see what the price of milk is inside, or hold it up to an historic building and see tourist information about its historic relevance and stories.

In this example, the cross-talk is completely non-electronic, non-databased, and is all the more compelling for that. It evokes immediately the 8-bit aesthetic and this aspect is whap makes it a “digital” incarnation. Simply wonderful.

If anyone finds out where this is in NYC’s Lower East Side, and who did it — I would be glad to know.


This just in — evidently it was at 9th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues.

Pixel Pour Tagged


Pixel Pour Gone

This is doubly interesting here. Now this spigot — which I think is an exhaust for an underground furnace or boiler, or perhaps a way to off-gas fumes that might accumulate under the sidewalk — is a completely different object — not even what it was before. It looks like a drained tap, not an exhaust vent (or whatever it is “really.”) This is the transformative part of that little provocation. Not to over think this street intervention, but it was truly transformative in the sense that it took a mundane, very ordinary, barely existent object and made it resonant. It was a real disruption — not in the sense of causing consternation or harm, but disruption in the sense of opening a hole in space and re-writing reality.


Okay, back to the usual grumble..

Continue reading Pixel Pour (By Kelly Goeller)