Interdisciplinary Knowledge Production In Collaborative Research Between Artistic and Engineering Practices

Test Harness

A proposal for research seeking support.

A. Research Question and Objective

This research sets out to develop a digital, web-accessible literature review of recent engineering and arts-based interdisciplinary collaboration (art-technology) projects. It is expected that developing such a literature review, and the criteria necessary to delineate the projects to be contained within the review, will help develop an understanding of how these interdisciplinary collaborations can contribute to the production of knowledge, invigorate activity within engineering and the arts, advance techniques for teaching and engaging in such creative practices, and contribute to the formation of new areas of research and development.

Over the last decade or more there has been an increasing interest in interdisciplinary approaches to performing research and development within the arts and technology fields. This interest has lead to the creation of special interest areas within professional societies, unique research clusters within industry and academia, public festivals that combine art spectacle with technology innovation, and, perhaps most significantly, the formation of scores (close to 80 by some recent counts) of undergraduate and graduate art-technology degree-granting programs at universities and colleges worldwide.

Interdisciplinary art-technology work crosses the boundary between instrumental engineering research and artistic creativity. Such boundary crossing is evident in a wide variety of significant, professional areas. For instance, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the largest international professional society for computer science and related disciplines, has had an electronic arts show at its annual computer graphics conference (SIGGRAPH) since 1994. The ACM’s large, influential special interest group devoted to studying computer-human interaction (SIGCHI) design has turned its attention to more creative approaches to computer interfaces through a variety of new submission tracks, opening the way for those who are not strictly within the engineering fields to participate within this professional society. Since 1979, the Ars Electronica Center in Linz Austria has held a festival dedicated to celebrating artistic uses of technology, highlighting how research and development can also be a creative, artistic practice. An informal survey of “new media” programs emphasizing practical and theoretical curriculums related to art, technology, media and design, includes 74 such programs throughout the world.

Such emphasis on interdisciplinarity and collaboration between arts practitioners and engineering or technology practitioners has led to a wide variety of important projects. These projects have both art exhibition contexts while often serving simultaneously to further research and development in important and widespread topic areas such as computer-human interaction, online gaming, design of fitness programs, mobile communication, online social networking, and more. These are oftentimes difficult to define in strict disciplinary terms. Much of the work is contested as to its proper practice idiom. Is it artistic expression, or a form of engineering research and development?

The significance of this web-asccessible literature review is that it will provide insights into how several disparate practice idioms have engaged in, learned from and taught interdisciplinarity, specifically in the areas related to interactive technology-based media. A review of recent projects would provide a basis for assessing how interdisciplinary art-technology collaborations have been taken-up within educational institutions, art contexts, as well as within commercial industry, and with what benefits or effects to the larger goals of these practice idioms.

Some of the pertinent questions for this research have to do with what gets to count as interdisciplinary art-technology. How does one talk about art-technology as an interdisciplinary practice, and how does each discipline separately understand the practice as one that advances the production of knowledge within the respective fields. Where are the disciplinary boundaries and how are these boundaries defined — according to method, objectives and goals, audience?

While we can answer affirmatively to each of these boundary criterion, the goal of this research is to clearly describe the criteria from the perspective of the collaborators within the distinct disciplines so as to better understand how to create effective, creative and productive interdisciplinary collaborative environments.

The hypothesis of this research is this:

Interdisciplinary collaboration amongst instrumental engineering disciplines (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, chiefly) and art practices (taken to mean fine arts specifically), represents a significant form of research and development for all the involved disciplines. This can be taken to mean that interdisciplinary collaborations productively advances in the respective fields by producing knowledge, invigorating and sustaining activity within the field, and contributing to the formation of new areas of research and development.

B. Research Methods

I intend to perform a literature review of two areas wherein the boundaries between purely art-based and purely-technology based practices have blurred sufficiently to possibly count as interdisciplinary. The first is the Ars Electronica festival held annually for the past 26 years in Linz, Austria. The second is a cluster of three engineering and computer science professional societies in which a noticeable number of research reports, notes, demonstrations and papers have included projects that have a distinctive artistic element. These professional societies are the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction (ACM SIGCHI), the ACM Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics (ACM SIGGRAPH), and the Ubiquitous Computing (Ubicomp) professional society.

This literature review will cover four (2004-2007) years of contributions, projects, research, presentations and papers from Ars Electronica, and the transactions from the annual conferences of ACM SIGCHI and ACM SIGGRAPH and Ubicomp. I will specifically look for projects that can be readily identified as interdisciplinary insofar as the goals of the work is specified as interdisciplinary, or the knowledge contributions resulting from the projects circulate across arts and engineering disciplinary boundaries.

My method will include using web-based technologies for developing the literature review and coding primary source and reference material, primarily to facilitate sharing and disseminating the results.

C. Expected Results and Impacts on Long-term Research Program

The result of the research will be an online, web-accessible review of selected projects, coded and tagged according to keywords and idioms appropriate for searching, sorting and sharing the findings. A sufficient number of projects will be reviewed to either support or refute the hypothesis. It is expected that the number of selected projects will range between 25-40. Along with the selected projects, the review will include a comprehensive summary of each project. Finally, the literature review will include a synthesis of consisting of overall findings, analysis of distinctive aspects and features of the projects themselves as well as their approach and methods. The literature review itself will be made available on the web under creative commons license.

The outcomes of this research will serve two purposes. The first is to contribute to the substance of a book-in-progress I am preparing specifically on the topic of interdisciplinary collaborations amongst engineering and art as a form of knowledge production. This book is meant to contribute to pedagogical and practical methods-based questions related to this topic. That is, contribute to ongoing discussions, largely within the field of interactive media, related to understanding how to teach art and engineering simultaneously.

The second goal is to contribute to developing “best practices” pedagogical methods for teaching interdisciplinary art-technology as a form of knowledge production and creative practice.

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